Why read // how reading has changed me

I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve changed as a person. I’ve always liked reading, but I think it’s only in university that I’ve read a lot more. Gained lots more information, from books (read lots more fiction, I’ve been reading more than a hundred books these last 2 years? Yes, I skim sometimes and some books are really easy to read/short), readings in school and from videos as well (documentaries, short educational clips. I don’t find those Kdramas/movies attractive anymore. Haha, I think I’ve grown rather old in that sense. Gosh, I’ll rather watch the news than see a movie…). University education has grown me greatly in knowledge, but not ‘holistically’ like in college.

Anyway. I was thinking about how important is to me. I recall listening to audiobooks – the bible, and feeling very touched as I listened to the epistles/letters from the apostles. I think about how they were written to people. And as a letter writer, I felt particularly moved: they were writing to people, to me! Christians displaced from where the apostles were, Christians whom they would never meet, Christians of the future, even! Words are so emotive, and they’re different from news/mere information. I think about the experiences of my friends: despite studying about climate change, how animals have been exploited etc., they are content with going back to their old way of life because it is too troublesome. Perhaps we should not tell people the current situation, but how it would be like in the future.

I remember the intensity of feeling I experienced, reading David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks. The last chapter/last few chapters, I can’t remember. Basically it described the future. It was a horrendous one, anarchy and climate change issues. It was terrible, disastrous, I didn’t cry but I felt like I could have.

I challenged my mother to think – she didn’t have the best childhood; poor, post WWII and stuff. What is something that she cannot ‘go back to’ from her childhood? She said the lack of sanitation; people didn’t have their own toilets. Toilets that did not flush and the pans had to be cleared by someone every other day.

Reading Mitchell’s work, I felt scared to live in a world where there is no ‘progress’, ‘improvement’. I can’t imagine a world which is worse than my current world, as a youth. I can’t imagine living in a world without constant electricity. But that’s a very possible and real problem, isn’t it? (This imagination, this fiction, has indeed influenced the changes in my life. A more, environmentally conscious one, albeit flawed and limited).

Read (fiction, too). There is emotion in the pages, it can change your life. It has changed mine.


What is presence?

It is the feel of your breath, the sound of it. That sixth sense, the feeling that is on the verge of reality and the imagined. The feel of someone’s spirit. Perhaps, scientifically, there is truth in this feeling; perhaps our bodies are more sensitive than we know, being able to feel the other person’s body heat even though they’re at the end of the table. Perhaps our bodies can feel the minute vibrations of the ground when they shift in their seat, our skins sense the movement of the air when they flick their fringes. Perhaps our inner eats detect their heartbeats, while we remain unaware.

Presence is touch, too, the feeling of your warm hands against my cold fingers, the counting of layers between us; air, shirt skin. The sturdiness of your shoulders. The warmth of your hugs. It is the scent of you that lingers, personal perfume, orange scented body foam.

Presence is not flaky wifi connections, seeing you through screens, wires, deep sea cables. Your voice slightly distorted, accented as you are literally in a different country, a different space, a different people and cultures. The layers between us; air, glass, camera, radiowaves, satellites, seas, screens. Presence is not being unable to tell when the other is going to speak, our lilted conversations, our constant unintentional interruptions, even though we can technically hear and see each other (will perhaps technology one day be able to mitigate this? will I be able to hear you breathe?). It is not the amplification of the sounds of my fan, nor the highway, the awkwardness of speaking when I am out, trying not to be conscious, not having a face to focus on, talk to, as we share intimate conversations and I imagine that everyone else is listening in (a spot light effect? But in truth I have eavesdropped on other conversations. Why is it ok to have intimate conversations in public spaces with a friend but no ok to do it mediated via technology? Isn’t it better actually; since the public would only have half the conversation and will not know all the details?).

Presence is not multitasking, because I don’t have your entire being to focus on. There are no awkward silences with presence around. There is no distraction, no feeling of jadedness and not wanting to talk. Presence is precious. It is equally tiring to have you, presence, around, and also not. Presence, your absence and hereness is equally nice and not.

‘Sometimes I’m happy when (you’re) gone, but I’m always happy when (you) return’ – Audrey Niffenegger

We all know a Harriet

My name is Harriet. I am 22.

I am rather different from everyone else. But not really in a bad way, I think. I’m not conventionally attractive; a little on the plump side, but not enough to be called fat, a little on the petite side, but not enough to be called short. There are a few nice traits about me: I have lusciously long lashes and thick brown hair.

I make myself different. My style is all bright and bold colours, a mixture of odd prints. Vintage, modern, classic. Do I even have a style? It’s experimental, maybe. A variety of everything. Some people describe my style as quirky, fun, special. I get complimented frequently; people tell me they love my style, I wear it so well, with confidence, they never dare to be as adventurous for fear of looking foolish. But the art of being different and being good at it is practice and perseverance. It’s about continually experimenting, refusing to be comfortable. But I don’t think people believe me. I wonder if there are failures in those individuals who have tried something new. Surely not? Even if what they tried was not of the commonly accepted and liked taste, surely at least one person would have appreciated it. I am definite about that, because at least others would admire them for their courage to try. Style is mutable, after all. I’ve tried many hairstyles, it is always changing. Male barbers, fancy Korean salons with perms, fine Caribbean cornrows and dreadlocks, dangerously short cheap military crew cuts, huge long rolling curls.

I like to eat. Anything, really. I don’t mind. It’s more about the social. But people are afraid to do so. For health? But more for looks. There has been a change in perception about health – I think it’s about not falling sick and being happy, but others think that it’s about what we eat and exercising. I can’t say it’s entirely about image, because it isn’t, but I will live the way I like to. Others are envious about how I ‘don’t care’, but I don’t understand. I do care, about my weight, about my health, but perhaps we just see things differently.

I am different because of my personality. I am cheerful, outgoing. I love talking to people, friends, strangers. I have this desire to know them. Individuals, groups, happy, sad people. I have a smile for everyone. I am a happy person and people love me for it. People often ask why I am always smiling. People are envious of my job, my kindness, my love for life. I’m happy to know that more than that, I’m also an inspiration. I’m described as a positive force, I exude a radiant aura, I make people happy and that is more than I could ask for.

I volunteer at all sorts of organisations, I cry at sad movies, sad stories. I have a soft heart, I feel intensely and freely. Some people laugh at me when I cry about these sometimes trivial things, they tell me it’s just a work of fiction, it’s manipulated. Others smile tenderly as I cry at graduation ceremonies or when a great speech is made. Some people think I’m naïve, too innocent for my own good. They pity my innocence. I pity their brokenness.

There is a deeper, darker side to this Harriet. I am simple. Simply different. Everyone seems to love me, but no one seems to want to be me. I inspire some, but mostly not. I ask people along to things I am doing, get involved. Come line dancing with the elderly, go thrift shopping for clothes that don’t always match, to laugh and sing and throw coins into wishing wells, to talk to that old woman sitting on the sidewalk.

Why is it that people think I am all good and lovely but never want to do what I do? They admire me from a distance such that I wonder if they are really sincere in telling me that what I am doing is what they value. Why do they see capitalism and consumerism as despicable and disgusting, yet they indulge in it all the same?

I am not too different to be alien, to be unlovable, a la Stargirl. But I feel so alone and that one day I’ll just be like everybody else.