a sonnet: Through an Eternal Overcast

During a writing course I took recently, I wrote a sonnet. Dedicated to my friend, C.C, an artist’s soul embittered by an unrewarding working life. Yet, if we have a passion, hobby, an obsession, we have an exit towards joy and connection.

 

Through an Eternal Overcast

England is an eternal overcast.
Traditions too, on a sensitive mind.
If family is no home for an outcast
Will you make sure my friend’s not left behind?
She rages against eternal Mondays,
A sign of life, as vivid as her veins,
Throbbing with art to explode into rays
That puncture the grey skies of all her pains.
Friend, you burn holes with your pen. If you dare
To write yourself across your face, and link
Each pore into constellations so rare,
To write “star struck” would be a waste of ink.
Who knows what’s in Destiny’s crystal ball.
Life is pain, but your art will free us all.

an introvert who won’t stop talking

Talking, if you ask me, may look like a function of being human, but it is like trying to cross four lanes of two way traffic in China where there isn’t a crosswalk for another mile. I’ve spent most of my life standing on the edge assessing the traffic of conversation, only to keep missing my chances. Sometimes I puff up and take a step, only to be a millisecond too slow for the appropriate lapse between comments, and I’m ran over by someone coming faster and louder.

It had costed me everything from face-burning shame and haunting regrets, to stomach-knotting anguish and heart-stabbing pain, that many a night I swore into my tear-soaked pillow that I shall never, ever, utter another word except “Yes”, “OK” and “Thank you”. Even “Hi” must be taken off the table.

Social media has provided a crosswalk where there was none. I will no longer miss my turn, I will no longer be talked over. I can even start my own conversation and go at my own pace! I was crippled, and now I walk. A beating heart being brave and talking to the world.

Until nobody likes.
And all you hear back is crickets.

I sat in the dark clutching my phone and swear that I will never, ever, spend another second writing another stupid post about my stupid thoughts and feelings that nobody cares to know.

I sink into the dark ocean of loneliness.
No more pain.
No more noise.
The world does not need me.

Even though the world does not need me, when morning comes and I see people and evidence of love and solidarity, I yearn. I yearn for connection, I yearn to be seen. I yearn to be seen like I never was. If the world does not care, then the world does not care what I say and how much I post.

I’m conservative in looks, but I’m a rebel in my bone marrow. I croaked my first “Hi” at the boys standing in the lunch line. Even flashed them a smile and took them by surprise. I shouted one of their names across the gym like I was a cheerleader. It worked for him, though I’d never felt so much shame for a success. I have the strength and determination to make myself speak against my nature, I can make myself say things that are waiting to burst forth like fireworks.

I won’t let it go unsaid that sometimes I do get likes and comments that lift me up into the clouds where all the angels live. They’ve shown me the way home. But all the likes and comments and love shown are not a solid enough ground to stand on. The antidote to this dangerous sport is, perhaps, to learn from the local Chinese gliding through the four lanes of two way traffic, undaunted by provoking an occasional held-down honk: Knowing that you are entitled to the road as much as the cars and other people.

 

a poem: Bubbles to her ponytail

A poem that’s not risen from an abyss but dropped from heaven. Based on a true day at the park (lol)

~Bubbles to her ponytail~

The sun arrived with us at the wooded park.
I took the bottle of soapy water
Sold four for a dollar, and blew
Transparent pearls to her ponytail.

Her cheeks are full and golden like a freshly baked cream puff.
I blow a kiss through the hoop.
Up and down, up and down
Bubbles flow like musical notes
Of a song about birds and rivers.

She’s fixated on other things.
The tactility of mulch, or the possibility
Of hidden treasure.
My floating kisses skim over
The top of her ponytail.

And from the far side boys come running,
Arms flailing and legs tripping,
Crashing their boyish might on every bubble.
They laugh as they run, coming too close.
She stays unmoved in her peril,
Still pondering her handfuls.
The wind carries my next breath of bubbles
Whistling for the boys to follow.

I hope she doesn’t mind, my darling daughter,
That I’m having rather a lot fun
Watching the boys chase fairies.

a poem: Couple

(Hi All, this is a piece of creative writing)

“Couple”

A couple posts their engagement photo,
A picture dripping in honey
Swarmed by blessings and envy.

He wraps his arms around
Her shoulders like a rubber band.
Both are dressed in tank tops,
Entangled by their gaze
and naked arms.

Their love is in full bloom.
A magnificent beginning
Of love’s unfolding.

Petals fall out like hair.
But we stay put, for we know
There’s a tiny, pale and sour fruit
Ripening with the seasons.

Flowers and fruit
Are many and sweet.
And they wither like youth.
What’s left of love
Are dry and tough
As branches.

Will you keep believing,
Keep watering and sheltering,
Until the time comes
For another blossom?

I wonder when was the last time
I had as much skin to skin
With my husband.

relationship status: it’s complicated

Some people write Facebook posts about how lucky they are to have their great and loving mother-in-law. I have, in case you haven’t noticed, been secretly doing the opposite here. When I used to hide it all behind a weak smile, thinking I wasn’t supposed or allowed to feel such a thing, a dark venomous slick sprawled all over the walls of my heart.

We can all be amazing people with the best intentions and golden hearts. But circumstances, context, fatigue and life challenges can make bitches out of us.

Last night I went to the window and saw her bent over the flower bed. We had just finished eating dinner that she made. I was just throwing invisible arrows at her back. But now, thirty meters away, with a wall and window between us, she seems more like an ordinary, humble, wounded animal.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered towards her. “I know what it looks like. I’m the Blastoise, the tortoise Pokemon with machine guns popping out of its shell. I may be quiet and slow moving, but I’m not a friendly creature when I’m around you. You don’t deserve this, for all the things you do that make my life easier. It’s just that there’s a part of me who is still a sensitive, scared and insecure budding mom. I need to protect and give her room to grow.”

I waited, but that was all. No love, hugs, or promises that the Blastoise will go away. But perhaps, beginning on this day, whenever I feel any gentleness towards my mother-in-law, any tender respect, reluctant gratitude, or retrospective understanding, I will not stump it to preserve my victimhood. Instead, I’ll let it flow. To trickle through the vast space between us, an inch at a time. To swirl and begin to wash away the venom built up in my heart.

the least grateful mantra

One night as my blood boiled at 12am from experiencing all the unfairness, weaknesses, mess-ups and stuck-ness of life and myself, I searched in the dark for that miracle creature that’s supposed to make even the most miserable people happy: Gratitude.

I have not done my gratitude practice for months because: 1) The day is obviously 30 seconds too short for anyone to have time for deciding and writing down the happiest moment of their day. 2) There are a couple things that I wish to/should/must be grateful for, but I can’t feel it. And that’s where my mind likes to get hung up on. It gets too busy feeling a lack of gratefulness to notice the little things like friendship, husband, health, stability, etc.

In my dark hell of a mind I would not have found anything to be grateful for. But I breathed out and felt “Hmmm it feels so good to finally lie down on the bed.”

Finally, the tail of Gratitude brushes past my fingertips. I held on. Actually it might just be its toe nails. But I saw it as a miracle nonetheless. I recited silently “I’m grateful I get to lie down now. I’m grateful I get to lie down now in a very comfortable bed. (body sinking a little deeper into the mattress). A very comfortable bed indeed with pillows and covers…”

It’s like drinking milk after you’ve eaten some hot jalapenos. Then I drift off to sleep as if I have not had a bad day at all.

my inner Shrek

For the first time in eleven months, my friends, who kindly read my blog, I got tired of believing that Everyone is Beautiful the way they are, with all their perfect imperfections etc. No I haven’t met anybody who’s making me think that, not anyone new anyway. Just myself, my good old self. And my feet’s love for tennis shoes. Let me tell you.

Last week I had my first business meeting. There was a fair bit of walking to get there so I wore my tennis shoes and carried my heels in my purse. After the meeting on my hike back to my office I realized: I was still in my tennis shoes.

I told it as a joke later but at that moment I realized just how far away I am from the woman I tried to be. The Professional Woman who not only does good work, but who looks Pretty and Polished and ideally Charming, Friendly and Memorable. 

The other joke is that out of that list of Professional Woman qualities I can ever only meet the first one. With the looks thing I can keep trying but as my feet tell you, it’s not in my biology. And the personality thing, well, my inner voice is saying “Oh honey, you know you’re not that person…”

With my big wide sweaty feet in my tennis shoes, I called myself a rather harsh name I would never call anyone. Unless you’re Shrek. You’d think I was being a bully to myself but actually it was liberating. Compared to the part of me who tries to convince me that I’m Beautiful, who pretends not to notice my aesthetic shortcomings, the name-caller is at least looking and acknowledging every part of me.

And my inner Shrek, whose Shrek-ness is only relative to the Professional Woman ideal, says “You may pretend not to see me, but it’s not like you can get rid of me. Might as well come up with a new plan that includes me so I don’t show up as a surprise to you!”

your door, my door

Just like a lot of you, I live with people, and I find living with people is hard. One day I was really brooding over a certain bedroom door, wishing it was a wall, and blaming it for just about every problem I have. Because when you get upset over people, you tend to think the people are causing you upset.

And then the door talked back,

“There’s no way you can keep me closed, because I serve only the people who live behind me. We are of no real threat to you but you think we’re an intruder. And sadly, when you keep your eyes fixed on me, you nail your heart with fear.

But look, and remember, I have a twin just across the hall. Her name is Your Door. You are free to open and close it whenever you need, whenever you want. That’s the boundary that you can control.

We all live together, I know you wish things were different. But you’re OK, because you have a door. You don’t have to let anyone or anything in that you didn’t want, even if they ask. And you are free to let anyone or anything out. You didn’t know you could, did you? You thought it would be rude, and that’s kind of why you thought you have intruders in the house.

So now I’d like to ask you to stop giving me your evil look and angry vibes, and just see and trust that you have a door, your own boundary, and it’s been here all along for you to use and control.”

And then.

A few days after that door talked to me, I’m standing at its threshold. I’m being greeted at the door to hand over something I’m bringing. When I did, I had a flashback. I saw myself barging in very self-righteously. I can understand it but I am sorry now to recall that I had stood in the middle of that room that isn’t mine, and thought that being asked to leave my thing at the door, as opposed to bringing it into the room, was a violation of my boundaries.

life in a cupboard

My daughter points to the corner of an apron trapped by the closed door. The apron is one of the few items that belong to me in that pantry cupboard that is packed from ceiling to floor. This cupboard is the magic on the fingertips of my mother-in-law. Mysterious and potent herbs casually filling up jars with their now lying mayonnaise or mustard labels. Jars of calories that I had bought, I noted, now seem to mock me with their bellyful of healthful ingredients that I’ll never know the names and uses of. They stand there unassumingly as a symbol of a traditional Chinese mother’s cooking, a feminine power far superior than my tinned tomatoes, brownie mixes and that still-brand-new, full-color hardback Chinese cookbook written by a Chinese-American I bought a couple years back, which I’d started to pretend isn’t even mine.

The other half of the cupboard is the hospice for empty jars and boxes. My father-in-law likes clear surfaces, but won’t leave storage spaces as spaces. For him, filling spaces with something, anything with an illusion of being useful such as the worry that we’ll need a seventeenth plastic yoghurt tub, is better. As if junk is harmless.

I thought this was the battleground I lost because I neither have a lot of cooking ingredients, nor a habit to hoard. When I open the door to tuck the apron back, my daughter goes in and start moving things to the floor, doing whatever pleases her toddler’s heart. She is the person with no cooking skill and who takes up the least physical space. Yet, she is at home and I’m not. Now I see that even though none of the jars, cans, boxes or cookbooks belong to her, and maybe because none of the values, habits and traditions are weighing on her, she’s having fun. That fun is hers. That freedom is hers. Now I know that I’ve had my head stuck in a narrow cupboard that has little to do with me, and now I can stop trying to squeeze myself inside it. Because there’s a whole lot more space and a whole lot other things that I can get myself into. Or not. It will be my choice. It will be how I make myself at home.

see the beauty of who we truly are

It’s a great power to see the beauty of who we truly are.

We can be outspoken, soft-spoken, passionate, calm, spontaneous, reserved, calculated, flexible, principled, talkative, cerebral, fun-loving, challenge-loving, ambitious, go-with-the-flow, musical, mathematical, creative, dependable, practical, abstract… There are as many people as there are types of people. But people really advocate for only some of these traits, leaving those who are opposites feeling a bit disadvantaged, or worse, defective.

The truth is, the person with ideas, strategies, a voice and a will to lead people can make no progress if there are no people willing to cooperate, collaborate and accommodate, and make things happen. People who don’t just think of themselves, people who trust and do the hard work.

It’s a great power to see the beauty of who we truly are, because then we unshackle ourselves from the generic voice in the media or in society. The beauty of being quiet. The beauty of being the calm one. The beauty in using your voice. The beauty in silent actions. The beauty of being more rational than emotional. The beauty of being more emotional than rational. The beauty of the strength to bite the bullet. The beauty of the strength in being honest and expressing feelings.