When I was younger I wrote a poem about tangerine dreams that filled the sky, and this one lemon tree atop a hill where lovers liked to meet. When I was younger still, but old enough to know, I filled several blank sheets back-to-back with an essay on the circle of life, having just watched The Lion King for the first time. When I was even younger, while walking in a mall with my family in Hong Kong, our humid stopover before reaching our new life Down Under, I lamented (rather melodramatically for a nine-year-old) on palm-sized paper that I was to depart my Motherland and be separated from her forevermore. I think I meant that I was leaving my old life and old self behind and that nothing will ever be the same again, but this crystalline revelation eluded me then.
In my teens I found my words and the words of others found me. Diving into texts that suited my melancholic taste my proclivity for nostalgia and tragedy flourished alongside a yearning for romance, fortunately this led me to feel understood by certain fictional characters, songs, and artists; unfortunately this meant I was a hardcore Twilight fan. In my twenties, having bade Edward and his night-creeping ways goodbye, my taste in literature improved—I wish I could say the same for the recipients of my romantic attachment, most of whom are dead or fictional, all of whom are psychologically troubled. Romanticising their ‘brokenness’, I once again pointed the finger at time but also at space: both were guilty of separating me from my beloved. Impractical delusions aside, I guess you could say time has always had a way with me, whether I was clinging to the past (thus allowing it to seep into the present), chronicling the present for future remembrance (turning present into past), or fearing the future (which drags it ominously into the present). Sometimes, walking the same path that I used to walk when in high school, I am stopped by the almost material presence of my younger, uniform-clad self, full certain and radiant with achievement, walking towards and past me to where I (we) used to live.
Whenever reality melts into reverie in this way I am caught speechless by the desire to communicate in some way with the phantom of my younger self, to advise, to instruct, to warn. But I know she won’t listen, so I let her go and walk on, older and wearier than I was a few step ago. Is ageing a mourning song or am I simply the saddest songstress in this show? I wish there was some way, reader, for you to feel the dull weight of nostalgia, elephantine against my chest. And I wish I was simply nostalgic for my own past, but I am too for the collective past of humanity—it stirs at the sound of old music, the sight of old movies, faded signs, abandoned factories.
Just the other day, while visiting an old house down the road, I longed to linger and marvel at its remarkably well-kept vintage interior, at the grand ceiling detail and the chandelier attached to it, at the rich garnet, emerald, and gold design that ran along the walls of the hallway, at the gated, once-roaring fireplace, even at the colourful tiles I giddily tread; but, alas, I was running an errand and therefore in no position to dilly-dally—even dreamers require employment in the real world. This is rather unfortunate given how good I will be as Professional Daydreamer, paid to spin invisible yarn, yearning for what was or could be, then realising precisely that in my head.
On that particular day I longed to press my forehead cheek ear palms against the wall, connect with the spiritual remnants of those who once dwelled there, tune in to their thoughts and feelings; in return I’d nod, whisper my own fears and insecurities, maybe even shed a tear. I longed also to run my fingers along the wall as I made my way dreamily down the hall, eyes wondering up and down all the details today’s simplistic interiors lack, but sensing rather than seeing. ‘All this time, you remained unchanged,’ I’d say to the house that stood stoically for a century as life shook all those who sought shelter under its roof. I’d be a whole lot happier if I was half as stable, but bricks and mortar aren’t easily moved and I live to be moved.