Written by Aida Safiyah
Art by Holly Warburton

I recognize that life is difficult because circumstances change and always will. They are not dead therefore can transfigure themselves and transfigure me. Of course things that are familiar and constant have the capacity to hurt as well, but they’re more passive, they cannot fight as much. On the other hand, elements of life that are able to alter state and circumstance, they will hurt because they exist in a round-the-clock state of flux. Because they are surging tides that carve cliffs and shores. And sometimes I feel that too much has been carved out of myself. The rock and minerals of my past and present dissolving into saltwater, dripping through the gaps between my fingers.

It is paralyzing, coming to the realization again and again that I’ll have to follow the swings and stirs and blows of life until my heart stops and I go to where the children go. I grew up repeatedly revising what I’d like to see at the end of this charade, convincing myself I had a wiser endgame than most people to be content instead of happy, to be at peace instead of exhilarating joy. People tell me to stop being unhappy before the crisis actually comes, but how else do I comfort myself if I do not mourn for the wave that’s set to arrive? It can destroy me and it will arrive and I cannot stop it. So I cry.

The way I grew up, I never wanted anything more than peace and silence. And here’s a direct connection that can be made between those two things and stillness.

Stillness. What I’d do to live the rest of my days in stillness.

To take a breath and accept that I am alive is not a panacea for pain but it is definitely a buffer when made into a practice. I have to always tell myself that things will be alright. I find myself hesitating to breathe sometimes, and have convinced myself that there’s a valley, a life somewhere in my future that I could reach, where I could breathe and sit quietly and remember my name. I suppose it was naivety that drove me to assume that I could escape clamour and raised voices and grappling with expectations and duty. All the anger and sadness and gasping for air that characterised the first twenty-one years of my life, I thought I could leave them behind as if they were contained within a border that I could cross. They weren’t. They aren’t. There is no orbit with complete stillness that I could fall into.

I’m always anxious about time passing. I’m always sad that I’m still affected by the past. I’m devastated that I’ve devoted myself to a still life, a silent orbit, that doesn’t exist.

But it’s not entirely hopeless, I guess.

Even in the most demanding situations, I suppose if I work hard enough at it, I could form pockets of stillness for myself. And then for others. We could sit together and order each other’s favourite ice cream flavours and talk about when we used to run in fields with no reservations. Even during the most sombre of days, when all I want is to disappear behind the veil, I suppose if I try hard enough, I can find some little thing to be alive for. Like grass growing through cracked pavement, like the soft sunlight of early morning filtering through the leaves.

I understand. Life’s tough because it is changing. Even when it returns me to constant past memories that never changed, I become changed in some minute, fundamental way anyway. It hurts and confuses because it is able to shape and alter. I haven’t overcome this dilemma, but I do understand it better now. I’m trying to ameliorate these dire consequences of being alive, and what better way to make sense of my troubles than to make them my friends. And when I stare long enough into the night, I notice how stillness and instability shadow each other like the moon and the sea. And this helps, kind of.
Because when I sit in my moments of stillness, only then do I remember I hate remaining constant anyways.


While I Await a Lover, I Can Love Bok Choy

Written by Aida Safiyah
Art by Holly Warburton

I did not love myself for a very long time. The pandemic became a vacuum in which I was distilled in this state of resentment and dissatisfaction and recurring reminders of past traumatic experiences. Even now, two years later, I feel I’ve yet to sober up from the shock of it all.

The days were uniform, and I had to confront the two decades of suffering that were haunting me—or die. At some point, I was at the bottom of an abyss now permanently seared in my memory, and the most important question was then presented to me as I laid paralyzed — to pull myself up anew, or to succumb to the destructive hate I had unknowingly grown comfortable with?

I’m choosing the former. Not ‘chose’, because it is a choice I have to actively make day after day. Sometimes I become hesitant, and the temptation of comfortable negativity would be so enticing, but I would sigh and think about the life I want to build and remind myself of this line from a poem by Warsan Shire —

I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love, you won’t be able to see beyond it.

So I had learned the necessity of loving myself in my early adulthood. Nothing original. ‘Learned to love myself’ instead of ‘learning to love myself’ because I’ve decided that loving myself is not necessary. Yes, it was, but no longer now. Now I understand that I, and my life, have value. On the days I love myself, I’m grateful I possess so-and-so qualities, and it adds to the value that I have. On the days I loathe myself and feel like a worthless sewer rat, still, my life has value. Whether I love myself or not does not matter anymore because I understand my life has value regardless. Yes, axes of oppression and discrimination and generational hardship and the way things simply are—that largely made me the hateful person I was—still exist to this moment, but changing my perspective from “I’m a horrible person” to the more somatic and escapable “I feel horrible” has liberated my mind greatly.

I have zero interest in being in a relationship.

I perfectly understand wanting one. But to me, it’s just like any other endeavour, which would either happen as a silent surprise, bulldoze its way through my life, or gradually be built by my own decisions. I have so many other wants, I want to be an educator, and share what little—but fascinating—that I’ve learnt in life. I want to love the Earth at places I haven’t been. I’ve only experienced Malaysian shophouses with beautifully haphazard interiors and I’ve only breathed Malaysian petrichor, and yet I am so in love, still, so surely the world outside can offer more love. I crave those experiences too, in my dreams, daydreams, in my decision-makings, just like how I dream of a proverbial apple of my eye.

I understand the concept of having your person, but chance reigns over all of life. ‘Right person, right time’ is a simplified observation of how randomness dictates a lot in life. So within these parameters of chance, and with the power that I have, will I ever befriend someone who would understand love the way I do? Someone who would understand that ‘you complete me’ and ‘you complement me and in our parallel, complete solitudes, I choose to accompany yours for a long, long time’ are different, and someone who would also want the latter? I’ve been in love, of course, and the light that floods in when you look at a maybe-lover is absolutely breath-taking, but I’m yet to assign that light more value than the illumination I receive when I’ve read a transformative piece of poetry. Or when I laugh with my friends. Love is still love. Light is still light. Of course I’d enjoy having my person, but it’s not so I could be given chocolates or flowers or suffocatingly be categorized under the mundane and gendered label of ‘girlfriend’, but rather, to have someone who would grow with me as I deconstruct and unlearn all that has weighted my existence, and learn what would grant me lightness. Someone who would sit with me in attentive silence as I ask them, What are the current state of your hands?

I sometimes mourn the childhood years in which I should have learned about love in the world. As far as I remember, even my admiration of my surroundings as a child were scientific and calculative. As if rambutans, too, would dislike the ‘me’ I had to offer, and inevitably turn away. Now, I find love in the crunch of leaves under the soles of my cheap sneakers as I take a walk. I find love in observing catastrophically messy families in restaurants late at night. I find love in the colours and scents of watermelons and mangoes, and how they grow from the Earth, and they taste so different from each other. The world is very human and I love all that is human, even the ‘uglier’ parts. Of course, I’m not saying that loving a person is the same as loving the ocean or loving bok choy. What I’m saying is, while I await the appearance of a lover, I can love the many ways I can understand the sea. The many ways I can cook bok choy. And love it very much.

I’ve decided I’m a lover, and alive, and I’m steadfast in my understanding of how love is elemental. Open arms from a grandmother, from a friend, from the Earth, from someone’s eyes — they all feel equally loving. When the chest opens up, it all feels gloriously the same. As if this common denominator love that underlies all forms of love is something undeniable, ever-reliable, and belongs to you. Belongs to me. It does. I’ve decided to befriend this patience and wonder that makes life worth living.