The Wind Blows Across Empty Plains

Wow, is it quiet in here or is it just me?

*crickets*

Ah…well…

So sorry to all my readers (yes, I see the both of you back there) for the apparent deadness of my site. Life is a funny little thing. A river that rages along and pulls everything to the whim of its current. I am but a man, alas, with so many obligations and so little time. I’ve been trying to dodge life’s various curveballs and not get buried under its –

Oh, what the hell. I’ve been lazy. It’s just as simple as that.

‘Maybe I don’t have to write a blog post every single day,” you say to yourself once and the next thing you know, it’s been over a year and your blog is collecting digital dust bunnies. Oops.

I had half a mind to just shut the whole thing down since I wasn’t updating it at all, but then one day (well, yesterday), the blogging flame that once burned brightly in my mind and then simmered slowly for a while before being extinguished by the lazy waters of procrastination suddenly re-ignited itself. No, I thought, I can’t abandon this blog. It’s my mind space. It’s where I throw out the random thoughts that refuse to stay contained. I can’t shut this down any more than I can shut down my own brain.

So I return from my own ashes like a keyboard-tapping phoenix, ready to unleash a blog storm again and drench you all with my thoughts (it sounded less dirty in my head, I promise).

Until I get lazy again. Which tends to happen from time to time.

But I’ll work on that.

Maybe tomorrow…

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Hidden Wisdom

Sometimes, you get good advice from the most unexpected sources. Such as people you don’t really like, for example. We can sometimes ignore the advice of friends or loved ones, often because we get advice from them all the time, on every little thing.

The people you don’t like, however, don’t have as strong an emotional investment in you. When they dispense advice of any sort, it tends to stick in the back of your mind, even if the initial impulse is to ignore it. There are two random observations about myself that I’ve received from such people that have stuck with me over the years.

The first one was in high school. As is the case during that time, there was a lot of drama floating around in the air. I had seen enough high school shows by the age of 15 to know that every problem was a life-or-death situation. I was as dramatic as any teenager, prone to bouts of moodiness and mooning over crushes. During one of my fouler moods, a guy I knew (but wasn’t really friends with) managed to get on my nerves and I lashed out at him. Understandably upset by my behavior, he spat back that I was the source of my own problems. I was complicating my own life with unnecessary drama, which is why I was so damn grouchy.

It was meant as an insult. But he was right. I was making my own life difficult. For example, by fawning all over a girl who had made it very clear from the outset that we wouldn’t be more than friends. I honestly thought that I’d be able to win her over somehow, and my continued frustration at being unable to do so left me acting like a character from Dawson’s Creek (maybe? I’ve never watched it, but I’ve seen a gif of James Van der Beek bawling his eyes out, so that seems like a reasonable comparison).

I basically needed to grow up, and though I’ve failed to do that in the 17 or so years since then, I’d like to think I’m just a tiny bit closer to being a full-fledged adult.

The next bit came from one of my old college roommates. He was the kind of guy who seemed really cool to hang out with at first, but I soon realized he was nothing more than a collection of stale jokes wrapped up in unpredictable mood swings. He was also the sort of person who’d eat up everything in the fridge literally one day after we’d gone grocery shopping, and would just shrug it off with a blithe apology. Needless to say, we didn’t stay in touch after graduation. But I digress.

From a young age, I’ve been an avid artist, and I especially love drawing cartoons and dreaming up concepts for various characters. In 3rd or 4th grade, I discovered the stellar Batman: The Animated Series, with characters designed by Bruce Timm. I loved the smooth, angular looks of the characters, so different from any other show I’d watched. I started drawing Batman fan art, attempting to copy poses and scenes from the show (and its tie-in comic). Even when designing original characters, I used Bruce Timm’s Batman work as a reference, only changing minor details. I was never quite happy with how my drawings turned out.

One day, I was in my room busy drawing some random character when my roommate happened to stop by. I expressed dissatisfaction at how the drawing was turning out, to which my roommate simply replied: “Maybe that’s because you’re trying to copy someone else’s style instead of doing your own thing.”

I was stunned. That actually made sense. My drawings were just copies. They had the same proportions as some drawing I’d seen and were in the same pose as another drawing I’d seen, but they had no life of their own. I really needed to develop my own style to give them a more personal element. And that’s what I set about doing. I let myself be influenced by Bruce Timm (along with various other artists that I discovered over time) without trying to slavishly copy one of his drawings. Even now, I’m still trying to find my ‘style’ as it were, but the joy is in the experimentation. Trying out different shapes and proportions based on how I perceive my characters instead of sticking to a single template.

If my roommate hadn’t said that, it’s entirely possible I’d still be churning out poor copies today, or at least for a lot longer than I did. It was a remarkable observation, and it came from such a very unexpected source.

I suppose a broken clock does have its moments.

Rat Race

A change of scenery can really change a man.

I remember growing up in Dubai, amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, in step with the crowds that rushed to and fro. It all felt so normal, so expected. That’s what life in a burgeoning metropolis was like. For my young mind, that’s what life was like, in general.

When I moved to the U.S. after high school, my whole worldview was turned around. There was a lot I was already used to. Years of TV and movies had given me a solid enough cultural background that the country didn’t feel foreign to me. I knew a few other international students who were experiencing some degree of culture shock, but I felt quite at home. The one thing that left me reeling was the pace of life. I was at the main campus of Penn State, in a small college town surrounded by trees and greenery, the tallest buildings probably about 10 stories high. This was no concrete jungle; the trees were real.

It’s become such a cliche to describe some place as a ‘sleepy little town’, yet that’s exactly what State College felt like, compared to Dubai. There were college kids rushing to class of course, and yet it never felt quite so fast-paced. It was all so relaxing. I could walk out of class, take a longer route back to my dorm and really explore the campus. It helped that there were actually places to explore, sights to see. Not just row after row of concrete and glass slabs.

The weather was a refreshing change too. A walk through the campus on July was a completely different experience to the same thing in mid-December. Unlike Dubai, where the landscape remained unchanged throughout the year and the weather varied from sear-your-eyeballs hot to not-sweating-all-the-time hot.

But the most fascinating part to me was that people were actually living. I mean, just existing and basking in the world around them. There wasn’t a rush for the next meeting, a hurry to go places (other than class, but even then, not always) or a constant push to be ahead of the line. I could sit for hours with friends and acquaintances, talking about everything and nothing, just content to pass the time with good company.

The return to Dubai was when culture shock really hit me. The city’s pace had only picked up over the years, and now nobody had time to stop and breathe. Everyone was running everywhere, and I fell into step with them. Commuters fought for space on crowded buses and trains, seeking the Holy Grail of an empty seat. I joined the hunt all too eagerly; the serenity of State College was long forgotten. Now I had to fight for survival just like everyone else in this town, pushing and shoving until I got where I needed to go.

People here don’t make much small talk. They’re concerned with their jobs, where the company is going, whether sales targets will be met, how the economy will impact them. All important and valid concerns, I’m sure, but how about just taking a train ride? Enjoying the sights passing by (even if those sights are primarily skyscrapers)? Talking about yourself or your companion? Is it just all business?

As a result, my conversations here grow few, often just limited to work and work-related matters. I can’t just sit down and talk about life, as I once did. Nobody around me seems to have any hobbies; they work, eat and sleep. It’s a way of life that’s alien to me. Work pays the bills, and I definitely want to do well at my job, but I’m not looking to be the next big CEO or have a literal pool of money like Scrooge McDuck. My hobbies and interests are who I am. Without them, I’d just be a human shell, programmed to display certain emotions on certain occasions.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve taken some time to re-evaluate my life and my priorities. I’m not the type of person who has animated discussions about the real estate market or the rise and fall of currencies. I don’t want to spend my free time talking about work. And I really don’t want to be the guy who cuts other people off to grab that rare empty seat on the train, as if parking my ass on a chair trumps everything else in life.

I’ve learned to slow down again, or at least as much as I can in a place like this. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, when the world is racing past, it’s tempting to race along with it, to be the fastest rat in the pack. So every once in a while, I have to step aside and remind myself that the only thing I’ll gain from all that running is a shortness of breath. May as well relax and take the scenic route. I’m in no rush.

Liebster Award, Part Deux

Another nomination for the Liebster Award, this time from Hayley over at Dear Dad. She was on my list of nominees, so definitely check her out. She’s a bright young voice that should be heard.

All of my biggest favorites were nominated in the last post, so I won’t be listing any more nominees, but I will gladly answer the questions posed to me. So, without further ado,

1. What is your favourite colour? Do you associate that colour with anything in particular?

My favorite color is blue; I generally prefer darker or more muted shades. It doesn’t hold any particular significance as such, I just like the way it looks.

2. What is your most embarrassing moment? The one your friends and family like to remind you of!

Oh boy, there’s certainly plenty of those. The one (well, two) that tend to come up now and again are the one time I got drunk at a party, attempted to do push-ups, and ended up bouncing my chin off the floor. I spent the rest of the party with a big plaster on my chin.

That same night, I was told (jokingly) to go walk in the snow by a close buddy, so I bounded out the door and started stomping around in my bare feet until my incredulous friend called me back in.

There’s actually quite a bit of backstory to both these incidents, but this doesn’t seem the right time for it. Let’s just say I wasn’t trying to do push-ups just for the hell of it. 🙂

3. If you could change one thing from the past, what would it be? Or do you prefer to live with no regrets?

I’d love to live with no regrets. I absolutely would. Unfortunately, regret might be my greatest wealth. Things I wished I’d said, feelings I wish I’d expressed, and so many things I wish I hadn’t done or said.

The one thing I’d want to change is my mother’s cancer. I wish she’d never had it. I wish I could have done more for her, or could at the least have made her passing easier than it was. That’s a pretty deep hole to go down, though, so I’ll stop there.

4. What is the funniest joke you’ve heard in a while? (Don’t worry if nobody else finds it funny – as long as it makes you laugh!)

A man comes across a disheveled old man on the street, furiously scribbling away in a book. Curious, he asks him what he’s writing.

“I’m writing a 200-page book called How the Horse Walks,” the old man replies cheerfully.

“How the Horse Walks?” the man says. “Well, that sounds interesting. Mind if I see it?”

He takes the book from the old man and looks through it. On the first page, in large, looping letters, are the words ‘How the Horse Walks.”

And the other 199 pages? “Clippity clop clippity clop clippity clop.”

5. What is one of your first memories from your childhood? It can be the simplest memory, or one which stands out for a particular reason.

One of the earliest memories I can recall, very vaguely, is my mother telling me not to put my finger into a table fan. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Still have all 10 of ’em, though!

6. How would you like to be remembered?

As someone worth remembering. Someone kinda and generous and funny. I’m actually curious how the people I’ve met do remember me.

7. What is the most inspirational book you have read (fiction or non fiction) – or the one that has left the biggest impression on you?

The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi. Why? Well, that might be the subject of a separate post by itself…

8. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

To not obsess over things I can’t control. Wish I could follow it, though.

9. What makes you literally laugh out loud? (and I mean full on belly laughs!)

Slapstick humor. Especially people walking into doors or walls. In movies, that is. It’s funny in real life as long as nobody gets hurt.

10. Finish this sentence: “I wish…

For more than I could possibly receive.
Thanks again to Hayley! Do check out her blog!

Darkest Corners

I was looking through my previous blog drafts and came across this piece, which I had published last year. It’s pretty depressing, maybe overly so, which is why I later took it down. However, after my last post about being on the road to happiness, this serves as an interesting contrast, touching on the same subject and showing how my life and my perspective on it have changed in the past few months.

On a more technical note, I’d like to think my writing’s improved as well. Some of the below post is hard to read for the wrong reasons.

I promise this will be the last post where I depress the hell out of my readers.

***

This is a strange follow-up to the fairly upbeat ’30 Days of Fitness’ posts, but there are certain thoughts that tend to eat away at me from time to time, with increasing regularity nowadays. They needed a place to be unloaded and this seemed like the best dumping ground. It feels somewhat therapeutic to be writing all this down, but it’s only a temporary reprieve. Like weeds, they’ll take root again, infesting the darkest corners of my mind.

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Isolation

 

I look out the window at the sprawling city before me. They say it glitters like jewels in the sun; all I see is a dull, lifeless gray. The streets are overflowing with people running to and fro, from office to office, meeting to meeting. The city is supposedly a melting pot of different cultures, but they all look the same to me: faceless and indistinct.

It has been a little over 4 years since I returned to the city. At one time, it used to be home; I basked in its familiarity. Today, I find myself as a tourist in a foreign metropolis, walking past uninviting towers of glass and concrete. This is not the same place that I grew up in and, at the same time, I’m not the same person that grew up here.

It is a city that’s designed for a certain type of person. To use the popular cliche, it is the city that never sleeps. Everyone spends every hour of every day working to earn even more money, hoping to climb up the corporate ladder and sit comfortably on top of it. The boundaries between professional and personal lives are ever shifting, the concept of free time laughable. This city is designed for a certain type of person. That person isn’t me. I don’t think it ever was.

Now I find myself lost in the midst of a desert, desperately seeking an oasis of humanity. Making friends was never easy for me, and I find friendship to be an especially rare commodity here. In the sort of ironic twist that life loves to toss around, the friends who are dearest to me live half a world away, and with each passing year, I fear the distance between us is becoming intraversable.

More and more often, I find myself thinking back to happier times, times spent with friends in a place where I actually seemed to matter, where I felt like I belonged. And then, through a combination of bad luck and bad decisions, I found myself booted out from there and thrown back into this cesspool. At least I had my family around as some sort of consolation. But even that wasn’t meant to last.

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Grief
 

My mother died of cancer last year. It came out of nowhere, and as we were still trying to process the situation, it was over. My prior experience with death involved my grandfather, who died when I was too young to really grasp the concept, and my grandmother, who I had been so far removed from at that point that news of her passing brought no major outpouring of emotion with it. So this was, in essence, the first time I’d lost someone I truly cared about, and in such a horrible and unexpected way.

The days after my mother’s death were like a haze. My father, brother and I went about our lives, trying to find some semblance of normalcy. I had fully expected that a death in the family would render me catatonic, so I managed to surprise myself by continuing on with life. But there was a nagging feeling that things were wrong, a feeling that I pushed into the depths of my mind.

Now, over a year later, everything still feels weird. I had though that on my mother’s anniversary, all wounds would be healed, all memories of her death would be wiped clean, almost as if by magic.And yet, the pain still lingers. Many nights I will close my eyes and see myself again at her hospital bed, watching the life slowly drain out of her. In my dreams, my mother still lives, but so does her cancer. It’s as if the healthy, happy person I knew never even existed.

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Anxiety

After a fairly lengthy period of unemployment, I finally managed to get a job earlier this year. It was, I hoped, a new beginning. A way to finally get my life back on track. And so it was, for a time. A new routine led me to adopt a new, healthier lifestyle and got me thinking about my financial security. However, that security has been compromised somewhat by a few financial troubles plaguing my family, and I find myself wondering if I can actually save for some sort of retirement.

My job is the kind of relaxed affair that’s hard to find in a fast-paced city like this, and I’m certainly grateful to have any kind of employment at all, but I do find myself on the quest for something more challenging. But then another thought occurs to me: what if this is all I have? What if no other place will hire an engineer who hasn’t done any real engineering in years, a short-lived salesman who doesn’t like selling, and a writer who’s barely got any experience in the field? Five or ten years from now, will I still find myself stuck behind this desk? Or will I be on a constant hunt for gainful employment?

I follow the same routine every day: wake up, go to work, have lunch, continue work, come home, unwind, go to bed and repeat. Without any friends around, things get predictable fast. My brother is busy with his own life, and as much as I love my dad, surely he can’t be my only companion? I want to settle into a routine that makes me happy, a routine that I share with a certain someone, but the search for that someone seems to grow more difficult with time. And if I am losing my mind, as I so often believe I am, then I have to ask myself what sensible girl would want to spend her life with someone so mentally and emotionally broken.

Uncertainty has always found a way to re-route my fortunes, through financial struggles, unemployment and even death. It’s hard to look at the future and see any brightness. The future is full of uncertainty, and I’ve already had enough of that. So I go one day at a time, trying to make it through uneventful and bland work days, absorbing myself in my hobbies, escaping the mundanity of my existence in the colorful worlds created by books and video games, sticking to my schedules, and going to bed each night with the hope that tomorrow I’ll wake up in a happier and more fulfilled life.