All we do is history

I’m a self-professed hoarder. I have no intention to make light of what is a legitimate mental health issue, but I do admit that I have a tough time throwing things away. Anyone who has been to my place knows that I just have stuff – old letters and cards, journals, diaries, notebooks, books, travel mementos, flyers and programme booklets – the list goes on.


It’s been nearly three months since I have started work as an archives assistant. Despite the routine work, part of it has been intellectually stimulating. What distinguishes an archive from a repository? Why do we keep? What do we keep? What do we do with it?  A part of it is utilitarian, sure, but there is a bigger purpose (there has to be). It is about knowledge production, about legacies, and more importantly it is about access. Many questions that surface revolve around how people think, as well. How do people search?How do you help people make connections between different materials, or to allow them to discover these connections themselves? How do we organise it such that these logics can surface? It has to be about reaching public(s), it has to be about public history, telling stories that inform us of what it means to be human. We learn to be present by learning about the past.

Everything we do is history. Every moment we live in goes by as quick as it arrives. We are born into history, and our entire lives revolve around history – personal, familial, political. Even the planet, the stars, the cosmos, have entire histories before us – all which we hold within ourselves, too. There is so much baggage we embody. All we are is history.

2019 is the year of Singapore’s bicentennial. It is odd, how this event has played out, how different individuals and institutions have chosen to do public histories. It is evident that history is not just about things remembered, but forgotten. We do not ‘lose’ things to history, they just get left behind. So often it is a deliberate choice, and all of us bear responsibility in what we choose to be our history (and thus histories). ‘Hard facts’ and ‘evidence’ do matter, no doubt, but it is also questioning our logics behind deciding what gets to be fact or fiction, our assumptions and biases. Historians are our most important storytellers, but one story alone, is never truly whole. All we are is stories; plural.


I wrote all this just to say that I have to clean my room. I have to start making choices in what I choose to leave behind, who I choose to leave behind. All I am is history, and perhaps finally cleaning up, cleaning out, would mean that I make the choice in how I write my story.

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pause

The rhythm of my heart pounds in my ears
staccato beats that punch, punch, punch –
The lights dim, everything turns static, white noise
the music stops playing.
the conductor has given up the baton
melodies remain in limbo, stuck between strings
lodged in narrow passages and empty chambers
all that is left is a stillness that mourns
the songs that will never be sung.

Living

This ache I feel starts right in the centre of my flesh,
Travels down to seize my bones,
Down deep into the corners of my soul and oh,
Life is both pain and beauty,
A flower blooms as a dream dies as a mother weeps as a child laughs as
You learn how to put one foot in front of the other,
Moving through a world of fire and rain and sun and sky and storm –
Living with a heart of fire and rain and sun and sky and storm.

remember who you are

I’ve always hated taking the train. It is too dark, too cold, too cramped – suffocating. And so as much as I can, I try to take the bus instead. On the way to school this morning, I saw that the trees along the roadsides were blooming once again, flurry clusters of pinks, whites, and yellows. They stood stark against the deep greens of the leaves and bright blue of the sky, little joys that took their time to show you their beauty.

After a few days of madness, I arrived home last night to a lovingly prepared home-cooked meal, my father waiting for me with a smile. He spoke of how our plants were growing (sadly, we lost an Echeveria to root rot, but our new Jade plants were doing just fine), and the plants and flowers that we could consider introducing to our home. When my mother reached home later that night, I went out to greet her, not knowing how much I had missed her even after just two days.

Some days I get so lost in the sadness that I forget who I am. Less so my sense of self, but more that I forget about the life that I have built around me. The people whom I’ve kept close, the little things that I love, the purpose that drives me. Had you asked me just a year ago, I would be (perhaps willingly) diving off the precipice and into the abyss once again. But in this moment, at this time of great uncertainty, I take comfort in the people and places that I have tethered to my heart, and the things that remind me of who I am.

love is a radical act

I am reminded that in times where shadows start to nip at our ankles, the only way to push them back is with the brightest of light. None of the words I have are right enough and all I can give is indignant hope. As I mourn, I will also pour love into the fissures that divide us. And as sure as the night comes, so does the sun.

for all the victims of the christchurch terrorist attack

and another

brief thoughts on 2018:

Gratitude

Above everything, I am so thankful to be surrounded by people who love and support me, throughout all the (arguably self-inflicted) chaos and madness that occurred this year. I am grateful for every opportunity that came my way, for every friend that stuck by me even in the moments where it was easy to hate me, for every mentor that nudged (or pushed) me towards the paths I was so afraid to tread on, and eternally, my steadfast family. I say this all the time but it is worth repeating: I am so incredibly lucky and so grateful for being so.

Trust

There are some that have said that I trust too easily, that I am far too naive. This brings out a certain amount of anger in me, admittedly, perhaps because I also saw this quality as a bad one. But looking back, I wouldn’t have accomplished all that I did had I not trusted the people that I let into my life, in one way or the other.

In the year ahead, I hope I can learn to trust myself as much as I trust the universe around me, and find balance between what I can control and what I cannot. I suspect that it’ll take some time before I will be able to fully trust myself but in the meantime, I am lucky to be surrounded by people who have faith in me, especially in the moments where I don’t trust myself.

Courage & Hope

My mantra this year has been to take courage, to err on the paths of discomfort because discomfort is often growth. Taking courage to face my flaws, to face friends that have come and gone, to embrace my decisions and mistakes, to embrace my vulnerability, to embrace happiness. I carried on in spite of fear, and I will carry on, in spite of fear.

For the longest time I’ve carried so much angst and dread in me, incorporating so much of that into my self-identity. While I am still that tumblr-era emogirl95 who feels too much all the time, I am not going to deny these aspects of myself that trusts, that hopes, that believes. Letting in some colour into all these layers of black, writing hope instead of writing pain.

Here’s to the year past, and to the year ahead.

 

Vignettes

It is dinner time, just another typical weekday affair at home. My brother and I are chatting, discussing, something about gender studies, neoliberalism, capitalism versus socialism. From the corner of my eye I see my father turn to speak to my mother, saying about how far they are now from us, how they can no longer follow our conversations. It is wistful, it is proud, it is sad. Together but worlds apart.


It is lunch time. A friend and I are heading to the canteen, talking about a new idea for his photography practice. “It is about just speaking to the forgotten, not just the dead.” I tell him about Mount Vernon Sanctuary, about Bidadari Park. I share with him about how I used to walk there from my home, seeking refuge from the noise inside my head. I would walk through the circular columbarium, finding the faces of those long forgotten, covered in dust and dirt, no flowers or trinkets for decoration. I found the faces of those gone too young, 20 years old, 12 years old, 8 years old. I used to, and still do, wonder about who they were, who they left behind, and who they could have been.


It is that ambivalent time of day between morning and noon. I sit in the honours room, cold and slightly ill. I look out to the sky and see yellow leaves gently cascading, caressed by the wind. I hear music in my head, and something of wonder and beauty swells in me. It settles as quick as it came, the feeling lost. It’s heartening, somewhat, to know that I still can find moments of respite even when I feel enveloped in darkness. There’s hope.


It is morning, and I wake to grey skies and gentle rain. I hear the sound of the fan still going, chillness creeping in from the crack in my window. I smile, pulling my quilt up closer against my body, denying my alarm the attention it demands. The day can wait.

Updates: Writing

To the two people who still pay attention to my blog, I do have new writings to share, all produced over the summer holidays.

The first one is a poetry zine made in collaboration with Kathy, a friend from the Philippines. We talk about all manners of hauntings – of memory, of history, of people…

 

The other is also a poem, first sailpublished in the online literary journal Umbel & Panicle. Inspired by my trip on the balangay, this poem is long overdue and a labour of love – it took on so many iterations and drafts, but I think the result was worth it.

 

I hope you enjoy them, thank you for reading.