Soundless & Infinite (How I Am)

It’s monsoon season in full force on this side of the world, the kind of moments I loved long before I lived inside of them. I’m not sleeping too well these days, but if the nights are restless & open-mouthed, the days are, at least, slow, languid, full of dream & dew. Coffee & carnations dotted along my desk, & Christmas lingers just around the corner.

This is how I am.

The holiday decorations have been erected downtown, & they are Disney-themed, & I could not be more pleased. Though I live very far uptown, I am in the city often these days—for work, for coffee, for shopping, for events—& the decorations feel so brilliant & tender & funny & good. An untouchable kind of joy, at least until the New Year.

This is how I am:

I’ve been lucky enough recently to have words published in so many dream journals, & recognised by infinitely gorgeous awards—poems, mainly, but also a short story here & there. Here we are:

“Origin Story” in Occulum (on the table, the apple pie aches to taste a tongue // my mother & i stand on the driveway, becoming);

“War Story With My Father in Sundog Lit & recognised by the Ellis Awards (I see the hurt in his eyes when / I flinch as he tries to hug me & / I want to say it's not your fault but / all that comes out is I swear there / was a time when I didn't starve in / this language.);

“Species Interactions” recognised by the Gingko Prize (The birds sleep like saints, soundless / & infinite, like they trust the storm will pass soon, / like they don’t realise how it has only just begun.);

& finally, “The Year We Fell In Love & the Forest Happened Around It” in Corvid Queen (A year of skin & sun, a year earthbound & yearning for horizon. Everything blameless except when the creek dried up & there was nowhere left to drown.).

This is how I am: going back to my old high school weekly to coach our varsity Original Oratory team, which I was on last year. I must admit that this lovely little event is one of the only things I was sad to leave behind when I graduated—so it’s beautiful to get to participate in it even in this tiny way for an hour or two every week. I do adore this event & this team, & I can’t wait to see all the stunning places we reach during this year’s speech & debate convention.

I am keeping this treatise from Chuck Wendig in mind as I navigate the world & my own creative process & community, trying always & always to never let it go: There is an art to creating entertainment, too—the act of creating fiction, or an image, or a sound, that is beautiful and peaceful and does nothing to challenge us but does everything to make us feel something, that’s art. That’s really, seriously, definitely art. The ability for someone to create a scene (or a painting, or a song) that aims to make me sad and then makes me sad, yeah, no, that’s art. If it aims to make me happy, and I’m happy after? Art. If it’s just pretty to look at? Art. If it’s wilfully ugly? Art.

(I find that, when one frequents the sort of genres I do—poetry, lyric essays, traditionally literary art forms—it’s all too easy to fall into a trap of comparison. Even looking down on more genre-based forms of expression, which, in case I even have to say it, is absolute bullshit. A film with too many explosions has just as much value, artistically & otherwise, as a Pulitzer-winning novel, & that reminder is always relevant.

Related: this essay I wrote—years ago now, but I think timely still.)

This is how I am:

Thanksgiving at the Winters household was a quiet bright affair. There is so much to be grateful for: pie & dawnlight, good television & dark chocolate, baby unibrows & fallen leaves, nail clippers & scented candles, rap battles & lunch dates, double rainbows & art museums, doctor’s offices that stock literary journals, city lights glistening like man-made stars, falling asleep on a long car ride home, waking up & realising it’s Friday. I could climb into them, I could spend a lifetime inside of them, I could spin worlds out of these tiny things. The things we build out of warmth.

Go, even though you love him. Go, even though he’s kind and faithful and dear to you. Go, even though he’s your best friend and you’re his. Go, even though you can’t imagine your life without him. Go, even though he adores you and your leaving will devastate him. Go, even though your friends will be disappointed or surprised or pissed off or all three. Go, even though you once said you would stay. Go, even though you’re afraid of being alone. Go, even though you’re sure no one will ever love you as well as he does. Go, even though there is nowhere to go. Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay. Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.

This is how I am: thinking about this old Dear Sugar column, “The Truth That Lives There”. I go back to it so often, in love & in life. Wanting to leave is enough. Wanting to leave is enough. I couldn’t think of anything more cruel, anything more comforting, anything more true. Wanting to leave is enough. I linger knee-deep in this knowledge. It feels a little like a home.

I am thinking of perhaps travelling to Jakarta for the New Year. It might be just a passing whim, but also it might be the sort of trip I will remember forever.

This is how I am:

I deleted my 2018 Goodreads challenge, & I don’t plan to sign up for the 2019 challenge, either. For those unacquainted, the challenge is a public accountability project: you choose the number of books you’d like to read at the beginning of the year, & are able to record each book you read & cheer your friends on in their own challenges.

I loved the project in 2016 & 2017, but this time feels different. This tool that was meant to be a fun way to keep ourselves accountable for our reading—a game, almost—has, at least in my own head, become a race I can’t win. I’m so tired of having an arbitrary number in the back of my mind every time I pick up a book; I’m tired of the constant “you’re one book behind” notifications. I want to read because it fuels my soul, because it wakes me up, because it changes my mind… not so I can feel productive by fulfilling what is essentially nothing but a self-imposed quota.

Maybe it’s my OCD talking, but I have a feeling I will be happier this way.

So, ever since I deleted my challenge, I have taken to reading a little more widely than just books: essays, poems, articles, interviews, short stories. It feels good. Feels like a breath of clean air. On sleepless nights I sometimes pick up The Goldfinch (my current read) but sometimes I get out my iPad, without a hint of guilt, & instead read opinion pieces & flash fiction & advice columns. & this, too, is art.

A few of my favourite articles, post-Goodreads challenge, from perfumed & moon-stretched nights: The people who read to Cuban cigar-factory workers, from The Economist… Laziness Does Not Exist, from Medium… Aretha Franklin Had Power. Did We Truly Respect It? & Domee Shi Thinks Kids Can Handle Dark Stories, from The New York Times… How to Build a Life Worth Remembering, from The Art of Simple… The Tiny Former Planet, from Writer Unboxed… Goats Like It When You Smile at Them, Extremely Heartwarming Study Says, from The Cut.

Related: maybe the best interview I’ve stumbled across in 2018 so far, one I’ve read & reread, one in which I keep finding new things to love in—Guernica’s interview with Olivia LaingWhen I was writing Lonely City, I obsessively played Tetris for hours a day. I thought it was ridiculous, but it turned out to be an exercise in structure, in how to assemble objects in empty space.

This is how I am: trying to practise intuitive eating. It’s tougher than I’d expected, to be quite honest. But I think my body deserves this fight.

Over at Half Mystic we just closed submissions for the sixth issue of our journal, interlude. It’s such a joy & a thrill to be here; Issue VI is our longest yet, at nearly 100 pages (!), & contains the voices of so many incredible writers, artists, & musicians I’m absurdly lucky to call my friends & inspirations. Perhaps it might bring you space to breathe this Christmas.

This is how I am: learning the language of alone. It’s blue. It’s sweet, like an apple. I think it lives in the city. (& an echo: wanting to leave is enough.)

It’s been such a joy to be featured in so many gorgeous media outlets lately. I was interviewed for The Business Times for an article on the future of Singaporean literature; Styleguide did a feature on my work in music, technology, & writing; Frontier Poetry included “War Story With My Father” in their “Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web” column; &, finally, I was mentioned in the Straits Times for the second (!) time in their tribute to the final issue of LONTAR, in which I have a short story about paper cranes & yearning.

This is how I am: trying not to ask the same questions twice.

Here is a list of reminders for you. Take whatever you need to hear & discard the rest: drink some water. Stop making excuses for your own inaction. Set your alarm for tomorrow. Pack an umbrella. Let them text you first, for once. You are so enough, it is astonishing how enough you are.

This is how I am:

Monitoring my use of gendered language, keeping an eye out for moments when my privilege could come in handy, using metal or paper straws instead of plastic ones, expanding my definitions of freedom. Little things like that, you know? It’s not much but I have to believe it’s enough. & when all seems hopeless, I think about this:

Sometimes we can answer that bleakness by writing our rage—which I fully, thoroughly encourage. But I also want to encourage everyone out there, everyone who writes, or reads, or reviews… goddammit, let’s also write our joy. Claim it, celebrate it, blow it into the book marketplace for everyone else to escape into also. Don’t let the abusers in power take that away from us, too. Dig down and find the good things that matter to you, that make you want to laugh out loud or dance and twirl or give someone bone-crushing hugs—and grab those things with both hands and claim them and celebrate them. Whether it’s bees or languages or feminism or your family, let’s take those moments of glee together and share them with each other. Let’s glory in all our vast diversity of geekery and passions, and remind each other of all the reasons, small and large, why our world is worth fighting for. Find your joy. Write your joy. That, too, is resistance.

(Related: on being here, right here, as the world wakes up to itself. 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.)

This is how I am:

there is talk of rain this evening, & I know I will be awake to see it, & I know I will regret this in the morning yet still toss & turn, unable to sleep when darkness falls. All this will happen in several hours. But right now the air feels weightless with possibility. I can’t write a full night’s sleep into this story but at least I can have a cooling vanilla latte, new jeans, lengthening shadows painted sharp-skinned on the walls. A record stuttering to a halt as 2018 comes to an end. A book I’m reading because I want to. Fog sings against the windows, a prelude to the rain, & tonight I will be sleepless again, but this afternoon is soft. Still. It feels like a poem I could live inside forever.

So: this is how I am.

& you?