Saturday, 15 April 2017

passing thoughts of a museum greeter

up and down, I wander... then pace, like a tiger, like tipu's tiger, ready to bolt.. I take a deep breathe, I look to the clock, a minute has passed, I stop. I stand still. I close my eyes. An eternity passes. I open them. I begin to wander again, into the renaissance gallery. narcissus is staring into the ground, his reflection has disappeared, the fountain is no more, the waters have evaporated- gone... there is a naked stone man, he is slaying another, his stone eyes furious, cold, filled with disdain... lyrics pass through my head, that old hindi song, lagan tumse man ki lagan, lagan tumse man ki lagan. I'm somewhere else, under the blue sky on a charpai in lahore on a balmy spring day. so many years later, so many years... life is passing by, sometimes freely, aimlessly, but there's so much left to do. shit, and I'm here, just wandering, just witnessing, a timeless act of violence; inert, still, restless, ill, but here... still here... alhamdulillah for life.

I watch the people pass by, a Japanese man wearing a blue kimono, an old Indian lady dressed in an orange and gold sari, trainers poking out, she smiles at me, I smile back, I forget sometimes that I'm not invisible, not yet- slowly fading- not yet. A monk in red robes, he's drifting, countless couples, little kids, elderly... tourists, dressed in beautiful attire. I have cat hair on my scarf and dust on my boots. I wonder, is it possible to die of boredom? I watch the clock, ten minutes have passed. I try to remember God. I try once again to do dhikr, I move my thumb across the length of my fingers... repeating as I go; subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah....... 'excuse me miss, where are the closest toilets?' I'm pulled back to earth. Straight ahead down the stairs on the left. I repeat for the hundredth time. 'thank you' Off she goes. I sigh.

The construction workers pass by in hard hats, in neon yellow, gruff, they look out of place.... the director walks over to the information desk. I try to stand a bit straighter, but then I decide I don't care. I want to bang my head against the beautiful marble pillar. I want to lie on the floor and fall asleep until the end of time. I want the glass chandelier to come crashing down, but is it possible, I wonder? to die of boredom. thoughts that lead nowhere. isn't it funny, all I ever wanted to do was wander and watch people and watch life unfold, and sometimes it's everything. Sometimes it's perfect. my face hurts from smiling. I still can't laugh. On a good day, when my imagination runs wild, a thousand good thoughts to feed off, a soul energized, illuminated, pleasant exchanges, connections abound. a memory comes to me, a distant vague memory, the well of death, mona lisa's sad smile, her eyes bore holes into my heart, the stars and ocean at dongbaek, taking out the trash, fire and ice, a place i once tarried. But sometimes it's bad, because it's tiring doing nothing, and watching the clock, and waiting waiting waiting, and watching and wandering in circles, up and down, with only thoughts for company, the bad kind, the kind that won't ever go away. I lose my mind. I wander, I watch, I wait. Maybe it's the prednisolone. I feel dizzy- as though I'm caught in a whirlwind. The constant sound of people chattering is jarring the noise, the noise, the noise, the movement. You chose this. I close my eyes. Everything is everything.

soon i'll finish my shift, and I can walk under the sky. birdsong and river and evening light, solitude. sweet sweet solitude. my mind calms. I open my eyes again. A stone figure is staring at me. I will turn to stone. People will walk around me. Don't touch the statues!

I wander around islamic middle east, everything is too beautiful, the feeling passes. everything is nothing. I go back to the clock, the clock the clock...............................

what took you so long?

I don't know. I shrugged. Life happened. In my mind I search for the answers. Everything that comes to me, leaves me feeling a little emptier. self loathing, self doubt, a thousand insecurities, lack of courage and a desire to be free. <hesitation> a need for self preservation. What took you so long? The voices within and without. The rejection, the heartbreak, the condescension, the heartbreak, the self doubt, the job vacancies in my inbox, the voices, what if you're not good enough? you're not good enough, nothing even matters. Does it even matter? The questions, the questions, the questions, the questions. What took you so long? The past, the path, the daydreams, it seems; Life happened. an inability to commit, to trust, to speak openly, to kick up a fuss, the desire to leave, the heartbreak, the loss of faith, ---- to wait. Missing God. Missing God. Missing God.

I watch the clock. A few minutes to go. Just a few more minutes. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017


I bought this book a while ago for a friend, sadly I never got a chance to hand it over... i seem to have a growing collection of things I've gotten for people over the years... life is sad like that, people come and go so often, sometimes so unpredictably, and then you're without, but its nice to have things that remind you of them, a museum of things...

I recently started reading weatherland, it's an illuminating and a beautifully written book, an immense anthology of weather through the eyes of writers and artists, from virginia woolf to keats... it starts with an account from the author, she relays her experience of spending a few days watching the changing light and water in a small village in the south downs not far from alfriston...

weather.... i love the weather. especially english weather- as unpredictable as it is maddening, our weather is so varied - the rain, the wind, the lightning and thunder, sunshine on a cloudless day, grey clouds on a sunless day, moody skies, glorious sunsets and dramatic technicolour sunrises, vague heavy twilights that fade out ever so slowly, the fog, the mist, the stars on a clear night - there's so much beauty to be found in weather- so much healing. A perfectly painted canvas above, it spreads across the page, it reminds me of the greatest and most magnificent artist, the creator of all things, Allah swt.... it reminds me of the passing and transient nature of all things, the weather changes, as do most things in life, even seemingly fixed and certain things, and there's a beauty in that too... in understanding that and appreciating the weather, every hue in every sky... droplets of dew on a blade of grass, the rising purple fog on a baron field,  there's so much comfort and beauty to be sought in watching the weather, being part of it, there's so much inspiration...

It was really windy this evening, gusts blew through me, the weeping willows swayed wildly under the purple sunset sky, the birds flew up above, the river ebbed and flowed, the weather changed again- there was stillness (outside and within). lately things have been hard, I think maybe for everyone. I don't know. But it's so nice after being sick for so long to be able to breathe again (literally), to wander and to watch the weather and to find peace simply in being inside of it, to feel a sense of relief and a joy I can't begin to put to words- the gold light, a rainbow from a bus window, the drops of water that cling to it, the cosmos that lie therein...

at the museum where I work, I've been looking for weather too, clouds etched in ceramics, skies painted in oil, constable's and turner's... When life feels so scatty and dark and you begin to feel hopeless, sometimes it's so nice simply to pull yourself out of everything and to just watch the weather change, and let it inside of you- let is wash away and blow away, and burn away, everything that pollutes your heart, mind and soul....

Here's a photo of a sunset I saw yesterday and some passages from the book....

Sunday, 1 January 2017

(To Be) Turned Away

On New Year’s Day 2016, I found myself watching the sunrise over Jirisan Mountain in Korea with my oldest and closest friend, C. We never planned our adventure, we just took off on a whim the night before, we ended up driving for 6 hours until we made it to the deserted National Park. We found a room to crash in for the night, outside of it there were heaps of snow, a burning fire and a couple of hounds, above, there were a million stars- it was so mystical and dreamlike; that scene. I remember we woke up early the next morning to watch the sunrise before taking off again, to some new unknown destination. That's how we were, that's how we had always been- spontaneous, fearless, slightly crazy.

This year, we were supposed to be reunited in London. I couldn't wait to see her, my friend who over the years had become a close sister to me- closer still. We shared everything, adventures, stories, memories, laughs- so many laughs. I couldn't wait for us to be together again, to witness the dawn of a new year, a new beginning.

I never got to see C, because they never allowed her across the border into the UK from France. She called me from a police station on New Year's Eve. She said they didn't believe that she was visiting me. She didn't have many clothes or fixed plans, she did have a return ticket though and details of a hostel she had booked. The plan was we'd spend a few days wandering around London, we'd re-live some of our early adventures and embark on new ones, and then when we got bored of the crowds and the buildings, we would take a trip to the South Coast where we'd spend a few days walking by the coast, and talking about the things that mattered- often absurd and stupid things.

They never let her cross the border- the border (real and made-up) that separates people- and keeps them apart. They never let her cross. She said they asked her a stream of questions, and detained her for over 15 hours- they asked her so many questions. Are you married? No. Cross. Are you working? No I left my job. Cross. What do you do for money? I run an airbnb. Cross. What's you're fixed address? I currently live on a boat. Cross. Why do you have so few clothes? I don't need very many clothes, I can borrow my friends'. *suspicious look* cross. They never let her cross the border. They went through all her things, they read her diary- it was in Korean. They laughed at her. They told her she was a suspicious character. They made her cry, they said they were crocodile tears. She felt powerless and frustrated and so so sad. I could hear it in her voice. I felt her pain.

In this modern world, it's very hard to live an unconventional life and not be demonised for it-  it's hard to live an alternative life where you don't plan, where you don't have a fixed address, where you don't have a partner or a 'purpose,' you're not driven by materialism, and your sense of self is not reliant on the work that you do or the title that you hold. The things I love most about C, are her bravery, her sense of humour and the way she lives, freely, unconventionally, unbound by society and people and their small mindedness. I love that she never asks me how work is going, or what projects I'm involved in- all these too small questions in a too big world. Society doesn't like people who they can't put in a box, they don't understand vagrants, wanderers, poets, the starving artists and struggling writers- most importantly those with no titles and no need for them- the free. There is a price that you pay for freedom. There is a price you pay for living an unconventional life.

They never let her cross the border. She couldn't believe it, she said she couldn't imagine a worse way to end the year. She told me she would never try to visit Britain again. She said there are far better countries out there, and she'd lived in many of them. She said she only came to see me. Of course I knew all this. I knew it. All I could do was try to comfort her, tell her everything would be fine- that I'd come out to see her in Paris as soon as I could and sorry she had to go through this. I thought back to November last year when I rocked up in Seoul with a half-packed suitcase, a bit of money, an address scribbled on some paper and no plans. They let me through. They didn't ask me any questions. It was the first time I had not been questioned at border control. It felt amazing. I felt sad that she didn't experience the same kindness and hospitality I had. I felt sad that I couldn't give her the presents I wrapped the night before, that I couldn't buy her a dozen lunches, and take her on a few hundred wanders. I felt so sad, all I could do was comfort her.

At the end of the conversation, she laughed it all off good-heartedly as she always would, said they were just doing their jobs, and maybe she was in the wrong. I assured her she wasn't. I told her no one should be made to feel like that, made to feel less than human- I knew how painful it was- to be in that situation, to be asked a thousand questions, to be doubted and never believed, to have all your belongings searched, to be laughed at for your inability to live life in a conventional way- to have lots of clothes, to have lots of money, to have an itinerary, a plan, a plan, a plan. I know what it's like, and it's not nice. There's a price you pay for living free- if you're of colour that is. Maybe only if you're of colour.

Some people come into your life, and change it forever. C is one of those people. She's one of the few people in the world who I can be myself around, the most authentic version of myself, there's something about being around people who are unashamedly themselves, who live day by day and carve out new paths. There's something about people who don't give a shit about fitting in, and living a standard life. It's hard, it really is. But if anything, this experience has taught me that sometimes things worth fighting for are hard. The system is broken. It has been forever. Live the life you want to live, do what you want, and don't ever change to fit in to society, or to cross any borders (material or immaterial). Those worth crossing, won't need you too. X