unfoldings // may, 2021
very much still here and tentatively broaching what's next.
I can hear the memory of an uproar in these curves.
The minuscule tiles are melting and the rounded windows
bleed a murky grey— determined tears headed East and West
but never North. And so we move in circles, travelling along
the surface of some forward-looking past.
I don’t know what it is like living here. I know very little.
Most of us are mere passers-by to the so-called greater skywards
glow. I catch the stark scintillations of La Défense. The turquoise here
doesn’t glimmer like that. Play on, Aillaud, play on.
I’m thinking of the future, yearning for an exhale. Anticipation isn’t so much a feeling as it is more the start of one. Mine takes the outline of a very specific kind of outrage that isn’t necessarily led by anger. I think it’s confusion as a result of disorientation mostly. Nothing is where it should be, including myself. It feels that way at least.
My outrage presents itself to me in the shape of my own demise. It scares me plenty and some of the thoughts that run through me aren’t exactly healthy. And so I have befriended anger, but anger’s a shitty friend and makes me turn to irrational decision-making like screaming and crying and shouting at my mother and being a terrible friend. Most days, it probably looks like I’ve slightly lost it. Anger drags me this way and that, forcing me to distance myself (often from my own self), and then there’s the heightened dreams where everyone meets on loop and we’re having the same conversations like it’s groundhog day even in our sleep and everyone assumes I know why we’re meeting and I always end up running into my own waking five minutes before the alarm goes off and when I do wake, I imagine that they are there— it doesn’t matter who, we’re just bodies. I always know what I’m doing so I have no excuses. I think that’s why everything hurts— everything is so very conscious.
I’m doing okay though. I’d rather not dramatise. I am getting through and I am okay. I think I’m trying to shake myself back into a belief in possibility. Last year was mostly taken up by apathy (thanks pandemic Masters) and I don’t want to go back there. It was more than isolating. Perhaps not the wisest thing to do but the anger gives me something to hold onto as it is first and foremost an assertion. But with assertion, there is the bite— the hurling impact hurting myself and others. I seem not to know (or perhaps want to face) my own strength. I am rather sceptical of many things right now— distrusting of others, suspicious of myself. All too real voices from actual real life people keeping the insinuation alive that I have made a big mistake, that I’m asking for too much, that I was perhaps too romantic in thinking I really could bag this role as a newcomer. Older friends keep reminding me of my age— you’ve got so much time, when I was your age I wasn’t half as near that, honestly you’re being too hard on yourself, at your age it shouldn’t matter— and it always feels like they’re trying to educate me about life, throw in a bit of that older, wiser wisdom. It’s not even a decade worth of difference here; we’re talking just folk in the latter half of their twenties. I wonder how much of their urge to educate me is a reflection of their own insecurities. Age isn’t a reflection of capability; I’ve always done what I have been compelled to do at my own pace regardless of my age. Does it scare them that I am bold? I’ve had to grow up pretty quickly in the ever-changing environment from which I emerge. I learn to stand up for myself with my gender, age, and ethnicity thrust up against me like a mirror and a moving torch in the dark— and it’s not something I will ever apologise for or hold back. I know that I am not asking for too much. I am asking for something very bare minimum and I am trying to get what I know I am capable of getting.
This month I have retreated very much into myself and had a good look at the state of affairs as they stand before me in this moment in time. I don’t quite know what kind of comfort I can give to friends. I’m in so much discomfort with myself. No one really warns you of what old friendships will probably look like after the university hour. At this point, I should be well used to it. People flit and it’s okay. It should come as no surprise, this distance and dispersal, but it nonetheless doesn’t exactly comfort. Throw in a pandemic, and it’s like we’re all observers to our own lonely paddling out at sea— an increasing divide unleashing as we all attempt to grab hold of our own ladders, dabble, steer, and launch ourselves out of whatever pool or ocean. And it seems that sometimes, with the waterlogged desperation that accompanies job searches and network building, some resort to strange behaviour like becoming very much not like themselves and it’s sad to watch. I tell folks I’m not in a position to speak right now, I tell them that small talk isn’t helping since I’m not asking or in need of reassurance, and the regular catch ups don’t feel fair. In my head, friendship shouldn’t even be reliant on regularity— relations aren’t quantitative and you can catch up once every week and still not be terribly close because neither of you is talking about anything particularly meaningful. Brandon Taylor touched on this far better than I could ever in his latest, and this particular portion resonates deeply with me (I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him here):
I think I must sometimes come off as distant and uncurious about the lives of others. And maybe I am. But I feel like that’s more honest than pretending to be curious about the lives of others in ways that I am not.
I haven’t lost care, but I think I don’t know how to care. How do I grant them the sincere space that they deserve at a time like this? I’m not really sure how to navigate any of this but I hope the ones who know me well enough will know where I’m coming from and can trust our relationship grounding enough to let each other go a little for now. I’m not letting anyone else in because the only one allowed in right now is myself— and it needs to be. It is a lonely confrontation but a necessary one. If that makes me selfish then so be it. At the frontline of my priorities, I am struggling to come to terms (on my own and without the influence of others) with the fact that the thing I have set my heart on stands the equally real possibility of not happening when I kind of really need it to in spite of yes it will happen, yes it will happen, yes it will happen. My family is also going through a time and a half. The world has sort of flipped anyway so most things are possible.
I’m relatively new to all this job hunting folly. This isn’t a familiar game, so I am learning my way as I go, quickly— as I have always done. The visa matters involved in these processes, on the other hand, are pretty standard for me. I shouldn’t even be disappointed or surprised that it will always stand in my way. There is as much work on the corporate side as there is on mine and with nothing but faith and patience, we are forced to navigate this borderzone together from isolated positions. They’ve been brilliant at handling things— so I trust and respect them deeply, I really do, and I hope I am not mistaken. I just hope it’s all a matter of time. All this will never be fully understood by friends from/with viable links to the UK— or to be honest, those with any firm local identity that makes it possible for them to work and be accepted in their ‘home’ country. The gravity of inaccessibility and its direct link with reduced employability chances because you are foreign on paper and that tends to mean extra work for us will never be fully grasped by those whose files match their face. I’ve seen what my so-called case does to border control, visa centres, and the lot: they look at me like I’m crazy for applying for this and that. From January to May, I’ve watched as friends complete jobs and start new ones with but a few days and weeks of transition— and this isn’t jealousy, this is just how wide the channel really is. I am still waiting at some bizarre crossroads to start the role I secured but still somehow haven’t quite in December. Without full confirmation on that front and for more reasons than I can write out here, I just don’t feel able to reach out to others for opportunities yet. The advertising industry feels incredibly intimate and it is far too early to make brash decisions that will mess with my own reputation. It feels that way at least.
My reality has always had to account for waiting time. Procedures and checkpoints that cannot be pushed by more than a few emails to follow up. I live with a bit of a fear that some party will come find me to tell me they fancy taking it all away from me. Anyone who knows me personally, will recognise that I have long joked about crossroads and third culture headaches— it’s a coping mechanism as well as a genuine concern I have to keep perpetually near the front of my mind. Folks ask me why I’m always doing something— I do it out of sincere angst of not laying enough foundation. If I get fired or for whatever reason can’t continue with a job that provides me with a visa in the first place— I will have to start at ground zero again: find another job that will be able to support me in the same way within a certain timeframe or risk having to fly back to Hong Kong which is not at all home for me and is hardly at the moment a safe haven. As for my position in France, let’s simply say that I am not quite enough for just about anything permanent identity here. It doesn’t make any difference whether I find something here or there. I am an outsider regardless of where I go. I have been waiting for what feels like a long time but really this is minuscule. Put politely, such is the reality of being a foreigner trying to enter a more local environment. I will always, on top of ‘normal’ imposter syndrome, feel that I am an intruder.
I say nothing is where it should be, including myself but all things considered, I think I am exactly where I’m supposed to be right now and this is the future.
Some days are better than others. In still being here at home with family, where I did not imagine myself to still be this month of May, I suppose the present has somewhat merged with the future in its insistence that whatever I had thought was going to happen this month, was not at all my future to begin with. I am here, home with my nearest and dearest. I honour that with more months than I might have expected to enjoy with them, I really am as lucky as it gets. We are each others’ base, if but each others’ punching bags, too, and I wonder how mum and Nicholas would have gotten on without me physically near. I wonder how I would have fared in another set of four walls on my own in this sort of climate.
I don’t want any of this to simply pass by. The imminent future is one thing but this future here in front of me is one which must be nurtured. We may be stuck in traffic for who knows how much longer so we might as well turn the tunes up. This is all that I can give to those who need me here. There is also so much I need to work through before I brace myself for the next jump to London? I really do hope so.
Together, we are lifting things out of their corners. Nothing about the process of clearing and sending this and that on their way makes me sad; it is mostly things we’ve had for years but used little of. The hassle of it does frustrate me, but at least it’s something to do. I don’t like admitting this because people will never believe me, but, Paris is a profoundly lonely city to me at the end of the day. As our interior space opens up, I can see what remains a little more clearly. What remains is the future and the things we are keeping in order to assemble our reality. It is difficult and rather unnecessary for me to write of the other manifold futures we are preparing. So much is best kept private.
Home will change in this envisioning of the future, though I suspect it will remain for a while as an intermediary location for our occasional fleeting reunions. Everything we own in my family has gone on a shared journey with us, they’ve become companions— curated heritage we have given to ourselves while we have lost another. We make for a fine collection of farewells. Many pieces were in fact goodbye gifts from old friends from past cities. My father might beg to differ on all this. Things are things and when many things get old, he calls them damn old things when he’s angry with the implication that they are broken and aged and therefore of little value. He tells me and mum that by sending things off it means we don’t treasure anything and are incapable of sentimentality. Untrue. We’re just a bit more realistic with our pasts and hold things in our hearts because we understand that sometimes certain things can’t physically fit into the future. It doesn’t mean we’re heartless. I think it makes our hearts fuller. I think it’s funny he gets confusedly sentimental over unprocessed tapes and old records he’s never listened to because perhaps in the future I will. We all have our futures confused a little. Some don’t like thinking about it at all. Some give it a hypothetical top hat and brand it names like unknown and postponed.
Future— I like to think about it even if I do not know. I like to think up possibilities of reunion with people I never got the chance to know years ago. I think of shared cities and the likelihoods of passing by dear old friends and meaning nothing to each other in this new space and time. I meet all this with warmth. For now, I’ll try to be content in meeting my folk in this head on repeat; I guess I should say thanks for the constant return. At least we have all this.
To start from the beginning again: the imminent future has been on standby since January. The boxes I packed three months ago need dusting. I am retrieving books from deep within to read today that I didn’t think I’d be reading from in these rooms. In the meantime, our living room has become a refuge of outerwear, homed here to keep the covid near the entrance door. We leave our trousers out on the floor and hold a window open with a Bleak House or two. More recently, this same space has also become a warehouse of secondhand goods to-sell. With the old TV gone to a family just a few streets away, I use the cabinet to stage photographs of items. The stark white of the wall in juxtaposition with the mounds of disparate items moves me. We also have a dead plant on a shelf which is also bizarrely home to several old but fresh-looking synthetic plants. Everything is coated in dust and I wonder at what point in time we started to not care.
Here’s to patience. Here’s to June.
We might not be speaking, but I am thinking of you.
I hope you’re all keeping well.