It’s been five weeks since the so-called “Circuit Breaker” in Singapore.
For 34 whole days, I’ve sat at home, mostly alone – except for the virtual meetings for work, and the (far more enjoyable) virtual drinks with friends and family.
It does seem a bit like a cosmic joke, that just at the point when I’d decided I needed to search inward for self and solace… well…all of this conveniently happens, and I’m faced with the “retreat of a lifetime”.
Except of course, I’m barely retreating, LOL. Work… and anxiety due to not being physically at work… has taken up a lot of my alone-time.
But whilst not working, I have, indeed, had the chance to think through things with far greater clarity.
After all, when one’s entire universe is reduced to a mere few-square-metres of space, deep space exploration is a distinct possibility.
And I’ve been the doughty astronaut.
I’ve been re-acquainting myself with this mere-few-metres-square personal universe called Home.
* * *
You see, for the longest time, Home was something I made every effort to stay away from.
Growing up, Home was, literally, the most dangerous place in the universe for me.
Coming back from school, I never knew what would happen – what booby traps lay in store for the unsuspecting. It was the proverbial eggshells, all the time, every time. And my feet were scarred terribly.
It would be the …oh no, what have I done again? …I’m so sorry, please, I’ll do better next time. …oh please, not again. …interspersed with moments of abject neglect and denial.
Safety and solace for me was shutting myself up in my room, reading books that took me a long way away from where I was… Fantasy and science fiction novels, books featuring young, intrepid explorers discovering the world; or travel literature about exotic, faraway places…
My room itself was decked out like a young explorer’s pad – I literally had a ship’s steering wheel hung up on the wall, alongside a gorgeous oil painting of a historic sailing ship – the kind you read about in swashbuckling pirate novels.
On my walls were postcards and posters of all these places I had read about but never visited. A gorgeous fur-rug my parents’ had brought back home was casually draped across my bed. And I had souvenirs from wherever my parents, or just my dad, would travel to.
My room was my sanctuary, and my whole world. Outside of it – was the heart of darkness.
I resolved to myself that when I grew up, I would go as far away as possible from here. And come back as little as I could.
When I did grow up, therefore, I always knew I would travel… constantly.
And I did. I never stopped travelling.
And even when I wasn’t… while I was in Singapore, I never stopped moving. I couldn’t stand still.
Once I could, I moved out of my childhood home – there were too many difficult memories there. I shuttled from one rental place to another – always shifting; always on the go. I’m still living in a rental place. Who knows if I’ll still be here next year?
The idea of rooting myself to some place just seemed so terrifying. It reminded me too much of Home – and that horrible, associated feeling of being trapped in a cage, waiting constantly to be punished for no reason.
When I started my Grand Tour project, I got addicted to it very quickly. On hindsight, I reflected that it wasn’t so much the wandering through streets with camera that appealed.
It was the hotels.
I began to love staying in hotels, because I felt safe in these ultimate embodiments of hospitality. In all the hotels I stayed at on my Grand Tour – and in every hotel I’ve ever been to – I felt like I was truly being taken care of. I felt I was welcome and cherished, in a way I never had been, at home.
Everyone, without exception, was always kind and warm. My every need would be met. The room was always cosy and well-appointed. And it being my own space – nobody could ever intrude without permission.
Hotels became my home away from home.
* * *
Being locked down at home would seem like the ultimate punishment for someone who has lived by Wanderlust as a general guiding principle for so many years.
Indeed, it was initially quite difficult.
Restless and full of anxious energy, I started retracing – and posting on Instagram – the many stops along my 7-year, epic Grand Tour of Asia and beyond.
In typical, over-achieving fashion, I also decided to link each stop on my Grand Tour to relevant objects in the Museum’s Collection, and in so doing – cleverly join my two loves: Travel and the Museum (mwa-ha-ha!)
Every day, without fail, I’ve been posting on Instagram. On the one hand, I roll my eyes each morning at the fact that I’ve initiated yet another epic, project and imposed it, like shackles, upon myself to mark time and lose track of time.
On the other hand, I felt like since I chose to do this on my own accord, and that I honestly enjoyed reliving the journey from a distance, and being able to engage with the museum’s objects too, I shouldn’t be so judge-y, so harsh on myself.
I should just go with the flow. And I have.
As an aside, I’ve also let slip, in my last post, that I had met a new love interest… And it’s true I’ve also had a touch of lovesickness – for lack of a better diagnosis – since it was established we could not be with each other in person for weeks and weeks.
But since the romance is in its early stages yet… perhaps the telling of this tale is meant for another time.
* * *
I never felt like the apartment I presently live in was home either. I had moved into this place with my former love interest, some years ago. And so when we split up, being here became somewhat unbearable – again a case of Home being associated with unhappy memories and broken eggshells.
But then again, it was really a rather comfortable apartment, in terms of its size, the quality of sunlight and the range of amenities in the vicinity – there was a lovely, Olympic-sized pool I used often, for example, and I absolutely love being in the water.
The comfort far outweighed the discomfort. And in any case, I was never here very much, so it really didn’t matter.
I stayed on.
I kept myself busy at work, which required me to keep long hours (including on weekends) and to travel… a lot. Home became just a place I came back to in the evenings, to have a nightcap to relieve the anxiety, and then to go to bed. I neglected it – neglected everything that continued to live in it: my cat, who died from loneliness, and the plants, which eventually wasted away from not being watered sufficiently.
At some level, it made no difference to me. I didn’t feel any sort of connection to the place.
And in any case, it seemed to me, that to have any connection to the place you live in, would be risky and foolish. Not just because I wasn’t sure when I would move again – this was a rental, after all. But because, for as long as I had lived, HOME = DANGER, and one did not have an emotional connection with danger.
Except insofar as to avoid it with a vengeance.
* * *
Strangely, I must say…
This past week has seen some fundamental perspectives shift.
I’ve been seeking professional help recently to relinquish the harsh internal voices that keep me anxious, anxious to perform and please, and constantly on the edge.
In particular, one thing I’ve been encouraged to ask myself is this: visualise what I would be doing if I had no responsibilities and nobody to answer to. What would relaxation and comfort look like?
Since I’ve been waylaid – I won’t say trapped – at home an entire month, I’ve had time to ponder this carefully.
I’ve come to the conclusion that what I would be doing if I had nothing to do, is lying down on the floor, with my arms outstretched and legs slightly spread-eagled, head, arms, legs and body aligned with the internal axis of the room I’m lying in.
I used to do this as a child at my parents’ home; and I still do this occasionally in my apartment, especially when I feel very anxious or upset.
Lying in the middle of the room, on axis, made me feel balanced; aligned with the universe; with the energies coursing through the space I was in. It comforted me – this balance and alignment.
This past week, on one particularly hot and sweltering day – when I wasn’t feeling particularly anxious or anything, mind you – I decided I would lie down on the cool, white-tiled floor of my living room to read.
One thing led to another, and I found myself putting down the book and just lying there, spread-eagled, aligned with the axes of my rectangular living room, staring up at the ceiling.
I stared upwards for some time, just enjoying the (non-)view.
And my goodness was that not the most enjoyable and delicious feeling I’ve had this whole year!
Gosh, I had never felt so happy and relaxed.
* * *
I lay there for a while… without setting an alarm-clock going, as I would, normally… without caring or knowing how long I lay there.
I tried to recall other such pleasurable moments I might have had in the past couple of weeks of being in the apartment… and I thought I had experienced another such voluptuous moment, only a week ago, on the morning of my birthday.
That morning, there had been a thunderstorm, and it was cool outside… almost chilly. I was woken up by birdsong, and for some reason, I felt no particular urge to get out of bed. Instead, I curled up and sank deeper into my sheets.
Mmmm… I thought to myself, like one who was savouring a particularly sweet strawberry Kit Kat bar which only the Japanese made. It’s my birthday today. And there’s ABSOLUTELY NOTHING I need to do. Absolutely nothing. I had taken the day off, you see.
This feeling of coziness reminded me of myself as a child, on similarly stormy mornings, curled up by my windowsill in my room, lost in the pages of a book. Those moments were the only moments I felt that the world was ok – and I always held on to these moments, hoping they would stretch forever.
I had forgotten how it felt like to feel quite so cosy and comfortable – without a care in the world.
I knew that this was how I wanted to feel always.
But then the reverie was broken, because I was swiftly reminded – by the alarm clock that morning – that I had to put finishing touches to a Mandarin lecture I was due to deliver the very next day.
Ironically, the lecture was on how my wandering across the port cities of Asia, and my dramatic re-positioning of the museum’s basic curatorial mission, stemmed from a primordial need to search for my own self and identity!
* * *
But back on the floor of my living room…
I began to see everything around me from a totally original, visual perspective. From a cat’s eye view, so to speak.
I realised that when one looked sky-ward instead of straight-ahead, the apartment one lived in took on a completely different character; was reduced to essentials that were elemental.
I began to pay attention to the play of sunlight and shadow on the ceiling as the morning progressed; to the whiteness of the ceiling, which revealed itself to be full of texture and complexity.
The bannister of the stairway that led from the dining to the living room suddenly loomed before me like a New York skyscraper.
I came to notice the different shades of brown of various bits of my furniture, stacked up against each other, and indistinguishable almost.
My spectacles, juxtaposed against the full Technicolour of couch, cupboard and carpet, became to seem like the subject of a still-life painting
And then there was the view just beyond the windows and balcony – these sudden flashes of gold, white and pink as birds of varied and unfamiliar colour flapped from tree to tree; the shifting weather… ominous grey cloud began to supplant brilliant blue sky…
Spontaneously, I whipped out my phone and I started taking random shots of what I saw from where I lay.
What emerged were these secret geometries – these stark, minimalist tableaus of line and colour, form and shade.
It was like a whole new universe had been opened up to me.
I had an epiphany while lying on the floor.
It came to me that however small, or few-square-metred, a universe was, it was still a whole Universe.
And Universes are fractal – they do not conform to scale; by which I mean, at whichever scale you approach a universe, they are always infinitely large; full of infinite possibility.
For example, you could hold a handful of seawater in your palms – but within that water is still an infinite universe of microscopic organisms ekeing out their existence.
My home itself was now revealed to me as that universe in the palm of one’s hand. A space of infinite possibility – complex, hitherto unexplored fully.
I’m not even talking about the stacks of books I had yet to read and which were all piled up around my working desk. Each of these books was also a self-contained universe!
And then there’s the un-ending choice of movies and TV series to watch on Netflix – an embarrassment and infinite variety of choice!
And what about the many types of meals I could whip up in the kitchen; the infinite combinations that could be attained with some dozen different ingredients!
But I ramble on.
* * *
I decided that what I very much wanted to do for the remainder of the Circuit Breaker, was to explore this personal universe that was my home.
The emphasis on exploration was critical – it meant letting go, and simply allowing whatever happens in the course of a day happen; to not order my day so much, or judge myself too harshly when I wasn’t ordering my day.
After all, it was only when I had let myself go and sink into a luxurious, leisurely lay on the living room floor, that I began to see, that my creative juices started flowing again, from a totally different source.
I had despaired of being able to write another blogpost while shut in. But after beginning to see my circumstance clearly from the floor, I knew I had to write.
The minute I made the decision to explore the place I lived in, rather than manage and regulate how I lived in the place, I realised that this place had truly become Home for me, in the traditional sense.
The crucial shift, was the choice I had made, to surrender myself to it; and to not guard against it anymore.
The lockdown helped greatly, too, LOL.
Being locked in meant people were locked out. No one could intrude. No one could disturb the peace by yelling at me from downstairs to come down, or yelling at me to do this or that, or bursting randomly into my room to yell at me for one thing or another.
I was well and truly safe and secure here.
My space was well and truly inviolate.
These few square metres were well and truly my OWN personal and private universe.
* * *
So this weekend, I’ve been enjoying myself here.
I’ve been working out, barely clothed, with one of the many lock-down home workout routines that have sprouted online.
I’ve been singing at the top of my voice along to my favourite songs, while blaring music through my earphones. [Well, I can’t quite blare music on my speakers, however much I want to, or my neighbours would complain – that’s one thing that reminds me I’m not QUITE on my own.]
Sometimes, I dance – I have my own private one-person club and dance-floor.
I’ve been barely clothed in general – just schlepping around in whatever’s comfortable in this heat.
I’ve been cooking and eating silly, unhealthy things like frozen Korean fried chicken, and loads and loads of luncheon meat, and downing it with Coca-Cola.
I’ve been re-reading my favourite books, dense, idiosyncratic tomes like anything Lawrence Durrell has ever-written, and light-hearted fare like all the Tintin and Asterix comics, which I had always loved as a child.
I’ve been watching these random TV shows I would never care to watch because they don’t seem to know what PLOT means… But oh well… who cares, right?
And I’ve been laughing, giddily. A lot.
Anyways, I was never really comfortable at big events and parties; always awkward when interacting with groups of people, except with a couple of drinks to sooth the nerves.
I’m a total introvert. I guess I’ve already alluded to this more than once in the last year of self-archaeology – the peeling back of layers to reveal what lay at the core.
The ONLY reason why I eventually accepted the Museum Director job was the anticipation of building new skills in managing (and managing myself being with) people – these skills of surviving in public that had to be honed because a museum director is a semi-public persona.
I never wanted to be any sort of persona, semi-public or otherwise; but I did it because I felt such skills as working a crowd, public-speaking, public relations, fund-raising, were essential skills for any sort of creative career.
If given a choice, I would actually, sooner lock myself into my apartment for years and just read, write, or better yet, write music, Fiona-Apple-like.
[Incidentally, I love her new album, Fetch the Bolt-Cutters.]
So the chance to be on my own for this protracted period of time has been somewhat less unbearable than I thought it would be. Though don’t get me wrong – I can’t wait for this to be over. I’m an introvert, not a masochist.
There is, of course, the matter of desiring the new love interest.
But I suppose at the risk of being cavalier, if – and this is a big if – I hadn’t met the New Love Interest in the first place, I wouldn’t have minded being on my own at all. …so I rationalised things to myself, anyway.
And then again, there is always Facetime as an interim solution till we can actually, physically meet again.
Because a few weeks is a short time. And some time apart is probably a good test as to whether this romance would become a relationship.
* * *
Right now is the perfect time to dedicate to enjoying my own company, fully and unreservedly; the perfect time to truly explore my personal universe: MY HOME.
Gosh, I’ve said it. Ha!!
Because the more I enjoy and explore my Home, the more I get to love and understand that OTHER personal universe – the one inside myself.
We all contain within us a universe of memories, emotions, ideas, new horizons to explore.
The whole point of the past year and a bit, the whole point of seeking professional help, was so I can come to better explore, understand and love the Universe inside myself.
To find those new, secret geometries of the self that would prove to be benign, rather than harsh structures, allowing for exploration, spontaneity and serendipity, rather than imposing goals, objectives and rules.
Re-acquainting myself with Home means being comfortable, finally, with just being Me.
This is Home… truly.