Monday, April 22, 2013

Cars On The Highway, Planes In The Air

Everyone else is going somewhere
But I'm going nowhere, getting there soon
I might as well go under with you

(I was a 13-year-old Fountains of Wayne fan, circa 1997.)

My best friend is in Tokyo at the moment - just a few weeks after her Spanish vacation - while my brother and mother are headed there in about a month's time. My cousin is going to Perth (for work, poor thing) while an old friend who dropped by last night just returned from Turkey. Everybody's travelling.

Even I am going to Bangkok for a short break in May (not my first choice of destination, but what can you do with a four-day leave). Still, I'm not really going anywhere. None of us are.

These days - or nights, rather - I prefer to take long solitary walks with the dog, up a 2km-long new road that leads to a rarely used MRT station. That will soon change, of course, once the land surrounding it is developed and the old buildings are replaced by infuriating condominiums and newly-painted flats. But for now there is nothing but a long blank stretch of road on my right, and the cricket-filled forested darkness on my left. The dog tries to scamper off into it at times, drawn by the scent of a stray snoozing somewhere in the thicket of trees in the distance. I keep a tight hold on his leash. I don't blame him for wanting to go - I often want to run off into it myself - but I'm realistic about my inability to handle things like frogs or mud.

We like walking to the MRT station, which has the appearance of a manmade lunar structure, lit by medical fluorescent tubes and constructed from smooth grey granite and metal panelling. The escalators hum continuously, but perhaps only one or two people at most rise up from them every hour. (The dog is terrified of the escalator stairs, the way they keep coming towards him without actually moving any closer.) Round the sides of the MRT exit you can hear the generators occasionally shift into a different mode, an efficient rumble that means business. There's no one at the well-lit bus stop across the dead-end road, and the single bus service never seems to arrive. Behind the building, the forest stretches on, damp and fresh-smelling, like the alien landscape that it really happens to be.

We pause in front of the escalators, straining to catch a flutter of air-conditioning - it's hot work, walking all the way here - and then descend the grey steps and back onto the centipede-filled pavement. They crawl out of the leaf litter that edges the path, fat black wriggling things that stain the pavement when their front or back ends get crushed by lone commuters, who don't notice the squish (there has to be a squish, they're that big) because their earbuds are surgically attached.

I like that feeling of being somewhere different, so close to home. Here you can be alone in time and space. An hour before midnight, I'm standing at the black edge of the forest, scanning the shadows for signs of canine life - I've brought a baggie of dog kibbles for the stray, but it's nowhere to be found - and I pause and imagine my dog and myself, in matching space suits, gently leapfrogging the cratered surface of the moon in absolute silence. We don't need to talk, partly because we have a mutual understanding, and partly because he's a dog. I imagine the scarred barren landscape, the rhythmic hiss of oxygen in our helmets, the deep darkness illuminated by burning gases, stretching on for infinity above and around us. I imagine that this time, we're really going somewhere.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Maybe We Don't Have To Be Like The Rest Of Them

I think a good pop song should make you feel like a hormonal, eager teenager again. A really good pop song should make your heart lurch and swoop with excitement, make you feel the same way you felt when your crush walked by your table in the canteen, shining out from within the crowd like a religious vision partially obscured, back in 1997 or whenever. For three minutes and forty two seconds, you're back there, not in your head or in your senile reminiscences, but in where it matters - your heart and your gut.

The sweetness of that sucker punch will stay with you long after the song's ended, and it will make you want to listen to it on repeat. Not that you want her, that long-forgotten crush - though she's probably divorced by now - but you want that old sensation, that crashing tsunami wave of desire for something bigger than just a person, which is the undying wonder and possibility contained in each of us, once within that long-ago skinny teenage girl with bangs who doesn't exist anymore. She's gone, and you're not the same, but a good pop song will make you believe that the old magic is still somewhere, anywhere. It makes you want to get out more often and taste the world.

Probably, some scientist will conduct a study to prove that the mathematical catchiness of an old No 1 hit has a consistent feel-good effect on the human brain, lighting up parts of it in predictable pleasure like a rigged jackpot machine. You know, it doesn't matter. Also, I don't care if the song rhymes "car" with "bar". It's not great literature, it's a fucking pop song, and it reaches for a completely different part of you, the slightly embarrassing part that's the same whether you're 14 or 44.

(Anyway, I only thought of all this because - again with the narcissism - I've been listening to Butch Walker's Pretty Melody on repeat. I actually didn't like it the first time I heard it, but holy shit, has it grown on me since. And who would have thought Butch Walker would age so well?)

I don't want to be a teenager again. I doubt any right-minded adult would want that. But I think all of us - as we ride the train to work in the morning and walk home at night carrying groceries and lean back in creaky office swivel chairs throughout the day - want that universal heart-thump of joy, that all-natural rush of pure pleasure that becomes harder and harder to summon with every passing year of adulthood. It's out there, somewhere, and - despite what we pretend to believe - so are we really.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Funny Thing Is, I'm Actually Rather Cheerful Today

All of us are floating in darkness.

Perhaps it's a warm organic darkness, a closed-loop tank of pulsating amniotic fluid. Or it's the air-conditioned sterility of outer space, a universe drifting further and further from its own centre. Either way, it's dark, and we are in the darkness, and of it.

We are blind and our ears are stoppered by nothingness. We are fetuses lacking umbilical cords, moving where the currents take us, gently bumping into each other and floating away in the opposite direction. Sometimes someone reaches out with an unseen hand and makes contact, and we try to reciprocate, holding on to their fingers or wrist, until we get tired, or they get tired, and then we let each other go, back into the unending darkness. 

We always let each other go.

When we die, we disintegrate slowly, atoms taking years to descend to the absolute black of lower regions. And then they are resurrected in other people, new people, people no different from those they were made from. They rise up full-formed and join the vast continents adrift above. Masses of matter, in the dark.