It Hurts!

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(currently listening)

  1. Way It Goes – Hippo Campus
  2. Super America – Bad Bad Hats
  3. Love That’s Gone – La Sera
  4. Brooklyn – Fickle Friends
  5. Jennifer – Little Comets
  6. Away from Today – Dan Croll
  7. Talk Too Much – COIN
  8. Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
  9. Wait Up – Roosevelt
  10. Not A One – The Young Wild
  11. Until We Get There – Lucius
  12. Musicians – Gold Motel

Lo-Fi

(adj.) Short for lo-fidelity. The production or reproduction of audio characterised by an unpolished or rough sound quality. First known usage: 1957.


Once, I hitched a ride with an older couple from Malaysia to Singapore after a weekend church retreat & we got stuck at the causeway for a couple of hours. That was when the husband said that we should all take turns to play some songs off our own devices because all the radio waves were still staticky & it would be interesting to know each other’s music tastes & so I plugged in my phone & played them a few tracks off Gold Motel’s Brand New Kind of Blue record. I thought they would like the songs because they were bright & nostalgic & summer-y but then when I asked what they thought, the husband turned around & said, they’re alright I guess, but they’re a bit juvenile, don’t you think?

Oof. Well, I suppose they are:

“Forget it all, it’s just a sun-drenched dream
I bet you make a good memory
I’ll come back soon, when you least assume
Oh, Santa Cruz”

(Santa Cruz – Gold Motel)

“Pluck a heart-string, duck for cover
Hear the phone ring, start to stutter
He wants to know why I sit & sigh so
I yelled your name like a secret out the window
Oh, the night is so young
It hurts!” 

(It Hurts – Bad Bad Hats)

The thing is, I would like to write a lo-fi, “juvenile” love song but I just don’t know how. I think it’s one of the hardest things to write. I did a gig last Saturday with some friends & while it was fun to play Quiet Man & Santorini & Waves, the artists before & after us all had their fair share of juvenile love songs about high school crushes / cheesy declarations of love / bad break ups & I just realised that I didn’t have anything like that in my song repertoire. Just songs about cities or fictional creatures. Hmmm.

I suppose that artists like Gold Motel & Bad Bad Hats appeal to me because the songs they write always seem raw & tender & almost Bukowskian in all their juvenility. No frills or poetic anguish to hide behind. Sometimes that summer road trip really feels extraordinary & transcendent, or that break up just plain sucks. Sometimes, the best way to describe what you’re feeling is to write a two-minute, two-chord song, & shout: It Hurts!

Mr & Mrs Svensson

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Sometimes, on the way home from school
I would see Mrs Svensson
out on her big, front yard.

She would be reading or just sitting there
enjoying the sun, her hands languid
across her lap. We always said hello.

The Svenssons would throw these parties.
Even with the winter, nascent,
I remember the tables laid out on the yard

& cherry-coloured lights, strung,
from evergreen to evergreen
& all evening, they would come

men with scraggly beards & women in sleek dresses
the whole spectacle framed in copper red
all of them drinking till the sky dwindled to a dull glow

I remember the women always
sounding less important
even from a distance.

Yesterday evening I saw her again
sitting on the side step, her mouth agape.
A book sat on her lap

opened, unread
the wind rifling through its pages
as if to say, have you looked here yet

(2014)

Twelve Square Meters

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Like life, I am unhinged, as large,
In an apartment high above
with streaked windows like doors
This dream becomes
solid as the ground I stand on
Lick my fingers clean from an unconscious song

I have been thinking a lot about my time in Sweden lately. Of course, here and there I think about Stockholm, abbreviated and embroidered on every facade of the city – train stations, street signs, guidebooks – as STHLM, chic and straightforward, not unlike its people. I see the city as surely as I see water in all its forms; the numerous islands and bridges and river inlets that make up the city and create an openness that is rare in European capitals.

‘Water is the nerve of Stockholm. It opens up the sky and lends a glow to this incredible fairytale city of the north, not far from the Arctic Circle. Stockholm is the city, it is always the same, everything changes, people come and go…’

But although STHLM is immediately identifiable to the cosmopolitan traveler, it is my humble town of Linköping that I miss the most. It is the fifth largest city in Sweden but the city name and its pronunciation (lin-sher-pin) is usually unheard of. And I too, did not hear of it till it became part of me.

I remember arriving in my tiny square space and spending that night on a threadbare and musky IKEA mattress, the room startlingly dark and all my possessions contained in two luggage cases, that feeling of lightness of being (but also an acute emptiness) unfurling in my chest. I had arrived at Linköping after applying for an exchange program on a whim with my then-boyfriend, picking the place only because it seemed like a whimsical, faraway town to runaway to if only to escape the sticky Singaporean heat. In that moment though, it did not seem at all appealing. I missed my own room, my home.

After a night of crying, I refused to stay in the stagnant and decrepit state of not belonging and thus unpacked, sparse as the shelves looked under my five or six possessions. At least I tried. And I tried the next day, and the next day, and the next. And as the weeks passed, I began to develop a routine and I slowly felt the previously hostile walls of the room begin to mould around my daily activities – or perhaps I was changing myself to fit the contours of the room itself.

Every day after art history or political science class, I would park my pink bike outside my dorm, unlock my door and hang my coat and scarf on the rack next to my bathroom (coat, left; scarf, right). I would shake the snow off my boats and leave them to dry between the radiator and the front door. Then finally, I would stumble into my tiny bedroom and collapse onto the sheets to thaw from the minus five-degree weather.

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I began to decorate, dragging a white table and chairs and boxes of abandoned books from the college residential halls into my room. Piles of research papers and discarded poetry collections began to form little towers on my study table. I grew accustomed. Every morning I would wake up, turn my body to the right and gaze at the blue-grey shafts of light that slid between the blinds and made their way into my room. It was almost winter then and the sun would climb up lazily into the sky at ten in the morning and then melt away again into the horizon by four in the afternoon. I liked that fluctuation of dark and light; it suited my introverted tastes.

Rydsvagen 254 A17 58438
Linköping, Sweden

But when did this room become “home”, exactly? I can’t remember which weekend trip I was coming back from, perhaps Oslo or London, but I do know that it was in the dead of the night and we were exhausted from lugging our bags from train to bus, bus to plane, plane to bus again. And I remember this moment so clearly – as we approached the Ryd intersection and went separate ways to our own student apartments, I turned to whoever I was traveling with then and said, okay well, see you later, I’m going home. Home.

The four-letter word hung in the dark intersection, crystallised in sleepy breath. And for me, that inherent moment of the sense of home shifting within my mind’s eye was monumental and I felt a rush of yes, the other-home sweetness and warmth, the belonging, like when a person fits her arm into the crook of her lover’s and it sits there snug… like when there’s a catch between bolt and key, like when you’re no longer suspended in air.

Almost immediately I felt a little guilty, as if I was cheating on my own room in Singapore, but then I reassured myself with the thought that my old room would understand. There, there. It wouldn’t mind one bit. It would want me to feel at home in another place, at least for a certain period of time.

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I took many pictures of the European cities that year, stunning sights and historical monuments. I took pictures of the celestial lights in the midnight Scandinavian sky, of the deep velvet forests I hiked in, of the people I had met. I took many pictures at an attempt to remember, but now when the names of towns and municipalities and street names are slipping off the edges of my mind, all I have to do is close my eyes and think about my room, my little twelve square meters of home. It is the one thing I can’t forget.

I guess the thing that I’m getting at is this: you only have one birthplace but you can have more than one home. Even though I’m back in Singapore right now, I am always wondering what my next destination will be and whether it is a place where I could one day reside and make my own. And as I recollect memories about my time in Sweden, I also find myself feeling fluid – like water, like the rivers of Stockholm, like that sense of home.

It should’ve been me

Just two days after the first of June
A pine with arms brushing off the dew
Unlike a sky copious with death
Precipitation of heart & head
She’d wash the rest of her youth away
& carry on with it as she may
But something’s pending curvaceously
‘Cuz sunburned skin won’t agree with me

It should’ve been me
It should’ve been me

The pleasure’s good as the pleasure sounds
My chin held shut so my heart can talk louder
I was a mess just like the pool
Our days spent crossed out of Sunday school
July has always been shy of June
Some monsoon, monsoon, monsoon
Come heavy of a golden hue
My monsoon, monsoon, monsoon

It should’ve been me
It should’ve been me

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

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“Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.”

 

Adam Zagajewski

A reminder that in all things, there is hope.

Happenstance;

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My contemporaries like small objects,
dried starfish that have forgotten the sea,
melancholy stopped clocks, postcards 
sent from vanished cities,
& blackened with illegible scripts,
in which they discern words
like “yearning,”, “illness”, or “the end.”
They marvel at dormant volcanoes.
They don’t desire light.
Adam Zagajewski

A typewritten copy of this poem hangs forlornly on one of my bookshelves, held down in place by some candles & foreign coins. It caught my eye yesterday as I cleaned out my tiny library. As I skimmed through the poem, it took on new meaning for me because whilst I had always enjoyed it before, I think I finally understood what Zagajewski meant when he talked about his contemporaries liking small objects & not desiring light. It invokes a kind of sadness, when you let the collecting of small objects replace the joy of finding these small objects in person on a journey, picked up by pure happenstance.

Happenstance (adj.)
: a circumstance especially that is due to chance

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Incidentally, my shelves are filled with “small objects”: trinkets, curios, gifts from friends, souvenirs from faraway. Sketches. Leather bound notebooks from Melbourne. A ceramic turtle from Kyrgyzstan that produces a high-pitched whistle when you blow through its mouth… Ah, you get the picture. A hundred little things. & as I looked at Zagajewski’s poem & all the dusty tchotchkes scattered around me, I was filled with the sudden desire to return back to the things that once brought true joy – travel, photography, writing, sketching, eating – instead of being reduced to The Collector.

 

You are The Collector
bringing together
the hidden places in people
collarbones, forearms, ears…
you’re storing them up
in the city that is your mind
O, that deep, swirling darkness
Won’t you let me in?

But do I want to go in? I don’t think so; not anymore. It comes down to this: I don’t want to be reduced to a forgotten thing on a shelf. It’s time to open up, let the light in.

Why now; why again

angels-in-disguise-bookstore

Six years ago, I walked into a ramshackle bookstore in the left bank of Paris & something in my soul shifted. I have always loved books & the worlds of words contained in them but until then I never thought that it could be this: a sinuous stream of kaleidoscopic thought, an abode for the poor dreamer. That night (in a musky room of a slightly-dodgy boarding house in the 18th arrondissement), I wrote these words:

“…ridiculous as it may seem, stepping into this tiny English bookstore in Paris felt like the entire reason why I was in Europe; the endpoint of the crossing of continents.

& now, six years from that day, I am realising that one doesn’t get many moments like that in one’s lifetime. That moment when lock meets key; that quick, momentary tightening before things click into place, whereby one can gently sigh & say: ah, yes. Yes. Do you remember what it was like, to be young & idealistic? Yet untouched by the world. Even if it was a very long time ago, you must have been like that once because everyone was before, even if they have grown quite a fair bit since.

This blog was started after a prolonged silence & an irreversible unravelling. It is an effort at pursuing respite, a harkening back to the things that once brought joy – selah, if you will – after a long time of wandering & wondering. It is inspired by a quote from George Whitman, the quixotic & sadly deceased bookseller of the rag-&-bone store, Shakespeare & Company:

“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”

These words, a reinterpretation of the bible verse Hebrews 13:2, are painted & forever immortalised above the slanted indoor-doorway of said bookstore. They resonate deeply because this is my story – always has been, always will be – of venturing out & returning destitute, of running away & running back home. Home. In the words of fictional character Holly Golightly:

“Home is where you feel at home. I’m still looking.” 

& so am I, so am I. & when I finally arrive, oh, on that fateful, glorious day, I would like to feel a cascading warmth; I would like to hear that all-familiar voice say: hello, welcome stranger. Welcome home.

More to come.

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