in silence

it’s been so long since the last time I wrote or posted here. time has floated past in a strange way the past three months; such different rhythms from my past few months at college. at yale everything moves faster, each day passed in a blur of jumping out of bed, speed walking to class, readings, food, pockets of time with friends, walking back, showers, short chats. next year i will return to a different room and i will no longer have other rachel to come home to. i will have my own space but perhaps less of a reason for it now. it still pains me a little. there are days i feel resolved with it all, like regardless of how it all turns out everything will be okay. and i still believe that, resolutely, that it will be okay. but that sense of 不舍得 won’t leave me for awhile i think.

it is 9.09pm and the sun is still gently warming the horizon – it is summer and the sun refuses to sleep. my body is cheated into thinking it is much earlier, that perhaps it is 6 and i still have over twelve hours of sleep waiting for me. but this is all untrue.

reading period

i stare my body down in the mirror and ask myself if i am strong enough.

some days i tell myself i’m done, i’m out, i don’t have to do this. other days i ask myself what is it all worth if i leave so easily? those days i tell myself i’ll stick to it till the point where i think it’ll really really wreck me to stay on. some of those days i tell myself i’m just being dramatic, that things are not how i see it.

i feel like i don’t know whether or not (or how??) i should trust my mind anymore.

the crumbs we settle into

if I have a child, I will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. I will point to the soft red bump at the end of a pencil and say “dice”. I will trace their fingers through the winding tracks of their shoelaces and christen the plastic loops “hurdles”. I will let them watch the way skin folds – the ripples on their belly, my eyes amidst their laughter, their cheeks when the sky glows on its way to sleep; I will call those … “crumbs”.

my mother is a teacher. a strict one. my best friend and my boyfriend commiserate over how they are both slightly afraid of her. one of my sister’s favourite stories is how my mother would use her “teacher face” and “teacher voice” to get all the teens crowding the front of the public bus to form orderly clumps at the back. she was the woman who would ask her students using “vagina” as a cuss word in the hokkien dialect if they needed a lesson in female genitalia. all the false bravado that a 17-year-old boy had painstakingly amassed? it never stood a chance against my mother.

one of her favourite lines is, “I taught you everything you need to know in kindergarten”.
at the age of 4 I learnt that in order to make the rain stop on your father’s hour-long drive to work, you must stand at the edge of your balcony, mouth peeking through the bronze grills, singing, “rain please stop please stop please stop, rain please stop please stop please stop”. repeat as many times as necessary.

at 5 I discovered the words cocoon, pupa, moth, butterfly. i plucked so many caterpillars from their homes on bushes before I learnt that a butterfly’s wings emerge damp after its slumber. there is an endless patience that must be learned before attempting flight.

at 6 i learnt that, to make and keep the best memories, open the back of your hello kitty film camera before you’ve wound back the film. let all the light in. maybe you’ll never hold in your hands the geysers where, hoodie on backwards, you avoided the sulphur; you’ll never see light fall once more on the field of daisies where you whimpered for every petal trampled upon; nor the train set that you split your favourite bunny sweatpants trying to build. but your mother’s laugh, the “you did what?”, the realization on her face that hers was a child with aperture eyes but amateur hands, that, that you will never forget.

if i have a child, i will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. I will stand with them by the tembusu tree, let them breathe in glimpses of early morning school bus runs in between the tree’s once a year siren song, I will tell them this, this is “family”. I will run their palms over the bead box from many arguments ago, the crack down its centre its spine, and whisper the word “patience”. I will touch their two fingers to my throat and another two to my grandmother’s, let them feel the vibration of our voices, hands over our mouths, the way tongue, cheek, teeth, lips pronounce codes foreign to each other, I will let them feel, I will let them feel, I will call it “time”.

If I have a child, I will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. Mostly to laugh at the day they look towards chance to solve a mistake, tell a friend that they can’t get their shoelaces through the hurdles, or think about how they really like the crumbs on their mother’s face. but when the air is too cold, the noise too much, I remember a world where clear skies are a prayer, where metamorphosis means to wait, where memories come of erasure. it is then that I realize I will teach them our blundering code so they will always have the language to phone home.

good morning!!

it is 10.47 am and here is the peace of the morning. i can’t decide if i am a morning person or a night person – i think i like both and i think i care far less about the mid-afternoon. just yesterday i was sitting on my bed past midnight telling my roommate about how calm the night felt. how there was no longer any need to think about a place you had to be in two hours or a meal you should take within the next three.

i woke up today and worked out for an hour before taking a shower and starting on my day. i always forget how much better that makes me feel. i feel so at ease and ready to take on the day now. was looking at my arms, my body, in the mirror and thinking about how glad i was that i’d begun to do lyra. i’ve always been kind of self conscious about my arms/ my shoulders (i have pretty broad shoulders). working out and getting stronger arms was always a thing of tentativeness for me – i wasn’t sure the added muscle was something i wanted. but, having started lyra, i’ve found that i can look in the mirror, see myself getting more muscular and genuinely feel at peace and really excited about that. it’s no longer just about what that looks like but about how i feel closer to being able to do a pull-up onto the hoop, how i feel closer to holding my chopper, how i’ll feel more stable in the air.

i feel like i’m in a good place with the person i am and the person i’m becoming. it’s a nice way to feel, i’ve missed feeling like that for a bit. counting down the days till i’ll be home but i know i will miss all of this when i’m back too.

the sun sets over harkness today; the eggplant-purple, the pink we didn’t quite like as children, the marmalade orange (the orange that so often cloaks the other hues).

“i thought the sunset was really beautiful and really wanted to share it with you”

“thank you, it is really beautiful”

we look within ourselves, pause, draw out all the parts that could be faulty and lay them out across the table. we miss the warmth under our soles, the sticky wind across our faces, the saturated drizzle of home.

we stick our tongues out only to taste the cool dry air.

here is the growing up, here is the striving to be good for each other (alongside the striving to be good for ourselves), here is the yearning, here is the sorrow. we sit outside on a bench because, for the first time in a long time, the wind is not an assault on the skin. we feel the shudder of our bodies; i feel the heaving of my chest then the slow calming of my breath. there is laughter too, there is laughter amidst all of this.

after it all ends i get an email from my father that reads “in one month time”.

in one month time.

in one month’s time i’ll be home.

i miss the feeling of home.


hoops & tarot cards

i’m breathing and there are days, moments, where the world is so startlingly beautiful. we did tarot card readings at teeth the other day and it was somewhat consoling and encouraging to feel like the world was throwing me signs to remind me that i was working in the right direction, that i am capable of so much and that i will remember what it feels like to be myself again. however, something i’ve been trying to remember is that all this, all the gravel beneath my feet, that is me too – it is a path i’m working through but while it is heartening to know that i want to and can do more, it is impossible to live without remembering that the struggling parts of myself are, too, sincere elements of who i am.

i went for lyra class yesterday and it was just one of the best feelings, thinking about nothing else but the movement of your body on the hoop, thinking about where to place this arm, that grip, that foot. what to catch on, what to let go. the strangest feeling was being upside down, suspended in a split by my ankle, calf and hip bones while feeling like if i let go of my hand grip  i would surely fall. yet, when i did let go, i found that everything else felt exactly the same, only that I now had my hands to use.

“a lot of people use their arms to pull themselves up into that position, so it feels like you can’t let go. but once you actually let go and sit into it, you find that you are perfectly stable.”

it feels phoney to make these comparisons between a lyra class and the other, broader, aspects of my life. but perhaps these are merely parallel threads running through my life at the moment. lyra class isn’t teaching me to let go (i worry too much and think too far ahead for that) but, slowly, in my life, for mostly unrelated reasons, i’m seeing what i’ve thought of as my safety nets fall away, and i’ve been finding that i’m okay. that i’m happy, i’m beaming, which is so so freeing.

i am tired, that is certain, i can’t wait to return home, that too is true. but it is also true that i believe i have enough strength in me to make it through the remaining weeks of the semester positively, that i really really can do this.

give me even the autumn leaves

everything is tense, i’m struggling to remember what i have been or could be, we’re struggling to remember and to be what we know we could. i don’t know how to find a way out, i don’t know which way is out, it’s harder trying to do this on my own but i think i need to recognise that we need to be able to do this on our own.

we were born in the summer heat.  that sticky, tropical glow, perspiration beading at our foreheads, staining the back of our shirts, lining our palms – this was not nervousness, only biology. we were born in our bid to catch the last traces of time, we fought the transience, we thought we won.

the seasons bleed into each other, i no longer remember what it feels like to be warm, to feel confident enough to walk outside without a coat in the knowledge that the world will not feel like an assault. even sunlight does not bring the same joy when it doesn’t know heat. the trees have been bare for so long, and i am waiting, waiting, waiting on the spring to come.

i don’t know whether to grit my teeth and pull it together (i don’t know if i can) or if i should reach out and ask for help. i’m finding it hard to see how anyone else could help, i’m trying to convince myself that i have what it takes to figure this out on my own, that i’m stronger than this, that i need to be able to do this. i know i need to give you the space to sort through yourself before you can come back to me again.

i miss so many people back home, i miss alysha, i miss regine, i miss jon, i miss my sister, i miss my parents. i just want the semester to be over so i can be home. i so dearly want to be home.

i have had a thankful few days where i am rediscovering what it is to dream again, to see your future not as static but evolving with every decision you make in the present.

it was the one consequence that i did not forsee when i made my decision. so much of my motivation to work, to be, has always been bound to the sense that i was actively discovering for myself what sort of future i want to create, what kind of life i want to lead. and to feel like that, at least in the near future, had already been deciding felt slightly paralysing. but i’ve realised that it doesn’t have to be. and i’m grateful for that.

fingers crossed, moving ahead.

to write in a bid to transgress your own privacy, but to write and to transgress the privacy of other lives when they are entangled with your own?

E.L Doctorow – False Documents:

Therefore I have to conclude that the regime of facts is not from God but man-made, and, as such, infinitely violable.

(…) there is no fiction or nonfiction as we commonly understand the distinction: there is only narrative.

i am so much stronger today than i was a week ago and i want to relish this, i want to remember how i made it through, i want to be able to be there for myself.

to burn brighter

Slightly past six my roommate and I made our way out of Old Campus, joining the mass of students, professors, and children gathered on Cross Campus. That night, the harsh shadows usually created by street lamps were softened by the warm glow of candles cradled in hands and the cool toned “SOLIDARITY” projected against the façade of the Sterling Memorial Library. Behind me, there was a father carrying his daughter on his shoulders and teaching her how to hold her candle upright. “Here, do it this way so it won’t burn the cover or drip on you.”

I am not American and neither is my roommate. We are two international freshmen from Singapore and Lebanon. The night of the vigil outside Sterling on the 29th of January 2017, we started at the fringe, wiggling our way through little gaps in the crowd in a bid to try and get into earshot of the speakers before finally finding a spot peering out of the Berkeley courtyard.

Yet, as silent faces lit by candlelight slowly came to be accompanied by the voices of individuals speaking on and about their thoughts on the executive orders that had come to pass, I found myself feeling more, instead of less, alone amidst a crowd that was supposed to be gathered in support of the communities that these orders set out to alienate. I cannot reproduce the speeches that I heard verbatim and will not try to. But I recall the fervent assertions that this, this discrimination on account of citizenship, on account of race, this rejection of refugees, this was not America. I heard assertions of speakers growing up viewing and believing in an America that was kind, compassionate, and welcoming. I heard speakers proudly sharing about how a Muslim family had been welcomed by American synagogues. I heard assertions that these orders ran against the foundation of what America was built upon. I heard the cheers that all of these assertions received in affirmation. But I could not cheer along.

At a vigil resisting the decisions of a Presidency whose central campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again”, the absence of a critical look at, and acknowledgement of, American history up till this point was jarring. What about the colonization of Native Americans, what about Angel Island and its immigrants in the early 20th century? Were these all, not America? Standing amidst the crowd in the vigil, I felt like I had no place in it if I did not want to join in the cheers extolling the virtues of America. The vigil was titled “Candlelight Vigil in Support of Immigrant & Refugee Communities” yet the speeches of the night spoke more about America than about any of the communities directly affected by the ban. At my most critical, it felt to me more like a people gathered in solidarity to salvage the image and ideal of a country that they felt was being threatened instead of a people truly gathered in support of the immigrants and refugees whose lives were being threatened by these laws.

As these speeches drew to a close, I stole a glance at my phone only to notice that I had missed two calls from my roommate’s mother back in Lebanon. My roommate and I had been working together for the entirety of that Sunday and she had not checked her phone at all. On any other Sunday, there would have been no reason for her anxiety. When we talk about our thoughts on the ban, my roommate tells me about her anxiety, being from an Arab country that is often perceived in a similar light as the countries affected by the ban. Yet, she is quick to tell me that she, still, is lucky. Lebanon is not on the list of countries affected by the ban, it is a country that is largely peaceful, she is here, in America, at Yale, by choice – if she had to, she has family, friends, an entire life still waiting for her back in Lebanon.

As an international student from Singapore, I cannot claim to understand what it must feel like to be in the position of those directly affected by the ban. But I can share the perspective of one, maybe two, international students at the vigil between Cross Campus and Sterling; I can share how being in the crowd that night was an alienating experience.

This is not a critique of all the people who gathered and who spoke that day at the vigil. It is hard to speak out on such a sensitive issue in front of such a large crowd. I know I am scared to share this opinion on a public platform, I imagine it must have taken much courage for every speaker to share theirs that day too. Their voices are important voices, and their opinions are important opinions – their visions of what America stands for are the reasons why I continue to be grateful to be here. But there is a threat, and there are fears, beyond that of what America stands for, that this ban poses. The missed calls I received from my roommate’s mother that night in the middle of a vigil was just one small indication and reminder of that. And that night, at the vigil, as a student who was not looking to rally behind a nationalistic cause, it felt like the fears and worries of those directly alienated by the ban were secondary.

My experience is not representative of what every non-American might have felt at that vigil. I believe there were those who were comforted, those who felt a resonance with and gratitude for the speeches delivered at the vigil. In the time that I was simply standing amidst lit candles, out of earshot of the speeches, there were numerous speakers I missed and if your speech addressed what I am saying here, I apologise. To all who spoke and who were present, I thank you for the reminder that people want to make a difference. But from one member of the Yale community to another, I believe we can do better. I believe we can express our concern about and love for a country and place we view, or are coming to view, as home while recognizing its transgressions in the past. I believe we can speak about our own fears while providing the space and stage for those of others without requiring them to be tied back to our own.

Behind me in the vigil, a child was learning how to hold her candle upright in the crowd. Let us all learn how to wield our candles, hold them high in the crowd. Let them and let the photos of the night be a glowing reminder that there are people, so many people, who will invest time and effort into speaking up against policies that set out to alienate and discriminate. But let them not simply be empty or easy symbols, let us speak about the difficult realities, let us really give time to fears and stories that are not our own. Let our candles not glow only as a message to those whom we are resisting, let them glow because we are creating the warmth of home for those who have been told they do not have one here.

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