how i am

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?

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?