Writing is a muscle. And there are different kinds of muscles in the act of writing.
The writing for oneself, to gain clarity, to face a truth unflinching. The writing for someone who is within the space of proximity, to see, to be seen. The writing for the compulsion to write, because there are small landscapes that need cartographing, or expressing, to no one in particular, but that simply needs to exist. The writing for the need to document and capture into the clumsy container of words as memory, and the creation of that liminal space for imagination between readers, times, contexts. The writing that is part of labour, because all forms of labour at one point or another, necessitates sentences, and we have built a system of locking down sentences as capital.
Writing as finding muscle.
So I am trying again to write, after a period of not writing. And there is one moment that has been nudging at me, so this is simply, to put it into words.
Sitting in front of my laptop a couple of weeks back, in the middle of writing-as-labour, I looked up for a daydream. A young boy, maybe 8 or 9, in his school uniform, was tiptoeing on the sidewalk in front of a closed shop. His arms were stretched out, with two hands cupped in front of him, and his face was tilted up towards the ceiling. It looked like he was trying to catch something precious that was about to fall from the sky. A fat drop of water splashed into his palms. He laughed and ran a few steps forward, ready for the next drop. It was water from the air conditioning unit of the shop upstairs. Randomly dripping in its own rhythm. And in that moment, it was a cause for delight. I could see his guardian, maybe a domestic helper, watching him absent-mindedly in the background, checking her phone. In an entirely different shade of reality.
I was suddenly reminded of a memory, leaning against the wooden balcony at Chung Chen night school, waiting for the class to end so we could leave the building. It was raining. I trained my eyes on the drops of rain falling from the eaves and followed them as they fell. And instead of a sheet of water, I saw them clearly as individual drops, one after another. And it was slower than imagined, and heavy with grace. This was a piece of knowledge that I learned entirely from my own observation.
My younger brother used to wait for hours outside of school for my mom to pick him up. At that time, she was occupied with a reality that was full of decisions that had to be made, constantly, and with no one else who could make them but her. He would spend his time waiting by observing ants who hung out by the drains outside of his school, and conceived his own stories and experimentation to draw them into his world. I wonder what he learned there, entirely from his own observation.
Today I was in the middle of a phone conversation with S, at a corner tai chow kopitiam. It was late, and there were not that many people. The lou sai, or one of them, was sitting on a red plastic stool, looking tired but also with alert and anxious eyes that scanned the distance for potential customers. His space of gaze was abruptly broken by one of the waiting staff, who walked up to him and put a small white flower under his nose. He had just picked it from one of the pots that lined the periphery of the kopitiam. The lou sai was suddenly brought into the present through that act, and the quiet demand of scent. They both smiled and I wondered about the conversation that they then had about the flower. And the dishevelling potency of such a small, but unexpected act to rupture everyday worries about income and the quiet embodiment of working masculinity.
There’s something about boredom that is important. To allow the body and mind to wander freely, and to stumble into something where the creative and the knowing is made out observation, play, and imagination. That is maybe entirely your own, or maybe through the pulling of someone else into that universe of colourful boredom.
What is the space for boredom today? Maybe not a lot if you have a device with you all the time. Because it’s always ready with something constructive to help you fill your time. A game. The news. Videos that are either silly, informative or entertaining. The incessant chatter of social media or chat groups. Podcasts. Something.
Or maybe the observations are now taking a different direction. Instead of outward, it’s inward. The layers are to be peeled this way. Primarily through discourse. Content, visuals and sounds. That it is first, always already through another lens. So there will always be a kind of dialogue with another point of observation, or at least observation that has already been organised into a body of words. Writing on writing. Observations of observations. Academic rituals hammered and sutured into mundanity.
So the question is maybe about the space for silence. Or the pace of languishing in boredom. Of making the ordinary, extraordinary. The ability to disengage from dialogue. Synchronous, fractalled, or fractured.
Maybe this is simply me, saying it’s okay to not have been able to write. Because I was making space for daydreaming, and boredom.