Of Healing (How I Am)

Do you ever have moments when you look around & realise with a stinging swirling sense of wonder that, for the first time in a long time, you're feeling okay? That all the things you regret are not gone permanently, but still are more tremulous & further away than ever before? That it's August & it's Monday & it's three in the afternoon & the world around you is full of living quiet & you think you might actually, finally be getting close to that funny terrible elusive thing they call healing?

Moments like that. That is how I am.

Which is to say, I've graduated at last & I'm happier than I've been in a long time—maybe ever. That doesn't mean all the sadness & ache have vanished forever, or even for now. They're still present, consistent, steady as a conscience. I think, these days, I am just learning better how to work around them.

This is how I am:

deeply enjoying the beginning of my gap year. Learning the shape of my heart chiseled in books & films. Exploring the city. Testing my tongue around new language. Downsizing, throwing out old school papers, & all that ritual & resurrection.

Lily picks up the 1,993rd paper crane, its wings trapped in her fist even as it struggles to get away from her. The action scares Joyce, seeing how Lily refuses to let the desperate crane go. Reminds her too much of Benjamin.

They both stare at the crane, valiant in its struggles, until finally Joyce taps Lily’s clenched fist. Lily looks up.

“Here,” Joyce says quietly, and hands her the 1,994th crane.

Lily opens her palm, throat moving around something she doesn’t say. The 1,993rd crane, now crumpled, flutters crookedly out of reach, settles on Joyce’s shoulder.

"Sorry,” Lily says to the crane. “I didn’t mean it.” As the 1,994th crane takes the place of the last in her hands, she starts crying.

I have a new short story, entitled "Flight", published in the final issue of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. As you know, I do not write much fiction these days, so this story is infinite closely to my heart—one of queerness & magic, abuse & longing, alongside many incredible writers I'm so privileged to call my heroes & friends. Here is where you can purchase your copy.

I shared a tiny silly piece about love & cinnamon buns on the blog earlier this month, & it contains the line "Instead of sexting, have you tried sending her a playlist consisting solely of Sufjan Stevens’ 'Mystery of Love' 60 times over?" & honestly, if this is not sufficient reason for you to read it, I don't even know what you're doing here anymore.

This is how I am: no fewer than a dozen people have recommended Hannah Gadsby's Netflix special Nanette to me, & because of the person I am, I still have not watched it. (A dear friend of mine tells me that my greatest talent is the ability to say "screw you" to anything & anyone who deigns to tell me what to do. I am not sure if this is my greatest talent so much as my greatest downfall.) i am promising myself to watch it, absolutely definitely no excuses, this week. We'll see how it goes.

This is how I am: in love with this concept, & this one, & especially this one. Though the past month has been bright in ways I never dared dream of only a year ago, I'm doing my best to remember that nothing gold can stay, that with love comes abandonment, that as much as sadness is an unsustainable act, an unreasonable ask, so too is happiness without a tinge of ache. I'm trying to be okay with that. I'm trying not to shy away from it.

Part of that, I've realised, comes with forgiveness (of the world & the ones who love it, of the world & the ones who hurt it, of the sky & its hands, of myself). This essay seems timelier than ever.

I was honoured to be featured as part of a Pride Month series in one lovely blogger's online home, featuring a queer book & album I think everyone should experience. You can read my picks & those of over 20 other queer authors right here.

This is how I am:

moving into my baby sister's bedroom, & she into mine. The smaller quarters are not so difficult to come to terms with, in all honesty. I would like to fill my space with love instead of things & this seems the most accessible way... along with the fact that my baby sister is now in high school & requires a bit more room than I will during my gap year.

& speaking of gap years, one of my closest friends, Tanvi Dutta Gupta, is chronicling hers over on her blog. Worth a read.

This is how I am: each new haircut feels like rebirth. 

Part of this newfound warmth has heralded in seeing everything as poetry. I think I tend to do this anyway no matter my disposition, but I'm noticing it more lately than I have before. There are poems in love letters & tag games, in odd typography & ant bridges, in horizonline fashion & volunteer fatherhood. It's everywhere, in everything, it's still here when it seems all light has died out, it's open & blessed & barefoot & good. This is how I am: beginning to believe that a poem doesn't always have to be written down to be real.

& there is poetry, too, in rising up. Particularly, I'm thinking of how much we all have to thank black women for, of standing with—& being one of—the young people bringing our future ever closer to justice, of how to create in this age of rot & resistance, of America's first lynching memorial & why, exactly, it is so subtly, deeply sexist to "not care" about pop culture. This is how I am: thinking of battle anthems & well-lit fury. I'm thinking of how to embody what I want the world to look like for my own children, a world they don't have to heal from. A world that renounces every -ism & instead holds truth up to its highest standard. 

This is how I am: 

writing a little, though not much of value. I am starting to believe that this, in itself, may be a thing of value. & when in doubt, I keep Leonard Cohen's take in mind:

Speak the words with the exact precision with which you would check out a laundry list. Do not become emotional about the lace blouse. Do not get a hard-on when you say panties. Do not get all shivery just because of the towel. The sheets should not provoke a dreamy expression about the eyes. There is no need to weep into the handkerchief. The socks are not there to remind you of strange and distant voyages. It is just your laundry. It is just your clothes. Don’t peep through them. Just wear them. […]

Avoid the flourish. Do not be afraid to be weak. Do not be ashamed to be tired. You look good when you’re tired. You look like you could go on forever. Now come into my arms. You are the image of my beauty.

"You look good when you're tired. You look like you could go on forever." This. All of this. Over & over, again & again, ever & always. I want it tattooed on my soul.

In case you missed it, my latest book poems for the sound of the sky before thunder received a little mention in Quarterly Literary Review SingaporeYou can pick it up here, & if you have read it—please send me a little note to share your thoughts! It means the absolute world to hear from you all.

This is how I am: chewing lots & lots of bubblegum. A student I mentored gave me a huge container of it at the beginning of the summer; I have been eating one piece a day & I am not even halfway through. I suspect by the time autumn rolls around I will be very, very tired of bubblegum. (As it is, already when I walked through an ice cream store the other day, the scent of the bubble gum ice cream slightly made me want to vomit; I am thinking this was perhaps not this lovely student's intention when bestowing such a gift on me, but here we are.)

This is how I am:

yesterday I found myself with a curious unbearable urge, late at night, to burst into tears. I had no particular reason to do so—I think it was more along the lines that crying somehow soothes the soul, even & especially when it is after midnight, even & especially when one is generally quite happy. If you are in the same sort of mood right now, here is a story that did it for me, & here is one more. If you are in the mood to laugh, try these ridiculous photographs. If you are in the mood to think, perhaps this tiny mantra or this exploration of astronaut cuisine may be of service.

I learned recently that a new manuscript of mine, entitled Portrait of My Body As a Crime I'm Still Committing, was chosen as one of five finalists for the Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize. I'm so beyond thrilled to be here; this manuscript sits alongside some utterly stunning competitors, & no matter what happens with the final prize, I'm astounded enough that I managed to come this far. (As a side note, my Patreon fireflies have known about the new book for many months now. Please do consider joining us if you'd like to support my art & receive behind-the-scenes sneak peeks at what I'm working on.)

4:30 is my favorite time to go to the movies, and I’ve found I’m not alone in this. At 4:30 I can slip into a theater with a bottle of water. No line. Little chance it will sell out; that a tall man will, well into previews, station himself in front of me. Nothing odd about seeing a movie alone at 4:30. On Saturday night at 8:00, it’s hard not to feel too visible, pathetic. Have the urge to wear a sign: I have many friends. I am loved; drape a coat on the seat beside me until the lights go out—like Miss Lonelyhearts in Rear Window, setting a wine glass for an imaginary companion. At 4:30 I can sink back in the dark, in the company of strangers, many of whom are also alone, sip my water, and wait for those enormous figures to move across the screen. Wait to lose myself.

As a film buff & a newly minted graduated student, my days are now free to watch films whenever I'd like, & I found this essay in praise of the 4:30 PM movie so brilliant & resonant. I am thinking I may need to do a post soon on a few films I've adored recently, but in the mean time, I tend to document my cinematic adventures over on Instagram stories.

This is how I am: eating lots of cherries, wearing lots of bright lipstick. This is how I am: winsome in daybreak. This is how I am: doing my best to love without prejudice or grudge, & doing my best to heal in the same way. 

This is how I am:

Do you ever have moments when you look around & realise with a stinging swirling sense of wonder that this feeling of healing is not going to last forever? Moments where all the things you've never dared to speak of are finally coming to light & that doesn't feel liberating, it only feels scarring? Do you ever have moments where you look around & think: if this is joy, if this is healing, it is painful still? & do you ever think: maybe it’s worth it anyway?

Moments like that. That is how I am.

& you?