mirror image

Snippet of “Introduction in a Poem”, from my Masters Programme Dissertation titled:

All the Things I Wish I Knew: A Guide to Body and Being

Through Memories of Girlhood, Family and Institution

written as spoken word

If you had to pick one object to encompass your body, what would it be?

Maybe it reminds you of home, the sun or the sea.

Maybe it makes you feel things you only see in dreams –

the kind you have at night; the kind nobody else can see.

Does this object reflect the way you see your body?

Maybe it’s a mirror into your memories,

and maybe, in it, you see tapestries

of little big things like childhood, freedom and family.

What is the thing you now hold in your hand?

Maybe it’s not a thing at all! It’s a friend –

one you knew all your life and suddenly you didn’t,

not because you chose to forget it, but because of the distance

you had to walk and tread and climb,

across mountains of youth and test and time,

to get to where you are, where you now sit or stand,

but maybe this is not where you want to be in the end.

And on your journey, do you stop to listen

to the things your body is saying it misses and disses?

As you look forward to all that awaits and glistens,

do you look back at the ditches and bridges –

the ones on the path you had to cross?

or in the spaces you were in, the ones you were part of (or not)?

And the ones on your body, the marks that are left –

the ones that remind you of what could come next?

How much of all this comes up if you were asked who you were,

or are, or have been, or will be now and forever?

How much of who you are is what you see

on your body, in your mind and in your memories?

If you are a mother with a child, are you a mother first?

But you also have a mother, would that make you a daughter first?

If you are a student, would that make you a learner?

But you also teach others, are you then learner and learned?

If you are asked to introduce yourself, what would you say?

Does your body ever get in the way

of you talking about who you are and have been?

Does your body make you feel seen or unseen?

When are we something or multiple things?

Does that depend on where we are, come from or have been?

Or who we are related to, or lie next to,

what we are called, or answer to?

If I told you who I was, would you believe me?

Or would you think I was someone else,

someone you wanted me to be?

Maybe I’m not who I say I am

and you will never really know if i was miss, mister or madame.

Do our bodies inhabit spaces, or do spaces construct us instead?

Does what we are bred for affect where we get to lay our heads?

Maybe we’re more than our bodies, or maybe that’s all we are,

but if i told you there was a way to find out, would you come from afar

and walk with me, and see where we go?

We might need to stop at a scar and a retrospective show.

It might be painful, but I promise you this,

we’ll at least learn how to see the parts of us they treat remiss.

Advertisement

porcelain

mirror mirror on the wall

you are all the same

who is the fairest of them all?

a game of name and shame

ebb and flow // ebb and flow

i stand in a sea of bodies

as above, so below?

i choose not to live in pain –

mirror mirror on the wall

i ask myself again

who is the favoured of them all

and they, too, shall reign

i ask myself, mirror dear,

i ask myself again

what is seen cannot be unseen

nor said; erased –

and when they ask, mirror dear,

i shall say again

if you see light and a clear blue sky

does not mean it’s all the same

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but how much stronger do I have to be? 

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, 

but how much stronger do I have to be? 

Can someone tell me the truth

about this mystical reality 

claim that calls for help will be answered,

that we should place trust in humanity?

Yet the stories we hear over time and space

are those of dissent, violence and cruelty. 

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, 

but how much stronger do I have to be? 

To say the light of life must be found from within

but not in its entirety

is to say power exists where we cannot see,

like prisoners of our own being,

in the worldly realm of reality,

liberation is a dream of solidarity so freeing.

but this strength is not to be lusted for,

sought after like rain in a drought.

It does not come with riches,

or black and white paper bridges

between people torn apart by

open wounds of the painful past.

It is present in the vulnerability

we try so hard to outcast.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, 

and I don’t know how much stronger we need to be,

but if ever you struggle with waking up in the morning,

trust that the power is in you and me.

Flash Non-Fiction Writing Teach-Out Exercise: Reflecting on #GoldStrike | Dec 2021

During the strike, I found the campus teeming with life. I stood at the crossroads of a daunting invitation and a compelling enthusiasm as the picket line grew strong with words, music, and power. As someone who has not experienced a strike before, I did not know how to react. Hilariously, I am still doubtful of the validity of my response. There were always whispers of solidarity around me, but that was all they could be. Whispers. You supported someone with a hand on their shoulder, or with a hopeful glance in their direction. Yet, there is such inspiration in all that unsettles us. There is such strength. It lives not in the visibility or audibility of the action, but in the emotions, the drive, the confidentiality and endurance of it all. I like to believe we will take this invitation, as daunting as it may be, and turn those whispers into a speech. Or a song. Or a legacy.

The university can be a place where walls are broken down. Where dreams surpass the boundaries of an institution. Where potential is measured not by material but by possibilities. Where access is not inhibited by quantifiable possessions. Where rights are upheld not merely by concept but by action. Where catchy slogans are more than just marketing copies. Where people are not commodities. Where community is prioritised beyond performance. The university can be a place, but it can also be more than that.

Reflection: What is the light?

What is the light “that comes after the darkness”?

Today, I am inspired to reflect. This is the first time I am seeing two full rainbow archs with such colour and clarity. For one, it struck me as a symbol of power against capitalist-driven society since, usually, they are blocked by tall buildings.

I’ve been in London for a couple of months now, and I am learning so much, especially this past week with #GoldStrike. I am surrounded by incredible people and am constantly witnessing the strength of a solidarity. So many times I have met people who I have not been formally introduced, and yet we are united and working together towards a common goal. It is different in the way these interactions are so natural, so unstructured, and yet so impactful. That’s something I have not experienced in all my years in Singapore.

Whether it is with the #GoldStrike, the Active Bystander project, or with my course, I am finding a light in the connections made, in the opportunity to work with my passions, a light that beats the cold and gloomy weather. ❤️

The saying “there will be light at the end of the tunnel” struck me as clichéd at first, but I understand it now. The light is not a destination. It is not a spectacular event to wait for or work towards. It is also not the journey towards that destination.

Rather, it is in the moments where you work through conflicting emotions, the decision to stand up after falling down, the strength and support you provide a friend or a community despite your own bandwidth. The light is rooted within us, within dissonance. It is the invisible source within us that we are building on and tapping on everyday.

The light is not something we find. It is not something we need bestowed upon us. It is us. It has never ‘died down’. It has never been conquered by darkness. It is there and has always been there. We just need to remember to see it.

Even in our darkest days, we are the light.

the devil is a woman

the devil is a woman

and she is wicked, they say

you will look in her eyes

and on your heart she will prey

the devil is a woman

and she is bewitching, they say

you will let her inside

and she will lead you astray

the devil is a woman

and she is a liar, they say

you will mean her well

and in your soul is drawn to play

the devil is a woman

and she made me do it, they say

she is not a good one

everyone knows – i pray.

the song of the sea

Race and class identity create differences in quality of life, social status, and lifestyle that take precedence over the common experience women share.

bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

Written as part of a summer assignment for the MA Gender, Media and Culture course at Goldsmiths University of London 2021-2022. Inspired by the quote above.


the king shouts from across the deck

“take a good look, men!”

a storm rages over the wreck

for the honour you defend.

three sheets to the wind!

the men say

in victory, we return!

and they shall sing and they shall prance –

o the glory we have earned.

crack ‘er open!

the men say

the race has just begun!

barrels of wine with a feast to pair

– a true celebration

the king calls on his concubine

“a woman like no other”

skin that looked and felt like snow

and a smile like the perfect summer

day after day night after night

the seige raged on! an unimaginable plight –

she waits in my quarters and to her arms I return

the comfort of a good woman

outside the sky splits!

like a dagger through the heart –

a deafening growl

then thorns rained down

and the night now forlorn

“there’s a crack in the hull!”

shouts the watchman from the mast

and then the celebration ends.

suddenly alerted, charged the men

against a piercing blast

the king, leading the pack,

rushed out into the tempest

their vessel broke in harrowing pain

for deluge births a deafening silence

can you hear that?

the deckhand asks as he approached the edge

a song so loud and resonant

but all who hear it is dead

walk the plank and there you see

women of dark energy

come hither, come hither whispers she

and you shall drown in anarchy

they hear the song! they do, they see!

sing the women in the sea

the concubine and the deckhand jump!

much to the dismay of the king

one day, a storm may rage

our vessel may break

and leave behind a wreck

hear the song of the sea

the sea of people

of people like you and me

hear it from them

hear their story

honour the song of the sea

vale

i can hear everything in here

though they never said we could

the deafening silence, the wilted tear –

unsaid and understood

the door is far away

fading out of reach

in a desert oasis

embrace and burn and leave

i can hear everything in here

but no one can hear me

they say the world ends in fire

but the fire will preserve me

it calls for me

this solitude, a tightening of the heart

coming and going, one step closer –

and again, i will see her

i make the box heavy

with the torment i leave behind

yet the air is still

crisp and clear

and awaits me with open arms

Vale – /ˈvɑːleɪ/

Latin, ‘be well!, be strong!’, imperative of valere 

circus freak

i would have thought i’d known by now

how to move with strings

tied to my wrists like a violin bow

wrung around clipped wings

our show begins at the gathering dusk

the puppeteer gets to work

i enter stage right – an empty husk

of a woman lost in the cirque

raise the curtains! the puppeteer says

act one shall now commence

i dance and dance in pairs of pairs

– an act of violence

they’re watching me, i know they are

like a whispering circus campaign

they place their bets, they go too far

still i stand and dance again

i stand and sit i stand and sit

so immaculate is this game

at the end of the show, i stand and sit

and the puppeteer calls again

i lie awake and now i see

the word ‘disinfect’ in front of me

i blink my eyes, the puppeteer glees

and lights up the marquee

What’s wrong with wanting attention? – Sadfishing, Social Media and Mental Health

This post involves discussion of mental health including but not limited to depression, anxiety, self harm and OCD, as well as effects of social media and analyses of sadfishing/’attention-seeking’ behaviour. Please be aware that I am not a licensed therapist. Information presented here is not to be taken as prescriptive or as medical advice in any way.

You are worthy and important. Please reach out to a professional for support, clarification and proper advice. If you are in Singapore, click here to access a list of helplines. If you are anywhere else in the world, click through for Global Mental Health Resources or International Mental Health Helplines. If you or anyone you know is in need of immediate help, please do not hesitate to contact emergency services. Let’s stand together, for each other.

I have been struggling with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for as long as I can remember, despite only being diagnosed in recent years. Sometimes, I talk about my experience on Instagram Story.

Can my behaviour be construed as attention-seeking? Yes, it can. Does that make me wrong, depraved or, in any way, dishonourable? No, or at least, not likely.

Consider, now, a teenager who self-harms and posts online images of themselves committing the act.

Will their behaviour be judged as attention-seeking? Most definitely. Will that judgment, however, lead to negative evaluations of this person’s worth as a human being? Well, if the past is any indication, yes.

The question that remains is the distinction between the two. What makes us more readily judge a person’s value and morale?

Mental Illness and Normality: Society’s Need for Validation

There is no denying that mental health is a health problem. It is as major a wellness crisis as any physical ailment.

Though there exists people who dismiss mental health as a myth, I think their proportion is small enough to hold little bearing on the perceived severity of mental illness, not to mention that such dismissals may be a sign of a mental health problem in and of itself. We shan’t go into that today.

The situational comparisons above illustrate one of the many repellent habits society has, and that is the premature judgment of individuals who so much as fall an inch out of the realms of normality.

Here in Singapore, there has been a rise in campaigns dedicated to ending the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Yet, a survey conducted by the local National Council of Social Service (NCSS) still found that more than half of all respondents were unwilling to live with, live nearby or work with a person with a mental health condition. This is despite the respondents agreeing on the need to reduce mental health stigma. Very clearly, we can see that there is an inertia to educate and correct oneself; an inertia which is self-sustaining because people like their biases.

Speculatively, it would seem that mental illnesses constitute unseen struggles that are not always visually or easily verifiable. Perhaps, for this reason, its lack of visibility has become warranted. Unless someone is having an attack in public, people generally cannot tell who has a mental health condition, and that instils a fear which unravels further in their minds. Which conditions are severe enough to threaten lives? Or the perceived peace?

Since they cannot separate all individuals with mental health conditions from accessing the larger societal resources (because of the very obvious human rights issues that spells), they might begin attempting it in other less-evidential ways. This could look like the directing of everyone with symptoms to one contained institution, or the depiction of certain conditions in very specific, fear-mongering ways (like Schizophrenia being uncontrollable and dangerous) and, of course, the labelling of overt displays as attention-seeking, instantly deplorable and deserving of cancelling.

Analysing Societal Perceptions

Let’s return now to the opening situational comparisons. My talking about OCD online possibly differs from the teenager’s posting of self-harm in a few ways.

Where severity is concerned, while both OCD and self harm are innately critical, my speaking about OCD appears less dire than a visual display of self harm.

Also, speaking about OCD appears less serious and is easier to dismiss and forget, which consequently attracts less attention – flak or not. Posting self-harm is more directly perceivable as a threat to the viewer’s comfort. This is harder to dismiss. It puts the viewer in a position where they either see the act as a threat to their own safety or to the societal peace they have enjoyed.

Incidentally, it is also possible that, because of a lack of consideration for the underlying cause behind the self-harm, viewers might register the act as the poster’s own conscious desire. The mindset of the viewer might seep into discriminatory realms where, because social media is public domain and mental illness “should be a private matter”, any responsibility of pain is then placed on the poster, including the receipt of unwarranted criticism. The posting of self-harm and any public display of mental illness is, therefore, more readily regarded as sadfishing.

Sadfishing and Cancel Culture

Sadfishing is, as defined by Psychology Today, the “posting [of] emotional or dramatic personal content to gain sympathy or attention from the online community”.

Aside from the insistence that mental health conditions and all things of a concerning nature remain out of sight and out of mind, there seems to be a collective negligence for the intention of the poster.

Sadfishing is manipulation. It is an intentional pretence in order to get attention from public empathy. The trouble is, intention is hard to verify and most people aren’t fans of confrontation.

Since there is no way to authenticate the distress of the poster, when a post is labeled as sadfishing, that label is a subjective judgment made by the viewer. However this lack of truth becomes secondary when a group of viewers develop the same judgment, then that judgment becomes assumed truth.

If and when this group of viewers consist of people who are personally acquainted or close to the poster, the closer they are, the worse the impact will be on the poster’s mental wellbeing. Therein lies the reinforcement of society’s baseless cancel culture.

What’s the big deal?

Assuming something is sadfishing automatically invalidates the poster’s experience. This assumption requires no evidence, insight or skill, but leaves plenty of room for others to jump onto the bandwagon, simply because the connection appears obvious enough to believe without needing too much mental work.

So, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is the impact of premature sadfishing judgments amount to bullying, victim-blaming and beyond.

In addition to the risk of re-traumatisation, the poster is less likely to seek help for fear of worsened criticisms. If they are already on therapy or medication, their reliance on the medication or external intervention might increase.

If the side effects of the medication is not dangerous enough, overreliance on external intervention and support may lengthen their recovery period or increase their dependency on their coping mechanisms, whether that’s alcohol and tobacco, or avoidance, or imbalance between the self and their portrayal for validation. This could all worsen the individual’s mental state.

In my opinion, unless the post is confirmed as a feigned claim of trauma in order to market a product, achieve commercial or capitalist gain, assume it is real. Assume it is a call for help, because it often is.

Being respectful costs nothing, but can mean everything. This can be as simple as reminding yourself and others to not be unkind. There is no obligation here and there never will be, especially not if the person in question has caused you grievous hurt. You make the call.