“To live vicariously through
is not to live at all.”
But we all know that 2 AM
is a time for epiphanies
that never wake up in the morning.
Back in early March, I went on a six-day hike in the Kalaw Region some gazillion miles north of Rangoon, Burma’s (former) capital. We, I and fifteen other students from my school, visited a good many hill villages on foot, an ordeal for many. We slept at the villages, we ate at the villages, and we spent hour upon hour going from one village to the next, uphill, downhill, uphill, and downhill again.
At the start of the trip, as we left the safe confines of the small base town and dove headstrong into the wilderness, I imagined how happy I would be to return. I would kiss the ground as soon as I set foot again on tarmac, I decreed. Nervous for the six-day ordeal ahead, I looked back one last time at the town and then made my way uphill together with the group.
What I didn’t forsee then was what I would learn along the journey and how sad I would feel having to leave Kalaw behind. What I didn’t know was how much I would cherish having gone on this six-day journey of toiling through the wilderness.
I remember climbing up to the peak of a hill, and just sitting there writing poetry. There was nothing but the grass, the wind, and the wide expanse below; it was exhilarating. I wrote a poem in Burmese (my mother tongue, yes, but a language I rarely use to write with) about photos; about how, sometimes, we regret not taking enough photos of a moment we want to remember but also about how, being the selfish creatures we are, we also desire to experience a moment with our own eyes, not saving it for others in two-dimensional film.
I remember that conversation at midnight behind the village school; just the four of us, talking. Under the stars, under the shadow of the mountains that surround us, hiding from our group leader/teacher who pulls in students skipping the curfew, we talked. We were the most honest, the most feeling, and the most understanding. We talked about our lives and our hopes, and our dreams. A month ago, I felt like I barely know you guys. But now, I feel like I have known you for all my life.
I remember a lot of things. I remember the kind tour guide. I remember all the uphills and the downhills. I remember the village dog. I remember the monk. I remember the communal bathing. I remember, I remember, I remember.
But how fast we forget. We go back to the city. In three months, how much we forget, how hard we must try to remember. I want to go back to the mountains and terrace farms. I want to go back to the village longhouse.
I want us to be at our most honest, most feeling, and most understanding. I want us to go on an adventure again.
There are footsteps at the door,
on the roof,
in the gutter, and
on the fronds of the coconut tree.
There are footsteps that fly
as they fall– if just for a moment —
before they make their home on me.
Me? I resist definition.
I am puddle in a puddle,
I am cup inside the cup
Of your loosely-cupped hands.
I am drink, if one decides
To look up and open mouth wide.
I am the wet, slowly drying
Cool on your skin, damp in your cloth.
I fell on the happy, the joyful, the young
Child who still remembers me.
I fall on the hurried young man,
Scurrying for cover; from cold, from damp.
I fell to the symphony of the roofs
Drowning in the sounds of Summer’s end.
I fall on deaf ears,
Deafened by “noise” not “music.”
Me? I resist definition.
You take me as you are, I simply am.
I am puddle in puddle,
And have been cups in the cups of many hands.
As I type these first few words out, I anticipate that this will be a short post. It’s 10:40 PM here. I’ve had a long day and I am craving for some much-needed shut-eye. But I suddenly felt like writing; writing about anything and everything! Writing about something I really want to say and writing about things that I matter to me! Why? Because I’ve been writing for everybody else lately and very little for myself. There are papers for History class, field reports for Sociology, peer reviews for group projects, SAT Writing Section practice essays, the works. I need to write for myself and I think I’m on the right path to tending to that need. O, sweet catharsis here I come!
Dear readers, I am facing a personal crisis. I am torn between working for my own success and spending time on my friends. The SATs are looming (I’m taking them in June) and I’m in a hurry to make up for all the months I should have spent prepping for the damn test. High school is demanding. There are books to be read, topics to be thought deeply about, reports to be written (and sometimes rewritten!). I just spent this evening on all this stuff, ignoring the many calls of my friends.
Yes, my friends. I love them. I love these guys to death. They’re awesome, most of the time. But the worst thing is that spending time with them takes away time that could have been spent on investing in my (academic) future. Lately, I’ve been so focused on school that I sometimes tend to ignore what’s happening to my ‘peeps.’ Things are going on. I do not fail to see but I fail to act. You know that, like, everyone has their own problems. Shit is happening to everyone. I like to be able to help; even to just listen them out. I fail to act. And I feel horrible but I really need to focus on myself too.
Lately, we’ve been doing Buddhist philosophy in (surprise!) Philosophy class. Buddha talks to his disciples about the path to Enlightenment and that is the Noble Eightfold Path which, once you walk on it, would lead you to Nirvana; Enlightenment. Another name for this path is, “The Middle Path,” and let me gratuitously showcase my knowledge of the archaic Pali language, also known as the “Mizzima Padipada.”
Basically, following the Middle Path means that you do things in moderation. No swinging to extremes. You don’t pursue voluptuous worldly pleasures obsessively and you also don’t renounce your every possession like a hermit. You just live your life in moderation and follow the Middle Path, and all will be well. In time, and after an unknown number of reincarnations, you will have walked the path enough and reached your destination.
Anyways, I’m still torn between friends and my (academic) future. This is kinda cathartic; to have written about it. Thanks for reading. You know I love you guys. Peace out.
I pledge to, whenever the opportunity presents itself, write for myself.
It’s quite simple, really. Writing just for myself, right? Sure. Why not? I have neither peer nor teacher to critique my work. There is no strict deadline or a time limit, or even any of the usual limits for that matter. But yet, why do I find this pledge so difficult to follow?
Even now, a few sentences into the post, I have started to get friendly with the backspace key. Perhaps, I have gotten too used to the idea of writing to be read that even a semblance of an audience scares me into being a cautious, self-critical writer. It, then, becomes difficult to write for myself. It seems that all my problems concerned with writing for myself stem from the fear of being read and being read critically. Then, why did I choose to publish this post and not write in a journal?
Journals, at least to me, are phantasmal objects. We write to be read. Being assured that at least one lost soul might stumble upon this post is enough readership for me. I believe that writing that which is read is substantial and therefore concrete in its form. For once writing is read, it cannot be taken back.
What exactly is writing for oneself? First, we must lead with what writing is. For one, writing is a way of putting vague thoughts floating around in one’s head into words which are substantiated by the act of being read. Writing can be reflection on something you just read or an event you just witnessed. It is also, in a sense, a record in time. For some, writing is the release of emotions. It was Wordsworth who wrote that poetry is, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” His description also applies to prose (mainly being our musings and rantings) when we add the spontaneous overflow of thoughts to it. It is through writing that we piece together our vagabond thoughts into a story for the reader to be led through.
Then, what is writing for oneself? Its sole purpose, I believe, is mental clarity. When we want to make sense of our thoughts, the events in our life or our feelings, we write in order that we may give these thoughts some form of order so that we may arrive at some understanding of our own discourses for we seldom can comprehend our own trains of thought. Our minds get so much input every day and clarity is required before we may utilize the input. Clarity is advantageous to the thinking mind. Clarity is what we seek as writers. Writing for oneself is writing for clarity.
Now, let us return to the pledge. I have been, by virtue of being the writer of the pledge, granted by myself unto myself the right to define when “opportunity presents itself.” I shall define it as every day without school, and school days in which there are no writing assignments or heavy reading. I know I have arrived at a satisfactory conclusion when I have not even touched the backspace key for a good three paragraphs. Do wish me luck on toughing out the vicissitudes of life as a high school student.
That Guy from Burma
The thing is I had just finished reading J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I write not to review nor to dissect and analyze but to crystallize what I feel for what I feel right now is so markedly remarkable that I MUST capture the moment. And what better way to do it than to write about it?
Chbosky mentioned in his Perks of Being a Wallflower that The Catcher in the Rye was a book you made your own. I have to agree with that because in a way, although we all read the same story that Holden Caulfield narrates, we interpret it in different ways. The narrator is not reliable, irrational even, so to get the big picture, you need to step back and look at it from the perspective of an adult. The problem is, I can’t do that. I seem to get, again and again, lost in Holden’s narration; in his rage, his sadness and his loneliness. I ‘get’ him. Hell, it feels like I’ve known him for my whole damn life!
You see, I’m about to turn 18 this week. 18 is that point in your life when you’re suddenly and very rudely given the label, ‘adult.’ I’m not ready to grow up just yet. I don’t feel like growing up. I’m still a mess. My thoughts are still a mess and I can’t even make out the flurry of emotions running amok in my head. What makes me ready to be an adult? You see, I’ve got tons of questions and concerns about adulthood and maturity. Growing up is a pain in the ass and everything around me – family, friends, money, school – makes it all the much more complicated, and I am not even close to figuring it all out.
Perhaps, we never do. Perhaps, maturity is a point that lies in infinity and beyond; you can get closer and closer to it but you can never get to it. It’s all horribly confusing. By reading Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I feel as if I’m one step closer. I have shared in the agony and in the joy of Holden Caulfield for the better part of a week I spent reading the book. Although the book ended, Holden’s journey did not but he did get one step closer. Nearing the end, he learned to perform an act of maturity by giving up his fantasies of running off to the West for the good of his little sister, Phoebe. The scene with the carousel and Phoebe giving Holden back his hunting hat, a reciprocation of Holden’s kindness, just made me go all soft and woozy (yes, woozy) inside.
What I also learned is that despite despising the adult world and its ‘phoniness,’ we must all grow up at one point or another. Holden wanted to protect the innocence of the child from the bitterness of the grown-up world but when he, himself, got caught in the same situation, he had to move forward. His last act for Phoebe was evidence of that. He grew up. It may not be much, but he grew up. And at one point of another, I will have to too.
It was nice to know that I’m not alone in all this Salinger. It really was.
1. Happiness is Freedom
Happiness is your mom letting you take the car for the night. Happiness is cruising around Yangon, the most amazing city at night, with a bunch of your best buds. Happiness is bathing under the warm glow of the ubiquitous sodium street lamps while taking in an invigorating breath of fresh air and freedom as you drive in circles on the road round the Royal Lake. Happiness is going wild; screaming at the top of your lungs. There is no one; just you and your best buds. The street is yours. The night is yours. Freedom is yours.
2. Happiness is Purpose
Happiness is having something to do; whether it’s getting your homework done, the dishes clean or a piece of writing completed. Lack of purpose, that insipid boredom, kills. It kills you slowly from the inside until you remain merely a shell of nothingness. Happiness is purpose, it is structure and it is being motivated to get up, do something and get it done.
3. Happiness is What You Define
For me, it’s listening to Haim.
So, how do you define
Happiness, what it is?
The ending is cheesy,
For I have run out of words,
But apparently not out of rhymes.
Nga chauk (‘nga’ meaning fish in Burmese and ‘chauk’ meaning dried, and hence, dried fish) can be the hardest food in the world, especially if undercooked or raw. And inversely, the softest food in the world, nay the Universe, is overcooked rice; it is runny, it is gooey and it is just a hot, hot mess. These two, by some ugly twist of gastronomical fate, happened to be my dinner this evening.
So, as my parents were engaged in other matters that did not involve dinner, it was just a matter of time before my sister, just over a year younger than me, decided to cook the both of us another dinner, that is, fried rice with whatever ingredients we can salvage from the fridge. To give you some background, she had just taken an interest in cooking and is currently in her ‘experimental’ phase or as I’d like to call it, the ‘burning ingredients’ phase.
So, she raids the fridge for some squid’s legs, sausages and frozen meatballs. Getting some ginger and garlic into a paste, she threw them into the oiled frying pan. The heat is just right, the oil smells nice and, all the ingredients are nicely chopped up and prepared. Then, she took the bowl of overcooked rice and chucked the contents into the pan. That’s where I couldn’t help myself and intervened.
We have some ground rules for frying rice the Burmese way, according to my mother. First, we always use cooked rice that has been resting for a day (yesterday’s leftover rice is today’s breakfast). Second, always, and I mean ALWAYS, fry the meat first before you do your rice. Third, because cooked rice clumps together, crush the clumps before you throw the rice on the pan.
There is wisdom in these rules of thumb. I too, in my tender years, failing to see reason in them, decided to deviate from the norm and have also created my own fiasco of a dish. I learned my lessons. I remembered. I remembered to fry the meat first and I remembered to crush the rice first before frying because I have, painstakingly and stubbornly if I might add, eaten my own plate of burned rice and raw meat.
I did not want that for my sister. You see, she might be just over a year younger than me but she is still my little sister. I’m the one who has to be there to scare off her would-be boyfriends, skip ‘the scenes’ when we watch Game of Thrones. I’m her big brother.
When I intervened as she threw the clumps of rice into the pan, I couldn’t help but impart those rules of thumb to her and mention the fact that she had broken all three of them. In short, I started backseat cooking which, I admit, can be very annoying. So, I was spouting the put-that-theres and don’t-do-thats like a machine gun. I hadn’t realized that I went overboard until my sister snapped back at me.
Briefly, very briefly, I was hurt. Then I realized that’s what being a parent is like; I started to understand, if not completely, how my very loving mother felt during all those moments when she warned me and scolded me. She just wanted what was best for me. All I wanted was to help my sister make a plate of decent fried rice. I wanted to teach her but I forgot that a part of growing up is making your own mistakes and learning from them.The fried rice turned out to be half decent and edible but my sister decided not to eat at the table with me today. She took her all the fried rice with her and headed for the couch in the den. I was very tempted to point out that she was being very rude but I’m not a child anymore and we’re not fighting over toys. I let her have her space. I let her breathe. I finished my dinner.I made a mistake. I learned. I grew. I had rice and salted fish for dinner.