let’s talk about death

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Content Warning: I talk about some pretty morbid topics, not because I necessarily want to but because it’s become important to process some recent events.

Last week, after an already incredibly emotional series of events, as I was waiting to board my plane to London, I found out that Eric Judge, my fraternity brother and someone I always respected and looked up to had passed away. If you have read my post about pain, then you’ll know exactly what my body and mind went through at that point. I had to find a space, sit down and try to calm myself before I got onto the plane, because I had lost someone I cared about and the realization that I would never see them again hit me. This time last year, my paternal grandfather passed away of old age, and I remember feeling a reeling sense of shock. Now, my body knew what death of a close one was and immediately reacted emotionally.

Eric was one of the first people I met in my fraternity as I began my education process and immediately I knew he would play an important role in my understanding of Lambda Chi Alpha. Yes, he was known as the frequent caps player and the teacher of all things beer related, but he was also a brother in the most expansive form of the word. He would celebrate everyone who joined the organization, and he would shut down anyone who spoke poorly of another brother without regard for their dignity. It’s weird to speak praises about those who have passed only after they left, especially knowing that he was in Chicago and I only spent one other occasion with him before his incident. I wish I could have told him all of this – how I respected him and how my time in the US was made that much more special because of him. I will remember him dearly. Eric, this is my way of processing your death. I tried speaking to friends and family, but it helped little knowing that I had lost someone I cared for. My friends mean the world to me and it’s horrible that the cosmos wouldn’t give us any more times to celebrate our lives.

Eric’s death made me all the more resilient in speaking my truth to others. I am no longer ashamed of being honest and spontaneous in my expression to those I care about. It’s naive for me to claim that as we get older, death will be a more commonplace occurrence because so will marriage, birth and all kinds of other celebration. I am entering a portion of my life where the innocence of living is eroding and I have to choose how I interpret the things that happen around me.

There is a part two to this post, one that I feel I must write although I’m not sure how to write it. As if Eric’s death wasn’t enough to dampen my mood, as I landed in London I saw on the news that there was another terrorist incident in northern London. The cities I plan to visit – Berlin, Brussels, Paris – are also no longer strangers to acts of terrorism. I am literally living in a time and place where the concept of chaos is close and familiar and I have to adapt to the fact that I have to choose daily to live my best possible life. I have to also choose more than ever to be cautious, alert and smart about things around me.

But there’s this weird what-if question that remains. What if I do die? I know, I know – the human psyche is afraid of the question. It’s one of my biggest fears in life – my mortality. It’s very much why I continue to do the legacy work that I do. I feel like I should start thinking about it though, not to give the enemy any upper-hand in mental victory, but to give it the intellectual space it needs to provide insight. I immediately thought of my family and my close friends, the ones who actually do care for me the same way I cared about Eric and maybe even more. I immediately thought of the same pain crashing through them and felt awful myself. I want my life to speak for itself, my values and my character to continue beyond my existence. I want my conversations to have lasting impacts on the people I had them with. I want people to keep believing in a community that supports itself and is resilient.

Ironically, even considering the impact of my death made me so much more committed to fighting to live and to fight the forces that threaten my or any of my loved ones’ existences. There’s so much more work that needs to be done on this planet and no one should be able to steal that opportunity from us. I also recognize that the issue is so complex because of the politics involved. Terrorism only seems real because it happens in cities with people of actual power, but attacks happen in other parts of the world including Syria and Iraq, by countries like the US and UK. People all over the world are dying because it seems easy to detonate a bomb. Death is becoming a stranger topic until it hits someone close.

That has to stop. This desensitization to death has to stop. We need to feel emotionally connected to every aspect of the human condition and that means recognizing that it’s completely wrong that people have to die for acts they were never responsible for. I am carrying and will continue to carry this pain. I have a few ideas of how to move towards addressing these problems and am making efforts towards them, but I hope everyone who reads this recognizes they have that power to change their perspective on death in the world.

this is a perspective shift.

make a difference.

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the swan song

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I haven’t written in a long time. Inspiration was lacking, but perhaps more than that, I felt tired. Bored, in fact. It’s a dangerous routine, when you see yourself allowing dormancy to avoid the effort of advancing. There’s a distinctive difference between rest and dormancy, one is active in promoting self-care and the other is passive in allowing decay. Spring Break came at a great time then, to allow myself to be re-inspired, reinvigorated and energized to start performing my Swan Song. I have Four Quarters left in Northwestern – and it’s time to start thinking about what they mean.

To my regular readers, I’m sure you notice the trend. I always come back after traveling with new energy and vision. This time, that force is coupled with my innate desire to leave a legacy everywhere I go in crafting this Swan Song. Four Quarters isn’t a long time. It’s a roadmap ; a runway to a bigger hope. I decided at the end of last year that my goal this year is to Heal the World, to move away from indulgence in the passions of the flesh and to think more about the pains of this generation. The next year ahead is dedicated to that goal. I’ve always believed that we must live by bigger themes, ideas that are bigger than the ‘Me, Myself and I’. It gives us perspective and a foundation for the tougher parts of our lives.

So what is this song? What is this story I am dying to tell? It’s the tale of the human soul and its energy. Imagine the soul is an orb, and if you look into it you see energy, innately attached to how you feel, dream and act. That orb can be tapped into for so much power, like when people cheer at a Football game and you hear the roar of emotion. Yet that same orb, like a nuclear device, is also so vulnerable. It can be cracked, broken or worst, corrupted. I’ve spent the last few years exploring the human soul, keeping an eye on the spectrum I’ve encountered – from the absolutely inspiring to the broken and battered to the uncouth and vulgar. My hope then is to help people realize the role they have in taking pride in their souls, to help heal the broken orbs and hopefully uncorrupt the dirtied ones.

I’ve taken on multiple projects to help me write my Swan Song. The most prominent is that of my role in IFC as VP Membership Development. I’ll be honest ; when I was elected I was sincere in my hope of promoting better education but was ignorant of the realities of the community. Yet as I let myself be open to hearing people talk and share their stories, I realized the immense gap we have in addressing real issues, and the burden of the role. That burden has become more and more my own , a weight I’ve started to carry to build the empathy needed to make this role as useful as it can be.  This project is to build an Development Culture in the Greek Community as an example of the positive and open attitude needed to build awareness, discuss and act on important issues in a college environment.

The next is to use my vocation as a nexus to do be a positive influence in the world. While the first project looked at improving culture, this looks at starting a new trend, where we realize we live in a new era, completely dictated by us, that can see doing good as just as profitable and sustainable when integrated with the skills we’ve learnt. Lattice is a collective built with friends of mine, that aims to use technology to do good, not as a side effect but as a main goal. We’re trying to engage the paradigm shift in technology and design that is either divided in non-profit or profit work, and blur the lines to show that they are not dichotomous.  Innovate and create, but above all aim to do good with what you do. We have a few design projects we want to push out before we graduate, and this is honestly one of the most exciting things I’ll look forward to doing in college. Promoting dialogue, increasing empathy and healing wounds are all themes addressed by our projects.

The last project I have in mind is one of storytelling, something I’ve always been passionate about. Through my work in video production and writing, i’ve become confident in the ability of content mediums to influence and change perspectives, to transform culture. I have yet to decide exactly what medium I plan to use, but my hope is to produce a series of content that talks about the human soul and how we can come together.

Ambitious projects are my signature. I think there’s value in dreaming big and taking the challenges others shy away from. But beyond all of that, the biggest value here is the opportunity to potentially figure out solutions to some of the most common problems in the human world. Hate, distrust and ignorance could be eroded if we figured out how to talk to the soul.  That in itself is worth all the effort in the world.

Hope must win. Hope will win.

hoo-ah.

#littleindiariot #bringbacksanity

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Just yesterday I was blogging that I’m happy no political happenings had occurred recently – I’m afraid I jinxed the universal force ; something huge happened yesterday and in a lot of ways , it was political and it was social.

Long Story short: After an accident involving a bus driver knocking down an Indian/Bangladeshi national occurred, the foreign nationals in the area flocked to avenge the victim by flogging the bus . Some were inebriated , some were not.

When the police stepped in, escalation occurred , causing the riot to erupt to a scale of 400+ rioters and multiple forces being activated from the SPF, SCDF and even the SAF on standby . Things calmed down by 1230. Life is back to normal now.

Here are my thoughts:

1) Our generation just learnt the importance of history class. We may continue to chide that we don’t need National Service , that we have nothing to fear; but that’s exactly where we fail to understand that while most threats can be predicted , the worst are those that can’t . Threats of whim and passion escalate quickly and without a force ready to respond , we have very little to be hopeful of. The people that responded included people in my circle of friends or wider , my direct peers. Knowing that they were responding , ACTIVELY stepping in to effect change, made me not only proud of the 2 years I had just served , but itching to step in and do my part. When all is said and done, most of us NSmen will step up to do something when our peace is threatened . So instead of downplaying it or belittling it, boast it. Because when people hear that the Force is committed to maintaining the peace across all servicemen , few are gonna dare to cross it

2) Social Media is like College. Now most of you know , my domain of influence is generally on social media. I’ve learnt that what I say matters online , and can shape people’s thoughts. It’s what happens when you announce your ideas to the world. Last night, a different kind of riot was erupting online. Where most of the netizens (and I thank God for this) were urging others to be responsible and collect information accurately – there was a small proportion identifying an opportunity to be witty or humorous. Your wit can wait. I’ll joke with you forcefully tomorrow or next week, but today remember that lives were hurt, damage was wrought and peace was scarred. It was as if the class clowns were making a ruckus and the rest of the class had to shush them up. The truth is, this may occur again for any other potentially sensitive situation . And we have to be ready to stand in solidarity for the people that need to be cares for. #bringbacksanity

3) Something’s amiss in the Race Arena. This topic is probably the most important. It’s not an issue of public drinking . It’s not even an issue of enclaving or a rise in foreign talent. It’s about us . Xenophobia has hit a new high. Now I speak as a Singaporean citizen (proud and true) , and not as an Indian (of which I feel greatly hurt and disappointed at what happened last night) . We have to ask ourselves to what extent do we wish our xenophobia to cloud our judgement. Why are foreigners always clumped out in fields? Not just Indians , mind you; any race . It’s because we refuse to provide them appropriate facilities to to congregate , to build a community of their own. It’s because we refuse to integrate them. Now let me qualify this by saying that riots in India being common are no excuse for them occurring in Singapore. It’s our country – our rules, stand by them. But apparently they sorely lack education of the law of the land , or the culture of it. And that’s because we push them away, and we treat them like dirt. I may be Singaporean , but I’m also human. I don’t think it’s ever right to hurt someone else for their skin color or religion . What happened yesterday was wrong and deserves justice, but can happen forward is up to us.

There’s a lot more running through my mind right now , but as a 20 year old I need to believe in a future worth saving. And that means building it together.

It’s a blip in our history, that’s for sure. But we should NEVER let it make it the normal.

Good morning

the one where i talk to myself in third person

i like how this season there are very few political happenings – it gives me an excuse to indulge in creative writing. my friends have said that they’ve wanted to pick my mind for sometime. i find that pretty scary – my mind is a dangerous place. it’s where dreams are born, but also where emotions are locked up in the face of logic. it’s where awareness breeds inadequacy , and where the knowledge of no knowledge is king.

but what if we could… what if we could see ourselves in third person? what would we say?

____

i always imagined entering my mind as entering a secret door , hidden in the large trunk of a tall tree, marked out clearly in the centre of the forest. when I was in England, I found such a tree. i simply willed it, and the doors opened up, allowing me to enter freely.

therein were two chairs. the room was dark, except for a spotlight , showing the seats in contrast to the rest of the area. it was instinctive ; i went to sit on one of the chairs.

“hello?” i had said.

i’m coming , i didn’t think you’d ever visit

“of course i would. we both knew this would happen. we’re weird like that” i had remarked. it was true. i achieved nearly anything i put my mind to. unraveling the mind included.

alright, alright. let me put on some pants. 

a shallow version of myself walked out. he was skin and bones. his eyes were hollowed out, and his breath was deliberate.

“i never thought my mind was so weak” i had snorted.

that’s exactly it. your mind isn’t anything spectacular. you’ve exhausted me – given me no rest, no recuperation.

that’s fair. we have much to do, don’t you see? our lives are racing to the grave, yet there’s so much to do , so much to see. how can you remain idle?” i replied.

do you know what’s the fondest memory i had of us? 

no,” i had said.

when we danced in the moonlight. when you let yourself go. when we weren’t about rationality, we were about whim. you let the gut do most of the thinking then

“how is he anyway? the gut i mean”  i interrupted.

he’s pretty good. you’ve been working him out, that helps me as well. as i was saying, though, i liked it a lot more when we were about creating stories rather than racing the clock

“you’re right. i remember when i wanted to write the ultimate story : my own life” i popped in.

ah yes, the ultimate story. that was a good year. 2014 was it not?

twenty-fucking-fourteen. when i had realised that the stories i had written were way too compelling to be left as print, i decided to construct the most epic storyline imaginable. ”

i still remember the final party you threw, just before you flew off for your studies. all the people you had ever met, all the experiences you had every nurtured, all laid in front of you. wasn’t that grand? did that not show you that anything was possible?

“and you probably grew ten-fold after that, didn’t you?”

i did. that’s probably why you could cope with college. let’s be honest, we’re not normally equipped for such rigor. it’s only because of what we did.

“i agree. i miss that. i miss caring about what i did”

you should meet your soul. he’ll probably surprise you

“oh gosh, how would i find him?”

he’s a she. it’s unimaginable but you’re quite a sensitive guy deep down. it’s just that you’ve built that wall around yourself. to block out anything that can hurt her

” that makes sense. i tend to get protective over the people i care about as well”

but you’ve learnt to empower them as well. you’ve realised that loving isn’t stifling. it’s learning to help them become who they should and can be. the moments when you were in love were the moments i felt a thrill 

” i like the sound of that. i miss the times when i was relaxed. when i felt at peace”

you used to like fishing didn’t you. it was like yoga, but you got to kill something. you didn’t have to do anything but pull it out of its environment and watch it realise it’s life was flashing past it.

that’s the dangerous part of me… i don’t want to go there”

you have to accept it. when you’re faced with the spectrum of knowledge and understanding, when you’re awe at what’s insanely good, you would also watch back at what’s insanely bad and see the wicked beauty in it. 

“and i’ll hate it. i can appreciate the beauty, but i’ll hate it”

and rightfully so.

” i’m tired. but there’s so much more i want to talk about”

then come back. i’ll be dressed the next time

“i shall” I had said.

and i walked out of the room, feeling more aware of myself than i had ever been. and i swore for the moment that i had left him, the shrunken shadow of my mind had grown in size.

geronimo.

pastel colors

the chalk was running out already , and it was only day 15.

15 times he had woken up, and that was when the sun had risen. he was not even sure whether the burning light that shone into his occupancy was the same fiery ball that had guided him on the rocky path to Harefan.

the boys who had grabbed him by his limbs and dragged his drunken body to wherever he was now smelled of cheap perfume and newly pressed garments. a sandy floor stretched across the gaol, where it met with sturdy walls that were unharmed by the acidity of the rain and free from chipped blocks.

this must be a fresh one, he evaluated. people had told him he was good at that – evaluating. it came with experience he presumed. travelling the modern lands, he encountered creatures and wonders nobody could have imagined. yet in it all, he was forced to come to the conclusion that at the end of the long and winding road, humanity still was a stinking force of selfishness and greed.

there had been hope when the portals had opened. when the Futuremen had walked through into the era that was known as the “Past” , when to him it was only known as the present. the labels had been a source of migraine to many initially. the Futuremen brought with them only granules of the rainbow – multicolored particles that exploded in the mouth to form flavors not yet experienced. and yet that was enough to change everything.

the Futuremen insisted ,against the warnings and prophecies of the wizards of Past , that this did not change anything. they were merely in parallel universes… a butterfly so stepped on in one universe would not cause a typhoon in the other. or so it was theorized. yet everyone immediately become a heretic.

all was plodding along, as Futuremen and Pastmen strived towards coming towards some form of agreement. then, the Futuremen threw another wrench in the works. they had discovered a third age – the Modern age they called it. it was just another Future for the past , but they adopted the moniker nonetheless. the Modernmen were as surprised as the Pastmen had been , and yet they seemed more willing to discover more about these portals.

soon, commercial travel became available – at exorbitant prices. people sold children in order to travel to the Modern age. and then there were the mavericks – the rule-breakers. Kajan had been one of them. they traveled through pockets of soft-time – areas where one could see glimpses of the Modern or Future age, and scavenged for adventure and riches.

he had been good , he had believed. until now, when he was stuck at the whims of whoever was holding him.

he heard a screech. light yet confident footsteps made their way towards his cell. this man sounds like he comes of noble backgrounds. the steps got closer, but Kajan could not see anyone in the darkness. a figure started to form, and as it moved closer to the light in front of his cell, Kajan’s mouth dropped.

“good morning, dear sir. ”

it was a lady.

“this Modern age…. ” he whispered under his breath.

“yes, in this time, Women have as much power as Men. and we seem to use it much better than you lot,” the lady said with a smug smile.

“but onto the matter for which you are here, trespassing in my laboratories – it seems like you oldtimers need to learn how to be made an example of ”

Kajan tried to capture as much of her features as he could. her sharp yet twitchy eyelids indicated her authority, yet her struggle to maintain it. her fingers were shivering, and her lips quivered at the end of every sentence. this was a lady to be broken.

he moved in close , his face breathing onto hers – the intimate moment only separated by the bars in between.

“my name is Kajan, and I’m not an Oldtimer” he said

the lady stepped back. and then she smiled. this may get interesting after all.