In the last post, I waxed lyrical about Rapture and Epiphany.
I suggested that the latter was something that could be man-made, precipitated through (careful) design and curatorial, in the context of an exhibition at the Museum.
That much is certainly true.
Though in the real world, Epiphany has proven to be far more elusive. It can absolutely not be designed or engineered, however much one tries.
After all, Life just happens the way it wants to, however much you try to anticipate the how it does.
And so, despite my intent to arrive at some sort of epiphany by the end of this year, I can only say that I’ve thus far achieved mere glimpses of (the possibility of) epiphany.
But what glimpses these are!
As part of the process of edging myself towards Rapture and Epiphany, I’ve spent this entire year revisiting, re-mastering, re-editing and re-releasing a full album of songs I wrote some 10 years ago.
I had somewhat wishfully (and wistfully) titled this album, THE FACTS OF LIFE, hoping it would offer much-needed illumination on the facts as to my own personal life, in all its unwieldy messiness.
I’m happy to report that the process of revisiting the album has been far more illuminating than expected. The journey through time and space – my album takes the listener across the world – has allowed me to uncover aspects of myself that I had hitherto mistaken for something else altogether.
Let me elaborate.
I had always believed myself to be a lover of cities. As a matter of fact, this very blog, DREAM OF A CITY, was so-named on account of my supposed passion for the urban.
As it turns out, I now know that what I love passionately is the aqueous.
What I love, is the Water.
You see, 10 out of the 15 tracks on the album are either set on the water, inspired by water, or make specific reference to water.
Venice, one of my favourite cities on earth – features prominently on not a few of these tracks. In the meantime, the sea and its attendant landscapes – the bay, the beach, the waves, the blue, the horizon, and the water itself – also features prominently in the album. So much so that I might as well call the entire album FLOATING ON WATER.
[I titled one track, WATER……]
My love for water explains why I am fascinated by Port Cities – these aggregations of architecture and humanity that exist at the water’s edge; floating cities, inextricable from the water itself.
I’m rarely interested in what goes on at the landward-facing, hinterland-oriented side of the Port City, but rather, I focus my attentions always on the side that looks out to the open sea, and the networks of trade and travel therein.
Water, represents to me, Opportunity and Freedom.
Not just in economic terms, but also in terms of destiny and identity. In Port City discourse, one speaks often of how itinerant travellers find the opportunity and freedom to remake themselves in a foreign port. Stories abound of young men and women re-making themselves aboard the erstwhile ocean liner – those palaces of opportunity and vice!
My love for water explains my love for travel, not only in a physical sense – in that I relish the experience of travel – but also in the academic sense – as in I also research and write about the history of (luxury) travel: those steamships, train journeys and grand hotels of yore.
THE ROMANCE OF THE GRAND TOUR – my first book – was a romance not with port cities, but with the sea. In my Introduction, I wrote about life onboard ship, and the entire book is structured as a journey by sea from one port city to the next.
A kind of primordial state of being. A stillness amidst flux.
Perhaps I write so much and so extensively about water; devote so many words and so many bars of music to its evocation and description, because the process of Writing and Composing Water is my way of finding stillness in the often overwhelming flux that is my life.
Sometimes, I just can’t cope. I am overwhelmed.
And so I dive deep into the water, to find myself there.
And when I emerge, I would have metamorphosed into something else altogether – like the protagonist in my song NIGHT. I would have gained superhuman strength and resolve to face what I have to face.
On a more mundane note, my love for water also probably explains why I love swimming so much, and in particular, swimming laps under the noonday sun. It’s my favourite sport and choice method of keeping fit.
How I love the feeling of effortlessly gliding through the water, like a merman, or an elemental being, a sprite! How I love feeling the coolness of the water and the warmth of the sun on my bare skin.
The reference to bare skin brings me to the second revelation of the year…
In my songs, variations of these words, “the universe is here where we lie” recur again and again.
They recur so often that I thought I had better reflect deeper on why they do.
Ostensibly, I use this trope of the universe existing between two lovers as a poetic way to describe the sense of fulfillment, one-ness and stillness inherent in the act of two lovers embracing each other.
Enlaced in each other’s arms, Lover and Beloved are self-sufficient – they need nothing else in the universe in that brief moment of embracing, save each other. And so therefore, the universe does indeed lie between them both, infusing them, extending this brief moment of embracing to infinity.
I realise now there is a deeper personal implication to my frequent use of this elemental imagery.
Recently I was asked what the happiest moments in my life have been.
And I responded, sans hesitation, that these have always been when I was safely ensconced in my lover’s arms; that the delicious feeling of warmth and security afforded by those seemingly endless, protective arms, are what I have craved more than anything else in the world.
In examining my own interaction with my ex, I realised also that I was frequently the affectionate party in the relationship – playfully touching, gently caressing, lightly kissing, jovially hugging and craving a hug. You get the picture.
The upshot of all this sharing is this: I realised that I’ve been mistaken about my own Primary Love Language.
[Yes, I confess I too have read the uber-popular THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES by Gary Chapman. And I’ve found it very illuminating.]
I’ve always thought, given my own workaholic, achievement-oriented personality, that my primary love language was Acts of Service. And indeed I always complained about my ex not doing enough to help out with the chores while I was busy “running an organisation”.
I know now that I was wrong, and that my primary love language is Physical Touch.
On hindsight, it makes complete sense.
Looking back on the relationship, I remember how each time we fought, made up and analysed the fight later, one rejoinder of mine would always be: “If you had only just shut up and enveloped me in a bear hug at the time, it would all have been fine. All would have been forgotten. I would have apologised and everything would have ended much earlier.”
But things tend to make sense only on hindsight.
My penchant for Physical Touch also explains why I have preference for the rhythmic in my music. 12 out of the 13 tracks on THE FACTS OF LIFE are what can be described as dance music or music that one can dance, or at least move, to.
And my three favourite songs on the album: NIGHT, …THIS and MORNING, in that order, are unabashedly romantic dance numbers.
Full disclosure: I LOVE to dance.
Yes I do.
But it has to be the right music.
This means Latin, Hip-hop, Pop-electronica. And then I can’t help myself, and I dance and I dance and I dance all night. Recently I spontaneously danced all night in the bar at the Shangri-La because there was an amazing Latin band from Havana playing.
And certainly, in my song GLOWING, I write and sing about dancing all night in the clubs in Marrakech.
I love to feel my body moving, my legs twirling, my muscles tensing to a groove. I love to lose myself completely to the music – even better when it’s the music that I write.
Dance requires one to be keenly attuned to the environment around one’s self. It activates senses that one doesn’t usually rely on – senses that pertain to the three-dimensional, namely the kinesthetic, the sense of balance, the aural and the visual.
[We are, sadly, in Singapore, primarily textual creatures – i.e. linear-thinking, rather than multi-dimensional.]
My love for dance explains why I’m so comfortable with public speaking, as in delivering speeches & lectures, giving public tours and moderating panels.
To me, public speaking is akin to a performance on stage; akin to a DANCE. And being a dancer, I am attuned to the environment around me, able to instinctively sense the subtlest changes in the mood of my audience; and flexible enough to respond in kind.
Dance requires one to be at one with the universe.
The love between two people is akin to a dance.
And therefore, the trope of the universe coming into being at the moment two lovers embrace.
There is one more important revelation about myself that I must disclose. But this one I’ve already let slip earlier. This one, I’ve more or less internalised fully.
It appears I am a VISUAL person.
For the longest time, I’ve always thought of myself as a Textual, or a Musical (i.e. Aural) person. After all, I write books and music. I love writing and composing.
As it turns out, I am best at (and I most relish) writing descriptions of landscapes and scenes (in the dramatic sense of the term). This is eminently apparent in my songs – where much of the lyrics evoke emotions through the description of landscape.
[And evident also in how each of the songs come complete with their painstakingly, obsessively-compulsively designed “Single artwork”. Jeez.]
This is true also of my books, with regards to which I’ve been told that I write “vividly”, i.e. I excel at describing.
My being Visual also explains why all the books I’ve written thus far are visual-heavy – they are pretty-much coffee-table books. I’ve found it impossible to write without visuals – and oftentimes, the text I write refers directly and explicitly to the visual (archival image, photograph) in question.
So yes, I have to confess that my skillsets lie in describing and depicting set-pieces and moments. I am terrible at conventional (read: linear) plot and narrative. REALLY terrible.
That’s why the books I’ve written thus far are non-fiction and episodic – they are essentially set-pieces strung (or curated) into a larger, coherently composed canvas or shot (using the photographic term).
I’ve been working at writing fiction for some time but I haven’t managed to succeed in getting any fiction published.
So there you go.
I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I excel at framing, and always searching for the perfect frame – again to use photographic terms. Linear narratives are not critical to me. In fact, I don’t understand linearity at all. That’s simply not the way my mind works.
Framing – which is minimally two-dimensional, and ideally, multi-dimensional – is how I would describe my approach to books and to music, and also my approach to corporate strategy, marketing and management at the Museum.
[What is Management, but a kind of multi-dimensional framing, with the elements consisting of curatorial, audience development, fundraising, finance, HR, technology, facilities, etc, etc…?]
And certainly, this business of framing has deeply influenced my approach to exhibition design and curatorial structure.
My being a visual person explains my emphasis on BEAUTY, which I now loosely but happily define as “everything cohering together in a perfect frame”.
Beauty could apply not only to exhibition design and curatorial, but to my books and music, and also to corporate strategy, marketing and management.
But I risk repeating myself.
So what then?
What does all this mean? What are the tangible implications of better understanding myself?
I suppose for a start, I can conclude that a) I should be spending more time by and with the water; that b) I should love and take care of my body more and that c) I should spend more time on professional and creative work that emphasises the visual.
It is with this in mind, that I am taking two weeks off to retreat to Bali, where I intend to be constantly near the water; to swim and work out daily, occasionally emerging to dance at some party or other; and to feast my eyes on beautiful architecture and landscapes.
While in Bali, I will also think deeper about all I have uncovered about myself, in the attempt to perhaps suddenly, by chance, without expecting it, encounter Epiphany in terms of just what I intend to do with myself in the next year, and the years to come.