Adrift

Day 31, 500 words, 31 days

I confess, I may have romanticized this writer’s life.

I imagined entire days spent reading classic literature and taking breaks jotting down passages that inspired me, and maybe writing some of my own. I would start off with my morning cup of coffee, perhaps go for a run if I felt the need to clear my mind, and then get to work at a reasonable morning hour – 10, or 10:30. By noon, I would pour a second or third cup if I felt the afternoon hours baiting me into submission, and sleep. Chances are, I’d end up napping anyway, with a book resting neatly over the bridge of my nose or with its pages spread over my chest. I’d be in some Zen-like state, unconsciously generating original ideas to write about – the kind I’d punch into a blank Evernote page to park for later. And late in the evening, if I couldn’t quiet the restless thoughts running in my head, I’d sneak out of bed and write a little more – perhaps along with a little nightcap, and if I took it at the right time, I’d knock myself out for good after I typed up my final words.

This is, however, not the usual day.

The version I actually live usually revolves around running morning errands like stress-inducing trips to the market, or remembering to hang out the laundry at a reasonable hour – like 10 or 10:30. By noon, I’ve missed lunch and debate whether it’s worth putting on some pants to go to get Char Hor Fun on the corner, or if I’m better off fixing myself the driest sandwich imaginable. Somehow, I fight off the spell that is sleep and manage to be alert enough to Tweet something tweet-worthy or skim over Facebook for something other than a Buzzfeed list. (I click on the Buzzfeed list anyway). By nightfall I’m wondering where my day went, and realize I hadn’t written a single thing worth posting. So I hit my hardest stride before 10 in the evening, pushing through a post around midnight just so I can earn the satisfaction of uninterrupted sleep.

I may have seen one too many movies of writer-types – the sort of miserly, unkempt professor of Wonder Boys or the manic-depressive one in Adaptation. There’s, of course, the feel good bunch too – the outcasted, but hopeful young writer in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or the diamond-in-the-rough discovered in Finding Forrester.

Reality is, I’m absolutely like none of those characters at all. I’m too fastidious about fixing the hair that I have left and I still actually put together outfits that don’t make me look like a child rummaging through his parent’s closet for “dress-up”. I didn’t fancy myself a writer when I was a kid, and I have a hard time believing I’ll be fortuitously discovered as one, as an adult.

The “writing life” and the “writer” itself remain such odd, though appealing, caricatures to me, but I find it hard to relate.

The truth about writing is that it’s just going to take a lot of work. It already has. The daily grind of it that brings about both magical epiphany and mind-bashing frustration. The practice and discipline of it make it more of a craft to be honed than a mere hobby to be dabbled with. The sheer effort it requires reminds me all the more that, like time itself, it’s never going to be free.

I’m already feeling the cost creep into my ideal, daily routine. I’m experiencing the quick loss of fresh ideas and concepts the longer my day goes without writing anything, because I’m too busy filling it with other responsibilities – like doing my own dishes or cleaning up after my cats or checking Facebook…for work.

All I know now, is that it will only get harder.

I don’t have the energy or patience to look back (yet!) at everything I’ve written. Measuring the amount of work (or words) I’ve amassed in the past month feels both daunting in task and in number. The “achievement” of which, doesn’t incite pride, so much as it does, genuine relief.

I stayed the course. I “ran the race.” I persevered through the really bad days and I capitalized, as best as I could, on the good ones.

I haven’t even begun to weigh what worked and what didn’t. But I suppose that sort of deliberation is for after-the-fact. Much after.

For now, I only feel the strong, unrelenting desire, to rest. Just for a while. Just long enough to get my bearings again – on the real day-to-day I’m about to experience once more, without this writing project tethering me to the anchors that were my tablet, keyboard, and desk.

After all, they have kept me afloat long enough. Now, it’s time to drift along.

In Memory Of

Day 10, 500 words, 31 days.

Yesterday, I found out that a friend’s father had passed away. His dad had been ill for several years but his death was still sudden for the family.

Today was his memorial service. There was no wake, and his casket remained closed. My friend, a pastor, told us all that this was how his dad would’ve wanted it to be – that we remembered him not as a shell of himself, but when he was still alive and well.

There are some stories I don’t believe I have the right to tell. It is not for me to disclose the personal challenges my friend’s family had to face in caring for his father. Neither am I fit to share how great a man he was, or describe what sort of legacy he had left behind for many.

The truth is, I hardly knew this man. I barely even know my friend – I just met him several months ago after moving here to Penang. I’ve since attended his church service whenever I can and when I do, I would see his father, mother, and sister, seated on the same seats, on the same row, every Sunday.

Many spoke of how full of faith my friend’s father was. It looks as though he remained steadfast in this way, well until the end.

It wasn’t very long ago when I, too, had to give some final words at a memorial service. It was for my grandmother. She passed in November of last year.

Her death felt very sudden for me, though, my family had more time to prepare – however one prepares for such things. For me, it was the shock from having just spoken to her hours before she had gone. She wasn’t able to reply to anything I had said – I only trusted that she knew that I meant every word of it.

Really, part of the pain was in the distance – the removal from all that was good, and hard, in the final years of her life. I had been away several years, seeing my grandmother only ever so often, updating her on whatever was new in my life, without ever being sure how much she actually cared to know. Knowing her, she must have just been glad to see me. She loved me, anyway, and regardless of anything.

In the same way that my friend’s family wanted to honor his father’s memory by urging that we remember him when he was still strong, I too, wanted to hold on to the image of my grandmother as she was before age, and death, finally caught up to her.

The woman I knew lived her entire life, religiously. Yes, she was truly devout in her faith, but it was her dedication to all that she deemed valuable and worthy of time and care that struck me most deeply. She nurtured her garden with the same sort of undivided attention and love as she did her grandchildren. She devoted herself entirely, and unconditionally, to her family as a humble, modest, wife and mother. These were my true memories of her – not those of her bound to a wheelchair, or witnessing her memory fail her, or seeing her have no energy to eat, let alone speak.

To me, she sealed her legacy on this world a long time ago. Her faithfulness just never seemed to waver, long after all the hurt.

I did not know my friend’s father. All I have are a few stories, testimonies of his grace and faithfulness until the end. Someone said it today that we were all there to grieve him because he was so great.

It is true. I know this when I remember having such difficulty getting through my own eulogy for my grandmother. I grieved her wholeheartedly, because I believed we were losing someone whose kindness was unlike any other. Yes, there are other kind people in this world – especially the sort that history loves to revere as its timeless giants. But it matters little unless you felt any of their kindness firsthand. Hers was one that touched me through and through – and this was what felt so hard to lose.

I’ve written this before, and today only reminds me of how true this has since become for me: the gift of grief is in its reminder, that in spite of insufferable loss, we are still, in fact, capable of loving.

Services like today often lead me to reflect upon the kind of legacy I’d like to leave behind, and often leaves me admiring those who have died, having left their mark in unforgettable ways. But at some point today, I realized something else – we celebrate a great life, in vain, if we cannot be compelled to lead the lives we have remaining, better than we had before. If we cannot love better, then the love given to us is lost inside of ourselves, only to be held like a private memory, and not like the selfless gift it is meant to be.

Those who have lived long, and loved well, and finally, lost this battle with the life we’re so intimately, maybe desperately, acquainted with, have given us a final gift – that is, to let our love carry us on.