Thinking Out Loud: Sigur Rós & the Listening Experience

Sometimes you listen to music to have a good time, to sing along, to move to.

Sometimes it’s just plain catchy.

Maybe nostalgic.

Or maybe it’s more about the people.

The vibes.

Sometimes you listen to something sad because you need to be reminded how sadness can echo back. That you aren’t alone. And that the cavity in your chest can be more than a loss, can be an acoustic space, full.

Or maybe you’re on a train and feel incomplete without it.

I love Sigur Rós differently. I love them for the same reasons I love the orchestra. It is music not to reaffirm myself, but music as art. Individual compositions are explorations of what it means to be human, and their library of existence, an affirmation of humanity. I am not listening as me, but as a person who happens to be me. A person who is living in an atmosphere enriched by the musical talents of others. Musical artistry that adopts within its expansive form, new translations for the things in life we know to be true but cannot voice.

This is not to say it isn’t beautiful to listen to music simply because it makes you feel good, but to appreciate that the varied, and sometimes complex ways in which we listen to music can be as beautiful as the music itself. It’s not clear cut. How I feel about Sigur Rós today is different to how I did, and different yet again to how you feel.

Not going to lie, the concept behind their latest album, route one, is pretty quirky.

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According to their Facebook page:

“on the longest day of summer 2016 sigur rós drove the whole way round iceland’s ring road, broadcasting the entire 1332km journey live on youtube. the soundtrack to this “slow tv” adventure was created using generative music software taking the multi-track stems of the sigur rós song ‘óveður’ and endlessly reinventing them to create new and unpredictable musical directions in real time.”

It is a strange concept. Highly experimental. Non-traditional. But I like it.

Life necessitates the creation of new and unpredictable musical directions in real time.

At least the kind of life I want to live does.

And admittedly, sometimes Sigur Rós’ music makes me feel unpleasant emotions like discomfort or fear. Sometimes I feel tense. An unexpected sound will emerge and dissolve, flash into existence in discordance that resists so obviously to the rest of the score and yet somehow still belongs. Sometimes I feel ecstatic with happiness. But mostly I feel soothed, at peace, limitless. I also realise they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, or perhaps I should say, that not everyone likes tea (another strange concept).

The point of it all is that you are listening to abstract themes, told through sound. You are not listening to yourself through song. And in removing whatever you are feeling, to immerse yourself in the kind of music that is grander than you, anything you currently are, you are completely free to explore the depth and spread of your emotional capacity. Limitless across a landscape completely unknown. In an atmosphere removed and yet still belonging.

It is otherworldly.

But really, it is this world.

 

Featured Image: tree at Heide

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Distilled: March 2018

On account of being human, there exists for us all, a state of solitude often accompanied by the solemnity of grand, immovable things that loom and hold.

Built forms, relics, of our establishment as a society.

Things that are immeasurably dependable, normal, seem far too fixed, inconquerable.

The physical spaces between pockets of air are full of everything other than air. They are pillows of concrete, tombstones of dignity, absence of light.

They are as dense as a single heart is, when it closes in on itself only to find that in the vacation of blood, there is, just more bloodied tissue.

Frightened, it twitches in outward spasms, continually closing and pulsing.

The pulse of the one echoes those of the many in acoustic discordance, swallowing the city, broadcasting through the limited bandwidth of air.

Footsteps are reverberations, scrambled.

Pavements the immovable concrete water through which our irregular pebbled dreams skip.

Everything already exists.

Even you.

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Bank of China, Corner of Swanston & Little Bourke Streets

I remember the neoprene glory of Aussie surf shop this columned corner used to be, and is now not. The safe deposit box to the side of the building is bronzed and brushed by fingerprints. The Bank of China’s presence in Melbourne is telling of the current economic shift.

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Russell Place, Melbourne

Like so many laneways in Melbourne, this one too, was hip. There are wine bars, there is graffiti, there is a boutique shoe store, this all from memory. There were a few other little finds here too, but just the right amount.

This laneway, like most laneways, was shrouded by the loom of parallel walls, vertical. It’s shadowy existence a pocket of air brightened by graffiti and hipster aesthetics.

It actually took a while for me to pinpoint exactly which unique laneway this was. It is steeped in the same alternativeness that characterises every other laneway in Melbourne, albeit this one seemed less shabby chic and more sophisticated underground.

In essence, they are all different and the same, which is neither half full nor half empty. The single thing differentiating any particular laneway from all the rest is your presence in it. It doesn’t matter that it could have been any laneway, it matters that this is the one you’re in.

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Railway Place, West Melbourne

This street is slant.

Air filled with noise of trains; metro, VLine, freight.

Nightly buzz of Festival Hall nearby.

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Mural by Fintan Magee, Railway Place, West Melbourne
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Kiehl’s, Little Lonsdale Street

The unexpected discovery of vectors in mainstream shopping window displays.

A smile.

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Off Rose Street, Fitzroy
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Poké King, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
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Scharp, Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy
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Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy

Stumbling through our quirky streets.

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Aesop, QV Melbourne

This pocket; the fragrant smell of mandarins.

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Aesop, QV Melbourne
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Corridor above Lonsdale Street, Connecting Melbourne Central & the Emporium

Once places start to homogenise, it’s easy for people to all look and feel the same too.

Concept people in concept places, just like you.

Every one a part of some larger cohort of singular, lonely human beings. An individual dot in a monumental Pollock. That we can all exist together and still feel singular.

Anomie.

Everyone different and also the same.

As you stand in your own body, in an arbitrary laneway, it’s hard not to dwell on the blinding quality or your norm, how ordinarily unspectacular and insignificantly inconsequential you are. Or how ordinary everyone else is, indeed, how ordinary existence can sometimes feel.

All this despite what you know to be true: the universe is remarkable. Your tiny insignificance also.

These seem like flippant consolations when all things considering, you will likely never step beyond this atmosphere. You are shackled to your own body. This is concrete.

You are supposed to adopt macro perspectives, appreciate the grandness of the world, and for the most part, that’s fine, that’s inspiring, but not always possible when you’re feeling human. Is that to say that when you are alone and withdrawn, you cannot find source for appreciation?

Is solace purely defined by the observation of your belonging to grander phenomena?

Like laneways, can your existence not be affirmed simply in knowing that it is yours?

Your navigation through the undeniable vastness stemming from the confirmation of you, simply as you.

Yours to begin and to live.

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Manus & Nauru Protestors, Bourke Street Mall

Yours to give, should you wish, to purposes larger than you, to those whose dignity is silenced.

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Vegan Protestors beside Manus & Nauru Protestors, Bourke Street Mall

To whatever cause you see fit.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of this. A small group of vegan protestors stand beside the powerful parade of Manus & Nauru protestors.

It was physically and then emotionally confronting, the sheer number of people protesting Australia’s treatment of asyum seekers. We can’t pretend we are removed from this. We can’t pretend we’re not responsible for the masses of individuals who are more or less incarcerated for their simple desire to live as human beings. We need to do better.

We are constantly surrounded by so many voices shouting in earnest, it sometimes feels like the air is too heavy on us, but to exist is to acknowledge the pressures of juxtaposition without forgetting how connected you are.

You are a whole and single dot in a larger Jackson Pollock, a person in a larger world.

And though you are the same as every other person, you are also defined by virtue of being just that very one particular person.

You are something small, and something grand, all at once.

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Balcombe Place, Melbourne
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Dame Edna Place, Melbourne
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Zomp Shoez, Little Collins Street, Melbourne

 

 

Distilled: February 2018

This edition of distilled is unofficially brought to you by cheap flights, an Oppo phone camera, and planet Earth. Which is not entirely different from previous editions.

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Turnball Alley, Melbourne

Although we do kick off at home, sweet home.

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Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens

With a fine, summer day.

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Parliament Gardens, Melbourne

In the garden, existing in space made of the outward sighs of happiness.

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Kings Domain Barbershop, Collins Street
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Somewhere over Western Australia
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The Standard Chartered Bank, Corner Phang Nga and Phuket Roads, Old Town, Phuket

Sino-Portuguese (Chinese and Portuguese influenced) architecture on Phang Nga road in Phuket’s Old Town.

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Sino-Portuguese Architecture, Phang Nga Road, Old Town, Phuket

I am profoundly moved by the depth of history that has marked this island. The architecture in particular bears witness to the changing contours of Phuket. Most of the buildings in this (above) style are refurbished as guesthouses and restaurants along Thalang and Phang Nga roads. Otherwise they stand in poor condition amongst the post apocalyptic concrete and shanty tin and bamboo scenes of a Thailand still recovering from the 2004 tsunami. Originally built during the tin mining boom under King Rama V, these structures were one of the first signs of European influence in this area. They originally stood as homes for the wealthy, banks, and other government institutions. You’ll even find some Sino-Portuguese mansions, although these vary in condition.

Along the streets, these buildings bear the physical hallmarks of a once traditionally mining fuelled economy that has repurposed as one for tourism. You’ll find fresh coats of paint and neon signage adorning these buildings now housing and feeding tourists. Sometimes it is necessary to repurpose what is old so that it remains functional in society, but I also think antiquity’s charm stems from respecting and listening to the time and space between old and new. It lends gravity to the places we keep building and building upon, and it anchors our achievements within the rich and lush landscapes of where and how we choose to exist.

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Phang Nga Road, Phuket
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Takuapa Road, Old Town, Phuket
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Baba Lady with Desserts, Ratsada Road, Old Town, Phuket

Old Town is full of stunning street art. This is just one of my favourites; evidently, a food coma.

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Delivery Crates, Old Town, Phuket

There is a lot more to be said of the charms of Old Town, but let’s leave this at that, for now.

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Waters of an Island Whose Name Escapes Me, Phuket
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Koh Phi Phi Lee, Phuket, Thailand
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Koh Phi Phi Lee, Phuket, Thailand
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Koh Phi Phi Lee, Phuket, Thailand
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Koh Phi Phi Lee, Phuket, Thailand
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Koh Phi Phi Lee, Phuket, Thailand

I distinctly remember swimming in the sunset waters of Koh Phi Phi Lee and Maya Bay, certified Gorgeous Places. You can see the floor of the ocean through the clearest water, despite its depth. Just be mindful, that the coral here is still recovering from the effects of the 2004 tsunami.

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Vintage Cars, off Phuket Road, Old Town, Phuket
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a.dessert.moments, Thaland Road, Old Town, Phuket
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Kade Kwan Road, Karon, Mueang Phuket District, Phuket
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Sail Rock, The 8th Island of the Similan Islands

Unquestionably the best body of water I have ever swum in.

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View from Sail Rock, The 8th Island of the Similan Islands

Look at it.

This group of islands has been listed as one of the world’s top ten diving destinations.

Despite being hit particularly badly by the tsunami, the Similan Islands are recovering. It is a collection of nine islands, although I believe the revised or updated number is now eleven, within the Similan Islands Archipalego, in the Andaman Sea. Of these islands, the southern three are closed to the public in green sea turtle conservation efforts. You can also see the growth of new coral amongst the remains of the dead, dusty grey and brittle. New life grows in place of old, if we let it.

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View from Sail Rock, The 8th Island of the Similan Islands

Between the two photos here, you can also see the number of tourists arriving. These were taken relatively early on, before the hoards came, but it gives you an idea for the impact of tourism. The beach is not big enough to accommodate all the tour boats that journey out to see it. And the island is not big enough for the number of people who visit it. I am sad to report the presence of litter, although not yet atrocious, on this island. To me, this highlights the importance of eco-tourism.

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View Amongst the Rocks of Sail Rock, The 8th Island of the Similan Islands

Here is my attempt at some more creative photography.

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Buildings off Ruamchai Road, Pa Tong, Kathu District, Phuket

I think that when you travel, in exchange for your experiences, you are responsible for understanding them. That is to say, you actively engage with where you are. You did some research, at least a little, and you asked questions, of the locals, of fellow travelers, of yourself. There is no way to experience everything in any given place, of course, but you should think about why it is the way it is, wherever you are. On whatever level that suits you best, be it acknowledging the things that pique your interest, or if you’d rather, philosophically meander avenues both built and metaphorical. These places are not just other places in other countries, they are part of your world too.

 

Distilled: December 2017

Another month, another collection of photos to share, this time with a few thoughts of mine. These are frames/compositions/things/images/moments that compelled my deviation from the norm.

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Flinders Street Station, Melbourne

You might recognise this familiar grey as the omen of December storms past. It was something the state emergency services warned you about. Maybe you were waiting for a text reply from a friend but got a storm instead. Maybe they are the same?

Thought Capsule: What kind of bombshell will be left?

I was standing on the platform at Flinders Street Station, and was also, standing by the Huangpu River, looking up at the Shanghai Tower.

It marvels me that people can build such structures that pierce through the fog. Admittedly, the Eureka Tower is significantly smaller than the Shanghai Tower, but, in essence they are the same. Both structures were engineered as new platforms for viewing what is increasingly the same storm.

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Isabella Williams Memorial Park, Deer Park

I am running, too slowly, but my feet continue to hit the concrete. It is my will and gravity’s will. My heart feels small, but persistent. I look up at the sky and look back down at the pavement. It tells me to pick it up.

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Tandoori Times, Anderson Street, Yarraville

She laughs, brightly, piercing through whatever fog or stew you’re sitting in.

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Burger Bollard, Flinders Street, Melbourne
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Faraday Street, Carlton
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Corner of Little Bourke Street and Swanston Street, Melbourne
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The Somber Sombrero, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

This is a point of creative departure unto itself. What shenanigans had befallen the formely hatted person involved on this Saturday night? More to the point, what else for this singular sombrero?

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Housing Development on Bourke Street

I’m not sure what the artist meant, if anything by it, but it was painted on corporate construction on Bourke Street, which is, to some, a home. A piece of cardboard, a hat, a something that gets you through it.

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Balaclava Ice Cream Sandwich, Cuppa Turca Dondurma & Desserts

Delectable.

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View of the Carlton Hotel, Bourke Street
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Bird, Sydney Road, Brunswick
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Little Mule Café, Somerset Place, Melbourne
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Scorpion, Somerset Place, Melbourne
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Live Music at the Naked Egg, Ballarat Street, Yarraville
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Save the Campbell Arcade, Sticky Institute, Campbell Arcade, Melbourne

If you didn’t already know, Campbell Arcade is that underground space connecting Flinders Street Station to Degraves Street. It starts in the middle of the big old station, burrowing under Flinders Street. Sometimes access is closed, sometimes it is open. It widens, provides homes for the newsagency, the handmade clothes shops, the record shop, the coffee shop, the zines stop and keeps running until it becomes a Belgian waffle stop. Occasionally the art in the displays change. Once, I overheard a class of school kids on a walking tour react in outrage, confusion, surprise on discovering that there existed, once, a bowling alley further along. Their hopes lingered as they subsequently discovered that it was still mainly there, just boarded up and severely disused.

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The Village Larder, Woodend

Here you will find the world’s best coconut and cherry meringue slice.

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Woodend
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Woodend

This was the weather on the morning of the bushfire.

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Grassfire at Turpins Falls

This is the beginning of the bushfire.

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Little Mule Unicycle, Somerset Place

I stopped to take a photo and looked up to see a purple haired girl stop too. Monday she leaves for someplace else, she doesn’t know, backpack packed on her back, she is as far as she can be away from Denmark before she starts turning back. Neither of us rides a unicycle.

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The Pillars, Mount Martha

Sometimes the shape of the earth is perfect, just perfect for diving off.

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The Pillars, Mount Martha

Sometimes the ocean is an invitation.

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The Unconventional Route, The Pillars, Mount Martha

& sometimes you take the, let’s be honest, dumbest way to get to where you want to be, but it’s alright. Two trees that stand a little further apart from each other than usual can be construed as a pathway and technically you can crash through the bush and call it walking. Your accidental blunder contributes to the poetry of the moment. Seize it.

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Plump Organic Grocery, Ballarat Street, Yarraville
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De-Frosty, South Melbourne Market
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Freshly Ground, Swanston Street

 

 

To My Sister and My Brother (in-law), On Your Happiest Day (yet)

Preface:

The privilege of witnessing a love like this has been my heartfelt honour. I post this speech, the one I gave on their day, with their full consent.

I hope that when you find your own love, you will know.

I trust you will.


I am feeling so many emotions right now, but within this immense happiness, I am also feeling very lucky to be the youngest of so many loving sisters.

In particular, I have been blessed to have shared a wealth of experiences with Thuy. Together we’ve climbed the most reverent mountains and jumped into limitless skies. Imagine stretching as far as you possibly can and realising that the sky was not the limit. And never was. Skydiving with Thuy was like holding the impossible. Such moments in life, are truly, exceptional.

Those of us who are privileged with loving Thuy and being loved by Thuy, know that there exists a kind of love that is more than an absence of something like fear or doubt, and more than simply the addition of something, like warmth or safety. Instead it is the kind of love that forces you to redefine your limits of expression. It is expansive. Much like the universe.

So if you imagine the planets and stars as happiness, joy, support, and so on, and the vacuum between as space cleared to highlight those things that make life beautiful, you get fairly close.

But exceptional love, isn’t adding up the planets and the stars and subtracting the dust. It is the very fabric on which the universe exists. It is the landscape to the architecture we build. By default, everything we are becomes a narrative told within this fabric, this space. And exceptional love is the kind of space that is always expanding, equipping you and inspiring you to design your stars, together.

Since I was little, Thuy has always inspired my understanding of the world to expand into new dimensions. From the strength of your reach, the depth of your person, the heights you can climb and the volume of your voice, my navigation through life has been underscored by a sisterly love so encompassing and so generous, it is always larger than yesterday.

Thuy is my biggest cheerleader. There for me in the worst of times, and the inspiration behind the best of times.

So when Thuy met David, I felt like I kind of met David too. In the way that sisters talk about what happens on dates.

And then, I actually met David. I remember thinking how quiet he was. But in retrospect it was probably because I was nervous and talking an absurd amount. But David will do that. Listen to you with the most generous ear, even when you’re not saying much at all. And the more I get to know David, the more I know he is the kind of person who does not simply possess qualities. He isn’t a vessel in which kindness is carried and from which it is expressed, rather kindness forms and is cultivated from somewhere within. And that is much rarer.

Thuy says David gives the best compliments. You might be tempted to say it’s easy when it’s Thuy he’s complimenting after all. I think the best compliments are genuine and precise. And I think David is meticulous and thoughtful in such an admirable way that can only manifest itself as the pervasive support integral to love.

I know, however, that Thuy and David’s love for each other can only be defined by their own dimensions. It seems that everything they do stems from an internal, conscientious choice that is then expressed. And they do so, consistently, and generously.

Everyone, these are two, exceptional people, and as is often the case with exceptional people, their love is just so.

Thuy, David, I wish for you always, a beautiful, limitless sky. I know your story will be exceptional.

Hiroshima

An immense grief anchors this city, tethering Hiroshima to its past. To be here is to carve your emotional real estate bare and lay it in offering. Such tragedy cannot be contained within one person. Hope for peace cannot be contained within one person.

I had not known school children were mobilised during the war and that because of this, so many more had died that day on August 6th, 1945.

I’m sitting here, just having exited the museum. I am sitting on a bench behind the children’s monument where countless paper cranes hang in offering. There will always be an absence in our history, no matter the time elapsed. But peace is the result of a collective hope, cultivated.

 

The cranes collect.

The garden is cultivated.

 

The city moves and yet exists in reverence. I think about the immense pressure the world is bearing and I wonder about negative pressure. How it was a second blow, returning for an encore in a city already devastated.

 

Everything is consequential.

People died, are dying.

Trees grow upward from damaged soil.

Sakura season comes again.

A city rebuilds.

 

 

I am still preparing for the unimaginable. The unspeakable scenes we continue to rehearse each day in this world are enough to fill a person. A class of Japanese school children recite words in unison before offering their paper cranes. Their contribution adds to the collection, filling the row of little clear booths facing the monument.

 

A bell rings.

It resonates.

 

It is not the physical presence of paper cranes but the consciousness of their purpose that imbues me with a pin prick of hope. And that is hope enough.

Welcome to my Blog: A Six-Part Story Involving Several Minor Crimes and the Cultivation of the Greatest Love of my Life

Part One: The Unveiling

I remember, vividly, how my oldest sister bought me a novel when I was eight. Up until then I regarded books with spines as something sacred for adults, more so, if their covers were not illustrated in primary colours and their pages contained no pictures, you probably needed a license to read them. I had copiously read picture books; mostly fiction, some ‘educational’, even a pictorial atlas and an illustrated dictionary, but never a novel. You are possibly thinking that I must have been a rather strange child to have been reading a dictionary, and I suppose you wouldn’t be wrong.

 

Part Two: The Epiphany

I spent the next week engrossed. I didn’t pay attention in class. But owing to the fact that my teacher was on maternity leave, I had no allegiance to the series of inconstant substitutes who tried to replace her anyhow. I read on the bus. And I’d secretly cherish every single delay because it meant another moment of uninterrupted reading. I stayed up as late as possible and then found refuge under my blanket with a torch. It was the first time I knowingly got myself into trouble staying up past my bedtime because I had decided the rewards far outweighed the risks. My parents punished me in a myriad of ways, but they were all bearable if I still got to read. And they weren’t bad parents for punishing my reading habits, they just wanted me to also eat and sleep and do other necessary things. But I had to keep reading. I just couldn’t believe what I’d been missing out on. I felt like my world had multiplied in its vastness and I was so excited about everything that could possibly be. It was a singular experience and I treasure that novel and everything it gave me, but really, it wasn’t just a novel my sister had given me, it was a license to imagine.

 

Part Three: The Dark Side

Next came a series of devious actions resting on questionable morals: I became a library monitor at school so I could manipulate the system. I was waging war with library rules.

 

  1. We could only borrow two books at a time.
  2. Books were due after two weeks’ time.
  3. You could only reserve one book at a time.

 

I was easily reading two books a week, i.e. falling in love twice a week and I was determined to get my hands on as many as possible which would have been fine, you’d think, if I had just returned books as soon as I’d read them. But that would be unspeakable! Each reading was forming a bond with the words in my hands and I could hardly bear the thought of giving up a firstborn, firstly because I was not a mother, but an eight year child, and secondly, because every book I loved was precious. I wanted them all with the hungry greediness of obsession.

 

So when I became a library monitor — which was easy because I was an overachiever and persuasive with teachers, I wroughted the system. I deactivated the books that I wanted, affectionately rubbing the magnetic strips like a comic book villain and would take as many as I wanted. But I convinced myself that I was still a good child — reading was a noble thing and I wasn’t going to take them for good, and indeed I always brought them back, just a little late. And I tried to be considerate — I knew which ones were popular and made sure they were returned first. I just wanted to hold onto the ones that I loved for a little while longer. I wanted to reread my favourite parts out loud and wanted to hold the words against my chest as I slept. And I had to fuel this new addiction somehow. In all honesty, I think it worked out rather well.

 

When new books were accepted into the library, I had first dibs. I put more than one book on hold for myself, and several others I wanted under fake names. Once, I saw the librarian override an overdue book status with a pin and I remembered the combination. I hid books.

 

But I also recommended to others. THIS ONE IS AH-MAY-ZINGGG! Younger me would bellow. Many of us would spend lunchtimes reading (when we weren’t playing downball or tiggy) and we got a little bit aggressive.

 

Have you read all the Geronimo Stiltons yet?

I can’t believe you haven’t read The Gizmo yet!

I finished that in three days, how many days did it take you?

 

Part Four: The Writers

Somewhere along the lines I discovered that books could make me cry. Books had introduced me to new dimensions with fantasy. I had read Eion Colfer and Isobelle Carmody but I hadn’t before considered that books were also vessels for our deepest longings. I read tragedy and prized the tears that stained the pages. I was moved, and continue to be moved by books of astounding sensitivity. There are human stories folded within literature and I realised that the writers of books were whole human beings. I was reading the echoes of their hearts and their loosely disguised desires. I learned to be gentle.

 

This nicely coincided with authors visiting my school. I thought them the world.

 

Part Five: The Intermittent Years

I continued to read every day of my life, refining my tastes and always finding something surprising. I remember cackling as I read Douglas Adams for the first time and redefining the concept of ‘great book’. I fell into deeper love when I discovered Jane Austen and into my deepest love yet when I discovered poetry.

 

Part Six: The Beginning

Then I realised I could write.

 

Welcome to my blog.