新春快乐 (and yet spring is nowhere in sight)

     

Oooh it’s always so strange for me to return here after an extremely long writing drought. I get very antsy when words don’t flow out of me as smoothly as it usually does. The feeling is akin to losing my voice and being unable to communicate and interact with others.

Here’s a confession: in my pursuit to expand and learn and absorb as many life experiences as I could, there were times (especially since the beginning of third year) where I’d fallen pretty hard and didn’t really know the right way to get back on my feet. I’m sure this is a relatable feeling for most people. Days and weeks whizzed past like they were nothing significant, and the only way I could keep track of what I did or where I went was by recording my days in the calendar app. I wasn’t forgetting, I was just too obsessed with chasing after new stimuli every single waking second to dwell (too much) on what had happened, in certain aspects.

As a result, I was constantly disorientated, lost, anxious, of any current state of being I was in at the time. There were times when dread and anxiety kept me up at night and my appetite at bay. There were times when I felt like all I could ever be was the emotion of sadness. There were times when I would obsessively do a mental scan of pillars that could help fasten me sturdily onto the here and now of what was real and what was not but turn up zero; a convincing persuasion of my mental state that I was only truly alone in this world.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the conversations I’ve had with some of my friends regarding my fears and emotions, it’s that these self-pity parties that I always throw for myself have a dangerous tendency to be blinding. Literally – blinding me from realising that I am not as empty as my nightmares dictate myself to be, that sometimes it can be easy to take certain things and people for granted in the presence of idealistically high expectations, and that there are some things and people that are just not worth the anguish I brew within myself.

You’ll never catch me verbally uttering the words “new year, new me”, but I’ve set benchmarks for myself based on that phrase three times now this year: the start of 2018, the start of my second semester, and now, Chinese New Year. This CNY, I want to leave behind all my regrets and inadequacies, want to focus my efforts instead on the things that do matter and the people who do care. The happiness I felt this morning when I headed for the CNY festival in Chinatown might be slightly sleep-deprivation-induced, but it was a feeling that told me everything was going to be okay, and that this joy was well-deserved. There need not be a deeper analysis of what is in front of me, it can just be.

These few days reminded me that there is a lot to be grateful for, and I am so, so grateful for my family and friends, without whom I couldn’t have possibly made it this far in life.

 

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i still dream about the northern lights sometimes

i came back from iceland for a week to find out my houseplant had died.

at first i was in denial. it was a very hardy breed, this one, which used to be able to go on for days without water and still not brown around the edges of its leaves. when i came back, its bottom half was withered, but since the top half still showed signs of greenery, i continued watering it in hopes that it would be revived eventually.

but for some botanic reason that i couldn’t fathom, it still continued to wither, water filling up half the pot dish like a moat surrounding a castle. except this kingdom was dying. maybe i’m just bad at taking care of things. it was very ostentatious of me to assume that i can take care of another living specimen when i’m already doing a bad job taking care of myself.

but constantly looking at this dying plant next to my window feels more apt than ever in this bleak month of january. iceland already feels so far away, has been ever since i came back and realised how much work i have to do for midterms. and since then, it’s just been daily repetitions of obsessively going through my head the amount of time i have left for which and which subject, in addition to applying for bar school, worrying about the uncertainty of (maybe) staying back in the UK for another year, and constantly reminding myself to keep my emotions in check, around other people at least.

i don’t like that this period of slaving away in front of laptop screens and nose deep in textbooks is taking away from appreciating my remaining time left in uni. it’s very soul-draining to hyperfocus on something for such long periods of time, completely oblivious to my surroundings while time whizzes past without hesitation. by the time i hand in my last paper, january will already have been over. how the hell is that fair.

time feels so convoluted when you’re measuring them by pages and topics and subjects, trying to figure out how you can slot in time to eat. it barely feels real that just two weeks ago, i was in the backseat of our rented SUV in reykjavik, skeptical about yet another online tip on the appearance of northern lights but – it was real this time! after a week of driving out on barren icelandic highways with no streetlights present at all during ungodly hours of both the night and morning in various states of semi-slumber, we finally managed to catch the ever elusive aurora borealis, cold negative temperatures temporarily forgotten in the face of excitement. there was no way i could’ve written a better epilogue to our week-long trip in iceland.

but now the only elusive thing in my current circumstances is time, and it’s all i can do not to dwell on this deficiency too much to the point of breathlessness.

hm. i just watered my plant. maybe i’ll still try to save it after all.

comfort zones are all i talk about

Per tradition. It’s six hours to the end of the year.

This year I feel like all I’ve talked about on here is this year. So I’ll just say this: as soon as December 2017 started, I really, really didn’t want the year to be over. Because the arrival of 2018 means that I only have six months left of university in Manchester, and although my response would have vastly differed a mere two years ago, I only have reluctance towards leaving now. The first semester of my third year quite literally flew by; I’m sure the second one will, too.

It’s a bit difficult to look backwards now (mostly because I somehow retain very little memory of specific incidents and also because they all feel so unreachably far away), so next year, I want to continue stepping out of comfort zones and more and more into the skin of the type of person I want to be.

Happy new year everyone!

ワンオク イン マンチェスター

Confession: I only started listening to One Ok Rock a month prior, but when I found out Joe would be coming here all the way from Newcastle just to watch them live, I thought I might as well join her after managing to find some spare tickets on Twitter.

On Tuesday morning, Joe left for the SU as early as 8 in the morning to start queuing, but no one else came to form a proper queue until after lunch, and we joined the queue as numbers 5 and 6. Of all the Mancunian days to be outside in the freezing cold for a long period of time, it had to be the day that the temperature was well under 0 degree Celsius for the whole day. Honestly, Joe for MVP of the day for braving through almost six hours of the cold with the help of multiple Costa hot beverages and layers of winter clothes for our spot in the queue.

I had a lecture until 5PM so I rejoined the queue after that, taking turns with Joe to go home and change and grab a bite. Iasmina and Aya joined us shortly after that, and at 7PM sharp, we were released from the clutches of the savage cold and into the excitement that was watching One Ok Rock live with our own eyes!!!

I’ve been to lots of concerts and gigs, especially in the UK, so I think my statement is pretty legitimate when I say that OOR’s stage presence is the best I’ve ever seen. Right from the moment they appeared on stage, the energy never subsided (okay, except for ballads but even then, the hypnotic grip their performances had on us never faltered for one bit) and every single song was a solid ten out of ten. Vocals, guitar, bass, drums; it really was a performance which you can feel the members putting their 100% and more in, and so naturally, you can’t help but give in 100% too.

Also, special shoutout to Taka’s voice for being so ridiculously out of this mortal world. His live rendition of Take What You Want gave me literal goosebumps and at one point, I felt like his vocal performance was too sacred a moment to not be indulged in fully in that present moment that I stopped recording (which is saying quite a lot considering the endless dots of my Instagram stories) and just. Listened. And drank in that instant of being there, in the presence of good music, connected to the band on stage and also to everyone around me belting out lyrics that mean so much to everyone in the room.

I was told that OOR sold out stadiums in Japan and other Asian countries within seconds, so to be able to attend a rather intimate gig of theirs in the front rows of the 900-people capacity hall of Manchester Academy 2 all the way here in the UK sure made me feel like God was being generous in gifting me with luck that night.

The night ended way too soon and we were reluctant, so after the gig, we waited next to their tour bus in hopes of managing to catch a glimpse of them one last time before they leave Manchester for good. Tomoya somehow managed to pass by us unnoticed, and at some point, Taka appeared, during which I was too shocked and seized up to do anything except say “Hi” nervously when we made eye contact for a split second, and then he was gone.

My night ended the way most of my nights this year did: a super late dinner/supper at McDonald’s, and a good couple hours of reliving the concert back in my room with Joe before falling into a deeply satisfactory slumber.

Joe made a vlog:

Michelle’s People I’ve Watched Live List, updated:

just looking out on the day of another dream

Michelle’s People I’ve Watched Live List, updated:

up on melancholy hill there’s a plastic tree

By a twist of fate (something that has happened a lot lately), I found myself invited to a party at Opal Gardens by friends I’d only just made within the week. There’s little I would say no to nowadays; there’s only so little time I have left in Manchester anyway.

Conversations that night went off on all sorts of tangents in Francesco’s tiny living room filled with 12 of us, and at some point, after having quite a bit too drink, I found myself talking about MBTI personalities with Farah and got excited upon finding out that she’s also an INFP, which spun into discussions about, “Do you think you’ve changed since your first year?”

I was prompted by Farah to write about my answer here on my blog:

Since the start of this academic year, I’ve generally refrained from writing much about…anything, really, on here. Reasons include extreme busyness, awareness that self-centric posts might be annoying to some, and a newfound fear of making public my emotions and thought processes based on current life events. I hate being dishonest and insincere, so instead of lying and hiding, I’d rather not write at all.

The same feeling still applies currently, but I’ve got a writing itch so let’s see how far it’ll carry me.

My number one motto/mindset for this year, as aforementioned, is to graduate from Manchester in six months without any regrets of not doing the things that I want to do. And thus, this sense of urgency, as well as the motivation to do more things and meet more people that has been cultivated over the past two years, provided me with seemingly endless courage to do things that I would never have been brave enough to do last year or two years ago.

This makes me pretty satisfied and happy. Some days, I allow myself the luxury and narcissism to measure my own progress since first year and pat myself on the back for coming so far. But, and I told Farah this too, somewhat incoherently, I still can’t seem to eradicate all skepticism towards my own measurement because after all, external validation has always been a deciding factor for what I believe is right or wrong. So where that stands, I am still wholly unsure since it’s not exactly common policy for you to go up to your friends and ask, “Do you think I’ve changed?” Still, it’s a nice achievement to think about in the shower.

Having coerced myself into this mindset for the past two months and thus experiencing twist after twist of fate, I’ve also managed to experience fleeting moments where a tiny thought would suddenly pop into my head, “Hmm, this is exactly what I’d always wanted”, remembering nights spent alone in my room crying and wondering what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t get the things I wanted, but now being able to barely ruminate on these worries and finding myself in situations that I’ve craved for years ago, almost imperceptibly. I mentioned in my previous post that these moments leave me feeling so intoxicated, at finding myself closing the gap between craving and achieving.

I’m not gonna lie, it feels weird! It’s so different. My life currently is so different from first and second year but I keep on going so I don’t allow myself to get too weirded out by this weirdness and hesitate. I’m afraid that if I stop, I’ll recoil back into comfort and regret again so I just keep going on, keep making plans, keep saying yes, keep keeping busy until I feel so far away from the fears of yesterday. Make no mistake, I’m not free from fear’s grasp, but I instinctively push myself to sprint away faster before I’m rooted to the ground, unable to do anything.

There’s no point denying that I’m still hiding a lot. This blog has turned from my ultimate emotion-vomit outlet to a highly public and fragile precipice that I have to handle with utmost care. But it’s better than nothing. Sitting here currently, in the Learning Commons yet again, I’m struck by how everything and everyone existing in my life currently are consistent reminders of how little time I have left here, urging me to drink in my surroundings more, to sprint more, until I reach a point that I’m satisfied enough to say that my third year in university was the best year I’ve had yet.

letters to poets (part v), this one’s called: three kinds of feelings

one.

it’s november. everything happens in november. the month everyone chooses for everything to happen in. deadlines. events. applications. plans. i’m a third year, you think, this is my third year in university and i have yet to learn my lesson of knowing when to compromise in the month of november. 

so you live day to day as systematically as you can by your schedule, important dates consolidated into physical obstacles in your mind’s eye. some days you’re productive, and you end the day by rewarding yourself with a tv episode or two. some days you’ve done shit all, and you force yourself to stay put in your seat in the learning commons even though it’s one in the morning and your eyes are strained to the highest degree. the thing is, your ratio of both types of days is so heavily unbalanced tilting towards the latter, so much so that a good majority of your time is spent in a building filled with equally weary and exhausted students, chasing the same things you’re chasing, worrying the same things you’re worrying.

you’ve lost count of how many sandwich meals you’ve had. always ham or bacon or if you’re lucky enough, some exotic asian-flavour-inspired chicken that’s always left in either twos or threes on the shelves in morrison’s. you’ve also lost count of how many mcdonald’s suppers you’ve had well late into the night, head full of guilt and self-reproach of all the late night habits that you are, once again, cultivating merely two months into the new academic year, yet there’s nothing i can do about it, you tell yourself. it’s a necessity. live a little.

and so one wednesday, you find yourself in the exact same position again, back hunched over your bible-sized textbook and computer, a slave to the mind-numbingly rigid examination system just like everyone else in the same premise as you are seated in. the times new roman 12pt words on your screen are starting to blur; you’ve been here for hours, punctuated by meetings and society responsibilities. and sandwiches, you recall. those sandwiches were the only meal you had for the day. so, despite your fatigue, despite it already being the morning of the next day, you call up a friend for supper (again), wolf down three dishes, and that’s when it starts to hit.

exhaustion like no other.

an exhaustion that makes you feel dizzy even though you aren’t even standing up. one that makes you reach for the healed scab on your scalp again after such a long time of avoiding anxiety. it feels like a haze, slowing down your movements and thoughts and you worry you might just fall off your chair if you continue staying up any longer. so you pay the bill and hurry home, an automated routine until you fall onto your bed and sink into your duvet. sleep at last, sleep at last.

and yet. you’ve always had a problem with getting what you want, huh

sleep evades you. somehow. for some reason. your body is ready to sleep. your mind is ready to sleep. you feel relaxed. you feel the familiar tendrils of unconsciousness pulling at you leisurely, yet there’s something in your mind that’s stubbornly keeping you anchored to the here and now. it isn’t anxiety, your chest isn’t thumping erratically, your palms dry without sweat.

it’s a floating awareness, lethargic and uncalculated, quiet and unknowing, in the dark of what feels to be between three and four am.

two.

it’s no longer news to the people who know you that you are a sad person. that doesn’t mean you’re sad all the time (not anymore, anyway), but by default, sadness is your go-to emotion. the first emotion that your alcohol-ridden cortex triggers is sadness. you dislike feeling angry so you choose to be sad instead. you’ve gotten so used to sadness that you don’t even view it as a negative thing in certain circumstances anymore. you know sadness. it’s familiar. it’s almost comfortable.

so when your first few months of your third year pummelled you with fist after fist of sadness, you barely feel the shock anymore. sure, you still fall. you’re still not strong enough to withstand a punch to the face without sinking to the ground, but you’ve been on the ground long enough for you to recognise every groove and scratch of the surface underneath you; you’re not even surprised anymore. you’re sad again! no one around you is even surprised anymore.

but after being sad for so long, you’ve become able to differentiate between your own sadnesses. the first type is the most straightforward. something or someone makes you sad, you feel sad, and the mechanics and gears of your brain, hormones and nervous system identify this specific emotion, wasting no time in propelling your tears through their glands, down the vast barren lands of your cheeks until you’re a sobbing, hiccupping mess that feels like it can ooze sorrow through its very pores alone.

crying is a good thing. it has always been your number one coping mechanism. there are few circumstances where you don’t emerge from an emotional bawling flush feeling at least five times better than you were pre-cry.

no, the greater evil isn’t crying for five hours straight to an array of people about an array of things. it isn’t having to wash your sweater the next day because you’d been soaking its sleeves with your own uncontrollably overflowing snot.

the greater evil is feeling that hollow, sinking feeling in your chest but being unable to cry the sadness away. it’s sensing an emotional blockage that manifests in an actual blockage in your throat, accompanied by a suffocating feeling and a churning gut. it’s feeling lost and helpless because you can’t pinpoint the source of your sadness, but you still feel it everywhere that is within your capability to feel, like an itch you can’t reach no matter how hard you try. it’s actually actively searching for external stimuli to make you cry, because that’s all you’ve ever known to deal with sadness. it’s telling someone “i’m sad” but being unable to answer the subsequent response of “why?” with a rational reason. it’s, thus, being coerced into swallowing the blockage down as best you can and attempt to keep busy with real life tasks, filling your brain with things and hoping that the brimming capacity of your brain will push the unidentifiable sadness out.

it’s wondering when you will stop being immersed in sadness for so long that you have all the time and brain space in the world to analyse your own sadness for the world to comprehend.

three.

now this one. you can’t really wrap your head around this one. this feeling has observed some rather drastic changes over the years, and each time, you have rather solid reasons and justifications for what you were feeling at the time, so it’s not like you can pointedly label one to be better than the other.

you remember a conversation you once had with a close friend who was far away: how you used to yearn company so much but at that time, you could understand completely her previous desire to be left alone and to carry out her own plans at her own pace. to your surprise, she responded similarly, but with a directly opposite view in reference to her current craving for human companionship.

four years ago, there was little you would say no to. it’s not like you’d completely abandoned your personal space, but having people around was mostly always better than none. you wanted to be invited to everything, and you were. you wanted to participate in all the conversations, and you did. “do you really always want to talk to [your friends]?” “yes. definitely.” you couldn’t understand why anyone would want differently.

two years later, whether it was due to circumstance, or just a very drastic self-inflicted change of mindset, you chose solitude. sure, you still felt lonely as hell, probably even the loneliest you’ve ever been, but you constantly felt the incessant need to get out. get out of places. get out of crowds of people. but maybe you were just getting out of being the person you were around people, which wasn’t a very good version of yourself at the time. if i’m not with people, then i won’t have to witness the painfully inadequate and incompetent person that i am in relation to everyone else. it made sense. in front of everyone else, you felt like a loser. in front of just yourself…well, you might still be a loser, but at least you can do and say the things you want without worrying about what other people might think of you.

you found things to occupy yourself with. anime. books. studying. these were things you looked forward to going home to everyday, and honestly, they made you feel wholly yourself. you were in your own headspace all the time, making you hyper-aware of your own desires and thoughts. if anything, this gave you a rather firm grip on your own self. you’ve never felt as self-realised as you did then.

well guess what. you’ve also never felt as lonely as you did then.

because the world is full of people, right? and people are always interconnecting, right? no matter how comfortable one feels in their own skin, cohabitation and communal living are inherently human. and why wouldn’t they be, when there’s such an unimaginably massive sample space of specimens out there to discover and learn about. when it’s all the media ever feeds you with. when you can’t even go anywhere on campus without being reminded of your lack of connections.

so you try again. try to get back into that mentality of wanting to surround yourself around people. it’s difficult at first, because you’re technically peeling off a hard shell that has hardened with age over the past year, and you scream and you cry but you don’t stop trying. and along the way you still have doubts as to whether this is the correct path after all but you still continue anyway because what else was there to do?

but amidst the uncertainties and apprehension, there finally comes a time when you get to say with confidence that you are reaping what you’ve sowed. and this time, you don’t get to say that it’s just simply wishful thinking, when it’s right in front of your eyes. you actually cannot believe it. you start to feel the yawning distance between who you were and who you are now even more palpably. and frankly, this disparity leaves you feeling quite intoxicated. you allow yourself to feel pride and triumph at achieving a desired milestone. you allow yourself the giddiness of doing things you’ve never done before, meeting people you’ve never met before. you think to yourself, it’s been a long and arduous journey, but i’ve made it.

and yet, that nagging voice at the back of your head whispers sinisterly. you understand immediately.

and yet, you are still lonely.

in the pursuit of otherness, you’ve forgotten to retain the core of what it means to be by yourself, with yourself. so you’re always leaving, leaving to go somewhere else, leaving to meet someone else, until some days, you forgot what it’s like to have a home to come back to.

and at the same time, as you walk along streets filled with people, hands buried deep in your pockets from the inching winter, hoping to catch a glimpse of any familiar face in your mental database, you still wonder what it’s like to have the ultimate connection that everyone around you seems to have, a milestone left unaccomplished, unattainable.