Repave – 2017, In Review

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Inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Paris, March 2017.

Time is relentless
it casts long, tremulous shadows
& we, we are always in transit
fleeting & flitting
between light & dark & translucence 
always fickle
always whisked away by loftiness
by that crumbling feeling
or the lift away.
We don’t study the minute details
but we take in beauty in spoonfuls, gallons…
What ephemeral creatures we are.
We must tread lightly on this earth.

Time is indeed relentless. Each calendar year folds us in without our volition, without countdowns or resolutions, without eyes squeezed shut at a wish being prayed in the middle of a street glistening with rain, praying for better, for more, for an expanse of white happiness to spread into the hours & days & months that will trudge on. When do we stand still long enough to let our souls catch up with our bodies that are always going places? When do we repave?

Rely, rely, rely, rely
Behave, behave, behave, behave
(spent all of that time not wanting to…)
Decide, decide, decide, decide
Repave, repave, repave, repave
(spent all of that time not wanting to…)

Alaskans – Volcano Choir

Now’s as good a time as any. Here are some highlights – with lots of pictures, because sometimes words just don’t do enough justice.


Swansea / Hay-on-Wye/ Cardiff / Paris / Berlin / London.

Six places in five weeks. A pilgrimage like none other.

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Bible school & moody coastlines.
The world’s first national book town.
A harrowing experience.
Wordlessness in my soul city.
Contemplation in the concrete.
Lightheartedness & the going home.


New Beginnings.

& yet all of that didn’t mean I had any real answers to the biggest question… What next? It’s not easy picking up the pieces when what you thought you would be doing your own life suddenly grinds to a halt. Coming back home, I prayed hard & knuckled down, steeling myself for a lengthy, vigorous search.

Turns out I didn’t have to. I went for an interview for a job that I don’t think I was even qualified for, got an offer a few hours after, & started at a new workplace two weeks later. & while the first few months were incredibly tough (still is, most days), I cut my teeth at whatever task I was given & tried to positively impact the people I was surrounded with. Ministry in the marketplace. & while I’m still making mistakes & learning fast & furious on the job, I’m more convinced than ever that this is where God has placed me in this season.

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Four people with two Beatles songs between us, all in a illicitly-booked meeting room.

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ASLB Halloween – where we all drew names & came dressed as each other. One of my favourite workdays of the year.
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Of course, there’s the real Halloween, where the true nightmare is the client who gives you sleepless nights & sore eyes. 
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Getting coffee. Anywhere. Always. 


Church.

Another huge curveball was ministry. What was supposed to be a year of rest turned into a year of shock, struggle, & anger. This came with the painful leaving of many lifelong friends as well – planned or unplanned.

But finally, things came to a head & all the shock & struggle & anger turned into an acceptance of new responsibility, of new calling. Where did it come from? I suppose from the realisation that what mattered at the end of the day was the people & knowing how precious each of them were to God.

Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause

Even though I could walk away from a ministry, there was no way I could walk away from its people. I will serve the church – my church – with as much strength as I have & for however long God grants me the grace to.

Ministry is such a joy, anyway. Like when I got to see three new people from my lifenet get baptised:

Incredible.

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The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5 – 6 (ESV)


My Dinner with André.

For the longest time, I dreamt about eating food like this. I spent hours poring over Lucky Peach & Bon Appétit magazines, devouring the column inches & holding the glossy images close to my nose. People who know me know how much food means to me (somewhere between the extremes of gluttony & gastronomy, I hope). I read about restaurants like The French Laundry, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, Noma, El Bulli, Fäviken, D.O.M., Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Atelier Crenn & André. André. I never thought I would be able to eat at one of them. Last year, I finally did.

29 courses. 16 glasses of champagne & wine. 5 hours. A dizzy night full of curiosity & surprises. A night redolent with memory.


… & speaking of good food.

In 2017, I ate…

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& ate…

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& ate some more…

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& so the pattern continues on, well into 2018.

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Yay!


Concerts / Festivals / Exhibitions

Totally blew my entertainment budget but loved every single minute spent at a gig or museum.

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Lucy Rose. A beautiful set & documentary showing held in an old-fashioned theatre (The Projector). No frills, all heart.
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The wonderful, inimitable Leslie Feist at the Esplanade Theatre playing most of her latest album – Pleasure – & a few classics, of course.
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HONNE at the Esplanade Annexe Studio. A night of groovy, “baby-making” music. One more off the bucket list.
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Singapore Design Film Festival. Interesting set of films at a nostalgic venue.

Singapore Writer’s Festival. Highlights included getting to meet my ex- creative writing professor Jennifer Crawford, the teacher who impacted me most in my university days & whose double-book release we celebrated together, attending a Simon Armitage poetry reading session & taking a picture with him after (sublime, & then not so much), & all-in-all, remembering how far Singapore has come in the literary world – how after decades, poetry is a luxury that we can finally afford.

Century of Light – An exhibition of impressionist works curated by the National Gallery. So happy to have gotten a taste of the Musée d’Orsay in the most beautiful museum in Singapore.


& last but not least… the little creative things I managed to accomplish last year.

Because I’ve already written so much about the importance of creating, I won’t go into another spiel. It’s been an incredible year with a few sparks of inspiration. All glory to God, my creator. Among all the little essays & poems & sketches, here are a few of the bigger milestones.

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Dream, Memory, Life – a collection of travel essays proudly brought to you by the Hougang Literary Society. We printed 100 copies & sold them at our church’s Christmas fest to raise funds. This little book took most nights for three months (publishing is hard, guys) but it was worth it because we raised over a thousand dollars for missionary work in Kyrgyzstan!

An accompanying photo exhibition – another fund-raising effort, made possible mostly because of my talented photographer friend Faith. Loved how much effort was put into this & how so many people supported this artistic endeavour. To think that our photos of doors & elephants & trees & all the other little things we found beautiful are having in people’s homes, right now.

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Another fun photoshoot that I did for a client. Was pretty stressed about it, but thank God it turned out okay!

A second little gig – opening for Jean Tan, one of my favourite local songwriters & friend, who officially released her Hideaway EP that night. It was a three-song set but as usual, it’s daunting to be in the presence of such great talent. But this gig did force me to write a song that I ended up spontaneously singing with Jawn Chan that night. Such a magical moment to sing a line & hear a roomful of people chiming in after, singing back to me – I am a writer, I am gone / tell me your story, oh come to me…

 


Storytelling. That’s what 2017 was about. Come to think of it, it’s been a year spent repaving, a restoration of joy in the search of all things beautiful.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

 

(Gerald Manley Hopkins, 1884 – 1889)

 

& 2018?

Therein lies cities to be traveled. Lines waiting to be written. A hundred things to be made with one’s hands, conversations to be had, love to be lost & then won again. Newness in a page turning. Hello, hello. 

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A Safety in the End

Ever since I heard the howling wind
I didn’t need to go where a bible went
But then you know your gifts seemed heaven-sent
Just lead me to a choler, dad, that’s the thing
I don’t know how you house the sin

(But you’re free now)
I was never sure how much of you I could let in
(Am I free now)
Won’t you settle down baby here
your love has been
Heavenly father
has brought you a lover
Why you don’t carry other names?
Heavenly father
is whose brought to His autumn
& love is left in end…


When I finally hit rock-bottom late last year, I finally understood what my mom meant when she said: Don’t cry, you’ll make yourself sick. She used to say it when I was a child, whenever I was particularly upset about something, like a feud among childhood friends or a failed final paper. After everything finally imploded, I promptly developed a 39-degree fever & my whole face hurt from the non-stop crying. I stayed in bed for days: miserable, unconsolable, shame-stricken, guilt-ridden. & then I heard this song.

Maybe it was that unexpected scream that Justin Vernon let out right in the middle of the song. Maybe it was that line & the flighty harmonies that came with it: “I don’t know how you house the sin (but you’re free now)“. Maybe it was the 12 years in Catholic school & how the stately nominal “Heavenly Father” – so foreign to me lately – hit somewhere raw & latent underneath, the reverence & awe of it all… but anyway, something made me seize up, stop, listen. What a grotesque, utter cry of defeat. It was as if someone had knocked the wind right out of my chest & I clicked the replay button again & again, let the emotion brought out by this 4-minute song wash over me as I curled up in bed & squeezed my eyes shut.

& so I found myself at the same place that Justin Vernon was at a few years ago after the groundbreaking success of For Emma, Forever Ago & Bon Iver, Bon Iver – at the end of himself.

“This spectacular upheaval of life after these albums provoked an inner storm, a mental sickness of anxiety for Justin. Of course it did. The dream had taken on its own life. It all came to a head on an empty Atlantic beach. I bore witness to my best friend crying in my arms, lost in a world of confusion & removal. Justin could barely talk… The forecast that begins this next Bon Iver undertaking is a reminder of our fragile existence. How when everything appears stable, it may crumble & fall through our fingers. How do we hold on to what is important? How do we make sense of the events that rip us apart? What choices do we have & how do we make them? It was the beginning of an unwinding of an immense knot inside… & the inner-resolution of maybe never finding that understanding.”
 
(Trevor Hagen, close friend of Justin Vernon)

I recognise that process because it is mine as well. Almost always, it starts with the beginning of the end, where one has gone through an emotional whirlwind & is in thrall to a very human sentiment: I’m done. Completely wrecked, bruised, ruined. & yes, it feels like you’ll never muster the strength to crawl out of the pit, but hey, can I let you in on something? & I only say this after complete annihilation of self & spirit – This too shall pass. Take comfort in the fact that the feeling slowly but surely fades & when it is over, there is a sure arrival to the most quintessential question: Now what?

& before you know it, there it is – & I am beginning to taste the reality of it, finally, a few months into the new year – a soft, glowing hope of what’s to come. Goodness. Restoration. Peace. It is what the darkness promises – a safety in the light in the end.

“This is not the sound of a new man
or crispy realisation
It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be
Safe with me”
 
(RE: Stacks, Bon Iver)

I am only filled with echoes

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if your heart is a splintered log
let it ruminate in the
whitewashed morning
keel over from the feeling so keenly
the agony of being-
i am only filled with echoes.
& if the darkness touches you
does it also define you
(or is the silent promise of the light
that is to come)
& then all at once, over
lavender, the violet blinding spell
ending with the realisation
that i will never get this rhythm
right
i can only try

(09/02/2017)