On my flight back from Calgary to Vancouver end last year, I had made a promise to myself, a vague new year’s resolution of sorts propelled by entering what some called “the Roaring 20s”— I was going to start 2020 anew. I would no longer remain in unhealthy relationships and I would start taking care of myself emotionally, mentally, and physically.
2019 was my toughest year. It was a period of slut shaming, migraines, and tears that seemed to have a life of its own — furiously shedding against my own accord. I wasn’t happy by any means.
Happiness felt like an abstraction whose mechanism was deliberately constructed to elude me.
Quite frankly, the reason as to how I made it through eludes me too. It would be rather presumptuous of me to proclaim myself ‘stronger’ because of it. After all, what exactly is strength? But it made me realise that I could, in fact, in some way, handle a lot. It was an odd, and peculiarly funny revelation.
And as I leaned my cheek against the cool glass plane and peered over the rockies, I felt a warm, almost indeterminate fuzziness spread through my chest. I can’t quite tell you what it was, because I couldn’t quite interpret that either, but I can tell you what it absolutely wasn’t . It wasn’t exactly comfort, or warmth, or any precise derivative emotional permutations you’d expect on the last day of the year.
But perhaps it was a sense of being present. I was determined to make 2020 my restart.
Ⅱ. A New Year Begins
In January, it seemed like the zeitgeist of 2020 was to try again. Which not only meant accomplishing personal goals and determinations, but also moving away from (parts of) the past. That’s not to say that the undertaking of trying again exclusively belongs to 2020 — As a general observation, resolutions for any new year seem to have an element of the highly sought after aesthetic of a ‘try again’ — but it was, indeed, distinctive. As evident in the moniker “the Roaring 20s”, 2020 was expected by many to be the first year of a decade of cultural exuberance and societal progress.
To recontextualise it to the individual, this year was highly perceived to be the start of a personally defined good.
I wanted to leave toxic relationships and enter and forge healthy ones; I also wanted to just be healthier in all aspects of my life. I can’t claim to know what this year means, or was supposed to mean to you. Some of you may have wanted the same things, some of you may have wanted to get married and start a family, and some of you may have wanted to apply for that dream job or school. This list, is of course, non exhaustive. The truth is, there is no true, set parameter for your aspirations, goals, and dreams; all of which are undergirded by endless potentiality and sometimes, just sometimes, a certain clichéd optimism.
I’ve always found the moniker to be darkly funny. Well for starters, “the Roaring 20s” was a title first and previously given to the 1920s. It was a term whose meaning was, at best, quasi-global ; or, if we’re being technical, Western centric. The title was used to describe the relative economic boom and political reforms across Western states during that particular decade or more accurately, era. It was never meant to be a representation of the global state of affairs. Secondly, the era precipitated the Great Depression (ironic and grimly apposite, I know). Which, in many ways, was absolutely disastrous. By the end of 1929, 650 American banks had failed and homeless and unemployment rates had sharply risen. Furthermore, the dire economic conditions set the stage for growing authoritarianism in regions such as Central Europe, and crippled the global economy. Which would only later greatly improve a decade later due to the jobs created by nations gearing up for World War Ⅱ — a war with the highest amount of casualties in recorded history. So yes. The term never really did justify the enthusiasm it engendered at the beginning of the year to me.
I do have the tendency to over-analyse…
When school started, I committed myself to studying and revision; it is after all, my final year in secondary school. And with a national exam in tow, I can’t exactly slack. As a candid aside, I’m still not quite sure what drives me to study. Don’t misconstrue me, I do genuinely find learning fascinating. But am I studying because I want to enter a certain institution? Am I studying because of contemporary definitions of success? Or am I studying for ego?
Part of the motivation remains a mystery to myself. Though I guess, in the face of the fact that the exam exists regardless of personal motivation, solving the mystery isn’t a requisite.
Three weeks later, I had fallen into a stable, consistent routine.
Though, it’s worth mentioning, stability is a fickle thing.
Ⅲ. Break, Repair
I remember crying late one night. Over what exactly, I can’t quite tell you. But if you’ve ever been heart broken, you would know that heart break, quite literally, feels like you’re breaking. Perhaps ‘rending’ would be the more correct verb. It’s hard to quite comprehend a loss you, too lost in your own perception of what was assured, never thought would happen. And realising you no longer want someone (back) in your life, can be a complex experience.
Physical separation is one thing, emotional separation is completely another.
How do you have a conversation with someone who left first and say to them, “You were everything you said you were never going to be”? How do you tell them “I’m done.”? More fundamentally, how do you say, “I don’t want you anymore.”?
You can, in most cases of course, physically walk away from them. Delete their number, delete all past text conversations, delete the pictures you have of them on your phone, chop off your hair as a physical and rather trite expression of being in a “new” phase of your life, maybe throw away a friendship bracelet if you’re in the mood (all of which, by the way, have been tried and tested by me). But you can’t divest someone from memory. You can’t reach into your own thoughts and subconscious and eradicate their presence. You can’t just dismiss the thoughts of them whenever you see something you both once shared — Emotional purging and catharsis simply isn’t as linear as physical purging.
Healing is a long, and arduous process. When you’ve experienced the withering of human relations past the point of misalignment, and enter the domain of complete fissuring, you can feel, for lack of better word, drained. Moving on requires a severe grappling of the truth that reality has shifted. And accepting the fact that life has changed. Perhaps irreversibly so. Because you can’t make someone who no longer loves you, well, love you. You can’t buy genuine love, or loyalty, or friendship. If it’s bought then, it isn’t true or genuine is it?
And even if you could, would you?
There reaches a point of sheer moral exhaustion where everything that has ever happened to you, every emotion you have ever felt, makes you cognisant of the fact that should you continue your life the way it has been, your life will no longer be yours — A life determined and driven by hurt, without fighting for yourself, is one which is divested of ownership.
I’m not going to fight for someone who doesn’t want me.
I’m going to fight for me because I deserve better than how I’ve been treating myself and how I’ve let others treat me.
I used to apologise a lot. When really, the people I was apologising to weren’t worth it. Whenever I got slut shamed for having friends who were mostly guys, and as a consequence, going out with mainly guys, I would feel sorry for making someone feel as though they had to, or could slut shame me. Getting called a ‘slut’ for sometimes simply being nice to the opposite sex and caring for them the same way I care for my female friends used to make me feel guilty because I thought it was my fault.
I no longer feel as bad, because that is not my fault ; But sometimes I still find myself thinking that it is.
When I think about the slut-shaming that has happened to me, and is probably still happening, I feel sad. But I consciously made the choice to not specifically mention names because, I think in my own way, I’m protecting them from the likely backlash they will have to go through when this gets published.
I’m protecting them because I don’t want them to hurt — a grace which was not given to me.
Healing is a process that doesn’t just happen with the promise of a new year. It takes hard, constant, and sometimes even painful work.
Ⅳ. Pollock and The Vicissitudes of Fate
I was scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day, when I came across this post featuring Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). There was something in the caption which I found particularly striking. It reads, “Times like these are as abstract as seeing Pollock for the first time…There is no packaging a Pollock into a single digestible pill.” And contains what is perhaps the most apt statement that can be used with regards to the impacts of the pandemic:
“It’s too large, too scattered, too visceral.”
Pollock applied paint to all directions of his canvas. He would put his vast canvases on the floor and position himself over them, dripping and pouring paint with free movement, fully utilising the expanse and dimensions of his surface. The final result was a captivating, complex, dimensional piece which surrounded the audience. His work, most often, did not have a clear, discernable subject.
The paper written by Richard Taylor, Adam Micolich and David Jonas, titled “Fractal Expressionism” deeply discusses how Pollock’s work parallels natural processes and the evolution of nature. To quote the paper:
“He described Nature directly. Rather than mimicking Nature, he adopted its language – fractals – to build his own patterns.”
The semblance of our current society (in a pandemic) — unpredictable, volatile, ambiguous — finds its reflection in Pollock’s works through their fundamental character. Dynamic, profoundly complicated, and seemingly arbitrary. With no evident, clearly delineated intent to pick an audience whom it can impact.
But impacts everyone it encounters regardless.
There’s this sense of dislocation with the pandemic I feel. Everyone is trying to function as they would normally, the best they can, while completely caught off guard. There seems to be this unspoken, collective agreement of, “let’s accept it and move on”. Which, and don’t misconstrue me, is not necessarily a terrible thing. But it is rather difficult to simply ‘move on’ when the world has undergone an immense shift from conventional normalcy. Especially so, when your personal goals make certain characteristics of that conventional normalcy which existed prior to the pandemic, requisite.
My usual daily interactions with my environment and the people I surround myself with have been, like many others, heavily disrupted. I can’t hug my friends to offer them comfort on a hard day, and they can’t rest their head on my shoulder and slap my back when they see something particularly funny. With all the closures of non essential businesses, we can’t go to our favourite brunch place either. It feels markedly odd.
Did you think you would have to live through a pandemic, ever, in your lifetime? I highly doubt so.
This pandemic scares me.
It scares me because even though I’ve always known the future as vague, undetermined, and rather capricious, I’ve not fundamentally considered it as unassured. I am worried for the people I love with underlying health conditions, I am concerned about the people who live in vulnerable environments, and I am immensely bothered by the fact that this pandemic will most likely exacerbate societal inequality. Perhaps the only real concerns I have regarding myself are the questions of whether I will do well in my O Levels and whether I will be accepted into the school I want.
I am privileged to have my concerns about myself being the above.
I don’t know what position in life you are at, and I certainly have no idea on the extent of the pandemic’s impact in your life. But I know most of you reading this are either scared, worried, or confused. Some of you might even consider this the worst year you’ve ever had.
I want you to know that I know what experiencing a tough year is like. I know that it is painful and that the feeling of being hopelessly stuck is one that endures. I know that perhaps, especially now, you may feel particularly alone. So I hope if reading this uncharacteristically personal piece from me provides you anything, it’s the feeling of comfort and the knowledge that you aren’t going through this alone.
Because I understand that what you’re going through is perhaps too difficult, too painful, and too complex to be properly put into words. And regardless, I want you to know that I empathise with you.
If you’re someone who is working during this period– in any capacity, be it healthcare or construction or education or any services allowed — I would like to say thank you. Myself and many others are incredibly grateful for what you’ve done in helping the country continue to function, big or small. We do genuinely appreciate it and we hope that you’re taking care.
For all those of you who are currently at home, I sincerely hope that everything is going okay for you and that you’re safe.
I’ve said this in a previous article and I will say it again. If you know anyone in need of help in this trying period, do not be afraid to lend a hand. And if you need help, I want you to know that you are not alone, there are people who will stand behind you, and that help does exist. – With love and kindness, Althea Lim.
Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE): 1800-777-5555
PAVE: 6555 0390
TRANS Family Services: TRANS FSC (Bedok) 6449 0762, TRANS FSC (Bukit Timah) 6466 2287, TRANS SAFE Centre 6449 9088, TRANS FOCUS Centre 6467 8191
Family Transformation and Protection Unit, Family Court: 6435 5077
Child Protection and Welfare Helpline 1800-777 000
Singapore Action Group of Elders (SAGE): 180-555-5555
The Law Society of Singapore: 6536 0650
Written and conceptualised by Althea Lim, Edited by Liang Ying