thoughts

What? She’s still here?

Oh, hello. Yes, I’m still around. It’s been an uneventful-yet-stressful year that’s nearly over with and I’m staring at the glorious light at the other end of the tunnel. Just a few days shy of an exam that I’ve waited five years to take. I can’t wait to get to the end of July where I’ll be thrown into the wonderful world of unemployment.

My last post was around six months ago, and I think that was a darker place for me. I’m happy to say that I’ve been feeling a lot better recently, in all areas of life and health. I don’t know, maybe it’s the ever-sunny weather that’s put me in a good mood for most days, or the idea that in a few short weeks I’ll be able to have free time to do what I want to do (sleep, eat, read, write, sleep, eat… and eat more).

I’m writing this in the middle of the night as it’s near the end of Ramadan and I’m trying to make an effort to stay up the entire night whilst off work (trying to catch that elusive Night of Power yeah…). Excuse any incoherence that will inevitably find its way in my words.

Not everything is plain sailing, unfortunately. If you’ve been following the recent events in the UK over the past month or so, your heart must be as heavy as mine. Your conscience must be exhausted, and yet we lift ourselves for another day, hoping and praying for better news. For a miracle, perhaps.

London, my city, has gone through so much in the past few months, especially the past few weeks. It’s enough to make us feel desperate for answers, furious to point the blame at anyone, either rightly or wrongly so. We are sad and angry, and we have every single right to be.

Londoners are hurting. In fact, we’d been hurting for a long while, but now our emotions are spilling over. We want to heal, but how can we when the people responsible seem to slink away in the shadows, away from the scrutiny and responsibility?

When you’ve been at the receiving end of injustice for so long, and everyone is turned against you, you just want a portion of fate or destiny to turn with you. When, for so long, you’ve been held in the limelight of interrogation, probed with questions you don’t know the answer for, expected to represent an entire population internationally when you barely even know how to represent yourself outwardly.

I know I’m being vague, but I would hope that if you’re clued up with recent events, you would know who I’m talking about. Certain communities that are constantly being shoved in the corner and told to keep quiet, not to make too much noise. The working class, the ethnic minorities, the Muslims. How many more international events do you want to put on our shoulders, how much more burden can you give us to bear before our backs break?

There are, however, things that make my heart lighter in these bleak times. When the ordinary people of London–you know, those that don’t have fancy titles or the highest pay grade–rush out to Grenfell Tower. Those unnamed heroes in the emergency services that go above and beyond what we’d ask for a human being to do. There is a greatness in us that is often trampled upon in tragedies, but its a spirit that will not be broken. The same spirit can be found in all places of disaster, if you know where to look.

I had long since realised that if there was greatness in Britain, then it lay in its everyday citizens, and not in its institutions. Britain was not great because of its papers and politicians who relentlessly denigrated us, it was great in spite of them. Britain was great because of the community spirit you saw as soon as a small town flooded, because of the volunteers who turned out in their tens of thousands to act as stewards for the Olympic Games. But that wasn’t a spirit that I felt my country was doing nearly enough to nurture. – Musa Okwonga, The Good Immigrant

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5 things I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016

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For those who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing event where writers all across the world are invited to write 50,000 words within November.

Yes, I actually managed it. To write 50,000 words in 30 days. To brave the early mornings, with bleary eyes and cold limbs; the frantic late nights, with aching feet and exhausted bones. This month, where my mind had completely crippled its creative capability, only to have a few hours sleep to recharge for the next day.

In 2015 I only managed 35k, which, at the time, I thought was quite an achievement. Now I’ve reached the ‘official’ finish line it feels great, but I still haven’t finished writing the novel. It’ll probably be another 50k before I do!

Here are the 5 things I’ve learnt this year, and hope that it encourages a budding writer to take part in next year’s frenzy:

1. Don’t let your other commitments stop you.

In 2015, I was a final year university student with, let’s face it, plenty more time than I had now. Despite that, I didn’t manage to win, and that made me cautious about reaching 50k this year as I had started a full time job.

I actually got off to a good start and was slightly ahead of the game for the first few days. In the middle I hit a slump but still wrestled through. I wrote in the mornings after fajr and when that was too painful, I knew in the evening I’d have to eat a quick dinner and get back to it. I wrote on my phone in the car before I stepped into work and again on my lunch breaks.

What this showed me is that you do have time to write. Anywhere and any time. Remember, NaNo is just about the writing itself. Editing is a whole other monster to tame, but just to write is much more fluid. Just do it whenever the feeling comes to you.

2. Uninhibited writing is brilliant

My novel had been brewing in my mind for several months. I had already wrote out a few scenes but nothing seemed right. I just couldn’t tell the story the way it was playing out in my head. I knew NaNo was the opportunity to write without any pit stops, breaks, or even any thinking. Just write whatever comes to my mind.

That was brilliant.

It means anything weird and wonderful can be born on the page, without feeling the need to hit the backspace or furiously scribble the out the words. No one will look at this crappy first draft, unless you give them permission. I know for a fact that the first drafts of any novel I write are completely out of bounds for any mortal being to lay eye upon.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of mornings and nights where stringing together words felt as painful as prodding my brain with a dagger (That’s where point 4 comes into play). But that’s okay, because it’s a first draft. When you let yourself write terribly you’ll find that the creativity of the story and the characters themselves start to shine better in your eyes, which is what I prefer to focus on in the first draft anyway.

3. Don’t look back. Not yet, at least.

Do not press backspace. If I genuinely cringed at something, but it was worth, say, 100 words, I’d just highlight it and click ‘strike-through’. That way it still counts towards my word goals, but when I get to editing I at least know it needs some work or needs to be deleted. Cheating? I call it NaNo-ing smartly 😉

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Daily word counts. See the infamous dip in the middle? A lot of self doubt going on there…

4. The community is wonderful

Join the forums (but don’t get too distracted), or dedicated Facebook groups, or even find people through Twitter. Don’t do this alone, because writing can be a lonely pursuit. Find cheerleaders to keep you going when you can’t bear to cheer yourself on any longer.

Word sprints are definitely what got me through: a casual challenge with other WriMos to see who can write the most words in a set amount of time. In reality no one is bothered who wins these sprints, because all that matters is that you wrote something.

That’s what’s lovely about the writing community: no one is trying to one-up you in anything. Everyone’s running towards the same goal, and if you trip or stumble, be sure that someone will catch you and pull you back up on your feet (or at least smack you to your senses).

5. If you want to do something, go do it. Go get your goals.

Yes, a slightly cheesy number 5, but a truth nonetheless. I’ve always, always wanted to be a writer, an author, or anything to do with words (let’s question my day job at a later time…). NaNo has shown me that I can write 50,000 words in one month, something I never thought I could do before. What’s to stop me from finishing this novel draft? From editing my novels? From actually getting published? The publishing journey can be a long and arduous road, but don’t be disheartened.

Remember what is at the core of your journey: your wonderful words.

Catch the sunlight

In these early hours of the morning, when all the dreams and wishes of the world lay in the palm of your hand, everything seems possible. Sunrise stretches over this ancient earth, but each morning it feels as soft and supple as a newborn baby,  like fresh snow awaiting footprints to carve a path into its canvas.

Push past the dreary remnants of sleep, the exhaustion that fills your bones, and the dread of the coming day. Push it all to the side. Listen to the songs of the morning birds, those that are ready to chase their purpose with every fibre in their tiny feathers. Those that chase the sunlight.

Spread the prayer rug out and let your forehead touch the worn fabric. Whisper words of wishes and hopes, to the only One who listens. Listens to the fears of frightened souls who have hearts too fragile to hold the world’s pain.

Go outside and embrace the breeze–cold and shocking at first–and feel goosebumps tickle the surface of your skin. Then catch the sunlight as it rises across a sleepy sky, until the warmth spreads over and fills you up from the inside.

In those earliest hours of the morning, when everything seems possible. When years of muddled confusions evaporate and you are left with a clarity as clear as polished glass. A clarity of purpose, of intention.

Take a deep breath. Look in the mirror and see your future staring back at you, waiting for you to take hold of it. Waiting for you to catch it in the palm of your hands, your eyes ablaze with the euphoria of eternal victory.

Brain fog

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I’m tired of being tired.

I’m tired that my paper thin patience can snap at a moment’s notice because of something incredibly insignificant. I’m tired of feeling that way, and I know I wasn’t always like this. I’m anxious that I’m becoming more anxious;

a tiny thing I did yesterday is riddled in my thoughts today;

I feel embarrassed about doing something that other people barely noticed–or did they?

I am so concerned over these small things… and then not concerned at all. Not bothered and not caring–but not carefree. I just want to spend an entire day–twenty four cosy hours–in the security of my bed. Not having to speak to anyone. But I’m tired of feeling like I have to mentally pull a ‘let’s-be-social-now’ jacket over myself together just to talk to someone.

My bones, my muscles, my blood, feels tired. I can’t bear to drag myself up again, but I have to.

That’s normal, right?

But those are only the bad days.

I used to be carefree. I used to have the energy and zeal to spend time with others, to be able to make others laugh, be concerned about their well being. Now I fear that I’ll be too concerned, so I step back.

I don’t want to get hurt either.

I step so far back that I feel like my mind is in another room: boxed away, sterilised and sanitised; yet here I am, talking to you. You probably don’t notice all these things spilling around in my mind. Confusion upon confusion. Layers of fog.

I literally just forgot what I wanted to write next. I’m tired of that too.

I hate conflict, yet I feel like I want to start one whenever something ticks me off. I never used to be like this, I promise.

This isn’t normal.

It’s as if there’s a strange storm thundering inside me, wearing me down, straining me on all pressure points–and in the next instance there is nothing. Not even a calm sea–just nothing. I could stare blankly at a wall, neurons dimming, chemical circuits flickering; my thoughts too weak to resurface.

And then I’ll fall asleep, wake up, and the day will renew. It can be better. Sometimes I go back to normal, my normal, where I feel balanced and whole inside once again. But then it can get worse, and I’ll feel like grey clouds are filling me up, top to toe, bringing misery wherever I go.

It’s awful when you realise you’re no longer interested in those things that you loved to do. Not every day, thankfully, but sometimes I can’t bear to look at a book or pick up the pen. That could be classed as usual behaviour, but this isn’t just “I can’t be bothered”. It’s more a hollow non-feeling, where you have no connection to that activity, as if I’d never picked up a book in my life. A strange and unsettling thing.

It is terrible and tiresome when you have to contend with yourself. When your mind is telling you that nothing is going well, but there’s that silver voice that goes over the negativity, the voice of some-kind-of reason, telling you to get yourself together. Telling you it’s all okay, you’re just crying for no reason, you’re being scared for no reason. There’s no reason why you should stay in bed all day. There’s no need for this.

This is the fog that I fight through, and it feels terrible, because battling with your own thoughts is exhausting.

I don’t know where the end is. I don’t know for how long I have to carry on like this. I hope, well and truly hope, that I can manage this. You can never know what cards you’ll get dealt, but you can’t swap them or throw them back to the dealer. This is your lot in life, and you have to get on with it. Through every tear, every cry of frustration, each and every miserable morning where I don’t want to get up–I can do this.

It’s gonna be difficult, but that’s okay.

Not everything comes easy.

Just take it slowly, one foggy day at a time.

Our Innate Ignorance

You were not born with hatred, but with curiosity.

You were born with an intense thirst for knowing, even if you didn’t know that.

Children are little students of life. They don’t have a pen and paper ready but they make notes in their minds as they crawl, walk, and run; entranced by everyone and everything. The first dandelion they hold is the sun in their hands. They stand at a mountain’s peak every time their wobbly legs hold them upright.

We don’t know about hatred until we are taught. This raw, horrible feeling that riddles your emotions and clouds your judgement. Making you less human, perhaps.

There are people who have been taught to hate others. To hate a certain group of people, just for being different. But that ‘different’ is what allows us to grow. It’s what children need to learn;  anything different is a new universe opened to them. But there are people who will continue to hate others because of their difference. And when the seed of hatred grows within them, they water it with malice. It takes over their limbs and lungs.

They breathe with venom. Can’t go without the spite.

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Why?

Does making someone else feel disgusting, make you feel better? Do you feed off their tears? Do your ugly words taste like honey to you?

Because somehow constantly telling yourself the lies made them the truth, and you’re blinded by your truth. But really, deep inside, you let your curiosity wither. You let the hate grow.

Do you fear the colour of his skin, or the strange accent traced in her speech? Do you hate the scarf on her head, or his language that you don’t understand?

But what would have happened if you called out a question instead of an insult? What if you asked him—hey, that’s a lovely accent you have. Where you from?

What’s your name? That’s a cool name, what does it mean?

Your clothes are nice, is it from your culture?

Children rely on that curiosity to discover the world. They are explorers of the Strange. Adventurers in the Mysterious. They ask questions, perhaps one too many at times. But that’s how they learn. To learn is to be human.

And we, as shameful adults, decide that asking questions makes us feel stupid. We feel defeated by our innate ignorance. By denying our natural curiosity—the thing that challenged us and let us grow—we turned to fear the unknown. As we feared that which is strange, we instinctively want to lash out at it. To hurt it. To put it away somewhere so that it doesn’t affect our cosy familiarity.

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These are just some thoughts I’ve had about various events happening across the world, related to racism and intolerance. It is heartbreaking to see people who believe that one race or people are inherently better than others. To even say that other races came ‘from animals’. It makes me sad that they cannot see past their ignorance, that their curiosity has died within them and given rise to something vile. It is a small minority that have these attitudes, but often times this minority shouts the loudest.

But know that the world is filled with decent people. In every country, on every street corner, in every home in this tired world we live in.

Hatred breeds hatred; don’t add fuel to the fire.

 

Streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All photos taken by me.

The fight in you

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What else has happened in a year? I’ve learnt a lot. About people and about emotions, and I’m still learning. I made up a quote once that I thought was pretty good; “Life is both the teacher and the test.” Because it’s true. There’ll be so much that will push you to the edges of your being, tempting you to fall over into an abyss of harm, but you cannot let that happen to you.

You know why?

Because you’re a fighter.

You’re a human being so you will fight your butt off to keep it together.

You’re not alone. Millions and billions and trillions of human beings before you have gone through the same problem, different problems, worse problems and crazier problems than you and they still came out fighting. It’s not about reaching the end point and giving a big sigh of relief, no, it’s more than that. It’s making every day count. But also, don’t be afraid of being afraid. Don’t hold back the tears. Don’t be ashamed to cry and then smile. Because you’re so beautifully human that sometimes it will hurt and you will feel so broken that you don’t know how to patch up the pieces again. But you can do it because you can.

Tell yourself this after you’ve let the sadness stew.

I can do this.

I’m writing positive because I’m trying to be positive myself. But I’ll let you know that I went to bed with anger last night, and I had my reasons. Sometimes you need time to boil it over, but after that you have to use your mind over your heart. Contrary to what a lot of people say about following your heart, there are times when you can’t throw a fit of passion. You need think coolly and calmly. You need to think.

That organ inside your chest will want to take over, but sometimes you can’t let it. Sometimes the grey matter in your head has to win, to take charge.

You’ll know what I mean soon enough.

Another adventure

So I can’t travel right now. So let’s travel together.

Let’s get away from these buildings and bricks with right angles and rectangles. From these streets with double yellow lines. Run away from the cars and zebra crossings.

To see real zebras, crossing. Let’s walk through a savannah, a rainforest, a desert. Making footprints wherever we go so the squirrels can follow us while we follow the birds.

Lie under the galaxy watching shooting stars fizzle into the sky and the seven heavens rotating around us while we sleep by a fire and wake up to the sun burning down, scorching our skin, the greatest alarm clock ever.

Sit by the sea waiting for the tide to come in. Listening to the whoosh of the waves collapsing into one another. Sit on the cold sand of an English coast waiting for nightfall.

We can stroll through a lavender field at the peak of its season, the fragrance clinging to your clothes. Sit under the central tree watching the last golden rays glimpse past fierce purple whilst we take a picnic at sundown.

Or we could play hide and seek in a forest. With tree trunks so tall and thin that you’ll find me easily. But that’s fine, as long as we’re meandering through the autumn leaves, hearing their crunch beneath our boots. And the birds sing their morning greetings.

Let’s traipse through an Arctic desert, spend a night in an igloo, trying not to slip on the ice. Wearing three layers of socks and yet the cold still tickles our feet. Waking up beneath a mountain so majestically big and gloriously grand with snow capped peaks that remind you of the froth on a latte.

And suddenly you’re back. In that same London cafe. While the rain drops slide down the window, merging into one another. Blurring the traffic lights and headlamps behind.

So you long for that journey. But it’ll stay in your mind for now.

In another universe, another time, another space. Another adventure that will never take place.

 

Written: 27/12/2014