Tea in Pajamas: The Next Wave

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It’s been awhile since I posted an update on Tea in Pajamas, or life in general. Truth is, after the back-to-back book readings at West Spring Primary and Booktique earlier this year, I needed to slow down a bit and catch my breath. By around April, all 300 copies of the book’s first print-run in Singapore had sold out (it’s still available off Amazon), and booksellers were asking when a reprint was scheduled—but at the time, some other developments on the job and personal front needed my attention and thus took precedence.

For a period, I anguished about leaving full-time employment, especially over something as random and uncalled for as workplace bullying. But it proved to be as good a reason as any, and besides, opportunities soon came a-knockin’. Finding myself in a now-or-never sort of situation, I shut my eyes and took that proverbial leap of faith.

Long story short, I survived, though it remains to be seen if I will thrive. Nonetheless, I am happy as a clam with my new job(s), which consist of me straddling editorial and consulting work for two local universities and one government agency. Thankfully, I’m able to work from home for the most part, but adapting to this new arrangement has still taken me some time to find my footing. As a result, Tea in Pajamas was left on the backburner for a little bit—at least until I got into the groove of things.

Which is now—nearly four months on, I’m quite ready to revisit Tea in Pajamas. I’ve been extraordinarily blessed in that even though I haven’t been actively hustling, it seems that some people haven’t forgotten entirely about me or my little book. I’d already had it at the back of my mind to contact more schools or organisations for readings, but actually two of them made the first move: the National Arts Council (for Singapore Writer’s Festival 2017); and Holy Innocents Primary School. So that leaves me with my first important task of getting the reprint out.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say in this post is: it feels good to be back. And to answer the many children who’ve asked: yes, a sequel is brewing.

The black hole

"Our endings are beginnings" via ParadisiacPicture on deviantart.com

“Our endings are beginnings” via ParadisiacPicture on deviantart.com

When I was young, I was in a such a hurry to grow up. I remember an earnest prayer by the window one afternoon when I was seven, maybe eight. Looking out into the hibiscus hedge growing over my backyard fence, my fingers closed firmly around the window grilles, I said, “God, please make growing up faster. I don’t want to be a kid anymore. Make me a grown up.”

There was definitely some magical thinking behind me focussing so hard at the hibiscus hedge and holding on so tightly to the window grilles, as if by sheer determination I could will anything to happen. Well, maybe something did happen, because from that moment, it seems time went by in ten-year chunks, and little milestones along the way were forgotten, or passed over quickly from memory.

I remember very little of my teen years, and sometimes I don’t want to. I simply went through the motions, never really understanding why I was where I was or doing the things I was doing, except that I had to. There was a distinct sense of disconnect with all that was going on around me, and no real anchor by way of hobbies or pastimes that fulfilled me on a meaningful level.

Then, when my uncle and grandfather passed away in quick succession and I saw my erstwhile strong grandmother lock herself in a perpetual state of grief and basically become inconsolable for the rest of her life, I swear, that was the point where I lost track of time. This period I call the “black hole”, because aside from finishing secondary school, going to junior college, and then entering university, my knowledge of everything else during this time is sketchy. Maybe my closer friends can tell me the sort of person I was then and what I liked doing, but I can’t always connect the dots.

However, what frustrates me the most about the “black hole” is that those memories associated with my grandma around this time are the dimmest. Did we still visit her on weekends? Would she make dinner for us? How was she spending her days? What are some things we talked about? I haven’t the foggiest idea. And why? What was I even doing?

When my grandmother died, she was but shadow of her former self, her body ravaged by old age and her spirit dimmed by years of grief. The demise of this version of grandma I hardly knew was like losing her all over again, but this time permanently. At her funeral, I was asked to deliver an impromptu eulogy, and oddly enough, I found a way to speak with eloquence about an extraordinary woman and her life, of whom a large chunk I’d lost to the “black hole”. I still don’t know how I pulled it off.

Another thing about the year she died. It was 2012, a dramatic year on many counts for me. That February, after a two-year battle with an ED, I resolved to get better; in April, I started writing Tea in Pajamas; three months later, I successfully conceived my second child, only to miscarry in six weeks later; and by November, in the midst of shifting into a new apartment, I received the news that grandma was gone.

When the year drew to close, I was understandably relieved and looking forward to a quieter, calmer 2013. But in true dramatic fashion, on grandma’s first death anniversary, Belle was born. Say what you will about life, but there’s no denying (at least in my experience) that it’s equal parts weird and wonderful. Now with each birthday that I celebrate with my daughter, grandma’s memory will live on as an indelible part of our lives.

Now almost three decades since that prayer by the windohw overlooking the hibiscus hedge, I’m more inclined to utter a different sort of prayer. Dear God, please hit the “pause” button so I won’t grow old so fast, I want to say. But that window and hibiscus hedge are long gone (my parents had the old house rebuilt in the late 90s, shortly before the start of the “black hole”), and these days I do most of my praying in the swimming pool anyway (strange but true).

One particular morning, submerged in my little blue cocoon, I thought about the “black hole” again, and something clicked. Up until that point, the subject would typically bring up feelings of frustration and guilt at my inability to recall more about myself or grandma during the time. But that morning, the more I swam,  the quieter the head noises became—and a tiny voice popped to mind: “What does it matter if you can’t remember everything? Maybe love isn’t quantified by the number of memories.”

That morning in the pool, I decided it was time to swim my way out of the black hole.

And so I did.

Everything Takes Forever: A Story of Waiting (Part 12)

"The threshold" by Angelo Amboldi via Flickr. Permission under CC BY-ND 2.0.

“The threshold” by Angelo Amboldi via Flickr. Permission under CC BY-ND 2.0.

[Continued from Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7,Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11]

The glare from the light is almost blinding. How long have I been here? The memory of my reluctance to to enter this space is still fresh in my mind, yet it seems sufficient days and months have gone by for me to have grown accustomed to and—dare I say—comfortable in the dark of my surroundings. Oh the things I would’ve done just to have bypassed this state of perpetual night—to have skipped straight to the rainbows and sunshine. Yet now darkness is all I know, and to my mind, my only reality.

He’s standing a few feet from where I’m huddled in a heap, in front of door that opens into the light—a tall and lean figure, with one hand outstretched. Like a statue, he’s held that same pose from yesterday, and the day before that, maybe even in the preceding weeks or months. Possibly years. Unflinching, unwavering, unyielding. “Get up,” he says each time. “Let’s go.”

Today is no different. He’s calling out to me, and I hear him, but I’m not listening. I’ve been lying in a semi-awake state, my body curled in a fetal position, and my thoughts paralyzed by pain.  All that crying has left a filmy residue over my eyes, and pretty soon even his silhouette starts to fade into a distant blur.

Go where? I’m exhausted and only want to go to sleep. Lulled by the soft splat of tears as they fall from my eyes to the floor, I imagine that these are magical teardrops that would, upon touching the ground, transform it to a mushy quicksand that swallows me whole. How I’d love to disappear beneath the muck and be put out of my misery.

“And sleep, that sometimes shuts up sorrow’s eye, steal me awhile from mine own company,” I say, reciting the lines of Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not that I ever played her. Shakespeare has always been, for me, more about literature and less about theater. From behind beat-up paperbacks, I’ve done a thousand dress rehearsals in my head, like I’m doing right now.

“Wake up,” he says, as I almost drift off. “Look, it’s a new day.”

As I lift my eyes to the bright and beautiful scene beyond the door, I realize the light no longer hurts my eyes, and I can even see him clearly now. He helps me to my feet and patiently leads me by the arm as I take slow, furtive steps toward freedom. But just before we cross that threshold between night and day, I freeze.

Ignacia deserved a chance,” I say. “Why?

He doesn’t say a word. There is a tender, faraway look in his eyes, and deep down I know even if he offered me a thousand answers, none would be satisfactory. Not in this lifetime anyway.

The moment my foot makes its first contact with the grassy earth outside the door feels almost surreal. If this is what hope looks like if it were a physical place, this is it, and it is breathtaking.

All around me are Douglas-fir—they look just like giant, unadorned Christmas trees, with their short, flat needles poking out from thousands of twigs, and trunks that are rough and deeply grooved. Birds are pecking away at several fir cones that have fallen to the ground, and overhead, the sky is a cloudless, magnificent blue.  After having stewed for so long in the silence of my gloom—accompanied only by the sounds of my breathing and the cacophony of my thoughts—I now feel startlingly outside of myself amid the bristle and rustle of nature.

A strong momentum is edging me forward, but I resist the urge to run into the outstretched arms of this forest sanctuary. There is one thing left to do, and that is to say goodbye. Just one parting glance is all I need for closure.

What would the dark room look like, now exposed to the light? All this time I was in there, it was pitch black, and I never got to see what lurked within its walls.

As I turn to face the big reveal, I mentally brace myself for a horror-movie-worthy sight of creepy cobwebs and malevolent shadows. But reality is nothing of the sort.

It’s just a room. Sparse, hollow, nondescript. Plain and altogether unremarkable.

And in the middle of it sits a familiar pile of bricks.

[to be continued]