Of Marriageable Age: The Long, Dark Wedding Season of the Soul

Doom.

Doom.

The death certificate of my childhood arrived in a crimson red envelope.

I slipped the contents out onto my desk and unsealed them, unfolded them, unclasped them. I had never received a missive so delicate or so complex, and it took several moments for my baboon digits to free the contents to browse. What appeared from within shook my heart with horror. I trembled suddenly for reasons I could not then articulate. The sky outside seemed to darken, the clouds grew heavy with ash and smoke. Everything tasted like salt and copper and purple.

Tina is getting married in August. This was the first wedding invitation of my adult years.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Transpacific Laments for Starry Skies

Private Beach

Always looking for the right patch of sky.

I was always a terrible sleeper.

Anxious and constantly thinking by nature, my childhood mind was a churning furnace of thought and story and all the many possible futures. I remember lying awake and thinking of any number of things – of possible futures, of stories I wanted to tell, of places I wanted to go. I was socially awkward for many years, so I remember sometimes lying away, my scalp sagging into my tiny pillow, planning out possible conversations I might have with peers the following day. Turning my brain off was never something I could fathom, never mind attempt. A mind, in my experience, was a tire fire, an oil slick, a great uncontained thunderstorm. Turning off my constant thinking would mean, almost certainly, that I had simply expired sometime in the night. Sleep usually overtook me only when I became so exhausted with thinking that a fuse shorted somewhere in my brain and the systems took a break.

Childhood insomnia meant I spent a lot of time staring out my childhood window into the night sky. Being unable to sleep anyway, I hated the idea of blinds or curtains, of casting myself in a caul of black, of throwing my eyes into darkness and giving myself nothing to ponder on. I always asked for the blinds to be up, for the curtains to be drawn, for the windows to be slid open to let the night in.

I needed night sounds and night skies. The sound of city buses has always been the perfect white noise to me, a loud parking brake the closest analogue I’ve ever had to soft rain or the aquatic songs of blue whales. A choir of crickets and the soft pat-pat of the few walking the roads late at night, looking up at the same dark skies.

Continue reading

Existential Conundrums in a Chinese Supermarket

Trinket town

This is the Buddha head selection station. The Buddha head buying station is around the block.

I clutch the most boyish thermos I could find amongst the sea of shiny pink and purple aluminum. A Chinese mall thrums around me on all sides, and this one particular sector is dedicated only to mugs and coffee containers. A young saleswoman hovers around a laptop, scowling every time I turn her way, knowing our interaction will involve a lot of pantomime, frustration, and tedium. She awaits my dull, Mandarin-less grunts with dutiful stoicism.

When I move towards her and indicate that I have found my desired item, she asks me a few questions, to which I answer yes, as it is one of the few words I have learned thus far. She taps away at the laptop and then begins scribing an enormous, hand-written scroll of instructions and numbers and arcane glyphs, which I assume I will need as incantations to summon Pazuzu. She hands me the slip of paper, clutches my thermos loosely and waves me away with my desired possessions gripped possessively in her talons.

I stare around my surroundings, pondering my next step. Everywhere there are desks, laptops, angry and tired-looking staff waiting at the ready, taking things away from shoppers. I am more than a little dazed. I wonder if I need to go on some sort of scavenger hunt, if I am being summoned into a hero’s quest and will need to bring this woman back the Golden Fleece. Perhaps I will need to answer a troll’s riddle? Or slay a dragon. Or maybe this is an Ikea situation, and my theoretical thermos was only a floor model, and my little slip of paper was actually a map, a guide, a thorough set of instructions on how to spelunk the depths of the storehouse below us to find the shrink-wrapped and ready version of my cup.

Continue reading

The Shoebox and the Palace

All clean on the western front.

It’s very cozy.

I remember the day when my main co-teacher showed me my Korean apartment. I was carrying two suitcases and was swaddled in a sopping-wet sweater vest, slick with Korean humidity and my own terror-sweat. I looked around my one room, my first apartment to myself, and was stunned by a sense of grandeur. There were walls and a ceiling, a bed and a couch, pots and pans and an entire bathroom, and they were just for me. They were mine. All twenty cubic metres of them.

My meagre collection of belongings easily slid under beds and into cupboards, my suitcases wedged below the couch and beside the wardrobe. I had no decorations to speak of, other than pictures I sellotaped to walls and whatever sea-creature decals I allowed to remain spread across the apartment in monument to its previous occupant.

I was a grown-up, and this was minimalist living, I thought. The lack of space necessitated the style, but it suited me fine. Extra room just meant more things to clean, more things to polish, more things to worry about damaging or coating in ice cream when I grew careless and sloppy. A one-room was the apartment for me, as it necessarily created a simplistic lifestyle, near monasticism in its quiet, lazy effortlessness. I felt moved in within an evening, and as much as the place could become recognizably mine, as much as a single room with a kitchenette and a single bed can become personalized, it was shaped in my image.

Continue reading

Adulthood and Meatballs: My Independence Begins in an Ikea

ikeapic

Two sacks and a basket full of grown-up, please.

The delivery man squinted. If he didn’t recognize my address, he was definitely beginning to recognize my face, and this had been the third time I airlifted food into my apartment that week. My beautiful, spacious, ramshackle and unfinished apartment had no knives. It had no pots or pans, except for the single frying pan given to me by the school, which came sans handle. My apartment had no towels, other than the travel towel I had slipped in my bag for emergencies. My apartment had no mats, no coat hangers, no spices, no sheets.

Of course, confronted by this sort of situation, I usually adapt comfortably. The bachelor lifestyle suits me like a velvet glove, and I can easily subsist in an apartment with a bed, two chopsticks, and a decent internet connection. That my new home had a couch and a television and a spare bedroom and working air conditioners was already beyond my expectations, accoutrements I barely knew how to fathom, let alone care for. Give me a barren concrete block with fewer things to clean and I will live my life in perfect, monastic peace.

Of course, the state of my living space was of some concern for the people whom I worked with, and for my friends. There was the growing concern that I was not eating properly, or not eating at all. Other humans heard the stories of my deliveries and imagined me splayed out on the hard tile, scooping fistfuls of pork and rice directly into my mouth and then, with no towels or water or anything to clean myself, simply smearing the leftover sauce in my hair, which as you know is nature’s towel.

Continue reading

The Maturity Boomerang: A Soft, Easy Sojourn Back to Adolescence

The Jaded Raven

The raven thinks you should probably learn to handle your crap.

At age twenty-two, I purchased some suitcases, strapped most of my belongings to my back and moved to another country. Some days I made breakfast: eggs and toast, pancakes, artless arrangements of seasonal fruits. On good weeks, I washed my clothes and hung them on a dry-rack in the centre of my apartment, a wobbly aluminum X with straining arms, and sometimes even managed to fold and shelve each item, even the socks. I combed my hair and brushed my teeth. Once or twice I shaved.

I held down a job. With two degrees under my belt I was reasonably well educated, or at least enough that another country was willing to furnish me with a plane ticket and a studio apartment. I managed my finances and made travel arrangements and trips to the doctor. I picked up prescriptions and threw birthday parties for others, and would sip hot tea in the evenings over beloved hardcover books. I had spare keys made. I filed government forms related to my foreign pension. Other people occasionally asked me for assistance with grown-up things.

To say I cherished the accoutrements of adulthood is maybe an understatement: I revelled in them. I allowed myself occasional dalliances with childish exuberance, with slivers of immaturity. Adventure Time became a significant part of my life. While managing my bank statements and taxes, I sometimes wore prescriptionless glasses, as they made me feel more bookish and capable of money-handling. Dinners, when I made them, often resembled breakfasts, which are the easiest kinds of meals to make.

Continue reading

What if Leaving is a Loving Thing?

The cherry rain

Say goodbye to the blossoms and the spring.

The going away party was a hit–everyone was smiling and happy, and it felt, in so many ways, like a coming together and not a splitting apart. The music was loud, and people were overly generous in sloughing free drinks down our gullets. We wrote dozens of post-its and stuck them on people, first messages of friendship and connection, and then later insults and invective once we’d had enough drink. The night was hitchless, but for a surprise dance-off that included the Spice Girls, which just so happened to be Faith’s Trigger, and thus turned the dance-floor into an anger pit. It was the exact kind of mess we secretly had wanted.

It was perfect. All of my friends and loved ones in Korea gathered in one place to send me off – laughing and singing and being fools, the wonderful lot of them. I loved them. So why was I then leaving?

Continue reading