Friday, 25 March 2016

on nostalgia

Wow, two posts in one day huh? That's the magic of the morning for ya. ;) Well, I've been thinking about these things for the past few weeks so now that I've got time today, might as well let those thoughts percolate through.

Another thing I've been wrapping my head around recently is that of nostalgia.

In a way, I find it a beautiful word. Beautiful, with all its attendant sadness. From its Greek root words of Nostos and Algos. Nostos, meaning: returning home or homecoming. Algos, meaning: pain, grief, distress. Who would have thought eh? It was actually a term used before to describe intense, almost fatal homesickness in sailors, those in the army, convicts, slaves. Nowadays we use it always tinged with that bittersweet longing for something past.

An ache for times past.

Perhaps a small portion of it has got to do with my recent involvement with this year's OH! Open House tours at Potong Pasir. For those of you who haven't gone on an Open House tour before, drop whatever you're doing now, buy a ticket for this weekend's tours because it's the last weekend for the year. OH! Open House is a fantastic experience. It's a neighborhood + art walkabout. The reason it's called Open House? It's literally because you get to go into residents houses to take a peek, where artists have collaborated with them to set up artwork inside their houses. It's a way to explore a neighborhood, learn about its history, its colorful traits, and appreciate works of art that have been created in conjunction with the theme of the tour that inevitably revolves around a particular aspect of the neighborhood. For Potong Pasir, the theme is Departed Spaces. The spaces that once were but have now given way to other forms of existence. An old walkway which had to make way for an up and coming condominium. An old street soccer court, reincarnated as yet another carpark. Bidadari Cemetery, a place where people could go to to jog, stroll, sketch, enjoy time with the departed, now giving way to a new HDB estate. And if none of us know about these spaces and their original incarnations, what happens when they are no longer around? What happens to those memories?

Hope it sounds interesting enough for you to sign up. ;) You won't regret it, I promise. 

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(View of one of Potong Pasir's unique ski-slope roofs, courtesy of Liu Thai Ker, also known as Master Architect/Planner of Singapore.  A beautiful type of skyline that is rarely seen in estates other than Potong Pasir.)

It's been such a great experience for me, as my friend and I were both tour guides. Like quite a few other volunteers, it was our first time walking around in Potong Pasir. One of the Open House leaders said it well. That Potong Pasir sometimes seems like a country within a country. A place that is only now starting to catch up with the rest of Singapore. A lot of us might view its changes as something that's unfortunately, taking away a part of its character and be nostalgic about it. Wouldn't it be great if it could always remain the same way? As something we can take pride of in its existence. The longest standing opposition party stronghold previously. If only it could remain in its beautiful unchanging bubble. But that said, that's always from the point of view from the outsider. Most of us speak as people who have not grown up there.

Which brings to mind a quote from an author, Stephanie Coontz, who wrote the book, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. "There's nothing wrong with celebrating the good things in our past. But memories, like witnesses, do not always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We need to cross-examine them, recognizing and accepting the inconsistencies and gaps in those that make us proud and happy as well as those that cause us pain."

Nostalgia is an enticing paint brush that we can use to colour our reminiscences. But it's all too easy to use a single colour, not leaving room for the 'inconsistencies and gaps' to reveal themselves to us. I suppose being more aware of that makes it easier to not pine so much for something that once was.

The other night, out of nowhere, really, I was suddenly reminded of Casper, a movie that I had watched countless times back when I was a kid. I kid you not. I was on of those obsessive movie watchers. Casper, Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves (starring Kevin Costner), The Fifth Element...those were some movies that I perpetually kept out of the VHS holders because I was always watching them. God, that brings back memories. To the days of opening that movie cupboard in my parents' rooms, looking at rows of VHS tapes, deciding which to watch next. ;)

There are so many moments of my childhood that I look back on nowadays with such an ache of longing. But those are the memories that are filled with so much happiness. Truly, the ache of 'algos'. I miss those specific moments of watching my favorite movies, engaging in my favorite crafts... But at the same time, do I really want to go back to that period of time in my life? Probably not. So much appears beautiful through the lens of retrospection. But it's precisely because I'm standing where I am now, that I can see its beauty. Back then, as a child, I probably couldn't appreciate it fully though I was steeped right in it. Isn't it so ironic? I can only appreciate what I had last time because of who I am now.

That's life for you.

Of course, though I can look back on those times with an ache in my heart, one thing that always helps is gratitude. To be grateful for what I have had before and that it is still something I can enjoy by revisiting the memory or making a new one with the same thing from before. Sometimes I think I'm chasing after that feeling of infinite possibility that I used to feel so strongly as a child. Thinking anything was possible (including meeting movie stars lol). Of course, as one grows older, one realizes that there are certain things more likely to happen than others. And with that grounding in reality, comes an ache for a time when I didn't realize not everything would be possible. In a way, it's like thinking you were able to fly, only to realize actually, they have to be on the ground.

So what I have been doing the past few nights, is watch Casper on youtube, savoring, luxuriating and reveling in feeling like a 10 year old again. And by all intents and purposes, it really is a pretty dang good movie, with such a memorable soundtrack. Love love love it. If you haven't seen it as a child, it would be a great weekend movie to settle into bed with (or with a bag of popcorn).

Here's to a beautiful weekend ahead.


to stillness and mornings

Happy Good Friday everyone!

Today I woke up to my alarm and when I opened my eyes, I was welcomed by the sight of a solid streak of light coming through my window splaying itself across a wall of my room. For some reason, that sight really emboldened me. Perhaps it's because I haven't seen such a strong streak of light for a long time. At the usual time I wake up in the morning for work, the sun's still a gentle thing wrapped up in a cocoon of the night, very slowly peeling off its layers. Everything is bathed in a muted light. Or perhaps it's my fuzzy brain that registers it that way. Today however, I could feel the difference right away. It felt so good, just being able to enjoy that for a bit, before pushing my face against the comfy pillow and heading straight back to sleep. ;)

I think one of the best parts about setting your alarm on a public holiday is the knowledge that even if it rings, you have the option to completely, blissfully ignore it. Though having said that, there is something special about the morning and its quiet. I've never been a morning person by any means, but it's something I'm trying to work my way towards. Because on the rare days that I have been able to enjoy a quiet, unfettered morning, it has always been so expansive. The promise of the hours ahead completely within my grasp. Quite magical actually.

One of the things that I've found such mornings to be most conducive to would be that of reflection. Of going through the things that have been circling in my mind and somehow finding a way to pin them down into concrete thoughts, opinions...hopefully insights. Throughout the week there are so many things we are exposed by virtue of the 24/7 connectivity of the phone and for me, that includes videos/podcasts that I listen to while on the road. It's become such a habit for me now; making use of those moments in transit to learn about something else not quite related to work, but purely of interest to me.

Recently it's been the amazing podcast series, On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett. I think I first discovered it from youtube while listening to some of Brene Brown's interviews and Krista Tippett's voice just struck me as incredibly riveting. She has a voice that exudes intelligence. Compassionate intelligence. On her shows, she interviews a whole gamut of guests ranging from poets, to physicists, to psychologists... all sorts of incredible people, some involved in cutting edge research in their fields. Some of it has a more spiritual or faith-based slant to it, as it was originally something she had envisioned as a radio conversation about 'spiritual and intellectual content of faith'. At the center of her interviews run the themes of faith, ethics and moral wisdom. "What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?"

I've been so drawn to so many of the interviews with their fascinating topics. I highly recommend checking out the On Being website where there are transcripts of the interviews and a weekly blog on related topics (which I haven't managed to peruse yet but am looking forward to that soon). Best bit though would be the On Being app which I downloaded and has a catalogue of all the podcasts available for download or streaming which makes it easy to listen to on the go.

One which I loved was the interview with Pico Iyer, novelist, journalist and travel writer. I'd first come across him through a TED talk of his on The Art of Stillness, which, at the time, I had thought was such a lovely meditation on the importance of stillness as a means for reflection and contemplation and of course, an antidote to the whirlwind stresses in our lives. At that time, I think I hadn't gone further to dig deeper into his work because, well, I was probably younger and hipper lol and lusting for more travel! more adventure! Now however, after listening to his interview with Krista Tippett, his words really struck a chord.

"I sometimes think, we're living so close to our lives, we can't make sense of them. And that's why people like me go on retreat, or other people meditate or do yoga, or other people go for runs. Each person, I think, now, has to take a conscious measure to separate yourself from experience just to be able to do justice to experience and to process, as you said, and understand what is going on in her life and direct herself."

More and more, I've found that relevant in my life. There are days when I could be listening to a few great podcasts, read a few great articles online that I feel wow, these are really applicable to my life and I want to start doing more of these things. But then the day goes on and in the hustle and bustle of whatever we need to do, those flashes of insight don't seem to be rooted enough for me to fully make use of. A lot of times, I find there are ideas that are floating around in my head or floating by but haven't fully taken root. And without times like these - beautiful, uninterrupted mornings, I might not be able to take the time to think things through, to fully internalize it to the extent which I feel satisfied with at the present moment.

"Everytime I take a trip, the experience acquires meaning and grows deeper only after I get back home and, sitting still, begin to convert the sights I've seen into lasting insights."

This is another great quote that I liked from his book, The Art of Stillness - Adventures in Going Nowhere. It's a thin book and only a few chapters long, but beautiful in its reflections. Last time I used to plan my holidays to make maximal use of all the time I could to be overseas travelling, so much so that I might plan to get back home the night right before starting work again the next day, in an attempt to not waste any precious vacation time. Now though, I'm starting to think that maybe one day I should just stay home. Dedicate one week to maybe having a daily ritual of waking up to a glorious morning and spending some uninterrupted time with myself. With my brain and my heart. Because after all the rushing around on a trip and feeling wow there is so much great stuff that I want to think more about or read more about when I get back or that I want to incorporate into my life, once I get back, we inevitably get back on the moving track of everyday life that we had only just gotten off awhile ago. There's little time for reflecting, and distilling the best parts of all that we had experienced. I think by allowing ourselves the time to gain something from that, we can really grow as people.

So here's to more pockets of stillness in life.

Probably the first step to that? Sleep earlier. Every night. So that when the weekend comes, I'll be able to wake up earlier and enjoy that glorious expanse of time. Ahh, a perennial goal.