Tag: journal

if you think you know so well about yourself, you’re probably wrong

Life November 14, 2019

I have always been really plagued about this whole existential notion of who I am. It is probably one of the most frequently asked questions, yet somehow we seem like we can only answer partially to that. Of course, other than the most simplistic answers like your name, age, profession, or whatnot. No one knows as much uncensored particulars about me as me. But every time I am asked to describe myself, that simple ‘so who really are you’ conundrum, I always get stuck. It scares me even. As a subject of my own depiction, ironically I find it difficult to talk about myself. I end up giving extremely superficial answers, and that is because I genuinely don’t know how to answer. Or if I even deserve to.

I was reading Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart today (God bless, it’s been such a long time since I read for fun) and there was an extremely intriguing line — “But when I talk about myself, all sorts of other factors — values, standards, my own limitations as an observer — make me, the narrator, select and eliminate things about me, the naratee.” This. This sentence was so striking because it couldn’t be any more accurate than this. After all, the portraits we have of ourselves are self-constructed. We retain the purest information of ourselves and regardless of the unrestricted access of the data we always tend to filter some out to our own subjectivity. Let’s put it this way, if we are writing a story about ourselves, we have full authority to decide what kind of detail we want in the narrative. We can omit, edit, and distort. Authors are rarely reliable to the fullest. And it really is unsettling to remind myself that I will never be able to establish an objective depiction of myself. So if you really think if you know about yourself, chances are, you’re wrong.

But I do admire people who can give a clear-cut sentence description about themselves. And not just because that is something I can’t do myself. I doubt that these are invariably accurate in essence, but it means that they are striving to live by what they say about themselves. It’s like a promise to yourself that you want to fit into that certain image you’ve created for yourself. You craft that image for yourself and by saying it out loud to others you impose a non-retractable boundary to that image. Sometimes they are just self-serving justification to get what they want in advance. You know, stuff like: I can be honest in whatever situation that comes along, and frankly, I think that’s just code for — I can be really brutally blunt and my opinion could probably, most likely make you upset, but hey, I told you beforehand so you knew what you were getting into. 

Other than these self-prescribing picture of ourselves, we discover ourselves — or rather, the closest we can get to that — is by interacting with others. Because we can’t live in absolute solitude for the entirety of our lives, there most definitely are attributes that you can only discover by being with someone else. Just elementary stuff like, the face you make when you get frustrated. Or something more directly related to your inner sense — how you act boldly to everyone you meet, but that’s actually a fabricated response to hide how nervous you are. It’s just something you can’t realize on your own. Our objective reality of ourselves depends on other subjectivity of ourselves, regardless of how disturbing or unsatisfactory they may be. And by coming to term with those, you create a nice sweet balance of the things you know about yourself as a participant and how others know you as an observer. I feel like that is the closest you will ever get to fully knowing yourself, from the rock bottom.

As for me, I have never had much trouble meeting and interacting with people, but I have been commonly told one thing: that I don’t talk about myself much. I have been told this by five different people who have absolutely no similarities in their upbringings, backgrounds, our even their relationships with me, so I guess it’s a unanimous judgment of myself. I didn’t realize it myself for so long either. If I think about it, I have a set boundary for every person I meet. A safety net. A do-not-cross sign. It’s a boundary for the set amount of personal data that I can share with someone. I don’t do it consciously but it just happens. I think this applies to everyone to an extent, but I am told that I have a much higher threshold than everyone else. Sometimes that demarcation can stretch further over time and I’m able to have what I call a DMC (which stands for deep meaningful conversations), but most of the times I end up having perfunctory, shallow exchange that doesn’t involve connection on a personal level.

That’s just one of the things I’ve been told. I have also been told that I frown a lot when I write, that I am a bad liar (this I have known for a while, I just can’t improvise), and that I am pretty transparent when it comes to emotions because they all just show up on my face. I think that’s great — not that the information I have gotten about myself is pleasant in nature — but that I am getting to know more about myself through the eyes of others. Because I thought I knew myself — the quirks, memories, and preferences — but it’s hard to know just who I really am with all that. It is going to take years to meet different people and find new, previously unknown details about ourselves. I don’t want to be all corny, but maybe this whole senseless, arbitrary course of life is just a stretched-out process of knowing about ourselves. Maybe we’ll only know who we truly are minutes before we die. Will we have an objective, close-to-truth answer by then? We’ll never know. 

Despite this whole train of thought, the next time someone asks me, so Sophie, who are you? I’ll probably say I don’t know.

 

a small difference between fiction and real-life

Life November 7, 2019

Maybe it is just me, but I feel like a novel — specifically way someone writes and phrases things reflect so much about who they are as a person. It could be the way a writer uses a particular word over and over again. Or the way that he simply limits a visual description to a sentence-long summary. A writer’s way of writing means more than just stylistic means of delivering an idea. It is a peek into his thoughts and preferences. He could insist on overusing the same word in his works because he thinks that the word carries a symbolic meaning and wants to deliver a cause. Or maybe because he just likes that word. He could also reduce his descriptions to a minimum because sometimes the lack of language forces you to imagine beyond the spectrums of the sentence. It sometimes is true, though personally I like it otherwise.

As for myself, I like crafting the protagonist’s thought process very intricately. Like stream-of-consciousness kind of intricacy. Because very often I derive my ideas from my very surroundings and develop my characters based on the details I observe around me. For example, one of the characters of my recent novel enjoys watching volleyball games. I added that detail because my dad used to be in a volleyball team. From what I’ve heard he was very, very good at it. (And it made me happy that he noticed it while reading my novel) I give my characters attributes I happen to notice from reality and sometimes what I write feels so real that it feels as if I live in it. I end up projecting myself onto the character’s self, and speaking through the narrative persona.

You could say that sometimes it is hard to keep a neutral distance from fiction and reality. Especially so if you see and feel things through the things you craft within your writing. I’ve had a very uncanny experience when I was having a meeting with my editor and a poet from the same publisher — she told me that I reminded her of one of the main characters in my novel, and the poet agreed. They said that I had similar vibes. I’ve built my narrative world so closely to my own experiences and thoughts that it turned out to be inseparable to my real self. So maybe it’s true that what you write is like a mirror that exposes who you are as a person.

The only demarcation between a fiction and reality then is just my persona that has the ability to decide which is which. I could probably frame a real anecdote into my so-called novel and call that a fiction. It could be fiction in the end — whoever reads that would think that the anecdote exists to suit the characters’ needs or to drive the narrative forward. It’s ultimately reduced to a narrative tool then. There is an element of omnipotence as a writer that you can wield any sort of information into a story. A story. A fiction. An un-reality. No matter what happens in that novel and how people read and think about it, only I’ll know that wasn’t actually just a story. It lives and breathes. But it wouldn’t matter, would it?

Because sometimes reality is just as fictional, in that it is unimaginable and unrealistic — in whatever sense that may be. Reality can be just as cruel. Even more so because in real life, unlike our novels, don’t often have very satisfactory endings. Or let alone have one to begin with. There is no rising action, conflict, resolution type of conveniency. Sometimes a story just ends there. And it is the character’s responsibility to deal with the unresolved thoughts and feelings that results from the incomplete story. There is no one at fault — the story just can’t continue. It just sucks that way. I think writing is a coping mechanism. The writer’s authority comes in favorable here. We can give unended, dead ends a nice clean closure, even that may not be absolutely true. But if everyone believes it, I guess it can come true.

The Art of Writing a Letter about Thinking of You

Life September 28, 2018

I write a lot of letters. On sleepless nights like these, I like to listen to one of my oddly named Spotify playlists and scribble whatever comes up to my mind with my very messy, occasionally – actually most of the times – illegible penmanship. Maybe it’s because that I have this peculiar obsession over the analog era. Old rusty clocks with gold rims that don’t tick anymore or binoculars you use on your night escapades to watch constellations. Besides the point, I just like the idea of completely immersing yourself into the thought of someone while you’re writing about them. The whole moment is surrounded by that one idea of the person. The way you hold your pen, or write your ‘g’s, the words you choose – they are all dominated by the thought of it. It’s more genuine, because the recipient of the letter can actually read the heart and time in between the lines.

I feel like it’s a more effective way to deliver a thought to someone you care, more than a text or an email. But that’s just me. There are probably faster, more effective ways to tell someone you care. It also does not help that I am analog-obsessed. So as much as I love receiving a letter, I love writing them. When I have someone I just can’t get off my mind I start writing. I write about everything. About my day — the one good halloumi wrap I ate that morning, the homeless guy sleeping I saw on my way to the park, this old record shop selling a bunch of ABBA records that I probably should not get, or hours spent trying to tell apart the stars at night. And sometimes I write about writing about them. About how much I think of them. I write about thinking of writing about them. I rarely send them though, because sometimes they are so transparent and honest that I would feel too exposed and bare just by the thought of them being read. Most of my letters are disposed before they are sent.

That’s probably the reason I grew up to be a coward. The more letters I write, the more I hide when I actually have to say something. It wouldn’t matter to me because I would just say those in the letters. The letters I will never send. The letters that will never be read. The words he will never know. I have many regrets about things I hadn’t had the chance to say. I write them all down, well-knowing they will never get delivered, and try to send the thoughts away by disposing the letter in the morning. Will I have more regrets about unspoken thoughts and hearts? Probably. So I write this as an extension to my unresolved letters. Who knows, this might be a letter in disguise too.

the difference between me and a fish

Life September 28, 2018

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Just when I was ten, I was afraid of swimming. I didn’t like the feeling of water brimming up to my throat when I immersed myself in water. I didn’t like the pressure of water pressing against my eyelids, or the slightest distance between my feet and the bottom of the water my toes could never reach. I hated the weight of my own body bringing myself to the brink of drowning. I didn’t like the feeling of losing control of my own body. The aversion reached to the point to which I felt like I was losing a grasp of myself whenever I sank beneath the waters. I am a month short of nineteen as I write this, and I am perfectly capable of swimming and manoeuvering my limbs underwater. And I also understand my deep aversion for swimming when I was little. I didn’t like it when things got out of my hands, so hopelessly that I can’t even attempt to handle them.

It is rather odd to realize this through the concept of water. Maybe this is why I have always possessed an element of awe towards marine creatures. Even the two goldfish that lived in the bleak corner of my house when I was eight held some kind of wonder to me. They are so free underwater – free of any sort of physical limitation in an environment I have always found so foreign. (Although using the adjective ‘free’ to describe the goldfish in this case would deem quite ironic because they have lived and died in the minute glass bowl in the corner of my small room in my tiny, tiny apartment.) But it still depresses me a little, just a tad bit whenever I see a giant roasted fish on the dinner table, with is once glossy eyes covered by a layer of dried cloudy mucus, its fins dried up and flesh ready for disassembling. It is a morbid, bleak feeling – a kind of dark promise that I will never be free of whatever that is restraining me either.

If you think about it, my awe towards fish and other marine creatures is completely invalid. It is normal to feel a little physically restrained when underwater, because the water is not our natural habitat. If you put a fish on the shore, I am sure it would feel incapable too. (Not implying that this should be tried out of pure curiosity) Any other land that isn’t home would feel foreign and unfamiliar. By the time I realized that I discovered that my fear of water was more psychological than I had thought.

So I have figured as I waddle towards the end of my teenagehood, that it wasn’t the matter of whether I am capable of swimming or not. It wasn’t simply the question of whether I can successfully maintain my floating stance on the water surface, or move my arms against the waves such that I can propel myself forward. Because I am adept at all of those now, to the extent that if I were involved in a plane crash and I had to escape the wreck and swim to the nearest island, I would probably be able to do that. I can proudly say that my swimming isn’t necessarily terrible, per se. The real issue is that I am still deeply terrified of situations in which I cannot do anything about. I still hate the feeling of helplessness. Throughout my life, there had been various occasions where I was subjected to this; when I say this though, I don’t just mean the triviality, like being unable to open the jam bottle no matter how hard I try (because in most of the cases, it is very likely I can’t).

These occasions hold such an integral position in my life – especially in building who I am as a person. Perhaps that is the reason I am so deeply terrified of this feeling, because it constitutes such a big portion of my identity. Or maybe I dislike changes. Or both. Who knows? The important thing is, I am still learning. I have found out that my fear doesn’t actually lie in swimming. I have discovered the specific cause of the ‘phobia’. I’ve narrowed it down to a point where this feeling usually occurs during human-to-human interactions, in cases where people I love are at their lowest point and are slipping through my fingers. I am continuously finding more things about myself – but I also know now that just because something is so integral to the construction of your identity, it doesn’t mean that it has to dominate yourself as a person.

A fish can swim. So can I. I was afraid of swimming, and I bet you a fish will not be the most delighted to venture on land. At least now, I’ve disintegrated the fear further enough that I understand myself more than I did before. Maybe one day I won’t even remember that I’ve had this fear of swimming.

 

Our Apricots Held Summer

Poem June 18, 2018

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Few summers ago we held the tree close

Its trunk against our chests, its warmth rose

to our toes, our fingers, and our flushed cheeks

in a way that left us helpless and weak

then painted our skin in bright mellow shades

of orange, soft pink, lavender and bade

us such fond afternoons. What we loved most

though were the apricots the tree had lost.

We eagerly plucked the fruit off the ground

held them handful in our hands, round and round

in our pockets, our palms and in our homes

and carry them everywhere, even to foams

of our bathtubs. We carried their fresh green

and deep orange and light red – their skin clean

like the sun bursting into many rays.

We kept the sun in our hands, so it stays.

 

When the summer was over the tree bore

nothing, except autumn-stained leaves and more

warm fuzzy feelings that longed for traces

of the cicadas but only braces

us for impending wasteland of December

branches. But we will always remember

the warmth the apricot left on our palms

the sweet scent of the fruit that made us calm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Say “I Love You” without saying “I Love You”

Life June 10, 2018

 

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How do you say “I love you”? What do you do when you feel like you have to express your love for someone? Of course, spoken words have the most direct influence — they are explicit and conveniently delivered to the other’s ears. Like an instant message. Swift and easy. It’s so quickly brought upon your senses that it leaves you with no second thoughts. It doesn’t linger. The sound dissipates faster than you think. Only your memories would catch that so distantly and vaguely. So when you reminisce the moment, you would only remember your lover’s lips enunciating “I love you.” It’s easy — it would be like microwaving a cold slice of leftover pizza from the previous night. It’s because you can speak of love even when your feelings are void. It can be done like a swift reflex, like an old nasty habit you’ve had since seven. It’s just like that. It’s hard to tell.

I was thinking about love the other night. Because love isn’t like a swipe on profiles you may or may not like, or number counts on a Facebook account or disappearing ten seconds of a snap. I am not trying to be derogatory towards anyone, or their ways of being loved or loving someone. I suppose love has separate definitions for different people. To me, accounting love as a number or involuntary, simple gesture has less meaning than what I regard love as. Love is such a soft and mellow feeling. A warm, fuzzy feeling. It deserves more than definitions like that. At least to me.

When I think of love, I think of bursting lavenders and pinks of a sunset. Or the brilliant shades of yellow and orange of dawn. The dog-eared pages of someone’s favorite book, the yellow, musty paper of it. Maybe the resounding G-chord of the guitar that resides in your room as a soft echo. Or the delicate fingertips plucking it. Rose petals dried between an encyclopedia and the petal-shaped stain that smells of its traces. The taste of chocolate under your tongue, old quilts that feel like embraces, the faded bronze coin you’ve kept from your last trip. Something like that. Something that stays.

Yet love isn’t always so special. It can be like cliché, mundane romance films that you doze off in midst, or old jazz you listen to on pouring nights. Something you knew about but still lingers in the corner of your heart for days and nights. Sleepless nights and the recollection that keeps you awake just for more stories told by your memory. The letters you receive. Each word and phrase is tailor-made just for you. Every sentence is joined with the thought of you. The way someone writes each word, the way he writes his ‘y’ or ‘g’. The little flicker in its tail. The way you take photographs, in an angle that focuses oddly into someone’s washed denim jacket. Not everything has to be analogue though, it can be on the other end of hushed late night calls, the muffled exchanges of your day, the missed call you only notice when you wake up next morning. The littlest things that have always been with you, but still leaves you with visceral hours of afterthoughts.

The way someone says “I love you,” the pair of eyes locked into each other, the backlit feeling of warmth spreading throughout your body, the power with which each word is spoken, pressed and calm. Not just the word love. That is my paradigm of love.