winter manifesto

Unrealistically ideal winter. Photo by Josiah Jones.

Show up. Go the extra mile. Write it all down. Get enough fresh air (even though it’s freezing outside!). Read every day. Keep up with the study routine. Sleep in; waking up early is for summer only. Listen to your body. Self-care = abundance of coconut oil on hair and face. Exfoliate. Carry a lip balm at all times. Get enough sleep. Be intentional; live with the intent to do good every day — for yourself and for others. Write a list of daily affirmations. Be mentally present; don’t focus on the weather and afternoon darkness too much. Play with puppies. Slow down. Keep yourself hydrated inside out. Do not let feelings rot inside. Listen rather than respond. Make hot cocoa and coconut pancakes. Go to the Christmas markets with a friend, drink mulled wine, and buy each other presents. Anything that can be accomplished before the year’s end, do it. Write. Then write more.

late night tales

In a café.

I search the faces of people on the morning train and think of you. The train buzzes and squeals and stops but my mind pays no attention. I imagine your moods to be reflective of the weather in the city where I am. Cheerful for sunny, quiet for overcast. But of course, not everyone’s moods work the way mine do but maybe yours do. When I step off the train onto the platform, your essence of being floats next to me until I lose you in the crowds.

Sometimes when I am ordering my coffee at the corner shop words roll off my tongue, my mind trails away and I think of that afternoon when you handed me a paper cup of flat white. Our fingers touched briefly and never again after that. A warm smile played on your face and I sensed it was an expression reserved for me only. Nothing sinister or incriminating; just a feeling and you not hiding it. Later on, when we were saying goodbye, I was reluctant to step into your hug because I was afraid everything would spill out on the pavement. Maybe I thought I would melt at your touch. My effort was quick and half-assed and I know you noticed. But the truth is, I didn’t want to say goodbye. Not when I never know for how long. Not when the time between leap years is forever and there isn’t enough time in the world to make up for lost time. And yet. When it comes to you, time seems meaningless. My feelings refuse to age. Don’t you ever wish it would lie?

When I think of you, my breath gets caught somewhere between my molars and my lungs. Each time I have to brace myself for whatever is going to come next in my head because it often feels like a brisk downward spiral. I lose track of what’s real. There’s a little thump when I reach the bottom my fantasies. Like standing up too fast and hitting my head on the counter top. I feel dizzy and disoriented. Something always comes back to me — a flashback, like a boomerang.

The way you said to me once: you are a daydreamer, aren’t you? It sounded like an accusation and I was hurt by the implication that it was a wrong thing to be. I wanted to scream at you. Grab you by the shoulders and shake you hard. One of us has to be! Much later I realized it was one of my qualities that you adored. Because without it, without the childish idealism, without the monopoly of imagination over my life — the words would never flow. You were scared of my sentences and the meaning behind them but you still awaited them impatiently. I guess you cannot help it any less than I can help writing it all down. You saw the writer in me before I even realized I had the ambition. You loved me before I loved myself. You were gone before I could get used to the idea of you being mine. You split my life into before and after.

Years and cities later, I replay those moments in my head. They’ve become a point in the timeline of my life about which I can say: this is how I started. From this, I’ve become who I am and it’s you there at the beginning. I wish I could offer you a lighter trophy to carry but I’ve run out of words. A trophy or a life sentence. Tomayto, tomahto.

The sky above Prague is swollen with rain that never comes. The year’s end seems to linger suspended mid-air. My days are a safe net of routine and monotony. I read more now to drown the inner noise (it’s The Goldfinch this week and holy shit, what a book!). I often think of a book I’d like to recommend you, ask you to read aloud to me. With my head in your lap on a Sunday afternoon, drifting away at the feeling of your hand in my hair. But I no longer think that you’ll ring the proverbial doorbell downstairs or offer any more coffee. The next time I see you, we won’t have to go back to the way life is lived now. Because when I forgave myself, I forgave us both.

on patti smith, coffee, and winter

December. In my neighborhood.
December. In my neighborhood.

Winter. December. The endless gray. Never enough sleep.

I am still now. No wild weekends in Rome or in Christiania. I missed my flight to Paris last weekend and slept instead. I spend my days obsessing over my bullet journal, reading up on political theories, and rewatching North by Northwest. Evening staples: fuzzy socks and tea. I no longer drink flat white; I am back to the classic double shot with a small milk foam cap. The difference is there. The difference between days not so much because I can’t tell them apart. Outstanding library books, unanswered emails, unsolicited job interviews, Spotify daily mixes that somehow make me feel better. I sail through the weekdays like a ghost. Every third day is Friday. Tomorrow again.

I was recommended Benjamin Clémentine earlier and it was immediately decided that he and I will spend the entire December together. And next year, and many years to come. He makes me feel like this winter isn’t going to last too long. Like it’s all going to be okay. London is a stab in the heart in disguise. I definitely won’t pretend otherwise. I sense a cheap cliché on my part, though. Barefoot poets have always pulled at my heartstrings.

It snowed overnight but by the time I left my flat, it was all gone. The first December morning. I find myself longing for the warm Hong Kong winters. I’m slow on the slippery streets, the frozen wind cutting at my ears. The entire year flashes before my eyes and for a second I am confused as to how I managed to fit, what feels like, two years into one. For once, too much has happened. I’ve been a proper European for eighteen months now. Days and months move before me, Koop Island Blues in the background transfers me somewhere far away; away from the gray dreary morning, dreary as hell. For a few long moments, my mind is not where my body is. All I can feel on my skin is wasted time. I finish my double espresso in three sips.

I battle with sleep again. I mostly lose because I either sleep too much or not at all. And everything in between — well, what is sleep? Films and literature serve as the only lifeline, evidence of me growing stronger and better. Because that’s what I need: tangible proof that I am not the same. People and their conversations bore me. I bore them. Quiet, misunderstood, with a dark self-depreciating humor. It takes a strong person to push through that and reach the real me. Raise your hand if you hold the chip of that achievement. Self-depreciation matched with a chin too high.

As I sat in my own coffee shop, with a notebook and a black coffee this morning, I thought of Patti Smith. Paths That Cross more than Because the Night. Dream of Life has been my favorite album for at least ten years. I pictured her in NYC or maybe in Detroit. Or perhaps, revisiting Casa Azur. But why would she? Then I thought of Josie and how the older I get, the more we have in common. With a quick search, I found out that the book, which is my bible of sorts together with the White Oleander, has been made into a movie by Amber Tamblyn (forever known as Tibby to me) and that Fitch appreciates Smith as much as I do. My mother passed on Patti Smith to me and I carry the love with pride.

This is what winter does to me. But as I said, there is the lifeline. These are the things that matter, even though it may not seem like much.