As a writer, a nervous and a, shall we say nascent writer, I struggle daily with the issue of writing emotional stuff that could be construed as solipsistic, all about me. I don’t like putting myself out there. I have a folder of drafts that I never get round to actually posting.
I’ve been struggling to get out of this case of “posting or blogging block” for some time now and that’s why I have my friend, publisher, writing coach, and author Jo Parfitt mentoring me weekly on how to deal with it, for starters. She’s encouraged me to read Brene Brown’s book on imperfection and vulnerability Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.
She’s always throwing stuff my way to gently coax me out of the hole I’ve burrowed myself into. One night, Jo shared a poem written by her son Joshua, which she headlined, “something that will make you think. Really think.”
Intrigued, I clicked the link and read the poem and my world came to a standstill. I felt I was on the cusp of something both terrifying and magical.
I started shaking and crying. I was shivering, but I had to compose myself because I was putting my girls to sleep and had to read them a bedtime story.
As I lay in the dark later on, listening to the girls’ soft breathing as they drifted off to dreamland, Josh’s words were stuck in my head. I was compelled to write a response, a comment supposedly. But poetry came out flowing instead as tears streamed down my face. The ghost of a forgotten past had come back to haunt and confront me finally.
My grandmother brought me up because my mother abandoned me. There, I said it.
It is a question, or a thought; I’ve struggled to understand for years. I tried writing about it because that’s the default way I know on how to deal with “stuff”. Tried but the words just didn’t come out right. At times they sounded pathetic, sometimes angry. Other times the writing was full of loathing, other times, self-pity.
At last, after several decades of heartache, I have found closure in Josh’s poem. When I stopped to read what I had written, “this wait is over” leapt out of the page and it felt like a huge block had been lifted off from my shoulders. I thought it was a closed chapter all along, but my physical reaction showed otherwise.
It has been there all this time, the elephant in the room, always looming but never talked about. It was in every threat I made to leave my marriage in times of conflict lest the other walks out on me first. It was the cold shoulder and silent treatment for lengths of time I gave anyone who has ever offended or crossed me. I’m strong, Teflon, nothing sticks. I’ve pushed it aside and never confronted it.
But Josh’s words were powerful. It brought out the wounded child in me. And that was his gift.
The following night, I slept completely and soundly for eight hours straight for the first time in years, as I could recall. That was huge. The following night, the same thing happened, deep slumber.
But the other gift he’s taught me as a writer was that in moments you doubt yourself if anyone cares about what you write, your words could make a difference in one person’s life. It can heal, empower, and inspire. Even to just one person. That’s all it takes.
I’ve come to realize how immensely helpful and cathartic a piece of writing can be and why I must start to ‘dare greatly’ and post my work.
So thank you, Josh for this gift. And thank you Jo for the writing angel in you that has mentored me through.
Here’s the poem I wrote in response to Josh’s:
His word’s a single jab punch to the diaphragm,
constricting, crippling, gasping for air.
His word’s an ice pick stab in the heart
paralysis takes over;
scared that even just the slightest shift
will unleash an uncontrollable stream of gushing blood.
So I sit, immobilized, frozen, unmoving
to a time resuscitated by one question:
“Could I swap it for having mum back then?”
A dormant pain comes to life
That one question asked a thousand times over
a little girl, a distant childhood, etched pain
too scared to scrutinize:
Will it bring her back?
Will she ever come back?
An hour later, as I lay in the stillness of the dark,
a faint murmur of the chest pain lingers.
There are no scars to show, but this wait is over,
she’s not coming back,
she’s never coming back.
We writers express ourselves in the best medium we know how, through words. Straightforward, laced, metaphors, riddles and poetry, they come in all forms. White spaces are canvasses to those brimming thoughts swirling in our heads, blinking cursors and inks of all kinds are the brushes that give life to the words percolating and bubbling over in our heads, screaming to be unleashed.
Writing is cathartic for me, and I sometimes forget that what I write does affect others too. A worried phone call from far away in the wee hours one morning, understandably over something I wrote, led me to take the silent road for a while and embark on a much-needed introspection.
Moving a family and a marriage abroad has been a great challenge. Everybody thinks that expatriation sounds so exciting and adventurous. It is easy to underestimate the difficulty of settling into a new life in a new country. Major ups and downs have put our marriage to several tests, and setbacks have made us question the choices that have been made.
Identity issues and staying at home have been quite challenging situations to grapple with for expat wives as well.
On top of all that, there are no shortages of disheartening encounters: rules and policies that sometimes don’t make sense, excuses for bad services hiding behind bureaucracies, unreasonable persons and a string of bad experiences enough to send us packing our bags.
Being duped and manipulated by people to further their own agenda almost made me give up my faith in humanity and unscrew my steadfast belief in the inherent goodness of human beings. How do we cope with the madness that sometimes engulf our lives?
There are days you wake up to, wishing that you could fall back in sleep right away, hoping that when you open your eyes once again it’s going to be another brand new day. Yet you still have to get out of bed and carry on with a bright smile and a happy face before the children, because it is unfair to pass on that kind of insecurity to them.
As with all obstacles we face, nothing lasts forever. No bad situation is permanent. If we ride it out long enough, hold on tight, grin and bear it, albeit not without a lot of screaming and fighting and doors slamming, any uncomfortable condition too shall pass.
Resolution comes. Things have a way of sorting themselves out sometimes when we’re lucky. In other cases, the small actions you take to make the situation better are rewarded in the end. In worst cases, even if things take awhile or hardly improve, human beings are equipped with built-in mechanisms that make us adapt or learn to make peace with the things we cannot change.
It has been a year since we moved to Kuala Lumpur. Some kind of normalcy has settled upon what was once a big mass of upheaval and I’m hearing the birds chirping on sunny mornings once more.
These days, I look out the window and see the leaves dancing breezily from the branches of the trees and wonder in awe what a lovely day it’s turning out to be. Beautiful days have always been here all along. Sometimes we just fail to notice them because we’re too caught up in the drama encircling our human existence. But there’s no use being hard on our selves for being grumpy at times.
What matters is that we’re still here standing. We managed to step over some great hurdles and more are certainly forthcoming. But having survived those, which were thrown our way, only makes us stronger and better equipped with whatever is in store because we held on tight when things got rough.
In the meantime, happy days are here again.
Each morning, we wake up to a city full of hopeful people
And all they desire is to do meaningful work
But there are no shortages of the ones
Who bring them down. Day in, day out,
we wake up and resolve to put forth our best
To accomplish, be productive
And the first encounter with a human being
Knocks the wind out of our sails…
Cutthroat, survival, fear, malice
Punch in the gut, run off with your goods
Take away the inspiration
Break the marriage; shatter this friendship
let the tears start flowing
And so we sit, staring at a blank space on the wall
What the hell just happened?
So there goes the summer, as swift as the sunshine in the northern regions of Europe. September was an exciting month that kept our house aflutter, what with our first daughter starting her formal education.
Time flies when you are occupied. Time flies when you are living life.
Summer has always been a kind of respite from the daily grind. The scorching heat makes us take refuge in the comfort of our air-conditioned homes. And when we do brave the elements, it’s to lie comfortably under the shade of a beach umbrella, basking in the sea breeze wafting our way. It is also a time of reconnection, of holidaying with friends and families, of flying across the miles to reunite with those we hold dear.
Like any other season, it never lasts long no matter how we pray. Summer’s ending sometimes also signals the closing of certain chapters in our lives.
I do not like the cold, but I like autumn for the sense of brooding introspection it brings. The leaves of the trees tease us playfully with their magnificent displays of changing hues from green, to yellow, to flaming red oranges and magenta, finally succumbing into brown and withering, descend slowly into the grounds. Disengaged from the branches, they carpet the soft earth.
It’s like the bursting of a thousand beautiful sunsets, leaving a tree standing tall and bare; its protruding branches and gnarling shape exposed.
I believe this is a helpful exercise we human beings can submit to from time to time.
And so began this long introspection. A careless word, a tactless remark, or a hateful comment can shun an artist into withdrawal, a writer into a block, or cast a friendship into doubt. Without going into the details of a series of particular events, the distillation of a long thought process culminates.
Our experiences, encounters and what we have learned from the world and our travels shape us. Some people grow with us, while others will forever remain in our past. Distance changes people. It opens our eyes into the realities of the dynamics of the relationships we have with the other people in our lives. We suddenly differ in opinions and disagree on things we once were on the same pages with.
And while everyone is entitled to have his or her own opinion, it is important to remember that we can all agree to listen to it, tolerate it, and respect it for what it is without necessarily acceding to it.
There are battles worth fighting for, and there are disagreements worth walking away from. While I admire people who stand up for their own principles, great care should be taken into account on its application. No one is entitled to force his or her own brand of morality nor push his or her sets of beliefs on another.
How thin is the line that divides basic human decency from anarchy. The idea of respect for each other’s opinions and actions must be taken seriously if we are to uphold each human transaction with great care and regard. This is the foundation of all relationships and holds together the construct of our social fabric.
But what option is left for us if someone in our inner circle invades this basic courtesy and insists on his own views and perspectives as the only acceptable course of action from which all transactions in that particular relationship are going to be based?
Taking cue from the earth’s shift into autumn this time of year, there are moments when retreating is the best option if attempts at decent discussions only escalate the issues. Arguments are futile and pointless exercises. We don’t have to make a fuss or drama every time. We don’t even have to say goodbye. Just walk away.
Somewhere in the western hemisphere, winter will soon come and cast its chill. Hopefully, this hibernation will be enough time for us to rethink our values, to regroup and to knock us back into our senses and see things in a different light.
Who knows what spring has in store.