On taking the long way ‘round from Point A to B.
Cover art by Terry Genin
As the new year rolls in and my deadline for the next KIS Today short story grows closer, I find myself in a position I am not often in: a mild writer’s block. At least, for short stories. Through the break, I’ve been working on my second novel sporadically, with the bulk of the writing I managed to get done happening nearer to school’s reopening. It is like that one saying in Thai: to do what you need to do only when a fire is lit underneath your arse, something my mother has said; not to describe me, though this is not to say it is not sometimes applicable.
Near the start of my writing career at KIS Today, I started a list. You could say it was a plan of action of sorts, with me planning what genre my next stories were going to be, and what they would mainly concern, all the like, but once I opened a blank document and sat in front of it, willing the words to trickle in, I found that none of them were quite right.
This was not an uncommon occurrence. I had known long ago that some times of the day were better writing times than others; even some times of the week. So I closed the document, did something else, waited, and tried again.
I still did not feel the need to tell another story apart from the ones I already have.
Thus enters my first piece of non-fiction for KIS Today, as if it had always been sitting there, in a hidden, closed-off space inside my mind, growing and shifting into its final shape.
I like thinking. I like swirling things around in my circular, human head, turning them over and over until I am tired of them and never want to think of them ever again in my (hopefully) long life. Then I repeat this process with something else, and so continues the cycle.
So it is not surprising that, once there is nothing to occupy my time apart from whatever I want to do, some of these thoughts have been nigh-overwhelming. And with them, along with a few other interesting occurrences, I came to the conclusion that one of the things I would add to my Big List of New Year’s Resolutions, all of which I would surely forget in two weeks, was to live in my head less, and in reality more.
Could you imagine? Most probably, you cannot, because you are not me. Our realities are very different, regardless of how much this single fact is perceived and understood by the general populace. At some point in time, I might have been forming my plans for how I was going to split up my lab report work, sitting on the hallway-facing window side of Ms. Madhuri’s classroom, then thinking about how catchy Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers”, The Magician remix, was, but the person next to me could be playing scenes from the animation movie they watched last night in their mind, and pondering whether or not they should take HL Design Technology or Visual Arts in DP.
Sometimes, when I talk to others, I skip over facts, assuming that, because I know, they must also know. I have that knowledge so readily tucked in a nice little space in my mind. I can pull it out and read from the paper anytime. So why couldn’t they? Why wouldn’t they?
It is a classic case of a one-sided view. That is a part of why it is so important to view things from more than one perspective. Sometimes, there is no one right answer.
I am an only child; I’ve always been. When I was younger, my parents would take me to the beach (they still do), and I’d sit and play in the sun in the sand for hours on end. In the pool too. If they didn’t tell me to stop and get in and shower, I reckon I would have stayed until I collapsed. To some, this is unimaginable. What would one do on a beach for hours? Or worse, a pool? There was nothing to do but swim and draw shapes and build things in the sand. And, for me, constructing from scratch an entirely different reality for myself. A new world, full of possibilities. Endlessly.
I moved through my childhood that way: with my own, personal, invisible filter. My own lenses through which I stared out at the world from, cautiously, curiously. I was a distracted child, and an even more distracted student. When I walked through the shopping malls with my grandmother, I would pretend my hands were people, and walk with my fingers along the benches and tables and railings.
My grandmother disapproved.
I like to think a part of it was because of my growing up surrounded by stories. In kindergarten, my grandfather would tell me tall tales of Big Ben and Little John; their grand adventures through London and Egypt; France and Portugal, and I would sit, leaning over the soft table that separated our seats in the old Mercedes-Benz, rapt, to every single second of the strange stream of words that came out of his mouth.
The next phenomenon concerns my lengthy love affair with Thai comics, which unfortunately has long ended. I do not remember how it started, or who bought me the first books. All I know is that my grandfather was probably involved. Even though he had been turned cold and mildly paranoid to the majority of his family by his stroke years ago, he had always been kind to me.
Then: The Goddess Girls by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, bought in the Asia Books on the fifth floor of Central Rama 9, near the hairdresser with the clear, pink tiles on the wall. It is not often I find myself wanting to use repeated lines from fiction I’ve read, but this is one of those times, because I remember it as clearly as if it had been yesterday. I didn’t even want to get the books, at first. It was the first four in the series, with cute little illustrations of each book’s main girl in the front. Athena the Brain. Persephone the Phony. Aphrodite the Beauty. Artemis the Brave.
I ended up reading The Goddess Girls until what must have been the twenty fifth volume. After that, I discovered the world of Percy Jackson. The rest, as they say, is history.
I used to think I would grow out of this. It was what was to be expected. Kids daydream. Kids have overactive imaginations. Then they get older, and the world slides into focus; lenses click and hone the visuals of their reality, and slowly, but surely, the inner world fades out of view. And with that, so does their love of other, stranger worlds.
But that never happened. I was eleven when I read my first novel. At sixteen, I’ve read about six hundred more, and still have a lengthy to-read list to go through; one that I am constantly adding titles to, whenever anyone says the words “book” and “good” in the same sentence. I can’t help it. If I was a cat, I’d probably be on my thousandth life by now, with every time I needed to know more for absolutely no reason at all other than to have that piece of useless information I’ll store in some unused drawer above the clouds, already stacked full with pages upon pages of writing.
When I told my dad during dinner that one of my resolutions for the new year was to live less inside my head, tossing thoughts around, and more in the real world, his response was: “I think everyone lives in their head, to an extent.”
The statement was so ambiguous an answer, so demanding of my headspace, that I just had to think more about it. It was as if my dad knew I’d snatch it up like a flytrap sundew with a big, fat fly. Which, I did.
A few days later, I went out with some friends. We were in some unknown, backstreet Starbucks, with drinks and food in front of us on two round tables pulled together, when one of them started discussing her habit of speaking out loud to herself in front of a mirror.
“I think I’ll keep doing it,” she had said. “I’ll probably talk out loud to myself for the rest of my life.”
And that got me thinking: so will I.
I don’t think there will ever be a point in my life where I can just stop “living in my head”, just like that. A snap of my fingers and I veer out of my reality lane less, go out more and free my mind. No thoughts. Head empty, or at least, less full. But it did not work five days ago, it did not work in December, and it will not work now. Likely, it never will. And I find that, I am okay with that. There is a certain comfort in knowing that, no matter what, this is one thing that will always stay with me.
After all, what are we but our minds? Cogito, ergo sum. This is the only way I know how to live.