The Whirlpool Of Distraction
One bullshit I keep saying to myself is “just one video.” Of course, that’s a big fucking lie because I always end up in some deep, weird rabbit-hole 4 hours later. The topic and medium doesn’t matter so long as I’m distracted enough—it could be Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, Reddit, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. What sort of things could I create if I wasn’t distracted all the time?
I remember that wooden bench and the strawberry ice cream; I remember the Nintendo DS you borrowed me in that ultra-boring biology class; I remember those times when we talked until 2 AM about your relationship; I remember that incident where you tried to hack my computer to snoop into my private messages; I remember that blue lunch box you carried for me because my hands were full; I remember that tense argument over some stupid homework, which in the end, didn’t matter; I remember how you smiled after you crushed me at chess thirteen times in a row; I remember that phone call where you showed signs of betrayal, which made me question the friendship; I remember that time when we walked around the grocery store and talked about coconut water for ten minute straight.
As I write these words, memories of friendship flash in my mind. I can see faces; I can hear sounds. Having belly laugh, getting backstabbed; late-night texts, cans of beer. It all feels like yesterday.
But after all these years, one fact is clear: friendship, no matter how sweet, fades. Maybe it was caused by boredom, or new friends, or minuscule conflict, or the lack of physical proximity, or divergence of common interest—I have no idea. Interesting friendship eventually turned bland and boring—like a bowl of unsalted chicken soup. And when the friendship reached that state, we tacitly parted ways. Perhaps it was meant to decay all along.
Hey Shae, There Was An Angel That Showed Me Alcohol
A minute ago, as I was building sandcastles with my best friend, Shae, there was an angel that appeared before me. The angel said, “I will show you your future.”
Where is this? I don’t know. Wait, wait, who’s that?
“That’s you,” the angel says.
“That’s me? What do you mean?”
“I have fast-forwarded time, and this is the glimpse of where you will be in 40 years.”
“What does glimpse mean?” I ask the angel.
“My gosh,” the angel sighs. “Okay, okay, little kid, forget about glimpse. Just think of this as a video that shows you who you will become.”
“Who I will become?”
“Yes, that person you’re seeing is you 40 years from now.”
“Oh, he has the same hair color as me! But wait, why are there so many bottles? One, two, three, four, uh, eight, nine, uh, sixteen, seventeen, uh, twenty-five, twenty-six?” I say with my fingers pointed at the bottles.
“Those are glass bottles.”
“Glass bottles? Why is he collecting glass bottles?”
“He’s not collecting it; he is drinking from it.”
“Why is he drinking that much water?”
“You see, little kid, those aren’t water,” the angel explains with slight hesitation. “Those are… alcohol.”
“What’s an alcohol?”
“It’s a drink that makes him happy.”
“Is it different from water?”
“Yes, it’s different from water.”
“But if drinking alcohol makes him happy, why does he look sad?”
The angel looks at me briefly, then looks away.
“Hey, you haven’t answered my question,” I say after some moments of silence.
“I want to show you something.”
“What do you want to sho—”
He’s crying—it’s not loud, but I can see his tears. He wipes his tears with his left forearm, and he keeps on wiping, and drinking, and wiping, and drinking, and wiping, and drinking, and wiping.
“Hey, if alcohol makes him happy, why is he crying?”
“Little kid, I think I’ve given the wrong explanation. He drinks alcohol not to feel happy, but to run away from his sadness.”
“Wait, that means, I’ll be that sad!”
“Why is he sad?”
“Because he has many problems.”
“What does problem mean?”
“Uh, problem is, uh, problem.”
“Problem is problem?”
“Problem is, uh—you know—bad things.”
“So I will have bad things, which will make me sad, and I will drink alcohol to not be sad?”
“Yes, yes; you’re such a bright kid.”
“But what abou—hey look, look, he’s going to bed!” I exclaim as I point my finger.
Instead of using his forearm to wipe his tears, he now uses his pillow. Three glass bottles nearby, he drinks from it every few sobs and pillow-screams. Why does he cry so much? Are the bad things that bad?
“Will I be that sad?” I ask.
“Yes, you will be that sad.”
“But I’m happy; why will I be sad?”
“Because you will have many problems.”
“And I will drink alcohol to not be sad?”
“Yes; not now, but yes.”
“Why do you show this to me?”
“You are such an inquisitive—and bright—little kid. I’ve done what I’m told to do, and it’s best if I send you back to where you were.”
“Hey! Answer my quest—”
What, uh, sandcastles? Oh, that’s Shae. But hey, the angel hasn’t answered my question!
A neighborless cottage at the edge of a forest,
society and its neon lights nowhere to be found.
Wild birds perform orchestra on the roof;
cats and dogs frolic to-and-fro on the lawn.
Cookware sits still inside the kitchen;
groceries abundantly available in the pantry.
Every meal on the table is eaten with gratefulness,
for the wish of something better doesn’t arise.
The grand piano stands silently in the corner,
wishing to fill the room with its notes.
Sun shines downward, night lamp shines upward;
sometimes beauty reveals itself in the dark.
Whether there is activity or passivity,
all things start and end without interference.
The creature called “tomorrow” doesn’t exist,
for the “today” is complete in and of itself.
They’re with you at all times.
When you go for a walk, you take them with you; in your private sanctuary, you also take them with you. After you wake up, you greet them; before you sleep, they sing you lullabies. When you work, they disturb you; when you eat, they entertain you. When you’re confused, they tell you what’s true; when you’re not asking, they tell you what to do. When you speak, you do so on their behalf; when you think, you can hear their voice inside you. There are real humans around you, but you don’t see them; your dog wants to play with you, but you’re nowhere to be found.
The Second Letter From The Hot Air Ballooner
(If you haven’t read the previous letter, you can do so here.)
My dear friend,
It has been a week since I started flying towards the Himalayas. As I write this letter to you, there’s an endless sea below me, and the moon is full, bright, and slightly orange-ish. Aided by the moonlight, I can see two fishing boats nearby. It’s gorgeous.
It’s not rosy as it sounds though: I’m all alone. Once in a while, an airplane passes by; birds often visit. But, what the hell, I can’t talk with them! I think I’m going mad. Or maybe, I am mad: I talk to myself, sleep by myself, reason with myself, argue with myself, enjoy the sight by myself. When the hot air balloon’s machinery needs fixing, I fix it by myself after I land it on the ground—and of course, I fly it by myself after that.
There are plenty of canned foods, dried berries, and nuts here, but I eat alone. I often think of those times when we had dinner together. Perhaps we can have one again after I finish this trip.
—The Hot Air Ballooner
I sometimes find myself watching videos of Tiger Woods playing golf. The commentators use words like birdie, chip, putt, tee, driver, bogey, and various different golf-related words. I barely know what these words mean, and I don’t care—I just want to watch Tiger!
When I watched him won the 2019 Masters, I got goosebumps. Club hit ball, numbers shown on the screen; I didn’t even understand what was going on, but my heart was captivated with whatever he was doing on the golf course.
What makes Tiger Woods so captivating?
P.S. Here’s the video I’ve watched most. The crowd, the cheers, the hugs; fist in the air, smiles everywhere. (I still get goosebumps.)
Teenage Years Frivolously Spent
Ah, video games. I remember those days: young and dumb, I squandered a massive chunk of my teenage years in it. I played this game, then that game, then that other game the cool guys were playing—the cycle went on and on. When I dressed up my character with expensive apparels, I felt good; when I clicked circles without missing a beat, I felt good; when I slayed a big dragon with my might sword, I felt good; when I beat my friends and won against them, I felt really, really good.
I spent, literally, more than ten-thousand hours on those things. Badges, ranks, numbers, weapons, levels, wins; what was all that for? It’s one thing if those obsession led me to world-class-ness, but I sucked at everything!
It was frivolity at its finest.
Sometimes I wonder how high my talents would’ve soared had I spent those time pursuing my talents instead.
“You Have Nothing I Want”
“All hail King Ozia! All hail King Ozia!”
Thousands of people bowing down, as far as the king could see.
“We’ll soon conquer the world,” said the king’s highest general.
“I believe so,” replied the king, “it’s the only matter of time. I just have to prepare Zuala to replace me.”
“Pardon me, my king, but what about your wife? You seem to never talk about her.”
King Ozia replied with a piercing glare.
“Forgive me my king. Please forgive this fool.”
“You are forgiven. Now, deal with these captives. I believe we can utilize them to our advantage. Throw the weak and frail away, and keep the rest.”
“Yes, my king.”
Ozia retreated from the crowd; it was time for lunch with Zuala.
Zuala was the Blue Princess. No one in the kingdom was allowed to wear blue-colored apparel—only she could. “I am blue, and blue is me,” she often said to her servants. Her presence attracts people’s attention, for the blue she wore was a stark contrast among everything—and everyone.
From a young age, she was rigorously trained by her father: Before lunch, it was all about fighting; after lunch, it was all about reading and writing. The only downtime she had was Sunday, where she would walk with her mother in the woods—talking about the birds and sky. Out of pity, Zuala’s mother would often sneak her some mint candies amid her father’s harsh schedule.
Zuala thought books were lame. Literature, war strategies, persuasion, table manners, poetry, yuck! The static world of words didn’t interest her. When she was twelve, she asked her dad to stop all the bookish lessons: She wanted to learn things her own way. This was one of the few wishes that were granted by her father.
Sixteen of age, Zuala was deemed almost ready by her father to replace him. On important kingly meetings, she would sit beside her father and discuss war strategies with other generals; on diplomatic meetings between friendly kingdoms, she would often represent her father, putting up polite gestures to please other diplomats while negotiating win-win trades between kingdoms.
One of the things Zuala liked most was knives—she had a peculiar relationship with it. When asked why, she candidly said, “I am physically weaker than men, but I have my knives.” Slender and nimble, no one in her kingdom—not even the fiercest of men—dared fighting her one-on-one, for they knew: it was only the matter of time before one of her knives touches their throat.
No, no, no; nobody wanted to deal with Blue Princess’ knives.
The food King Ozia and Zuala ate was the best in their kingdom. In a land where the common folk toil for scraps, they enjoy all the luxuries—even imported ones.
Sitting on the lunch table, King Ozia felt that it was time to give “The Talk.”
“Zuala, I have something important to say.”
“I’m listening,” replied Zuala swiftly.
“I am honestly surprised that you passed my rigorous training since you were young. Those days where you have to sit in the cold rain, or walk miles with water buckets, or gorge on books about strategies and literature were over. You have proved yourself worthy of ruling this kingdom.”
“Where are you going with this, dad?”
“My days are numbered, Zuala, and you’re an exquisitely fine person to rule this kingdom. I think you’re ready. But there’s one request I have of you before I hand down this crown.”
“H’m?” Zuala inquired.
“I want you to end your mother’s life.”
No panic, no flinch. They both spooned themselves the food they had on their plate. The air was starting to thicken.
“May I know why?” asked Zuala, after what seemed like an eternity.
“She has nothing I want.”
“She has nothing you want?”
“I have this kingdom; I have luxurious food; I have fine clothes; I can sleep with any lady I find cute. And above all, I have the perfect successor for this mighty kingdom. That useless little insect called your mother has nothing I want.”
“Why, then, did you make her your wife?”
“I want you,” replied King Ozia nonchalantly, while staring at Zuala.
“You want me?”
“Then why did you—”
“Stop questioning me!” King Ozia shouted as he slammed his fist on the table.
Zuala learned at a young age that there was no point in arguing with her father. She had perfected the expressionless nod she always gave to extricate herself from her father’s demands.
“This midnight, a servant will approach you to give you the key to your mother’s prison cell. You’re good with knives. Do your thing.”
A nod from Zuala was the only thing he received.
The moon was full and bright as Zuala entered the dungeon. An old torch in her right hand, the key in her left hand, and knives in her pocket.
It was time.
Five minutes of walking, she found herself in front of a room—her mother’s room. The key was slightly rusty, but it wasn’t hard to unlock the door.
“Mom?” Zuala said, slightly trembled.
There she was: disheveled, dirty, and tired.
There was one fist-sized hole in the room for ventilation. Ceiling two inches away, no space to walk; no light, no bed; dried bread in one corner, feces in another corner.
It was dismal.
“Mom, it’s me.”
“It’s you. You… who?” replied her mom.
“Zuala… I’ve heard that name before.”
“Of course you have!” Zuala interjected.
“That name sounds familiar, you know?” her mom said slowly, as if she was drugged by something.
Zuala brought her chin up, so they could meet at eye level. Her emaciated face looked different from her youthful one—she looked like a stranger from another land.
“Mom, please talk to me. Are you thirsty? I brought some fresh mountain water for you.”
“Water, fresh water, give,” her mom said, as she desperately tried to reach for the bottle. It took three bottles to quench her thirst, and she drank it like there was no tomorrow.
“Zuala… I finally remember who Zuala is. Are you Zuala?” said her mom, with slightly more vigor.
“Yes, I am.”
“It has been years, my dear daughter. I’d like to hug you, but why would the Blue Princess hug a dirty woman like—”
Her mom suddenly found herself in Zuala’s embrace. It had been such a long time. The sea of emotion within them came out as tears; the hug was so tight that Zuala feared it would break her mother’s bones.
That was the hug that her father couldn’t give—the hug of love.
“Let’s get out of here mom,” Zuala said, after the episodes of tears and hugs.
“But this is my home.”
“No, no, no; this is hell. I’ll show you our new home.”
“Our new home?”
“Yes,” Zuala replied with soft eyes.
“Where will you take us?”
Zuala stared into the ground as she tried to formulate what she wanted to say. “Mom, after seeing you, I have decided to abandon this queenship,” she finally said, after couple minutes of silence, “I don’t want all these strategizing, fighting, cajoling, acquiescing, commanding, ruling, and conquering anymore—I’m truly tired of this. Let’s go mom, I’ve planned an escape for both of us.”
“But why, my beloved Blue Princess? If you were queen, you could conquer the world, rule it, and have anything you wish for; why would you want to abandon it?
“Because this kingdom,” Zuala replied, “has nothing I want.”
There was a small village I visited a while ago. It used to be filled with people, until a volcano erupted nearby. Houses without roof, melted laptops, burnt teddy bear, utensils covered with volcanic ashes, dusty bed cover; it was inexplicably eerie.
But, somehow, it also felt fake. The stuff were too neatly arranged, and some were placed inside a glass case; the floor was slightly too clean, and the houses showed no sign of having survived an eruption.
The incident was real, but the place was heavily touristified.
I can only imagine what the place would look like had it been left unadorned. Walls full of burnt patches, moonlight passing through holes on the roof, dusty floor, plates and utensils on the sink, wrinkled shirt inside a half-opened closet, melted laptop sitting on top of the table, burnt books lying messily in the shelf.
Grey, gloomy, dusty, dark; raw and stark.
What would that place smell like? What about the air, would it feel dry?
I can only imagine.