(Scroll down a bit to “a brilliant mind” posted on March 7, 2013, and read that first. This is an update to that post.)

Two years later, I caught up with the light, after a long, arduous run. Gasping for air, almost breathless, I marvelled at our proximity, hoping she didn’t notice the sweat brimming around my eyelids, pooling on my upper lip, and dripping from my hair. I could finally see this light up close and personal, and best of all, hold perfection in my hands. It threw everything else into shadows as we ravished each other’s presence, two lonely people brought together by the forge of circumstance.

Bathed in this warm and incandescent light, I was happy for a while. It shone through many cracks that I hadn’t seen before, brought to my eyes countless intricacies of this world that I hadn’t noticed in my blindness. All at once there were new lands to explore, and explore them we did, always with this light guiding me. Yet as we went on, still pushed relentlessly forward by the same tides of time, I started to see something different, something unsettling. This light… there was something strange to it. I couldn’t articulate what it was, but where was the perfection I thought it embodied? The closer I got, the more its warmth dissipated, and I was caught in the middle, like a mind adjusting between an optical illusion and reality. All too soon it felt cold and impersonal, like fluorescence.

When I resurfaced back to reality, I almost couldn’t see the light any more. I tried fighting, but that would mean sinking back into self-constructed fantasy. As a solace I told myself it was simply that we moved on to different wavelengths, and that’s why she started disappearing into invisibility. In the end I let go. I returned to blindness.

The light was miles ahead, masked by the haze of academic traffic. It gave off a faint glow, with the vague emanating quality of a brilliance diffused by the smoke that lingered in the distance between us. In this perpetually dim city, perhaps anyone would be primed to be sensitive to any form of luminance. I could not help but be irresistibly drawn to this particular light. As I ran towards it, pushed relentlessly forward by the tides of time, there were indeed other flickers and flashes around me, but they were all fleeting. At most they constituted irritating stimulations to my retina, transient – and almost by definition – lacking substance. They were different by nature from the light I was running towards, which was constant, and steady. Despite the vagueness, it was always there. Always in front of me, and it had the comforting assurance of a richness that I could not resist.

We mellow with age. As we get older, the realities of life hit us in deeper and deeper ways, until we become beaten up into vapid, innocuous pulp, incapable of being or doing anything remarkably individual. A little bit of us dies every time we fall, a little more at each dead end – a life, intact and original in the beginning, accelerating into entropy as we step into adulthood. The brazen sharpness of youth gets blunted, giving way to the inexorable proceedings of conformation and ultimately subservience to a larger whole.

There is something I fear, that the thoughts and opinions I hold now will be slowly eroded as life washes over me. Slowly, we stop dreaming for and working towards a 3000 pound marlin, opting instead for 10 trout at a time. This is about the ideals we formulate during youth as a function of our environment, the ideals that we hold dear to us now, crystalizing into a gem that we carefully guard in our hearts. Nothing lasts forever, not even these ideals, which you think are so personal as to not be vulnerable to any external influence. But in the end they are all susceptible. Think about what you yearn for, deep down. The things that you care about the most. This pristine gem which you are so fond of may eventually lose its translucence, be gouged upon or even utterly destroyed. Circumstances change, and with that, so does our perception of this gem, as the conditions once favorable for its hatching cease to exist. When that happens, where we find ourselves in a different position as a different self (recall “No man steps into the same river twice”, Heraclitus), we may look at this little stone and declare it as a product of the vanity and folly of adolescence, discarding it into the landfill we are making of our lives.

At this moment, I dread these prospects. But fast forward 30 or 40 years. My older self will have ideals of her own, ideals that may be very different from mine (let’s treat me and her as separate identities), because they will be the product of an additional set of experience and circumstance. In retrospect, she may not lament the loss of insistence on her younger ideals, because she does not see them as ideals anymore.

Change of perspective. Objectively speaking, it may be a good thing, but nonetheless that’s what I fear.

Drifting through streets of industrial Hong Kong
Dimly lit stairways quietly lure us deeper
Into this old beating heart, throbbing
Through the dust and smoke, a constant
Unchanged variable, through colonial days
To the handover, there are still men who live by

Lifting crates and smoking.
They used to play cards,
Now they have iPhones.

Narrow alleys, motor repairs graced with
Graffiti, uncivilized sophistication
Slipping through backdoors, stuffy fire escapes,
With abandoned offerings to gods
Rows of rotting Chinese buns pinned with incense
Going up and up, straining our ears for
Footsteps of security guards, who turn out to be
Lonesome, craving for company.

These rooftops don’t give panoramic views,
But here they show you what the Peak cannot.

Integrated into the hazy skyline,
Isolated from the perpetual bustle,
We take pictures of ourselves like
Typical teenagers
With the backdrop of ordinary buildings
Caressing us, into this city with a face
We finally see.

You can’t escape from the system.

Life is not without a sense of irony.

Haven’t written narratives for a long time… This piece is entirely fictional.

The Scent of Fresh Blades

(If I could, I would like to bring the scent of fresh blades with me wherever I go, to remind myself that sometimes, it’s alright if you’re not perfect.)

“Do you know what I like most about grass? Not its biological versatility of survival. Not its colour, not its soft touch on your bare arms when you lie on it, when it comes brushing at you, sometimes with dew, soaking your shirt in damp streaks. Not the way it feels so springy underneath your feet when you run on it. The best thing about grass is its scent. The scent of fresh blades.”

She said this the day I kissed her. We were lying on grass, with her curled up around me, and I was staring at the sky flushed bloody red and golden yellow with the hues of that long sunset. She plucked out a long blade and twisted it into a ring. I held that fragility in my fingers, and, pointing it towards the descending sun, realized it ringed that fiery globe perfectly.

(Perfection within imperfection. I had been trying to paint that ever since.)

“Take roses for example. If one of them has a ruffled petal, or a crooked stem, or a bent leaf, then it can’t belong anymore, because roses you give someone are supposed to be all perfect, to symbolize all that love you are trying to express. You’d have to get another one to replace it in your bunch of 99, or 50, or 36, or whatever number that people make up, which they claim it signifies some unending love or something. Bullshit.”

We were at a boutique looking at roses, and disdain for such flimsy and superficial emblems of love was clearly written on her face. I got one nonetheless, not particularly for her. It was nice to look at, with a ruffled petal, crooked stem, and some bent leaves, still beautiful, and she took it as we walked out onto the pavement. She ran a big, sharp thorn along her arm, and her delicate skin split open, hot red veins creeping out from the cut.

“Hey, why do you do that?” I had become accustomed to her eccentricities, her little unexpected acts of self-inflicted minor damages, that this did not surprise me. She turned around and I gazed into her dark, unyielding eyes.

“What are your thorns?” She asked softly.

We walked hand in hand.

“And what are yours?”

Maybe we couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be compared to roses. Going back to that piece of grass, we lay there in unbroken silence for the rest of the afternoon, each of us immersed in our own thoughts. Such sweet silence characterized the rest of the days we spent together.

“You know how grass smells like after it rains?” She asked one day, when she came to my workshop, fiddling with the rose I bought that cut her. “Fresh. Raw. In it you could also smell the soil, the earthworms and the bugs crawling underneath our feet. They don’t exactly smell good, and you wouldn’t like to acknowledge their existence, but you can’t separate them from the smell of grass. Without their complement, grass wouldn’t feel like grass. That’s why I like its scent, the scent of fresh blades. It has imperfections, yet I like it’s scent because of them.”

Her fingers lingered over the sharp, unforgiving thorns, tempted to pierce them again. Gently, I took it from her hands, and placed it in an empty beer bottle next to the window sill. The sunlight, sifting through the trees outside, splashed brilliantly all over it, forcing life into its shrivelled, blackened petals.

(Remember the sunset.)

“… so grass is the ideal.” She continued another day. “Each blade is different, yet that doesn’t matter. Whether it’s long, short, bent, or ripped… it’s still grass. Grass is allowed to have defects. One blade does not get plucked just because it doesn’t look good enough. But imperfection cannot be tolerated in roses. The way we look at roses, is the way we look at ourselves now. The models, the weightlifters, the singers, my neighbor. The perfect body, perfect look, perfect smile, curvature of the lips, the hips. But it’s not appearances alone. Everyone wants to be the perfect man, woman, dancer, artist, girl-next-door, athlete. Fuck, it’s not about ability too. It’s about being a perfect person. I know you, Ed. You’re trying to become the perfect man, perfect son, perfect artist. You don’t have to.

“If only we could be like grass. It would be ok to be yourself, to have your own personal shortcomings and flaws and weaknesses. Of course you’d have to work on them, and of course you’d have to at least try being better all the time. But all this paranoia about being the “right” one, well, Ed, you’re not the only one. I find it unnecessary.”

I brush the locks from her face and caress her. (Clarisse, sometimes, I think you think too much. But I think about these things too.)

And she would make those rings of grass endlessly. Occasionally I would pocket one or two, only to find them weeks later, withered and dry, in my shirt-pocket stained with blue ink. These rings gradually became a muse for my painting, as the months stretch, I would always think back to the day when she first made me one, when I pointed it at the setting sun, and marveled at how an imperfect, insignificant blade of grass, when bent in a certain way, could still possess the perfection of a circle.

I was trying to paint that sunset into a rose. The one with ruffled petals, bent leaves, and a crooked stem.

“What is it about flawlessness that is so encapsulating? Is such a state of being desirable, if it is achievable at the first place?”

(It gives one a sense of calm to have an ideal to aim for.)

To have a fictional goal, even if it appears to be out of reach. You need… a purpose. That way, perfection would seem to be possible. Belief in perfection, isn’t this all that matters?

Each stroke of the brush has to be carefully considered, how you angle your brush, the layering of paints. Where do edges end and shades begin? It is up to me to decide, to manipulate. Focus.

“Back to my point about grass. It is the ideal state of imperfection. A way of perception. Not delusional, being blind to your own weaknesses; but… you know, living with the knowledge of it, forgiving, not overly scrutinizing every meticulous detail, every flaw. I’d like to see you finish your sunset. It would be something new for a change, something different, not the glamorously romantically beautiful but ugly roses you see in cold department stores.”

(Smell my sunset for me, Clarisse.)

I pondered over her words with every stroke. Sometimes it took an hour to decide which brush to use, or the proportion of paints I should have in mixture. Not every stroke may be perfect, and this rose, certainly, was nowhere near perfect. But it did not matter, as long as Clarisse like it.

For hours she would stare at that unfinished canvas, sometimes hung over the poorly plastered wall, sometimes spread out over a wooden board. Would it be “ideal”, in her terms? Could it be? It looked different on different days. Once, there was a storm, and the shadows from torn, aimless leaves outside kept flitting over my sunset, like homeless ghosts in the horizon, desperately seeking for respite. And when it rained lightly, it was as if my rose was masked in a thin veil, with the whiteness of air that damp days brought.

Nonetheless, it looked as if the sun shone eternally through my rose. One perfect sunset, blended into an imperfect rose. The richness of colour, the emotional intensity, the unspeakable beauty of near-twilight that day.

Nearing the end, I tried smelling the rose. It had the scent of fresh blades.

Will be posting up some stuff I wrote…

this

is a playground for my unspeakable thoughts.

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