Posted in bloggers, Books, dating, LGBT, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Into the Danmei Rabbit Hole

I was passing by Waterstones the other day and was reminded by the window display that June was actually Pride month, and as a proud ally I always post a book review to commemorate the fact that love is always love, no matter what form or shape it takes.

This year I thought I’d do a review on a couple of book series that my friend Nina recommended, which are classified under danmei, the Chinese equivalent of the popular Japanese BL (boy’s love lol) genre. These two serialisations have experienced a surge in popularity recently due to the release of a Netflix adaptation called The Untamed in 2019.

I was pretty skeptical about reading these at first, mostly because I’ve always judged my sister and cousin for being so obsessed about manga that they could talk about it for an entire dinner conversation, whilst I twirled my chopsticks and imagined poking my eye out with it just to relieve my boredom. Lol

But actually, as an avid reader and a lover of books, I should have realised sooner that a good story is a good story regardless of packaging. And once I started reading these…well, hooked doesn’t even begin to describe it. I have gone down a rabbit hole that has no end in sight and I am enjoying every second of the fall.

Both Heaven Official’s Blessing and Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation are fantasy novels; there’s a lot of magic and spells and gods and monsters involved. You also learn a lot about Chinese culture, traditions, and beliefs. More importantly, the fact that they even exist in a country where everything goes through extreme censorship, and where being gay is still largely unacceptable, is a damn miracle.

Living in London, I take it for granted sometimes that there are still countries where people are not free to be who they are and to love who they love. I mean, progress: China no longer imprisons anyone for being gay as far as I know; but they’re not exactly advocating for gay rights, equality, and freedom either.

Take The Untamed for example, which is the Netflix adaptation of one of these novels (and my current obsession, don’t judge me). They had to take out any hint of romantic love between the two male leads just so the series would pass censorship and be allowed to even air.

The writers and producers had to go through extreme lengths to satisfy fans of the novel and to convey to discerning viewers that Wei Wu Xian and Lan Zhan are more than just soul brothers, or whatever lame-ass term they came up with. Because the truth is, these guys are actually partners who are in a committed relationship.

The microscopic hints of love between the two characters on screen, the ones that actually passed censorship, are made more special because of the need to be covert and creative. This is also a running theme in the books, where love is not explicit, and its not something you can shout about from the rooftops.

Instead, its expressed in the most infinitesimal of gestures, in the smallest lift of the lips into a secret smile, in the things one does for another regardless of the personal cost. Its not so much the words you say, as much as it is the spaces between the words, in the moments of silence where words need not be said. I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of purity very beautiful. Realistic, maybe not so much.

Still, I grew up in a typical Chinese family where we are not as effusive and demonstrative about our feelings as families in the Western world. I used to look at my parents and think, wow, this isn’t exactly the kind of stuff they write romance novels about, is it?

But actually, isn’t there romance in staying together even when there’s an option to leave, in fighting battles side by side, in being there for the person through sickness and health, and in the warm nights spent watching TV, comfortable in each other’s company, knowing you’ll never have to go through life alone?

I think that Western culture places a lot of emphasis in showing and proving your love, in saying the words “I love you” and needing to hear it said back. And that’s important. We need to be able to say and hear those things. But there is also a place for the spaces between words and the silence between actions.

In addition, in reading these books I am reminded that there are still places where people cannot afford to be demonstrative, where things need to go unsaid, where they have to rely on the weight of every subtle gesture to express how they feel.

I think Pride month is a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come and how much further we still need to go so that everyone, including and especially people who’ve always felt different, will realise that there’s also a place in the world for them and the ones they love.

I’m really glad I gave these books a go, and I can’t wait for the rest of the English translations.

Happy Pride, Everyone!

Posted in Feminism, Medical, Politics, Reviews, women

Book Review: Unwell Women and The Slow Decline Back To The Middle Ages

I wasn’t intending for this to be the topic of my first foray back into blogging (after about two months of the worst case of writer’s block I have ever experienced), but sometimes life happens and you just have to roll with the punches.

Writing has always been my preferred way of making sense of what’s happening in this increasingly confusing and bewildering world we live in, and a way to articulate how I feel about it.

This weekend, the American Supreme Court made a landmark ruling which overturned its previous 1943 ruling on Roe vs Wade, which had given women in America the freedom to decide whether or not they wanted to carry a baby to full term, essentially protecting a woman’s right to have an abortion.

I couldn’t stop thinking about all of this over the weekend, and I just happened to have a lot of time on my hands to think about it. I pored through the many articles, editorials, opinion polls, and celebrity tweets whilst on a 7-hour coach journey to the coast of Cornwall, because of course my holiday happened to fall on the week of the railway company strikes.

(Note: I didn’t have the option of driving because I’m in a state of perpetual procrastination about taking my theory test which would have enabled me to have a UK driver’s license. Ugh. I should really get on that).

The whole issue around Roe vs. Wade made me think about this book called Unwell Women, which I bought and read ages ago but never got around to reviewing for some reason. At the time of purchase, I was going through a phase where I was buying every book about women’s rights and gender equality that Waterstones had on their shelves, all to process my own thoughts and feelings about the prospect of living a life that most people I know would call non-traditional.

Unwell Women gave me a lot of insight into how women have been treated, mistreated, and been failed by medicine since time immemorial.

There was a time when a woman was defined by her uterus, when the most intelligent and enlightened minds of the time believed that the cause of any female illness was the migration of the womb to other parts of the body, which then caused a disturbance in the force (sorry, Star Wars reference).

Ever notice that the word hysteria and hysterectomy share the same prefix?

Yeah, they both originate from ‘hystero’ , the latin word for uterus, and no, a coincidence that is not.

The cure for any female malady was, of course, to get married, have sex and give birth to a number of babies – in that order, as each were seen as mutually exclusive of the other during the dark ages.

At the time, no one could even conceive of such a thing as endometriosis, now a well-researched and well-recognised medical condition deserving of proper treatment. No one knew what PCOS was, neither did anyone do a study on the effects of mental health on the physical body, or any other explanation that had nothing to do with a Wandering Womb.

All practising physicians were men who had absolutely no idea what it was like to have human beings and other things come out of their vagina. It seemed to me like the diagnoses and subsequent treatment for women’s illness were based on two things: the whims of the male imagination and the all-consuming agenda to keep women in their rightful place: at home, cooking dinner and taking care of the fruits of their loins.

Let’s have all women procreate, it will solve everything. This was basically the tagline of medical institutions, from Ancient Greece to the 19th century. It feels relevant to bring all this up now to highlight how far we’ve come in terms of medicine and gender equality, and how much further we have to go, especially when we keep re-treading the same steps and having the same old arguments.

There was a time when women didn’t have any say over their bodies and for America it seems like that time has come again.

Like I said, I’ve been turning this over and over in my head trying to decide how I feel about it, and what to write about it. I grew up in a very religious country, and I have lived with consequences of internalised Catholicism for most of my adult life. I am still, for the most part, a practising Catholic, and in my hearts of hearts I am probably pro-life…but I am also pro-choice.

I feel very passionately about a person’s fundamental right to live their life on their own terms and not by how other people think they should live it, especially because I have often been of judgement in my own pursuit of independence. I have been the object of concern which is really nothing more than thinly-veiled pity, and the recipient of rude, intrusive questions about why I am still single at a time when most women my age have children in grade school.

I spent all of my late 20s and most of my early 30s swiping left and right on various dating apps, and going through an endless, repetitious (wasteful) cycle of swipe, text, meet, drink, ghost, repeat….and for what? For the dubious pleasure of having met societal and familial expectations? To force myself into a box labelled ‘in a relationship’ when I knew that none of the guys I met online were right or worth giving up my freedom for?

No, thank you.

I’m going to try and make myself and my position clear before I come to the end of this very long (and probably incoherent) blog post.

I am not an advocate of abortion, the thought absolutely pains me.

I am not against traditional relationships with the right partner, at the right place, at the right time and under the right circumstances.

I have every respect for mothers and housewives and those that have chosen to devote their life to their children. In fact, I am in awe of them.

I am a Christian through and through.

But I also don’t see the point of cramming morality down other people’s throats or preaching proverbs from the Bible to teenagers who are victims of rape and incest. It won’t help them. At least, not until they get proper medical care.

The overturning of Roe vs Wade has made it difficult for them and women like them, who are also a victim of unwanted circumstances, to get access to that. The Supreme Course has instead put them in a position where they are staring down the barrel of a future they never wanted or asked for.

I am, above anything else, an advocate of women’s choices. I believe they are more than qualified to make them, and therefore those choices should be heard, validated, honoured and respected.

Oh that’s right. I’m meant to be doing a book review. Suffice to say that Unwell Woman is an incredible book which charts the history of women’s eternal struggle for equality as told from the perspective of medicine and health care. From wandering wombs to witch hunts, from birth control pills to abortion, its all there, and its never been more relevant as it is now.

There is no such thing as absolute freedom. The world turns on a series of checks and balances, but those checks and balances should rightfully remain in the hands of the individual, not other people, and certainly not the government. The only person who will live through the consequences of your choices is YOU after all. Its only common sense that you get first say on what those choices ought to be.

Posted in Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews

Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus

Its often hard to objectively review the quality of a book when its subject matter resonates with you so much.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have to do that with Lessons in Chemistry because its one of those rare unicorns that appear every once in a while: a book with a story worth telling that also happens to be incredibly well-written.

There are so many things I want to say about this book, so many threads to pull, that I hardly know where to start. I think I should just start with the main character: Elizabeth Zott.

Elizabeth strives first and foremost to be herself, in all things. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a character who is so uncompromising in her principles and beliefs (sometimes to the point of lunacy, depending on who you ask). She will make her own way in the world and refuses to use her relationships with others to get ahead. She will raise her kid her own way, do sports in her own way, and dammit, she will cook in her own way – using chemistry apparatus and processes should she so desire if only because it brings her the most joy and pleasure to do it that way.

I think it’s the hardest thing to do, to accept who you are and not be afraid to show it to the world. The world can be such a harsh and judgmental place. Who amongst us can say that we are immune to other people’s opinions about us? We all want to be liked and accepted and to be considered normal, so we tend to hide away little pieces of who we are, and adopt other people’s beliefs and wants as our own, in order to fit in.

We don’t even see the danger of doing that until it’s too late and we’ve lost all sense of who we are and we wake up one morning and we realise we don’t even know how we really want our breakfast eggs to be cooked (thank you Julia Roberts for the analogy, I’ve always preferred sunny-side up).

Elizabeth doesn’t do that, or at least she doesn’t do it to the extent of what I would do when faced with the pressures of society. The further I travel down this unconventional path that I find myself in – single, reasonably attractive, reasonably intelligent, childless, career-driven, alone but not lonely, finding fulfilment outside of romantic relationships – the more I need heroes like her to tell me that it doesn’t matter so much what the world thinks of me as long as I can still look at the mirror and like what I see.

After all, Erasmus once said: it is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.

I don’t want this to be post to get too political because my book reviews are really all about me (if anyone has a problem with that, its my blog, so whatever). I don’t really consider myself a feminist mostly because I think the word has become overly used and abused by the woke generation that I fear it has lost its meaning, but also because calling myself one makes me feel like a fraud. I don’t think I can live up to those ideals, and I don’t feel qualified to comment on issues such as equality and fair wages.

I will say, however, that I am grateful to, and will support in my own way, all the women who have fought the battles that needed to be fought so that I can live in a world where I can be whoever I want to be. Even if it’s just by reading, reviewing and highlighting important messages in books like Lessons in Chemistry.

These women have paved the way, so that its now normal that I work in a speciality that used to be male-dominated, and I am able to make opinions and decisions within that speciality that matter and make a difference.

I’m grateful that because of those women I have a voice that’s heard (perhaps too much and too loudly at times) on a regular basis, and that I can be sure that a male colleague on the same Agenda for Change pay scale as I do receives the same amount of wages, and that this isn’t determined by the fact that he has a penis and I have ovaries.

And that’s all I will have to say about that. Back to the book review.

Its tempting to think of this book as a rom-com. It started out as one, and maybe that’s why even as I neared the end I was still hoping for a love story, for Elizabeth to have her happy ending.

Now, how bloody hypocritical and reductive is that sentence?

I, of all people, should know better. I should know more than anyone that your life and happiness isn’t defined by the relationships you have with other people. Haven’t I struggled and spoke out against people who choose to diminish (even if unintentional) what I have done with my life purely because I remain unmarried at 34?

Elizabeth did have her love story. She had a love story with the women whose lives she touched through what other people (men, mostly) thought was just another cooking show. She inspired them to learn, and showed them that they can and should expect more of themselves, and that includes learning chemistry if they want it.

It was a love story with the men and women she formed genuine friendships with, who eventually became part of her unconventional family.

It was a love story with a dog named six-thirty and a little girl named Mad, who are both too intelligent for their own good.

And it was a love story with herself, that starred herself and the dreams that she never gave up on, no matter how hard things got at some point.

In the end, just like Nigella Lawson said in the blurb, I am totally devastated to have finished this. It was such a fun book to read, importing just the right amount of gravitas when it comes to things that matter while still being able to have a laugh and not take itself too seriously.

There should be more books like this, written by women, for women, celebrating women. It’s a privilege to have read it, just like it’s a privilege to be a woman fighting to prove that I have a place in this world.

Men, set the table, the women far too busy putting our own stamp on the world to bother with dinner. Lol

Posted in poetry

The Spinning Monkey

“Intelligence subsumed by the need to please…”

The curtains draw
the lights come on,
he takes centre stage.

With bated breath,
spectators watch,
prepared to be amazed.

For a second,
he tilts, he teeters
he looks uncertain.

But there’s wheels to spin
a show to do
no matter what the burden.

Lightly furred,
his tiny legs
push pedal to the metal.

The audience claps,
He hears them gasp,
reactions monumental.

The audience shouts:
go faster, spin backwards,
sing a song while you do it.

Turn this way,
circle that way,
there’s really nothing to it.

A break in stride
he spreads his arms,
it looks like he might fall.

So quickly he recovers,
blink and you’d miss
seeing it at all.

The cheering soars
too far away
to see brows dot with sweat.

A single drop
Upon his tunic
he makes himself forget.

Forget the aches,
Forget the pains,
the heaviness in his bones.

Forget his dreams
Forget his wish
for a life to call his own.

For if he stops
and if he rests
they will forget his name.

Always another
waiting their turn,
they’re all one and the same.

What is life without this?
the laughter, the cheers,
the applause.

it fills a void
almost enough
to be worth the flaws.

Maybe someday
the curtain will fall
and he can finally stop.

Earn the right
to live, to just be,
to finally be enough.

Until then,
spin on, little monkey,
until there’s nothing left.

Sing and dance,
little monkey,
spin on until the end.


Posted in Books, Writing

The Book

The book had been sitting on the shelf for a long long time. Its dust jackets were faded and worn, and when he held it in his hand and opened it for the first time, its cracked spine seemed to sigh, as if it had been waiting for just this moment to exhale.

The man felt the book’s loneliness and saw the places where it had shed tears. He saw the careless rips and minute breaks that had been painstakingly taped whole. He felt the jagged edges of pages torn and knew grief for all that’s been lost and all that he would never know.

Meanwhile, the book glowed from the pleasure of simply being seen. Every crinkle of the yellowed pages was a burst of enthusiasm, as if the book was saying, no, shouting “hello, you don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for you.”

The book knew it needed to be cautious. It had felt hope like this before. Other hands have read but didn’t see, or had seen but not understood. Many more have simply not bothered to finish or pick it up at all.

It takes a piece of you each time, all that disappointment and rejection, and it becomes harder and harder to hope. So the book let itself go. It stopped making the effort.

The bright colours of the covers gradually dimmed, and the book was pushed further and further into the dark corners of the shelf. The other, shinier and newer books all found owners whilst it remained hidden and guarded, thinking that it was better to be alone than to lose anymore of itself to the wrong hands.

But the years passed and the loneliness set in, for what use is a book, really, without a reader? Like music with no lyrics, spring without the lark, Christmas without presents, and a lifetime of nights with no day in sight.

The book started to think that maybe, just maybe, some things are worth risking it all for. By this time it would have given anything and everything to be read and to tell its story at least one more time, just to remember what it felt like to do more than just exist.

When it felt his hands along its spine, callused from years of honest work and labour, from all the difficulties and ups and downs of life, it felt hope once again, and it was unbearable, like drowning in the waters with the surface just ever so out of reach.

Sometimes hope is the most painful thing, more painful than a thousand pinpricks from a burning needle.

The man leafed through the pages, his heart growing heavier at every turn, for he saw through the written words and paragraphs to the truth that laid just beneath the surface, and he thought it to be the most beautiful thing in the world.

It was a story he would finish and read over and over again.

So he tucked the book in the crook of his elbow and made a place for it in his own home. One was never seen without the other again, their lives so intertwined that neither was recognisable without the other.

The book changed the man in numerous little ways, and in it he found the pieces of himself that he didn’t know were missing. In turn, he wrote new chapters in place of the book’s missing pages and brought colour back into it’s life.

Some people thought all that effort was wasted, and pointless, when he could just return it and buy something new, a book that was less scarred and damaged.

“I love it,” he replied when asked. “Just as it is, and for all that we could be together.”

“It won’t last.” They said. “This book will put you through the wringer. It demands too much, and it needs too much.”

“I love it anyway.” The man said simply.

“What can it possibly have to offer?” They wondered.

And walking away from all the doubts and the hate, he answered, “More than you’ll ever know.”

For both man and book knew what they didn’t, that it was the imperfections that spoke of the long journey from here to there that made them if not perfect, then at least perfect for each other.

They knew that there was nothing more precious than being seen and being loved for all that you are, even the pieces of yourself that you find ugly. No one goes through life unblemished, everyone has scars and is damaged in their own way. You choose to love them anyway.

After a time and when he was finally ready, the man happily folded himself into the pages of the book, giving up one life for another, one that was filled with endless laughter, kind understanding, passion, and a love that only grew with time.

With the passing of the years, they wove a new story, a story of us, and we, and them. Soon their story became the stuff of legends, and fairy tales. It lived on long after they were gone, in other stories and other books, and in other lonely souls all yearning to be found.

For theirs was a timeless story of hope, of belief, and of wonder. Most of all, whatever iterations their story took, even as they added the castles and pixie dusts and wishing upon stars, always it was a story of a love that sees, and understands, and despite the rips and tears, chooses everyday to love anyway.

Posted in family, grief and loss, LGBT, relationships, Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: Under The Whispering Door (And Waking Up Somewhere Strange)

I’ve read enough books to know that literary tastes change over time and sometimes a book you hate can become a book you love depending on your current life circumstances.

I bought Under The Whispering Door by TJ Klune first of all because I was attracted to the spray-painted edges and the beautiful jacket of the Waterstones hardcover edition. I was also on somewhat of an LGBTQ reading streak after finishing the sequel to Aristotle and Dante Explore the Secrets of The Universe.

I like TJ Klune just fine. I think his characters are quirky and cute, if a bit too saccharine for my tastes. However, I do think his books are overly long and suffer from pacing issues.

The premise of this book is interesting enough: a man dies and is taken by the Grim Reaper to some kind of coffee shop called Charon’s Crossing (lol) where a ferryman named Hugo is waiting to guide him to the afterlife.

The middle meandered a bit, and this was where I started to slowly lose interest. And that’s saying a lot, as I was under mandatory hotel quarantine whilst reading this book and literally had nothing else to do apart from sleep, eat, and worry about an upcoming job interview.

I personally thought the story went in a completely different direction from what I was expecting based on the premise, so I put it away and thought, hmph, maybe this needs to go on the DNF pile because life is too short to waste it reading a book you don’t like.

Then my grandmother took a turn for the worse.

My family and I then entered a purgatory of waiting where, especially for those of us who were in the health care business, we knew that all we were doing was delaying the inevitable.

Acute kidney injury and pneumonia at her age, especially with the abysmal health care services in the most rural areas of this country, is not something that patients can easily come back from. I knew her life was measured in weeks, if not days, and on top of everything that already happened this year it all got a little bit too much.

So I picked this book up again, and my situation being what it was, it took on a completely different meaning. I somehow just got what TJ was trying to do with it. Like me, he was processing his grief in the only way he knew how, in the medium that was available to him.

The book, to me, is wish fulfillment at its best. Death is the big unknown. One of life’s unsanswerable questions. Those who are in the position to tell us what happens after we die are the same ones who are unable to do so because you know, they’re dead.

So TJ Klune, like so many before him, attempts to paint a picture of what he thinks it might be like for those who have left us.

But this book is so much more than that. In writing about death, TJ Klune somehow managed to write a book celebrating life. I think that’s what really struck me about this book. Its meant to bring some measure of comfort to those left behind, but its also an urge, a plea to the living to make the best of the time they have left to think about what’s really important.

So much about life and death is a mystery. I think there are parts of it that we’re not meant to understand, and that’s where faith comes in I guess. My faith isn’t as strong as it was. I’m not the type who believes in mysticism and signs, not like I used to anyway. The older we get, the harder it is to believe in the intangible, in the things that are can’t be explained by reason or supported by facts.

But consider this: For the whole of last week my cousin had been doing all he can to keep my grandmother comfortable. She had days and nights where she couldn’t breath and we were nebulising her so frequently we feared her heart would give out.

There was one evening where I asked my cousin to gather everyone together and started a group Messenger call because a part of me really thought that was it. When she made it through that night, my only remaining prayer was that she lived long enough to allow mum to say her goodbyes. That might be selfish, and it might mean prolonging grandma’s suffering, but I’d like to think it was what she would have wanted too.

My mum and my sister finally arrived at my grandmother’s bedside Saturday evening. She was barely lucid, she sort of vaguely recognised them and followed them around with her eyes, but she wasn’t responsive enough at that point to even respond to a ‘hello’. Arlene, my sister, said goodbye and promised she would be back to see her at 8am the following day with mama.

My grandmother died peacefully in her sleep at 5am the next day. She held on long enough so my mother was able to say goodbye, long enough to answer my prayers.

When my cousin rang me about her death, I reached for Under The Whispering Door, and found immeasurable comfort in the touching story of Wallace, Hugo, Nelson, Mei and Apollo the Dog. I think I’m a different person now to the person I was when I first started reading this. I know a little bit more and I know a little bit less about life and death than I did now.

Here are some of the things I’m certain of though. For a long time, I’ve been living a life so shallow that I’ve cared more about material things and my self-image than the relationships I have with other people. It’s funny how little those things matter when shit really hits the fan. The other thing I do know is that life really is short. At this point, some of us have more years behind us than we do ahead of us.

The last thing I know is that it really doesn’t matter that we don’t know what comes after the end. The idea is to believe that its going to be amazing, and to die with that belief is to die peacefully. There is a version of events where we are all reunited with those we’ve lost, sipping tea and playing mahjong somewhere up in heaven. This is the version that I will choose to believe.

I’ve said this a lot, I’ve thought this a lot, and many thanks to TJ Klune for this beautiful book and for this wonderful message that I am able to give my grandmother, in spirit, as I was unable to do in person:

Goodbye Nanay, I hope you woke up somewhere beautiful.

Posted in family

The Waiting Game

Time is relative.

When you’re running late for work and every traffic light you come across is stuck on a red light, five minutes can seem like an eternity.

However, when your favourite band starts playing its signature song during the last five minutes of what had been a wonderful concert, 5 minutes feels like no time at all.

12 hours of the daily grind doing a job you hate can feel interminable.

However, the last 12 hours of the weekend, when you’re staring Monday in the face (and the beginning of another busy work week) never feels long enough.

A week’s vacation passes in the blink of an eye.

A week waiting to find out if a loved one will make it through multiple organ dysfunction feels like forever.

Waiting is agony. I’m not the most patient person to begin with. I’m a woman of action. I see a problem, I find a solution. Simple. If there’s something to fix, I would want a run through of all possible options for fixing it.

But there comes a point when you start to run out of options, and every action feels like you’re only prolonging the inevitable conclusion. Its a bitter pill to swallow, knowing that there are some things you just can’t fix.

During my more morbid moments, I often wonder whether its better to die suddenly, without any suffering whatsoever, or from a prolonged disease where you have to suffer constantly but you get the chance to say goodbye to everyone (and them to you).

If you ask me, I want neither option.

I would like to die from old age with a gin and tonic in my hand, surrounded by my family and all the boys I’ve loved who didn’t love me back and who have come to express their regrets on my deathbed, with Taylor Swift playing in the background.

I know the end will come for us all. This month has been difficult. Dealing with dad’s operation and my grandmother being very very ill has brought home just how fleeting life really is, and how few moments there are in between birth and dying. What is 50 or 60 odd years really, in the face of eternity? Its a single grain of sand in a massive desert.

But what a glorious grain it is, so much so that we cling to that single grain for as long as we can. We do all we can to survive, sometimes even beyond all reason. For those of us who work in one aspect of health care or the other, we choose to be aggressive with our treatments because its counterintuitive for us to let go when there are still things that can be done. Giving up goes against every training and every instinct we’ve developed as professionals.

Oh, but the waiting.

Sometimes I imagine I can literally hear the tick tick ticking of time passing and it freaks me out. There is so much I want to do and I’m well aware that I might not be able to do all of them. To me, time is a gift, and we often take it for granted up until the moment we run out of it.

I would want to give those I love the gift of time if I could.

But time is relative. And maybe waiting is relative too. When you’re only waiting for the end, the end could not come soon enough.

There’s a certain sense of relief that comes with knowing that all things will end, one way or the other. Mostly because it means an end to all the waiting, but also because an ending means that a new beginning could and will follow.

It means knowing, one way or the other, what comes after the end.

However which way you want to think about it though, the waiting is and always will be the hardest part.

You’re stationary, stuck in limbo, unable to process your emotions because you don’t know whether you should dare to hope or start to grieve.

You carry out your plans, knowing full well you’re running out of options, running out of time, but no one wants to be the first to say it, to say the truth that’s staring everyone in the face.

No one want to say that this could be it. That we should start saying our goodbyes, something made all the more painful because this stupid pandemic will not allow for even the slightest opportunity to mourn.

The waiting leads to thoughts like these, to blog posts that ramble and make no sense because when you’re only waiting, nothing makes sense.

Sigh. I will not be held responsible for the gibberish I will continue to write in the future. I blame the waiting.

Posted in dating, Music, pop culture, relationships

It Was Rare, and I Remember It All Too Well

Time check, its 4am on day 3 of my mandatory hotel quarantine and I’m slowly starting to go insane. I’m surprised my sister and I haven’t killed each other yet after being forced to tolerate each other’s company in such close quarters. I love my sister, and I’m sure she loves me too, but siblings were not meant to live in each other’s pockets all the damn time, especially if one of those siblings (AKA me) has a penchant for playing Taylor Swift songs on repeat.

Could you blame me though?

Ms. Swift has just released a re-recording of her Grammy-nominated album Red, which contains, among other hit songs, what is generally considered to be the best song she’s ever written: the magnificence that is All Too Well. And, just because she is the Queen of Extra, she’s released a 10-minute version of this ode to autumnal heartbreak and dancing in refrigerator lights and red scarfs, accompanied by a truly harrowing short film which she directed and starred in.

Since the song was released, I find my thoughts straying time and time again to Jake Gyllenhaal, widely believed to be the inspiration behind this song. It truly isn’t a good time to be Jake right now. He is being roasted in all corners of the internet, and is the subject of hilarious tweets and memes on social media. As a self-confessed Swiftie, I should be all over this. But more often than not, I find myself cringing just a little bit at the outpouring of hate and vitriol towards the other half of this supposed relationship.

Before I get blasted for supporting the patriarchy and defending a guy that the majority of the Twitter population now consider a scumbag, let me explain. I am not taking away Taylor’s right to express her feelings through her chosen medium. She’s a gifted songwriter, and that is due in large part to her ability to draw from her own experience and turn them into lyrics that perfectly capture moments that we can all relate to. When you listen to her songs, it makes you feel less alone, and less stupid. Because if someone like her can go through something like that and survive, then maybe there’s hope for you.

I think my discomfort stems from the fact that all this palaver over what is essentially – READ MY LIPS – a three-month relationship (yep, it boggles the mind) hits a little close to home. Taylor is re-treading the stomping grounds of her old heartbreak, the added verses to All Too Well giving us a better insight into what she went through whilst in that relationship.

This all happened 10 years ago and yet she’s still singing about it, still talking about it, and even though she’s moved on and is presumably a lot happier now, all evidence suggests that she will probably never get over it. She will be carrying those Mysterio-shaped scars to her grave, singing about little kids in glasses and twin-sized beds until her last dying breath.

And damn me if I’m not able to relate to that just a little.

We all have them, okay? Whether its the one that got away, or the ex that dumped you in the most brutal manner possible, or (in my case) the unrequited love that is the One Great Love of my life, we all have that one person we constantly bring up in conversations, whose name sounds different when it passes through our lips, whose impact peppers our lives even as the years pass without any meaningful contact from them whatsoever.

They become our inspiration and our muse. I for sure know that I’m at my best as a writer when I’m writing about Him, and I write about Him a lot. If everything I’ve written about that period of my life were to be compiled into a single volume it would be as thick as War and Peace.

At first, I wrote about him as a way of letting go of the past and all the feelings that came with it. There was a lot to unload. Love is at its most devastating when its unreciprocated, after all. Then, I wrote about him as a way of validating that it was love, albeit the one-sided kind. I think I wanted to convince myself that I didn’t waste my best years chasing after someone who could never love me back.

I felt the need to justify why I shouldn’t feel regret that I held on longer than I probably should have, and that at the end of the day it was better to have loved and lost and blah blah blah.

Then there came a time when writing about it just became fun. Yes, there are certain memories that still make me cringe, that make me want to go back in time so I can tell my younger self not to be so bloody stupid. BUT. There is a certain kind of exhilaration that comes over you when you realise that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore, that you can actually laugh about it and make fun of the experiences that have shaped so much of the person you become.

People always say that success is the sweetest revenge, but I think laughter is right up there with it.

I think a part of me objects to all this airing of dirty laundry in public. There should only be two people in a relationship, but we live in an age where we invite so many people (too many people, in my opinion) into what is essentially a sacred and private thing, regardless of whether you’re a celebrity or not. I think the best thing Taylor has ever done was to NOT talk about her current partner, and I think the older I get the more value I see in keeping aspects of my private life, well, private.

There’s a line towards the end of the 10-minute version that goes like this:

Just between us, do you remember it all too well?

I think that more than anything encapsulates Taylor’s original intentions for this song. Sure, the savvy businesswoman in her probably anticipated (and even encouraged) the publicity that came with the speculation over what happened with Jake, but the 31-year old who is reflecting back on the relationship shines through in the intimacy of those last few lyrics.

It’s worth mentioning that the last few verses of the 10-minute version felt more nostalgic than angry, and it gave me chills the first time I listened to it, and not just because I’m genetically programmed to love a Jack Antonoff production. No, its the same kind of feeling I get when I listen to Gwen Stefani’s Cool.

Its the peace that comes with knowing that when all is said and done, you’re okay with it all. Because at the end of the day, cheesy as it sounds, maybe it is better to have loved and lost and blah blah blah.

So here’s to you, you know who you are. Here’s to the memories, and for remembering them all too well.

Posted in family, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

Why One Should Never Write A Blog at 2AM

I’m not sure how I got from walking down the busy streets of Oxford Circus watching as they start putting the Christmas lights up in anticipation of the holiday season, to waking up at 2am at some hotel in the Philippines, jet lagged and anxious as shit.

I’m the kind of person who likes to plan things, often to the point of lunacy. I’ve been told time and time again that I need to lighten up and allow life to happen instead of fixating on inconsequential things that, when all is said and done, don’t really count for much.

But I was never built for spontaneity and playing it by ear,

I think the devil is in the details, and that it never hurts to research as much as you can about something you’re planning to do. I like lists; disorganisation makes me incredibly twitchy, and I believe in never ever going to a restaurant or cinema without a reservation or pre-booking. It might not make me the most fun person to be around, but hey, someone has to be responsible.

This week, the universe has just sent one giant middle finger to that girl who thought that planning for everything meant you were prepared for the curveballs life throws your way. There are some things that you just can’t prepare for, some things that no matter what you do you’ll never be ready for.

It’s funny, if you had asked me before this week how I felt about being an adult, I would have had a more positive answer. I would have said that I loved the independence, that I loved being more or less financially secure, that I loved the fact that I can get my own groceries, eat fast food, go out drinking and come home late and I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself.

But this week brought home the fact that being an adult also means being responsible. It means being in a room that may include your parents but having to make the big decisions. because everyone else is too distraught to think about the details. It means not having the luxury to break down crying because you have to make sure things are getting done.

Its realising that whatever plans you made might have to come secondary to taking care of your family’s needs, and having to grapple with the guilt of feeling sorry for yourself because you’re potentially missing out on a rare opportunity to move up the career ladder. Its having to convince yourself that you’re not a bad person for thinking about your own future, because life still has to move on for you even if the worst happens.

Being an adult is realising that nothing is ever black and white, and no one is all good or bad, that sometimes people just do the best they can with the circumstances they’re given, and no one should probably expect anything more of them than that, especially given how difficult the past couple of years have been.

I fucking hate being an adult.

I consider my childhood to be sacred. It’s like this giant marble statue I keep in the garden of my mind, full of memories that I take out every now and then when I need to bask in the warmth and comfort of the days when I had no bigger worries than what snack I might ask Papa to buy for me, or what movie we’d go see during the weekend, or how to spend 8 whole weeks of my summer vacation in the small, sleepy town where I spent all of my summers until I was 16.

But it feels like with every year that passes something happens to chip away at my childhood, until it feels like I’m so far away from the girl I once was, and it gets more difficult to see the world as full of wonder, and it gets harder to maintain the belief I’ve always held that every day is a chance for something extraordinary to happen.

You move to a new country and learn to fend for yourself, and the cracks start to show. The first time you realise the adults around you aren’t perfect, that they’re human and therefore fallible, and the cracks spread from head to toe.

When you realise that not all boys turn out to be Prince Charming, and that sometimes things just don’t work out, and you get your heart broken…a piece falls off.

You lose your job because of a mistake that can’t be undone, and suddenly you find yourself facing the yawning mouth of failure, and the prospect of going home to your family with nothing to show for your time away but the bitter taste of regret, and more of the pieces come crashing down around you.

It has to.

Because you have to grow up real quick if you want to turn your life around and stay in the city you’re only just realising you love so much.

A loved one dies, and another is diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly you start thinking about the big questions and facing the truth about your own mortality. You realise you can’t stay young forever. And suddenly your childhood is reduced to a small piece that you fight tooth and nail to retain.

I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this metaphor, or with this entire blog really. I realise that its morbid and a bit more morose than my usual offerings. But I guess I just feel the need to express my very real fears about the future, and my anxiety about the prospect of having to rearrange my life to make room for the changes coming my way.

I think I’m processing, with varying levels of success I might add, the truth that nothing lasts forever, and that I am at the age where I will start losing people I love, and even if that thought makes me want to curl up in a ball in the corner and weep, because that’s not something you ever want to actively think about, I know I somehow need to. I need to start coming to terms with it.

I don’t know, maybe things will turn out okay and I will not need to post something like this again until many many (please let it be many) years later.

Finally, I read somewhere that the thing about troubles, suffering and problems is that they always end, one way or the other. You just have to ride the wave until they do and pray you make it back to shore relatively intact.

I’m riding that wave, its coming up to a full crest but somehow I’m still hanging on. That’s about all I can do at the moment.

Posted in Books, Music, pop culture, Reviews

Book Review: Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen

The Boss needs no introduction. Even those of us who were mere blimps in our parents’ minds (I doubt I was even a concept in mine) when he released his biggest hits would have heard his songs, or some iteration of it, at least once: Blinded By the Light, Glory Days, Born in the USA, perhaps even a teeny tiny song called Dancing in The Dark whose music video featured a then-unknown young actress who would someday grow up to be Monica Geller.

I personally have very fond memories of Bruce and his music. Both are inescapably linked with my memories of growing up. I can still recall sneaking my uncle’s limited edition 2-disc Bruce Springsteen and the E-street Band Greatest Hits CD out of the living room cupboard late at night so I can listen to Thunder Road on repeat as I go to sleep, and then waking up at dawn so I can sneak it back in before he’s had the chance to notice it was gone.

In hindsight, I honestly don’t know why I didn’t just ask to borrow it but there you go.

For some reason, Bruce seemed to have experienced some kind of renaissance during the pandemic. He was everywhere during the first, second, and (for those of us in the UK) third lockdown; at least, it felt that way to me.

He was in all my running playlists because you simply can’t finish a run without playing (wait for it) Born to Run. His Broadway show was on Netflix, he had a weekly Spotify podcast with Barack Obama, he was showing young ‘uns like Jack Antonoff and Brandon Flowers how its done in songs like Chinatown and A Dustland Fairytale, and leaving them in the dust even at the ripe old age 70.

So ubiquitous was his presence that I felt compelled to buy a copy of his memoir, aptly titled Born to Run, from Blackwell’s in Oxfordshire of all places, because Waterstones and Amazon were no longer selling the hardbound edition. And after the slow start of the first few chapters, where it felt like he was still struggling to find his voice, I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Boss can really write, and that I actually gave a damn about what he had to say.

I found that although our lives are about as different as night and day, Bruce Springsteen’s story is universal, and in reading his memoir, I felt seen, heard, and understood.

Bruce in his younger years was the consummate perfectionist, who lived with all the voices in his head telling him he wasn’t good enough. Like me, he needed his people. This is why he brought the guys of the E-street band with him all the way up to the stratospheric heights of success he achieved, because he knew the experiences would be meaningless if you don’t have anyone to share it with.

Bruce had his demons. He was very forthright with his mental health struggles and his turbulent relationship with his father, but only to an extent. Despite his public persona, and despite the glimpses of his true self he allows us to see through his music, he is an intensely private man. He describes the reasons for this perfectly when he said:

Trust is a fragile thing. It requires allowing others to see as much of ourselves as we have the courage to reveal.

I like how he remained true to himself, and honest about who he is, faults and all. Most people give in to the temptation to edit their life story and make themselves look good. He went almost the opposite way. There was a sense of self-deprecation underlying everything that he wrote which makes the book immensely readable.

Bruce is the anti-thesis to the everyday working man who holds a 9-to-5 job, secure in the knowledge of where his next pay check is coming from even if said pay check is meagre as hell after taxes, pension, and additional deductions because payroll totally screwed up in calculating your National Insurance contributions so you’re now having to pay back that salary increase you thought you had earned. (Sorry, I didn’t realise I was still bitter about that).

Bruce’s story is everything that mine isn’t: taking risks, taking chances, holding on to your dream even when you were down to your last dollar, virtually homeless and living off the goodwill of your friends. I could not live like that. I sometimes ask myself why I never pursued a career in the entertainment industry, and the answer, apart from my obvious lack of acting skills or musical talent, is that I do not have the constitution to live under the threat of poverty as I wait for my dreams to come true.

Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who could choose the road less travelled, instead of the one who makes the safe choices every time the road diverges. Because even though examples are few and far in between, if you want it bad enough and you work hard enough, you can pull out and win. Thunder Road is one of my favourite songs in the world because it is a love letter to possibilities, to those who have beaten the odds and won.

Most of us will live out our lives living perfectly normal existences, and that’s okay. There is joy to be found in the ordinary. I actually think the ordinary is underrated, and in his later years Bruce Springsteen himself will reflect on the value of simple things, of family, and of love.

But I think we need the Bruce Springsteens and the Thunder Roads of the world because of what they represent: POSSIBILITIES.

More than anything in my life right now, this is the one thing that gets me out of bed and gets me all excited. The idea of possibilities. The wish, the dream, and the hope that something extraordinary could be waiting around the corner.

Whenever I start to feel like the best years of my life are behind me, I think of Bruce, I think of Thunder Road, and I think of possibilities.

Then I smile, knowing that there’s always going to be some magic left in the night.

Overall book rating: 4 out of 5 stars