On being here, right here, as the world wakes up to itself

Sometimes I have bright days—days full of warmth, lingering mirage—& I feel guilty for it. Right now there’s so much horror unfolding, & heroes dying, & lies unravelling, & lights winking out, that I wonder whether any glimmer of happiness is undeserved. Whether I should be feeling something more of the dread that seems to seep through the fabric of living. Something more of the suffering, the bodies, the sonless mothers & sunless skies, something of the delicate balance outside drawing ever nearer to a breaking point. These days it feels as if the world is floundering on the edge of something tangibly monstrous, & laughing at a cat video or a misheard song lyric or my baby sister’s bedhead might be the breaking point. The thing that pushes every other thing over the edge.

I’m stuck, always, in this liminal space, this stretch between silence & light, this incessant wondering whether I owe the world my suffering. Whether it’s my duty to watch the terror & feel terrified.

But then I think: there has to be a rebellion in joy, too.

Because terror is exhausting, is a draining bone-deep fatigue. Terror is a bruise in itself. But joy? Joy is transformative. It is an act of healing.

& all that keeps flashing through my head is: these horrors have been happening since the dawn of time, & somehow, by some cosmic ruby wink, we are here, now, watching the world wake up to itself. Watching it come to understand the injustice it’s created, watching it try & try to put a tiny part of this right. & it’s something, I think, in this tender blooming knowing—that if joy is healing, is a rebellion (& it must be, it must be) then there is work, too, in realising that we are here, right here, for a reason.

& I can’t think about it too often or it will make me cry, but even through the panic there is joy, so much joy in it all—something about this life & these people, something about this book & these readers, something about that sky shimmering above & this music carving me out & filling me up all at once—it’s just so much, you know? It’s just a lot, & it’s so much warmth in so much cold, & I don’t know if I’ll ever have the right words to describe this feeling of I am so happy, & I am so sad, & this life is a horrifying place, & this life is a place I never thought I could possibly love the way I do right now.

But some part of the story happens here, doesn’t it, when I’m aghast & thriving, when the walls stretch higher than I ever imagined, when there’s so much left to do & say & make, when checking the news makes me want to vomit, when dinner table conversation is like driving without a seatbelt—but somehow I take a breath & it hits me all at once, this soft-stinging feeling, this surrender to light. It happens here, it does. That joy & that terror mixing into one another—I just look around & I think, my god, this is the world. This is really, really it. This is what it’s made of, & this is what we’re shaping it into. & I’m so weary, & so overwhelmed, & so much is broken, & so much can never again be put right. But my god. We’re here. We’re here. Sometimes I think about that outrageous gorgeous fact, I think about all the people who made it possible, & of all the lives I could have, all the ones I could know, all the skies I could weep beneath, all the stories I could tell—& I’m grateful that this world, this life, is the one I’ve fallen into. & if that’s not a revolution, what could possibly be?

It’s a lot. It’s so much, & I don’t know how to articulate it, I don’t know how to tell you how deeply I’m feeling this, how every part of me thrums & aches & thinks how did it ever come to this, & still, still, still I can’t imagine a place brighter than the one we’re at here, right now. That stubborn reaching joy—it’s like daisies in a minefield or falling in love for the first time. It’s like the future is a baby falling asleep in our arms—that feeling of a creature so vulnerable that trusts us so wholly, in a way that’s so full & unguarded & real—& I don’t want to hold it the wrong way, too tight or too loose, I want it to know it’s safe here. We’re going to take care of it, as best we can. & we can’t fix it all, we can’t make everything okay again, but all at once, it’s like—

it’s like, this, right here, is the world is waking up to itself. & we are lucky enough to be here. We are lucky enough to witness it.

& the joy in that is headstrong, it’s furious & courageous & merciful, & how could that not be a resistance? & I inhale & yearn for more, I pack a pocketknife in my schoolbag, I spill coffee down my wrist, I recycle tin cans that a year ago I would have thrown into the trash, I watch the news & cry, I cherish the things that leave most quickly, & through it all I think, over & over again: this, this is life. This is what we’re making. This is where we’re going. Don’t lose this, please. Whatever you do, don’t lose this.

"We will find room for our softness & savagery both." (a speech for you)

Happy International Women's Day, my friends!  For all of my gorgeous women in the crowd—& especially to those who arrived at that womanhood in fits & starts, who have never been quite sure of the right way to hold it—thank you for existing. It means more to me & this universe than you could ever possibly hope to fathom.

Today, as we celebrate the vibrant, influential, strong women we are raising & nurturing & becoming, I wanted to share a little gift for you—a speech I had the privilege of delivering this past weekend at an international speech & debate competition called IASAS Cultural Convention, on softness & savagery & the beautiful terrifying things that happen when they come together.

I'm stunned on so many levels to share that my speech received the gold medal in the Original Oratory category at IASAS 2018—what an absolute, joyful honour. I hope to live up to it.

Please feel free to watch the entire video below, which captures all six of the stunning IASAS Original Oratory finalists, but do note that if you'd rather only watch my part, it begins at time 51:55.

An excerpt from my favourite section of the speech...

"You see, in the story that matters, in the story that exists, we are large. We contain multitudes. We will find room for our softness & savagery both. & if there is no room? Then we will push, & fight, & proudly & furiously & gently make room for ourselves."

Happy International Women's Day, my darlings. I hope you never forget to fight with softness, to limn in the tenderest spaces, to always make room for yourselves. xx

Something Starcrossed / Songs for March

Happy March, dear readers. This month I am doing my best to stay focused on my education over my career, to ensure that I finish high school on a strong note rather than trail off into low grades because I am too burnt out to care. If there's anything that must never happen, it's for me to not care. 

This month's mixtape was a bit difficult to put together, simply because I haven't been listening to nearly as much new music as I generally like to do—& so, if you have any recommendations for songs you've been playing on repeat, please do share them with me! I'd love to add them to my April playlist.

Finally, a small note that my next reading has been announced—Singaporean darlings, come hang out with me on March 22nd from 7 to 9:30 PM at the Woodlands library. More information soon. & in the mean time, I hope you enjoy this little mix. xx

"I love the girl. Can I not have this soft thing too?" (a poem for you)

My apologies for the radio silence on my end, darlings. As you can see, I have just switched the blog over to a new hosting provider & spent the majority of this week ironing out the technical difficulties that entailed; I hope you will forgive me for that.

I wanted to share a small poem with you today that I was incredibly fortunate to have published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry. It's entitled "Trigger" & the Glass poetry editors were kind enough to nominate it for my second (!) Pushcart Prize -- what a tender & glittering honour. I couldn't be more thankful.

If you'd like to hear my voice, I did a little reading of this piece, also published in Glass, right here. I hope you find something true inside of it. Love always. xx



The end begins with target practise: me & how
I always forget to keep track of your hands.
Sudden metal to my chest, finger on the trigger,
& your eyes, god, your eyes. Question you ask
that I would die before answering. & your finger
on the trigger & it's not a metaphor, it's not
hypothetical anymore. So if I must, I'll admit it
now, with the barrel of a gun the only confessional:
yes, I love the girl. I love the girl matchstick &
gasoline, something fierce. Something holy.
Something on my back & shotgun to my chest &
yes, I love the girl like 14 reasons to bleed into
the ground. I love her on the border of sainthood
& sinner, her mouth the way burning happens.
Louder than target practise & your eyes &
shotgun which could so easily slam the door
shut. Must I say it to survive? Then I will. I will.
I love the girl. I love her like bitter wine. I love her
like dead things eating their way into existence.
If I must say it, I'll say it like emergency exit, like
dismemberment. Yes, I love the girl. I love her like
glowing in the dark. I love her like animal. I love
her like shotgun to my chest, already on the way
to unknowing. Yes, I love the girl. I love her terrified
& wondrous, creature hiding from its own fury. I
love the girl with your finger on the trigger & your
eyes, your eyes, nothing in the universe gentler
than this. What are you waiting for? There is no
more to give. I love the girl. Can I not have this soft
thing, too? On my back & shotgun to my chest &
question on your lips & no more words to hear.
So pull the trigger. I love the girl. I love the girl.
Go on, I dare you, finger kissing metal. I love the
girl. Pull the trigger. I love the girl. You are so close
to something. I love the girl. There is no place
quieter than here. I love the girl. I love the girl.
Go on. I dare you. Pull the trigger.

Just a Few More Things That are Good (Part VI)

(Because this series has not had a new instalment in far too long.)

i. Moments of "this will never leave the room" - secrets of the most delightful sort, all fizzy & dizzy & bright.

ii. Black & white films. As part of my year of inhale, I've been watching a great many cinematic classics to keep me company during monsoon days & sticky-blurring nights. I think I must say that the black & white ones are my favourites - I find so much magic in the lines on characters' faces, the pause before a particularly stunning line of dialogue, the movement of hands & eyebrows, minds changing, music flashing, souls bared in shades of spun-wool grey. There is endless colour in these monochromatic creations, if you know the right places to look.

iii. Taking off your makeup after a very long day, washing away every trace of the wonder & horror of the past eight hours, warm water like deliverance, like healing.

iv. Forgiveness, in every shade in which it comes. I am learning to forgive myself even when there is nothing to forgive, & even more so when there is so much it overwhelms me. & I am learning to forgive the ones who hurt me, forgive them wholly & fully & completely, forgive them even when that forgiveness looks a little more like anger or like apathy or like forgetting. If I can't forgive then I become my own collateral damage, & I am worth so much more than that.

v. This quote from Melissa Atkinson Mercer's Knock, forthcoming from Half Mystic Press"Before fire was ever fire, she says, there was just this house, fit together like a cello. Storms grew on the black lake, cracking it like marble. We plucked out the cotton sky. We took the sugar-reeds by their throats. Made flutes of them. The hill in snow ripened to a thick fruit. Mountain lions carried their cubs deep, deep into the cedar. The world was a small, dark shape & we entered it." Do you know that feeling in your chest when you realise you've played a part in creating something both soft & savage, both utterly beautiful & incredibly necessary, something full of all shades of shadow & light? That's this book, singing & true.

vi. The quick-dreaming lift in your stomach when the plane starts to land. I have been doing quite a bit of travelling to mark the beginning of 2018 - to Hong Kong most notably, but also to New Zealand & others upcoming very soon. This part of the plane ride is always my favourite - the way everything is gentle & loud all at once, descending from the heavens, ears popping, becoming again to the sound of wheels hitting the tarmac. If there is any way that light tastes, it must be this: the feeling in your mouth upon realising you're someplace, someone, entirely new.

p.s. love these small reminders of the good in the world? support their creation on patreon (& receive small weekly notes & poetry from yours truly as a thank you gift).

Someone Says Something

Someone says something like,

I would call it a shift in landscape, maybe in tone - an intention of sorts, if haphazard. What do you want from love, anyway? Only a beginning. Only an end to the endless.

Or: I have been thinking lately about fear.

Or: I am very sad, & very anxious. I've said those words so many times - in my blog, in my love letters, in my books, in my column, in my interviews, in so many other variations, in so many other voices, in so many other ways - that I worry it becomes boring to listen to. But I have no other truth to share. I am very sad. I am very anxious. It's hard, even & especially as an artist, to find a way to turn that aching into something beautiful.

Or: I think what makes me the most afraid is losing things. Someone says something like, only your body belongs to you. & someone else says, no, only your memory. Or, only your art. Only your fury. Or, only last night's dinner, only the rain, only the strangers' vacation photos in which you are a shapeless blurred background figure. Only the plums in the icebox. Only the ones you loved with more love than you knew the world could hold, & still they did not love you back.

Or: on days like these, my illness feels like a world huge & nameless, full of so many fears I can never quite grasp onto, can never quite take hold of.

Or: sadness & anxiety seem the only constants, & that is the greatest fear of all. Sometimes I keep track of the ways in which I change. Weight, most obviously. Length of nails. Words known. Pages read. Pages written. Hours of sleep. Songs listened to. There is so much I've already lost & so much left to lose - a poem I memorised yesterday that I won't remember a word of in six months, a girl I once loved to whom I now barely speak, a hairstyle I have no patience to maintain anymore - & yet, through it all, there's the water & dark, there's the ceaseless revolt. That's what makes me afraid. I lose so much yet never the things I most want gone.

Or: I am a monster mourned by so many.

Or: someone says something like, only the voices in your head belong to you. Or: is fear not its own act of god? Or: this terror makes me roil & burn & starve with thirst. If that sounds like a contradiction, maybe that's because it is.

Or: my illness is submerged in the throat, is dreaming in the morning, is ever-present & awful. If I am afraid, it's of losing the wrong things, always, letting go of what thaws me instead of what freezes me whole. It's of ruining myself in the search for the right hands, the right space to fill. Or: someone says something like only your emptiness belongs to you, something like you're all my aching ever talks about, & all I can think to reply is, maybe that aching will always be so bone-deep & noxious, will always be so large I can't help but fit inside of it.

This is the shift. This is the great unclenching fear.




p.s. for R, & for K
p.s.s. & for anyone who has ever been afraid

Roots in Her Ribs / Songs for February

Welcome to February, my loves. I hope this month is treating you well - that you're holding the ones you love close, & eating many mangoes, & creating things that make you feel alive. These past couple of weeks have been very difficult on my mental health - I actually forgot to take my medication for about a week, both in Singapore & when I was travelling to Hong Kong - so I am unfortunately feeling the effects of that quite a bit right now. But as always, music dreams us all back to life. This month's mixtape has some old loves (Billy Joel, The Beatles, Eartha Kitt, John Mayer, etc.) as well as some new-to-me favourites (Ingrid Michaelson, Oh Wonder, George Ezra, etc.) & a couple of new-to-the-world jams I've been spinning on repeat (Harry Styles, Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko, etc.). I hope you find something here to hold you close.

One other note - I am so pleased to share that my Patreon family has just gained enough members that I'm now able to offer them exclusive discount codes on my books, journals, merchandise, & other various lovely paraphernalia. You can become one of my Patreon fireflies to get access to those codes - it's my way of thanking you for your gorgeous, unending support.

In the mean time... please do let me know if there are any songs you're loving this month, so that I may listen & perhaps include them in my March mixtape. Sending light to you always. xx

With Innocent Monsters

“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.” ― Charles Baudelaire

Just a few photographs from gorgeous Hong Kong. Family & I were there over the weekend - my first time visiting in a few years - & it was such a lovely way to begin 2018. Hong Kong sings & swoops with all kinds of magic. It's so different from Singapore, that tumbling terrifying chaos, the way streets pile onto one another, inhale exhaust & exhale stardust, full of moments of infinity, shattered & open & ridibund all at once.

My mother & I spent most of our trip playing public transport roulette, hopping on various public buses & jumping off at whichever stop most struck our fancy at that particular moment. Many beautiful hideaways were discovered in this manner - a wintry abandoned beach (photos 13 & 16), a tiny café with the oddest opening hours I've ever seen & the best banana bread I've ever tasted (photo 9), a library with spiral staircases only as dizzying as they were comforting (photo 6), mountains of molehills (photos 4, 15, 16, & 19), a small French restaurant with to-die-for crêpes (photo 7), art golden-bright & tender-stained art (photos 1 & 3), art sharp-soaked & snarling (photo 15). &, of course, the reason we were there in the first place - my baby sister had a concert with an orchestra from various international schools across the region, & though my hyperacusis was flaring quite a bit, I still enjoyed it immensely (photos 17 & 18). I love & admire musicians so much more than I'll ever be able to put into words.

They remind me of the city itself, in that way - noisy & brilliant, beloved & ever-moving. Swarming with the most innocent monsters. Alive & breathing. Here, so much here... in every sense of the word.




p.s. hong kong 2015 & all of this is yours & love letters for more

"I want to wake up & realise there's no such thing as skin to burn." (a poem for you)

Good evening, my loves. I'm exhausted tonight, & sort of overwhelmed, but in a beautiful way, a way full of gratitude & cloud-shape, a way made less of ache & more of soft. I don't know how to put the feeling into words, really, but I'm glad for it. It feels very steady, very true. Like this is the texture life is supposed to have always. There's so much left to do, so much left to say, but for now I'm tired, & it's been a long day, & I'm glad you're here reading these words. I have a small ragged poem to share with you entitled "For H"; it's quite an old one, but nevertheless a quiet fumbling thing that I am rather proud of even now. This piece was originally published in Reservoir Literary, alongside some utterly incredible friends - I'm so pleased it's found a home where it can close its eyes & let down its guard, a home where it's safe to breathe in all the warmth it's surrounded by.

Singaporean darlings - if you're in the area, I have an event coming up this Saturday where I'll be writing on-demand poetry in celebration of my publisher's new pop-up store. It's from 4 to 8 PM at Great World City, & there will be free drinks & food, & I'd so love to see you. You can RSVP right here - come say hello & I'll write a poem just for you, a keepsake & a thank you note for gifting me with your presence.

In the mean time... I do hope you enjoy this piece. If you have a moment, I'd love if you shared your thoughts with me in the comments below. Thank you so much for your support.


For H

so we’re in your bedroom    which is another way of saying we’re in    the dream your mother had of       a different childhood the one          so gorgeous she sliced it in half with her own carving          knife              anyway           i’m lost in the aisles of the grocery store so please come find            me please come         find me please come find me please                      i want to leave you exactly as you were before     i want to wake up & realise there’s no such thing as skin       to burn           i mean i’m the one who lit the match in the          first place but sometimes i forget where my hands       were made to fit        i           mean i’m lost please come find me please             come find me anyway           your mother taught you to be a good girl        which is another way of saying she taught you    not to take up space with your wanting     so we’re in your bedroom & i’m                        tracing a match to the road of childhood in the throat                shhh your mother doesn’t like you with matches in the              bedroom doesn’t like you    lost in the grocery store       the grocery store so careful so quiet it’s    terrifying        how much i need you here    it’s terrifying              shhh   your mother doesn’t know about this        shhh   two girls are in a bedroom & now               there’s a wind that knows their names & now               there’s a match there’s a carving knife      which is another way of saying your mother        always thought i was a bad influence              you’re impossible your eyes are so goddamn loud so goddamn gorgeous i’m              in the bedroom & your mother can’t know     i’m in your bedroom which is another way of saying       somewhere a dream is losing the will to live         which is another way of saying please             don’t leave me alone in the aisles   of the grocery store              we’re in the bedroom we’re together we’re          alone don’t leave me         alone               shhh   put your ear to the door      listen to the wind      your mother has a stranger’s carving knife &      she’s sharpening it into     light

"Film teaches me what it means to know & not know all at once." (An Interview For You)

I'm so pleased to be featured today on the blog of one of my favourite literary journals, L'Éphémère Review. Here, editor-in-chief Kanika Lawton & myself chat about my first short film, SUPERNOVAin all its wonder & terror, in its loneliness & loveliness, its solitude & strength. Don't miss Kanika's review of the film, also on the L'Éphémère blog, right here. Honoured to have this space to share the soft bright things I am spinning.

Dear Topaz, we are so happy to feature you again at L'Éphémère Review, and are honoured that you have chosen to judge for us for our Inaugural Writing Awards.

It’s a joy to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Tell us a little bit about your foray into film. What are some of the difficulties of translating written work into a visual medium? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using film as a creative outlet?

I find that when I write, there can often be an expectation of instant gratification; I spend an hour writing a poem and during that time the poem is all that exists and then it is finished, for better or worse. This film, though, had so many moving parts that the sort of laser-bright focus—and subsequent quick finish—that I’m used to was all but nonexistent. We spent a week from start to finish creating it, and during that time we were, at any given moment, writing the script and recording the monologue and filming various scenes and revising parts that felt out of place and editing the clips we had and re-filming past scenes and rerecording parts of the monologue that didn’t convey the emotion strongly enough, repeat ad infinitum. If anything, translating my work into film taught me how to slow, to still, to wait. The importance of patience in the process.

SUPERNOVA explores themes of loneliness, empty space, and self-discovery through the use of inner monologue. What was it like to write on such themes, and why did you decide to employ monologue versus, for example, dialogue between two or more characters?

SUPERNOVA put into words many of the thoughts I’ve had about being a highly anxious introvert—yet also, one who loves people, if only in the right doses. That paradox has always been fascinating to me, one that I’ve been pondering for as long as I can remember, and so it seemed only natural to have the ideas present be conveyed through the use of a sort of stream-of-consciousness interior monologue. I’m only lucky that my lovely director, Ishan Modi, saw the vision of this soft and sky-tinged film as clearly as I did and was willing to work with me to make it a reality.

The colour blue is interspersed throughout SUPERNOVA in the cinematography, lightning, and themes. What significance does blue hold in SUPERNOVA, and what importance does colour hold in your work overall?

I honestly adore this question—it’s one I’ve never received before, but the colour blue holds so much significance to me and this film that I didn’t realise until now how much I’d been dying to address it. I have a condition called synaesthesia, which essentially means I see sound and hear colour (among other modes of sensory confusion), so colour is incredibly important in my work. I find that each of the projects I create or have a hand in creating is imbued with a specific colour in my mind.

So when we were working on SUPERNOVA, I remember discussing with Ishan what loneliness means to both of us, and over & over again the colour blue surfaced in my mind. The script of the film, the settings, the costumes, everything we worked on sang something quiet and blue and tender. It was only natural to work that into the film in a very visual way, which Ishan did so much more beautifully than I ever could have imagined.

How did SUPERNOVA come about, from conception, to execution, to final product? What was the inspiration behind the script, and how has this filmic journey impacted your other creative endeavours?

SUPERNOVA was a very interesting project, because it was the first time I’d ever written or acted for film. Generally I publish my work online or in print, and I’d only had experience with performing in open mic settings before SUPERNOVA. This film creatively challenged me on many levels, but I think especially in the medium; it was odd for me to hand over so much of the control to Ishan, and I know he was many times frustrated with my lack of experience in front of the camera, just as I was frustrated with his lack of knowledge on the intricacies of the script! Even so, this creation has had an indelible impact on my writing and the way I collaborate with other artists. Since bringing it to life, I think even more in terms of the rhythm and music of my words; I visualise the way they sing and flow across the page, the colours they reflect, the names they create for themselves. Just as much, though, I’m learning that this work has to go in the hands of my collaborators, that we must hold it up together. It’s a fine intertwinement of silence and sound, and one I’m still trying to understand how to balance.

Softness, or softness with teeth, threads its way through much of your work and your advocacy for independent artists, especially artists of colour. Why is softness so important to you, and how can we employ it in our own work and lives?

I believe that, in times when it would be so much easier to forget all ways of softness, it’s the only thing that keeps us strong. The only truth I know how to fathom exists in that softness—not as weakness, but as power, as defiance, as the first notes in our battle anthems and the fires that keep us warm. Softness exists in so many shades for me, but mostly, it means being kind to the broken parts of ourselves. Making space for the stories of those who are less privileged than we are. Crying hard and fighting harder. Opening to the ache. Remembering how many debts we owe and retaining that gratitude always, always. Keeping our eyes on the horizon even when the smoke threatens to overtake everything in sight.

How has film impacted your life, both as viewer and filmmaker?

Film teaches me what it means to trust (in the process, in myself, in my co-creators, in the gorgeous and impossible belief that somehow all of it will turn out okay and we will create something beautiful out of the mess). It teaches me what it means to listen and to watch and to laugh and to yearn and to mourn and to stretch. Whether I’m viewing or making, film teaches me what it means to know and not know all at once. That’s a feeling I don’t get enough of, and one I never want to stop chasing.

Thank you very much for spending time with us today, Topaz. We wish you all the love, light, and warmth in the world.

Thank you infinitely, dear friend. I hope your day is gentler than rain.




p.s. please do share with me in the comments… what did you think of SUPERNOVA? p.s.s. it was just a kiss & six impossible things reader survey & love letters for more