Posted in INTEC, Writing assignment

Not Nearly The Cheesiest Thing I’ve Written

blue-cheese-012

The following essay was meant for Writing class, and is so cheesy it would give Gus Gus indigestion. So bear with me now. 

When you fire an M-16 rifle, you are required to nestle the stock firmly in the concave between your scapula and your chest. Properly done, you release a well-aimed shot – albeit with the disorienting sensation of temporary deafness – and you are satisfied. But if in an unfortunate scenario in which the stock is not well supported, you feel the backward momentum of the rifle push back against you as your bullet is fired. The miniature explosion forces you backwards a couple of centimeters and you land with your face planted firmly in the soil, hands and legs akimbo. Glass breaks in your upper chest and the electrical impulses fire.

That, ladies and gentleman, is what it feels like when someone says “I-love-you” to you.

Robert Solomon said it first, and he said it best. The romantic ‘“I-love-you” doesn’t fit into our conversation. It interrupts them. Or ends them,’ (p. 22) he argues in his aptly titled article, ‘I-Love-You’. It is no surprise, really, that trying to express the essence of an emotion that was never meant to be expressed in anything human language can devise would only end in disaster.

But what of familial love? What of friendship? Does their ‘I-love-you’ sound like a gunshot too?

I vaguely recall sitting in the living room with my diapered rump on the marble floor back when I lived in Taiping, my mother ensconced on the mattress in front of me, cradling my baby sister. She would entertain the both of us; my sister only required the occasional pat or two while my mother had to take to questioning me to keep me occupied. Her favorite inquiry was the one that would cause my three-year-old person the most emotional anguish:

“Who do you love more? Mummy or Papa?”

What a question to ask a toddler.

I would pause for a while, racking my small brains for an answer that would cause me the least grief.

“Both also same.”

I would give myself a mental cheer for being such a diplomatic child. But my mother was not finished with me. She would give me a coy smile and ask:

“Show Mummy how much.”

Ah, dang.

I would hold out my pudgy arms as wide as my physical structure would permit and try to roughly estimate, in terms of arm span, how much I loved my parents. Needless to say, the effort was futile.

Parental love, familial love, and friendship – these variations of love do not require that I say anything per se. This ‘I-love-you’ is not – cannot be – said. This ‘I-love-you’ is silent and unassuming. It does not herald its coming with the great blast of a rifle; it does not want for attention. And like the kind of ‘I-love-you’ that characterizes them, these relationships do not demand that I openly proclaim my love and loyalty, and neither do I expect it of them. There is simply too much seen together – felt together – that neither the meager proclamation of ‘I-love-you’ nor the arm span of a child is sufficient to encompass everything that connects us. After all, what is saying ‘I-love-you’ but a poor, clumsy attempt at quantifying emotions that were never meant to be quantified?

The people who love me and the people I love stake no claims, make no accusations, and expect nothing in return. I am silent, and I love them. They know. There is no ‘perhaps’ to it. No words can excuse the breach of the sanctity of silence when you love someone so wholly, nothing seems enough to describe the emotion of it.  It simply cannot be ‘nailed down’ (Tesich, p.2) in three words pretentiously connected by hyphens.  I ask you – how do you orally express the love of a woman who steps into a room smelling like sour mother’s milk while her daughters trail alongside her, leaving the powdery scent of talcum powder behind them? How do you capture the quintessence of a friend who has been by your side through thick and thin? So in lieu of language, ‘I-love-you’ is substituted with care, advice, company, understanding and shared experiences beyond the reaches of even the most expressive phrase human language can craft. ‘I-love-you’ becomes ‘I = Love + You’.

Solomon has the right of it. ‘I – love – you’ is ‘a terrible thing to say to someone’ (p. 23). It subtracts, taking away the magic, ripping off the suspense. It is a bullet, rushing to tell what can only be shown, and it compresses and binds true emotions to mere permutations of the English alphabet. ‘I = Love + You’, however – ‘I = Love + You’ is selfless and unassuming. It does not want to take, and neither does its presence need to be announced, because it just is. It needs no justification, no defense, no nailing down. ‘I = Love + You’ only wants to give, to add to the beauty of the relationship. And in my silence, rest assured that you hold a special place in my heart – beyond the reaches of the spoken word and everything else in between – for there can be no me if I do not love you.

PS: ‘I-Love-You’ is also like blue cheese. It takes a particular sort of palette to stomach its sheer pungency, and I have not been so fortunately/unfortunately endowed.

Posted in Education, INTEC, Writing assignment

The Most Emo Thing I’ve Ever Written In Response To The Most Emo Thing I have Ever Read (And also possibly the longest title in the history of titles)

This is in response to May Sarton’s ‘The Rewards of Living A Solitary Life’. Please do comment!

I refuse to give this reading response a pedestrian opening. I will not settle for ‘May Sarton’s essay, “The Rewards of Living a Solitary Life”, in its entirety, is about…’ and so on. No one can sum up this piece of validation, this piece of recognition, of what it truly means to dare to live alone in a sentence of less than twenty unique combinations of the English alphabet.

Hence, I will begin my response with this: May Sarton was homosexual.

And maybe it was her homosexuality that drove her to choose a solitary life over the continued rebellion against society’s status quo and the struggle with her emotions. Maybe she, too, had to take the plunge her friend took, and discover that perhaps, she was not such a bad person to be with after all. No matter what her previous circumstances, it is evident in her writing that she truly enjoys her life of solitude, describing it with a certain delicacy that gives even her dullest affairs, like watering plants, a poetic flounce. It is her ‘zone’, in a manner of speaking. However, her high praise for the perks of living alone could make one question her true thoughts. Could she be hiding her fear of societal rejection behind a thin veneer of proud individualism? Could it be that Miss Sarton lacked the confidence to face other individuals, and so had to settle for a life of lonesomeness?

That would be a perversion of her true intentions, to my mind. Her words (“Solitude is the salt of personhood”, “Alone we can afford to be wholly who we are”) are a reflection of honest opinions, and are in no way a defence in lieu of strength of character. To her, solitude is an opportunity for self-discovery, and even to some extent, an adventure – not an excuse to shy away from the challenge of fulfilling the expectations of others. It is her belief that making the conscious choice to live alone is an act of bravery – daring to see yourself as the person you truly are, to strip away all opulent glorifications you may have inclined to place upon yourself, and to stand before the world, metaphorically, naked. And I could not agree more. Who are we but the people we are when we are alone? Personal experience tells me that I am not myself with other people. External communication requires that I put on an elaborate façade and give away a little of the ‘Lillian-of-the-day’ to every person I meet or talk to. Inevitably, I lose the ability to see the world through my own eyes. Instead, I am hovering above my physical self, watching my every move through a foggy glass ceiling clouded with the opinions and thoughts of others. And like Miss Sarton, this is when true loneliness sets in.

Here, however, I have to disagree with this extraordinary piece of writing. Although I do feel the same way as Miss Sarton does after a long day of conversation and experience, loneliness is not always a negative feeling. After all, however am I supposed to feel full again if I have not been emptied? And although the writer may find that the senses are dulled when experiences are shared, I, on the contrary, feel that they are merely halved as to share one great experience between two separate minds. The sensation of being with others is not always ‘suffering from our differences in taste’. In fact, it is refreshing, for it is in others that I see reflected a different image of me. My faults and positive qualities are all at once magnified in the eyes of another, and the moments of loneliness that follow allow me to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are reasons as to why I hesitated to reveal that shred of personal truth that day, why I softened my perception for the sake of the men and women around me. And the moments of loneliness urge me to ask myself – what do I have to hide? It is in these moments that I know what I have to do to become a better person. And I think these moments worked their magic for Miss Sarton, too. She needed time to find herself again in the vast emptiness that was left behind after all she had given away during the day. And she did find herself – better, braver and wiser.

 

Choosing to live a solitary life is truly an act of courage, for the prospect of discovering nothing after a long, hard, look into the depths of your soul is frightening. But upon finding something, and even liking it, being alone suddenly becomes a gift. Even so, only when coupled with encounters saturated with other human presences can we fully appreciate the profundity of solitary life. One cannot exist without the other, for much like Miss Sarton’s ‘charming friend’ it is from the fear of being isolated that we see ourselves for who we really are. Even the writer herself ritually goes through the motions of rediscovering herself after a hectic day – the small instances of self-awareness and inward adventure come during those moments of acute loneliness. But selflessly giving small pieces of yourself away only to be filled later, in solitude, with a renewed sense of self – that is most beautiful of all.

Posted in INTEC, Writing assignment

Death Is The Next Great Adventure

598587_432111610181979_15545206_n

I swear the assignments we are given in class are getting exponentially harder. Would you rather die by doing the righteous thing, or would you prefer to survive by committing immorality? What kind of question is that? It is akin to asking your rectum’s opinion if it would be better to withhold your noxious fumes or to release your personal aroma to your unfortunate surroundings for health and comfort’s sake. It just isn’t fair.

Then again, since when has life ever been fair? I have to give a definite answer to this blasted question or else I can kiss au revoir to my two points in writing class.

But I digress.

Backing up, I’d like to clear the air of any highly unlikely suppositions that I might harbor any secret, fervent heroic notions of dying for a righteous cause. I like living very much, thank you. Being alive is a second chance, another shot at getting it right. Death, even for a good reason, seems so…final. There’s no backup plan, no assurance that your selfless act is going to account for anything. You’ll never know if your demise served any true purpose. How many forgotten people fighting for forgotten causes have disappeared from human recollection just like that? A person could fight passionately and die bravely believing that he had done the right thing, and that would have made absolutely no difference. People would still poop and eat, the Sun would still shine (for another five billion years at least), and I would still be working at this infernal piece of writing. The only dent in the fabric of reality that you would have made is the fact that you no longer existed.

At least, that was what I thought.

I went to church today. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not particularly religious. I’m kind of the typical person whose passion for prayer only sparks in a life crisis. But seeing that figure on the cross – something hit me.

Change did not come without considerable sacrifice.

How many African-Americans had to die before everyone could see the ravages of racism? How many young men met an untimely end in the trenches before world leaders concluded that war was bad? How many lives were lost before the French bourgeois won freedom from the aristocrats? There is a pattern here, and it is not a pretty one. It tells us that true change can only come with death, destruction and sacrifice.

However, the problem is not the issue itself. We are the problem. Humans are slow to learn. It takes a huge disaster and millions of lives lost before we realize the error of our ways. Then when we actually openly admit to having a problem, we sit back and wait for the return of the Messiah. We are too afraid to take the first step, too afraid of the sacrifice it might entail. And that is why people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi are hailed as heroes today.

These immortal men and women did something very simple and it resonated through the ages – they dared. They took that precarious first step to work for change and they never looked back. They gave life and limb for the cause they were fighting for. And in the end, they made a difference.

What about the millions that came before them that died unnamed and unknown? Their deaths were meaningless.

NO.

They were not meaningless – they never were. Each and every loss teaches us something. The Taoists had it right – there can be no light without dark, no life without death, no change without sacrifice. Someone has to take that first step. Someone has to make that sacrifice.

You see? The trick is not letting may individuals give their lives to make a statement before acting to change. The trick is to see that change is needed and to be that change before any lives have to be lost. We can have ten Bersih rallies here in Malaysia and not see any difference another fifty-eight years down the road except for the fact that the value of our money slipped another twenty points. Change has to come – and it has to come all at once, or not at all.

The true danger lies in gradual change where we allow more and more suffering to occur before we finally open our eyes to the rotten ways of the world. It is the reason lives have to be lost – the reason behind every death and martyr. But it happens because mankind does not like change.

We cannot stagnate. We cannot allow ourselves to be calcified. Change must come and we must be the harbingers. Lives need not be lost if early action is taken. But when things reach their worst – that’s when the situation gets really sticky.

So you ask again; would I give my life for a righteous cause? Well, since Brigitta is winning over Steve in my head right now, I say yes. If it is a cause I truly believe in, then anything is worth it.

After all, death is but the next great adventure – and we’re all suckers for a good saga, no?

Posted in Education, INTEC, Writing assignment

Why Quote???

“A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world. Beauty is eternity gazing itself in a mirror. But you are beauty and you are the mirror.”   – Khalil Gibran

Initially I thought this was the most baffling quote I had ever had the misfortune to come across. Eternity gazing at itself in the mirror? What kind of narcissistic persona was this poet trying to portray? Almost immediately, I pictured a colossal ethereal woman staring at herself in a giant, cosmic mirror, combing her flyaway black hair with a dinglehopper while humming The Little Mermaid‘s ‘Part of You World’.

But of course, I cannot submit a story of a singing entity with long black hair.

This required some thought. So I put my rusty brain to good use, and after much squeaking and shuddering and desperate, derisive snorts I finally recalled something.

As a child I rarely saw my grandfather. As a teen, I barely spoke to him. Instead, I spent most of my time taking surreptitious glances at him while he slept, praying that his chest would rise and fall. He never disappointed. He’d doze in his metal reclining chair, snoring lightly with the television remote control in one hand and a fly swatter in the other, the ceiling fan circling languidly overhead. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I’d see him get up and cook a simple meal, sit down and watch a Cantonese drama while arguing with my grandmother over politics. His life was the epitome of contentment. I remember thinking that such a man must have accomplished everything he’d ever wanted, to be able to live out his old age so peacefully.

My father told me otherwise. I was regularly regaled with tales of how my father’s family suffered in poverty as my grandfather struggled to maintain his furniture company. It wasn’t much – a simple start-up that focused on making furniture that catered to the personal tastes of their customers. But my grandfather – bless his soul – was never a very good businessman.

They say kind men will never be good entrepreneurs. While most of the time I would refute that statement, in my Ah Kong’s case, it could not have been more true. He would lend too much money and make too few deals. He’d expend himself helping out his friends in need and leave his company to the inexperienced contractors.

The result?

My grandmother spent most of her life cooped up in the Parliament, relentlessly pushing heavy black buttons at the typing machine. My father and his siblings would walk to school. Their clothes were sewn by my grandmother, or, in a best-case-scenario, hand-me-downs from more affluent cousins. To say that life wasn’t a bed of roses for them would be an understatement. It was more like lying on a carpet of needles, minus the physics law of pressure.

Strangely, though, my father never held anything against Ah Kong. Neither did my aunts and uncle. They faithfully came to visit him each evening, and Chinese New Year was always a merry affair. I remember being very confused. How did one man err so seriously, so many times, and still sleep so soundly even at two-thirty in the afternoon?

Kindness.

That’s what my father told me when I posited the question to him. Ah Kong was not a moneymaking machine for sure, but his heart was as large as it could get (quite literally, too). He was a good father, a good friend, a good husband, and above all, a wonderful individual. His wealth did not manifest as millions stowed away in the bank, or in large shares in multinational companies. His wealth was the successful children he brought up. His wealth was the grandchildren he watched grow up from the size of a loaf of wholemeal bread to the towering Once-ler my cousin is today. His wealth was a house full of noise and the clattering of plates, of screaming and crying of toddlers, and of a loving, grumpy wife with a penchant for nagging. That was my grandfather’s wealth.

That serene look on his sleeping face did not come from years working out million-dollar deals. That look was the product of his absolute certainty that he had lived his life as best as he could, and every little thing about him echoed his mindset. He was Eternity gazing at his imperfect reflection, and it was one of a man of true wealth. He was the Mirror reflecting all he had ever done, good and bad, and he held none accountable but himself.

And at the end of the day, his reflection showed him a wealthy man in all ways that mattered – none too good-looking, but it was a reflection he liked. Satisfied with everything he had done and everyone he was to leave behind, my Ah Kong passed away in the month of March 2013. I was sixteen.

This is just another assignment from my lecturer, and it is a paltry memoir, but this is where I remember you in the virtual mess that is the Internet.

Eternity or not, beautiful or otherwise, your family misses you, Kong, and we thank you for all the blessings you’ve showered upon us.

Your granddaughter.

Posted in INTEC, Learning Curve, Writing assignment

A Little Poke

Hihi!

This is to whoever’s reading this blog. Since it’s for an educational purpose, I would really appreciate it if you could leave your comments about my composition in the space below. I accept any sort of criticism – harsh, building and anything that helps. Please don’t feel shy to be honest, because your opinions will really help me be a better writer… You’re insight is very much appreciated 😀

Lillian

(Winter ain’t never coming to Malaysia)

Posted in Education, INTEC, Writing assignment

In Lieu Of Swords

If.

There lives a cynic in me, constantly humming Kumbaya in the most sardonic tone you can imagine. His name is Steve. This cynic’s entire lexicon consists of that confounded word. If I were less introverted, if I were braver, if I were not tied down, if I had been given the opportunity, if I were Daenerys Targaryen – assuming I had to put a dollar in a glass jar every time that blasted word surfaced I’d be richer than Donald Trump’s ex-wife.

Residing in the deep recesses of my mind also lies a short, slightly rotund lady with a horn-rimmed glasses and a neat bob of purple hair. I christened her Brigitta, the antithesis of Steve. She’s much nicer.

Today, Brigitta decided that my life’s goal was to fight for equality regardless of culture and creed. I rather liked that idea. Then Steve had to interject, saying that I had nothing to fight with and everything to lose. And I decided that his point, although rather morbid, was true. I had a family to care for, a scholarship to uphold, no money, no swords, no guns and most of all, no A-bombs! How could I expect to succeed without any A-bombs? They’re, like, vital in every skirmish, no?

The argument went a little like this –

Brigitta: You idiot! She can do anything she sets her mind to. Let her save her country.

Steve: What if she has to sacrifice her family’s privacy and safety?

Brigitta: It’s all for the greater good. They’ll understand. Look at Malala Yousafzai!

Steve: She was shot in the head. Three times.

Brigitta: She survived and she was martyred.

Steve: So you want Lillian to be shot in the head and then martyred?

Brigitta: You…you filthy lawyer. This fight means something to her! It’s what she’s always wanted.

Steve: What about those scholarship terms? If she breaks them to join a hippie rally – what happens? If she decides halfway that she’s not built to take the pressure and it’s that it’s too late? What happens then?

Oh yes, I forgot to mention – there’s this other little guy. He’s tall, bespectacled and wears tailored suits made in Italy. He usually sits in the corner while Brigitta and Steve pull their punches. It’s atypical for Roger to come out so blatantly, but I’m glad he did today.

Roger: Hey, now guys…hold your horses (he’s arcane like that, my Roger). Yes, it’s a huge risk for her to fight for what she believes in – but that is a thought so many others have had. She wants to take the road less traveled, to make something of her life. She knows well enough that she and every memory of her will dissipate into obscurity one day, so let her make the most of it. She’s lived her whole life frustrated for those not granted the same opportunities as those around her – so let her try to make a difference. Let her fight for equality – regardless of race, religion and social standing. Let her –

Steve: Die?

Roger: Well…sometimes dying for the right cause isn’t such a bad thing. She believes in it. She believes that it will cause a paradigm shift. She believes that she can cause that paradigm shift. She wants to see everyone treated equally. And her actions don’t have to be big or bold. They just have to mean something. Is that so bad? She doesn’t have guns, or swords, or bombs for that matter. But does she need them? She has her voice. And then there’s us.

Like I said, I liked Roger most of all. And yes, I would fight for equality. If only I could get those –

Just kidding.

But it’s true. I’m totally devoid of anything material. No funds, no political backing, nothing much to help me fight for what I believe in. My actions will be small, and I can only hope that the little pebble I toss in the vast ocean of reality will send ripples enough to change not all, but some lives.

In lieu of swords, I have my voice, my spirit, and my thoughts.