existential dread at a grocery store

/ Monday, March 4, 2019 /

Existential dread.

A realization of how everything’s fleeting and that nothing matters in the end. A sudden recognition of how we’re just a ball of atoms who can do great and ugly things at once.

 The feeling is not new to me. Or even to most of us.

As for the triggers?

It can be a poem, a book, a film, a place, and sometimes, conversations with people. Some of us mistake it for nostalgia. But it's an entirely different beast altogether.

But yesterday’s existential dread was different because it happened at a grocery store.

So I noticed a Korean (or Chinese?) tourist taking a photo of her friend checking out the shelf filled with local delicacies.  It was quite apparent that she wanted the picture to appear as if her friend is shopping for souvenirs.  You know the usual “planned candid photo.”

At that instant, thoughts of existential dread suddenly came to me. My first thought was “what’s the point of taking that supposed candid photograph and sharing it on social media (I'm actually assuming at this point, and I know I should stop doing this because assumption, as always, is the mother of all fuck-ups).

And then I realized “centuries later, no one’s  going to remember that they were here and that I was here and what’s the point of trying to figure out the best liquid detergent to buy?”

The thought and feeling eventually wore off after that incident at the grocery store.

However, when I woke up this morning, thoughts of existential dread returned, and I can’t stop thinking about the two Korean women taking photos of each other at the grocery store. I'm aware that it's not productive but I just can't drive the thought and feelings away.

So I decided to write about it. Here. Now.

While I’m writing this now, I feel better because I just realized that the feeling isn’t exclusive to me and everyone experiences it at one point. It’s part of the overall human experience.

We're here to experience, not to endlessly ruminate. (BIG REMINDER TO SELF). We're here to soak in all the beauty and ugliness and chaos and terror and wonder of the world. It is what matters in the end.

And what’s more important is we have someone to share this existential dread with and that we're free to write, wonder,  acknowledge (rather than resist?) and be okay with the thought and feeling. To make peace with it rather than fight against it. We’re all in this together, right?


/ Thursday, January 17, 2019 /
It's been a while since I read some poetry and devour some soul food. 

So here we go again, my favorite pieces of poetry as of late.

by Marie Howe
          (after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?
so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money — 
nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone
pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.
For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.
There was no   Nature.    No
 them.   No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf    or if 
the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up   to what we were
— when we were ocean    and before that 
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not
at all — nothing
before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it?
what once was?    before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with 
is is is is is
All   everything   home

Alyza Taguilaso 

I am from a tall house painted dirty orange and outlined in white: tiny pebble placed in the capital of cat-sized alley rats, gravel, asphalt, and floodwater.
I am from smoke left to lodge in a thousand pink-gray lungs: embers dormant but ready to burn, bloom into fire.
I am from postcards sent through ten years of loneliness: Dragons, dolls, stacks of books. Photograph of a famous monument. Fashion magazine cover circa 1937. Handwriting hurried in uppercase; the absence of a return address; each missive ending with a request: Answer me.
I am from the various versions of home: Asakusa and its quiet mornings, Brooklyn with secrets seamlessly strewn between side streets, Culasi’s empty beaches, Siquijor and the ghosts hanging their weightless bodies on souvenirs, Bandung’s cold breath charting maps upon maps to getting lost, Cubao and its bowels lined with generic drugstores, signs in triple neon, and all those clothes aching to be worn once more.
I am from dermal folds interlacing, faint lines, fault lines.
I am from mother’s misgivings.
I am from father’s persistence – presents purchased on borrowed money. A catalog of cocksure smiles offering alternatives for contentment. How he could easily sell you a shipwreck if he desired.
I am from grandmother’s medications: Cyclophosphamide, Vincristine, Methotrexate. How her body withered silently in a span of 6 months and in her dying taught me which questions never to ask.
I am from a bloodline rife with disease: Diabetes, hypertension, asthma, manic depression, schizophrenia – an inheritance blessed with genes that made for brilliant stories but difficult lives.
I am from the atomic bomb, the retractable folding knife, the scalpel, the syringe and its upturned bevel.
I am from whatever the universe could give when gods were not enough: nitrogen, helium, hydrogen, aluminum, yttrium. Titanium, nickel, cadmium, tungsten.

Molecules bustling against each other, burning and brimming from bodies eager to burst.
I am from dust, ash, and all its nameless variants. Sea salt and sand: easing its way to where you are, a single grain at a time. 

Two Novelists and a Psychotherapist On Freddie Mercury's Private Life

/ Thursday, November 8, 2018 /

After watching Bohemian Rhapsody last night, I woke up today reflecting on Freddie and Mary’s relationship as well as Freddie’s sexuality.  Instead of going straight to my copywriting work, I ended up going down the rabbit hole of Freddie’s private life around the interwebs.

From what I’ve seen in the movie and from what I've read online,  I can imagine two novelists and a psychotherapist discussing Freddie’s relationships with his girlfriend/supposedly soulmate Mary, other male lovers, and his bisexuality.

(aka Raymond Carver, Esther Perel, and Margaret Atwood having a conversation in my head) :D

Quick note: Bohemian Rhapsody  is a film and it's not a documentary. The latter requires revealing the truth and facts. Meanwhile, storytellers in films have the freedom to make the narrative into a riveting story in exchange for twisting the truth a bit. 

Here’s how the conversation went in my head:

Raymond Carver: 

“There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I'd like to know. I wish someone could tell me.”

―  What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Esther Perel: 

Raymond, today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?...

The grand illusion of committed love is that we think our partners are ours. In truth, their separateness is unassailable, and their mystery is forever ungraspable. …

Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel, and the unexpected. Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air...

― Mating in Captivity 

Margaret Atwood: 

Esther has a point, Raymond.

In my opinion, most women* made one basic mistake: they expected their husbands to understand them. They spent much precious time explaining themselves, serving up their emotions and reactions, their love, anger and sensitivities, their demands and inadequacies, as if the mere relating of these things would get results...

The other wives, too, wanted their husbands to live up to their own fantasy lives, which except for the costumes weren't that different from my own. They didn't put it in quite these terms, but I could tell from their expectations.They wanted their men to be strong, lustful, passionate and exciting, with hardrapacious mouths, but also tender and worshipful. They wanted men in mysterious cloaks who would rescue them from balconies, but they also wanted meaningful in-depth relationships and total openness. (The Scarlet Pimpernel, I would tell them silently, does not have time for meaningful in-depth relationships.) They wanted multiple orgasms, they wanted the earth to move, but they also wanted help with the dishes.

There were two kinds of love, I told myself; Arthur* was terrific for one kind, but why demand all things of one man?..

―  Lady Oracle 


Yes. Or you can try to reconcile domesticity with eroticism?

Modern relationships are cauldrons of contradictory longings: safety and excitement, grounding and transcendence, the comfort of love and the heat of passion We want it all, and we want it with one person. Reconciling the domestic and the erotic is a delicate balancing act that we achieve intermittently at best...

Like dreams and works of art, fantasies are far more than what they appear to be on the surface. They’re complex psychic creations whose symbolic content mustn’t be translated into literal intent. “Think poetry, not prose, Raymond. :D

― Mating in Captivity 

Kai's notes:  

  • replace Atwood's "women" into "men"
  • Arthur is a character in Atwood's novel Lady Oracle 
  • sorry for the confusion but the imaginary conversation is a result of me trying to make sense of Freddie's treatment of Mary and his bisexuality

from one void to another

/ Wednesday, October 24, 2018 /
There's been a "what-a-great-piece-of-fiction" void in me lately.

I can't remember the last time I read a good, punch-me-in-the-gut story this year. Although I remember the books: All the Light We Cannot See (but was it last year?) and When Breathe Becomes Air (this is nonfiction though, specifically a memoir, and I finally read the second half this year after forgetting to finish it last year).
For the past months, I've been reading a lot about finance and some behavioural economics stuff. So reading fiction has been placed in the back burner.
To fill the void, I decided to start reading my second Patrick Ness book - The Knife of Never Letting go. It's been a wonderful read so far.  
It's a dystopian, sci-fi YA novel but don't let the YA label convince you to not read it. In the middle of reading it now, and while the original void is gone, it's been replaced with another void.

Mancheeeeee!!!! Spoiler, I know. But whyyyyyy do you have to do that, Patrick Ness?! I should have known that this second book by the author will lead into another "wordless wail" of all the void inside me. The same thing happened to me when I read A Monster Calls by the same author.
So much for finding a good story. Be careful what you wish for, self.

I usually say, in the end, okay, it’s love and it’s work — what else could there possibly be? -- Maira Kalman


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