I’m ready to emerge from the chrysalis.
Inside the paper-thin membrane, my caterpillar-form has begun to self-digest, reducing itself into pulp… into nutrient soup.
But in the midst of this primordial goop, identity markers remain.
Imaginal discs, they are called, in biological terms. They shall decide the kind of butterfly I become; they shall guide the coalescence of liminal goop into fully-formed legs… feelers… eyes… wings…
They shall decide the shape and shade of my wings; the slenderness of my feelers; the vivacity of my eyes…
In the meantime, I wait.
I bide my time.
After all, I’ve been waiting quite some time now. What’s a few more days?
* * *
These past 9 weeks of lockdown here in Singapore, all I’ve done, it seems, is wait.
Each morning I get up and wait to run, wait for the first meeting of the Work(-From-Home) Day, wait for my lunch to be delivered to my doorstep, wait for the end of the day, wait for the next morning; and WAIT – in capital letters – for the end of the lockdown, whenever that may be.
But I haven’t just been waiting.
All that me-time has allowed me to reflect, to re-adjust, to re-calibrate.
And inadvertently, I’ve changed. I’m no longer the same person that went into lockdown 9 weeks ago.
The process of reflection admittedly began much earlier, in January 2019. It intensified towards the end of last year, when I took a self-imposed, but much-too-short, 2-week retreat in Bali.
It would, ironically, take a 9-week forced retreat to kickstart the process of change, in earnest.
I am in the throes of metamorphosis.
* * *
I’m surprised at how I’ve actually, tangibly changed.
Just last week, a colleague of mine shared, in a random text message, that “something has changed in you. I don’t know what you did during the Circuit Breaker. You are much calmer. You speak with much less emotion, much greater clarity. And I respect your views even more.”
Sometimes it takes external feedback for you to realise what you have achieved.
I have, indeed, become calmer.
Of course, part of this process has been facilitated by professional help. But I owe it to myself to admit that I’ve also been working damned hard.
And then again, when you’re stuck at home for 9 weeks with only yourself for company, you’re forced to (re-)engage; forced to rethink this relationship with the self; forced to see that the Relationship with the Self, needs to be the MOST IMPORTANT relationship.
I have been learning to put myself first; to care for my needs before anyone else’s.
It has been hard.
All my life, I have been conditioned to believe that I am only love-able when I perform, when I achieve, when I serve. This has made me guarded, superficial, fearful of intimacy; and at the same time, obsessively perfectionist, self-berating, anxious and therefore, alcoholic.
The last couple of weeks I’ve slowed down my pace of life tremendously and simply luxuriated…
I’ve spent hours just lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
I’ve spent hours just reading.
I’ve been listening to a lot of music from the ‘90s – from my teens – when they still produced good music!
I’ve been binge-watching television series on Netflix like I’ve never done before.
I’ve taken to snacking on rum and raisin-flavoured chocolate and ice cream (even though I’m allergic to chocolate and ice cream, LOL).
I’ve gone to bed much earlier, and stayed much longer in bed in the morning.
And very importantly, I’ve cut down on my drinking tremendously. I haven’t been feeling the need.
In other words, I’ve been working on presence, rather than process. Just Being, rather than Performing.
In a shock twist to the tale, I realised (just last week) that one aspect of me that I had hitherto thought absolutely fundamental to who I was, was not that at all.
Late last year, I wrote – on this very blog – that one of the things I’d love to do most in the world, is to cook dinner for my loved ones and family.
I’ve since come to acknowledge that the Cooking, was just another manifestation of me Pleasing or Serving others, Performing and Achieving, in order to feel love-able. This was me taking comfort from Process, so I can escape the pain of simply Being.
Yeah, I can’t be bothered to cook anymore.
Not that I don’t. I still do, for convenience.
But I’ve stopped seeing the process of cooking and dinner as a kind of ritual. I just cook whatever I want, whatever’s convenient. Or just order in. And I have dinner while watching TV.
No big deal.
No need to drink. [Shrug.]
* * *
I’ve been asked to concretise what of the old me would end, and what of the new me would continue.
What, in other words, would be those imaginal discs in the former-caterpillar, that would shape the butterfly when it emerges?
The old me would have planned every single hour of the day, literally, on my calendar. Even on weekends. The new me hasn’t bothered – he just did whatever, whenever he wanted. I mean there was still a rudimentary, benign structure for each day – I would start the day with coffee, post a daily post on my Grand Tour Instagram project, and go for a run or workout every other day. And, of course, there was the matter of the Work(-From-Home) Day. But otherwise, I just went with the flow.
Spontaneity – ✔️
The old me would have felt like he was obliged to do most of the things he did, otherwise people wouldn’t give him (or the museum) love or support. He found it hard to establish boundaries and to say no, when it was needed most. The new me will focus on Choice – choosing what I feel I want to do; which is whatever results in the greatest impact, on my terms; and more importantly, whatever that’s aligned with my own interests and values. The new me is not going to over-think it.
Choice – ✔️
The old me was always harsh on myself – never acknowledging my own achievements and successes; always postponing celebration and pushing myself to do ever more and more, and better and better. He was a perfectionist of the first degree. The new me has decided that I AM GOOD ENOUGH. He will compartmentalise his life – allow specific outlets for his perfectionism (which is admittedly a primordial urge), and let it go in most other aspects of life. He will celebrate his own achievements, and enjoy himself, indulge in what he loves, without feeling guilty. He will not deny himself happiness, intimacy and rest – he knows he deserves it.
Being Good Enough – ✔️
The old me moved at the speed of sound. He was always way too fast for everybody else. He spoke too fast. He walked too fast. He thought too fast – he actually thinks faster than he can speak. He even ate too fast. The new me has decided to pause more to allow people to speak; to walk slower and take in the view; to chew his food more rather than just gulp it down – the latter has improved his digestion tremendously. The new me has decided to SLOW DOWN in general.
Slowing Down – ✔️
And Chewing My Food More Before Swallowing – ✔️ [LOL. No seriously, this is critical. My digestion has never been better!]
And that’s it, really.
There’s no need to impose more rules. Not that these are rules, really.
After all, this is me trying to escape the harsh authority I’ve imposed on myself all my life.
* * *
There remains the metaphor of the butterfly.
A butterfly is a thing of great beauty and fragility. My friends and colleagues will know that I love butterflies, flowers and gardens.
At the most basic and obvious level the butterfly represents me. I’ve already more than alluded to this in my earlier post – METAMORPHOSIS I – in November.
To me, butterflies represent LIGHT, COLOUR and LIFE. And I always want to be full of Light, Colour and Life. Literally, in terms of not only what I wear – and if I haven’t overwhelmed you with the flowers I’ve been sprouting all over me, be prepared to be florally overwhelmed when I re-emerge from lockdown. But also in terms of the joy and the colour I wish to spread around me.
I see my fundamental role and purpose as being to inspire wonder and bring hope to those around me through my love for art, history, culture and beautiful things in general.
I want to tell stories about art, history, culture and beautiful things. Stories that make you stop in your tracks, that make you gasp in wonder, that make you see the world and yourself in a different light, that make you experience the best of what humanity is capable of (even as we encounter the worst around us).
I believe that Beauty is an essential part of human experience and the Pursuit of Beauty a fundamental human need.
And so I will pursue Beauty and the proliferation of Beauty with a vengeance, even as the world around me turns its back on it.
* * *
At the global level – the reader would be accustomed by now to my way of conflating the personal with the global! – the butterfly is a metaphor for the state of the world today.
The most evocative means of explaining Chaos Theory is by way of the so-called Butterfly Effect.
To wit: a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing, causing tornados in Texas. Ray Bradbury’s classic short story “A Sound of Thunder” takes this trope of extreme cause-and-effect further, describing how the random crushing of a butterfly results in history itself changing.
The Butterfly Effect is an expression of how everything on earth is intimately connected in a complex network; and that a small, seemingly trivial act can result in catastrophe on a global scale.
It seems to me an apt description of the present state we’re in, on multiple levels.
The butterfly represents, at the same time, how connected we all are in the bigger scheme of things, but how fragile this bigger scheme – this globe, our world, the economy, the urban environment, nature and the ecosystem – really is.
Speaking of ecosystems…
Butterflies only thrive in a healthy ecosystem.
These past 9 weeks, as humans have been shut behind closed doors, nature has gradually crept up and reclaimed the urban environment.
Outside my windows, I see flocks of birds of all shape and hue – gold, green, red, white – taking roost in the treetops, having raucous and mellifluous conversations. The mornings have been punctuated with cries from the koel – a local species of cuckoo I never even knew existed.
The trees themselves seem to have taken on a life of their own. They have become denser and deeper-green in hue, unpruned and magnificent. When the storm breaks – and there have been epic storms – their leaves rustle theatrically, as though they were enacting Shakespearean plays. The rainforest has taken over – and they are its masters. I am reminded of the Ents in the Lord of the Rings.
In the midst of this profusion, I see butterflies everywhere. They flit, multi-cultured and multi-splendoured things in the bright sunlight, tending to the patches of lawn that have become blooming, blossoming meadows through benign neglect.
They are a symbol of hope, in an increasingly uncertain world.
Surely you would agree with me that the most obvious sign all will be well is the presence of these riots of butterflies, flapping their fragile, colourful wings, everywhere we turn our eyes.
* * *
There is a final, third, aspect to the metaphor.
In traditional Chinese culture, the butterfly symbolises young love and conjugal bliss. Pairs of butterflies are a motif used popularly in traditional Chinese wedding dresses and other wedding-related aspects of material culture. They connote “双双对对” – or “all paired up” (the poetic nuances of the idiom are impossible to translate into English).
One of the most iconic love stories in Chinese folklore – the equivalent of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – is the Tale of The Butterfly Lovers, Liang Shan Bo and Zhu Ying Tai 《梁祝》- 梁山伯与祝英台.
It is a tale of doomed love, with a contemporary touch of gender-fluidity tossed into the mix. Our two paramours, are, as these epic romances go, thwarted from being together in this life. They die tragically, only to have their souls transmuted into a pair of butterflies flying off towards the heavens, never again to be separated.
In 1959, the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto 梁祝小提琴协奏曲, inspired by the love story, was composed for a Western-style symphony orchestra. It would go on to become one of the most famous and recognisable Chinese orchestral pieces ever.
Certainly, it is one of my favourite orchestral pieces. Just listening to the main theme – the lovers’ leitmotif – is enough to bring tears to my eyes.
Yes, the butterfly is a symbol of love.
And I will be – when I emerge from the chrysalis – one of a pair of butterflies.
Slowly and serendipitously, without fanfare, even as nature has crept up and reclaimed the world around us, even as we gestate, like pupae, isolated behind doors shut fast… we have grown closer to each other.
We are not identical. In fact, we are very different. My wings, as I had earlier suggested, will be iridescent green, tinged with gold. Those of my pair will be deep blue, with red undersides.
The experience of coming together has been aided, ironically, by the physical distance forced between us.
Communicating virtually, by means of digital mobile technology, has ironically enhanced emotional intimacy, furthered the connection between us as human beings, as two souls reaching across the void to touch.
And though I yearn so much for touch in the physical sense, I know that this isn’t long in coming.
I feel completely calm and at ease.
I am alive with anticipation and joy.
I’m ready to emerge from the chrysalis.
* * *
I had been planning to post this tonight, in any case – the plan was to post once a month, mid-month, you see. As a matter of fact, I had already written the entire post yesterday. Except for this postscript and some minor edits to the above text taking account of the new situation.
This evening, just a few hours ago, in a surprise move, it was announced that Singapore would transition to Phase Two this Friday, 19th of June, and that we would all be let out of our front doors in a matter of days!!
OMG, I can’t even!! I’m so relieved and so happy!!!
I’ve decided that I’m “snapping out of it”. My process of metamorphosis being almost complete, I, too, am done with the confessionals.
This shall be the final blogpost dedicated to myself, for now. Future posts will see me reverting to what I was before – an observer of the world around me; a story-teller specialising in art, history, culture, heritage, travel, cities, museums and beautiful things.
But don’t be fooled, I’m not the same omniscient narrator you knew before. No, I’m not Kennie anymore. He’s gone, that one. He’s said goodbye.
I step out of my doors this Friday as KENNIE – all confident and upper-case letters, all laughter, colour and life.
A butterfly, gleaming – how wondrous a sight! / I’m gonna nice you to death with my colour and light.
See you all shortly.