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Feelings

“Feelings don’t try to kill you, even the painful ones. Anxiety is a feeling grown too large. A feeling grown aggressive and dangerous. You’re responsible for its consequences, you’re responsible for treating it. But Michael, you’re not responsible for causing it. You’re not morally at fault for it. No more than you would be for a tumour.”

We all have those days where we feel inadequate, where our sense of self-worth is at an all-time low. It’s during these days where we crave affirmation from our peers, and coincidentally, it’s also when we fear criticism the most. The past weeks have taken their toll on me, from examinations to floorball training, nothing seemed to be going right. Worse still, many of my friendships were falling apart, leaving me fearful and insecure. Faced with these seemingly insurmountable challenges, all I wanted to do was to hide myself away – and so I did. I made it a point to return home early every day, and wallow in self-pity – all on my own.

A lack of confidence is easily to diagnose, for its sufferers often show the same old symptoms. Their backs would be hunched, and they tend to avoid extended periods of eye contact. Indeed, my actions mirrored my damaged ego. Even more so, I hated myself for being weak, for surrendering to my emotional fragility. They say you should always surround yourself with people that are better than you are, yet they fail to realise that it’s these same people that magnify your own flaws and make them so very apparent. I’ve always had crippling social anxiety, a niggling sense that I would always be that uncool, unimportant friend. As a result, I often shield myself with a protective bubble of weariness, afraid that I’ll get hurt otherwise.

It’s hard to find value in yourself, especially if you feel as if others don’t see value in you. It was a gradual realisation, yet an important moment, when I finally found the source of self-worth. Self-worth isn’t derived from the endorsement of others, but rather, it comes from within. All I had to do was find value in my existence, however small it may seem. I’m terribly good at inciting laughter, as I am in defusing tense situations. Moreover, I like to think that I’m a beacon of ebullience in a world that’s become far too sombre. I clung on feverishly to my strengths, and consequently, I’ve learnt to love myself more. And when you love yourself, it paves the way for others to love you too. After all, who wants to spend time with a self-loathing fool?

Blaming your own incompetence for your predicaments is always the easy option – taking steps to solve them is the true test of stoicism. It’s impossible to be unfeeling, but it’s definitely within our capacities to not let feelings drown us. Vast rivers of value and untapped potential run in our veins, and all we have to do to unclog them is to believe that they’re there.

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Hope

And above all, believe. Believe in the strings of fate that wind so tightly around your destiny. Trust that they lead you in the right direction. Believe in the possibilities that flutter amidst descending space. Embosom them, and water them to fruition. Believe, for life is but a conflagration of past mistakes. Believe, for life is finite, yet infinite. Words may cut, and expectations may waver, but true hope is unyielding. Press on, my friends.

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Beautiful

“Everything beautiful has a mark of eternity.”

It rained the other day, a few miles into my weekly bicycle ride. It was eleven at night, and the moon hung dreamily amidst twinkling stars. My hopes for a passing shower were quickly dashed, for the heavens soon opened up and unleashed its fury onto me. Being the intrepid, reckless soul I was, and indeed, unwilling to waste any more time, I foolishly decided to set my course for home. Adjusting myself, I put on my cap and pedaled away.

The frigid wind whipped against my torso, each gust leaving behind a trail of rainwater on my shirt. My clothing proved to be inadequate at providing insulation, for water seemed to weave its way past the interwoven fabric effortlessly. My damp attire was akin to a layer of frost, ruthlessly biting at my bare skin. The exertion of continuous pedaling soon got to me, for my muscles bulged and throbbed in contempt. They weren’t ready for such levels of intensity – then again, neither was I. Droplets of water clung onto my lenses, clouding my vision. The headlights of passing cars danced like fireflies before me, each emitting a faint, blurry glow. Frantic groans were emitted by my tires as they struggled to find traction on wet tarmac – a wrong move then could have had fatal consequences.

A final hill was left for me to scale, one that ended mercilessly with a sharp turn. I stood upright, throwing my full body weight into each turn of the pedals. At the peak of the unforgiving slope, my head spun with must have been an intoxicating concoction of adrenalin and exhaustion. I sat back, allowing gravity to do its work as I accelerated downhill. There it was, the godforsaken turn, mere meters away from me. Reaching for the brakes, my fingers slipped, brushing in vain against the metal lever. You know the clichéd description of how time slows to a crawl in times of danger? Well, it did. I imagined how depressingly comical it would be to find my crumped body against a tree and how ironic it would be given that I was the one who planted it. Somehow, I managed to engage the rear brake, leaving a streak of burnt rubber behind me. I wrenched the handlebar to the right, and an arc of water erupted from the base of my rear tire – all before I came to an abrupt stop.

Leaping off my bike, I took a moment to catch my breath. The rain had subsided, much to my irritation, as I had just made it home. The dark clouds that hung so ominously above me dissipated, revealing the gleaming moon. It was a full moon that night, and she gazed cheekily down at me, as if mocking me for my impetuous antics. Now, I could go on and talk about the fragility of life and what I have learned from my misadventure – but that would be an unfitting end to what was, quite simply, a beautiful experience.

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God

I’ve never really been an overly religious person, despite having been a Catholic all my life. I do make the occasional visit to church, yes, and I most definitely know the words to the Lord’s Prayer. Yet, despite all this, I’ve struggled with my faith on numerous occasions, even going so far as to question the existence of the abstract being known as God. Is he merely a figment of our imagination? A convenient excuse to convince common folk to do good? Are all our highs and lows really part of his grand plan? Does he really possess an elaborate, multi-faceted blueprint of our destinies? If so, why would he put us through any suffering – especially if he loves us? His ways were tough for me to get my head around, then I realised, not too long ago, that I wasn’t meant to understand them in the first place.

Perhaps we’re not meant to question the existence of God, nor question his ways. For even if conclusive evidence of his existence is never found, his grace transcends the realm of possibility. Maybe he doesn’t really have a plan for us – maybe there isn’t an author in the skies penning down our life stories. The test papers we somehow passed against all odds, all our successes and tragedies, they all might very well be predetermined scrawls on the scroll of time. Even so, I like to think that I believe in God. Not in his existence, but rather in the reassurance that he can offer me when I need it most.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve subconsciously muttered a prayer under my breath when in distress. Somehow, it always helped in calming my nerves – be it in the examination hall or when alone in the dead of night.  Isn’t it magical how one can find the strength and courage to press on, just by having a little faith? No external motivation necessary, just pure, unadulterated belief, yet it is enough for one to find great fortitude. In essence, God is to me what a well is to a vast desert, a ready source of sustenance in what can be a long and bitter fight – a fight known more simply as life.

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Tabula Rasa

Hello there, my friend. You look troubled. I haven’t seen you smile in a while, and even when you do, it always looks awfully forced. I’ve always remembered you as a worrywart. Constantly pessimistic, you’ve always had a bleak outlook on life – one that’s unnatural for a man of your tender age. They say eyes are windows to one’s soul, yet emptiness crowds the caverns of your ethereal pearls. Your skin too, bears the pungent scent of defeat. Just a year ago, you were a confident individual, one who rode clouds and surfed wind. Your heart was light, and ready to love. You trusted, perhaps too much, but your open heart served as an open invitation for others to enter your life. They did, but alas, they didn’t stay for long.

Worse still, it was probably your fault. You tried to build towering friendships, but you forgot that such heights are only achievable with solid foundations. Your towers thus crumbled, carrying your lofty dreams down with them. Worry not, though, for comfort can be found in an ordinary life too. Worry not, for it’s never too late to begin again. Pick up the pieces of your shattered heart, and put them back together. You might never be the same person as you once were, but it’s okay – at least you’ll be whole again. Embrace the seams where your heart had once split, treasure them, and wear them proudly. Let them be a reminder of how much you’ve survived, and how far you’ve come since. Worry not then, Cedric, I’m sure you’ll learn how to love again.

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Twenty Sixteen

“You know, Prince Zuko, destiny is a funny thing. You never know how things are going to work out. But if you keep an open mind and an open heart, I promise you will find your own destiny someday.”

I would be lying if I said I didn’t have big dreams coming into 2016. After all, it marked the beginning of a new chapter of my life. I felt apprehensive going into my first year as a college student, but at the same time, excited. Fresh starts are a rarity once you reach a certain age, and this was one of them – a chance to leave my quiet secondary school years behind and add width to my tiny social circle. Many had told me that my college wasn’t a place for the soft-spoken, so I attempted a mass culling of my supposedly undesirable characteristics – most notably, my crippling shyness. It worked well in the beginning, but I quickly grew weary of being the loud, outspoken kid I never was. Which brings me to my point – if i were to sum up the entirety of 2016 into one word, it would be…

ACCEPTANCE

Looking back, it was foolish of me to believe that I could model myself after societal norms. There’s no perfect sculptor, and indeed – there’s no perfect sculpture! In sacrificing my authenticity, I’ll only be attracting those who value who I’m not. I was never going to be able to keep up the act forever, so why put myself through an emotional purgatory? In accepting myself for who I am, a reserved, unassuming, whimsical boy, I drew in those who truly appreciated me. No surprises then, that these are the people who stayed.

Furthermore, I’ve learnt, this year, to take a step back and let nature take its course. There are many things in life that we can control, but happiness isn’t one of them. We can fight for it, yes, but there’s never a guarantee of its arrival. Genuine happiness is elusive, it comes and it goes. It flows along the strings of time, visiting us when it deems us worthy. We don’t find happiness, it finds us – but only when the time is ripe. And when happiness does knock on our doors, embrace it. Welcome it with open arms, and embosom it until it takes its eventual leave.

You can’t end a year without giving thanks, so here’s one for those who stayed. For my true friends, the extraordinary individuals that I have had the privilege to cross paths with. As per my wish, my social circle was indeed widened! Yet, friendships are never about numbers, as they’re measured in expreriences. The value of friendships isn’t strictly quantifiable, no, but I believe that there’s a certain weight to love – our hearts being the only fair judge of its magnitude. Thank you, my dear friends, for blessing me with more love than I deserve. You filled my soul with a superabundance of warmth – warmth that envelopes me, and lulls me to sleep every night. Like stardust, you illuminate the path before me, making sure I’m never lost in my journey. Here’s to more unforgettable experiences ahead of us, each being better than the last.

Of course, I’ve tried to remain positive throughout this post, but I cannot deny the fact that 2016 was a year filled with adversity. However, I’m inclined to believe that there’s no meaning in always keeping to calm waters. It’s only when we attempt to weather stormy seas that we truly find magic. The treasure chests we’re looking for, they’re never going to be within arm’s reach, are they? I’m glad I took risks this past year, though only a few of them bore fruit. For even if I didn’t manage to find what I was looking for, it would at least be step towards finding myself. And at least for 2016 – I think I did. Happy New Year, all. May the new year bring us new dreams, and may we all be blessed with the strength to chase them. May we all fill our books of life with wonder, and may our loved ones be there to write alongside us.

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Strategy

I’m always remembered by my childhood friends as a shy, awkward chap. One who keeps to himself and tends to shy away from crowds. I always had trouble making friends, as introverted people usually do. My passive approach to friendship probably made me seem distant, or even unapproachable. Despite all this, I’ve held many posts over the years that are more commonly associated with extroverts. I’ve led orientation groups, prayer circles, and even counselled dejected individuals who struggled to find the strength to fight on. Many tell me that I have an incredible sensitivity to emotions that few possess. I’m not sure about that, but perhaps that’s what landed me all those opportunities. A decade later, however, not much has changed. I still value time alone, away from the swirling chaos around me. Waves of insecurity and discomfort continue to drown me whenever I’m in a group setting. Most of all, I’m still very much an introvert.

My new year resolutions haven’t changed much either. At the start of every year, I’ll still promise to change for the “better”. An elaborate plan would be crafted before the start of every academic year, one which would hopefully push me towards the lofty highlands of popularity. In hindsight, popularity was never for me. I simply lacked the appropriate character traits to achieve it. A small, tightly-knit friendship circle – that’s what suits me most. Upon making that realisation, I tossed my fallacious aspirations out the window, and opened my arms to the tender embrace of freedom. In trying to be what I wasn’t, my wings were clipped. It’s a miracle how something as simple as adjusting your expectations can change so much in your life. I espoused the introverted side of me, and learnt how to love myself for the cloddish man I am.

The game of life is a tricky one, for it’s easy to go off course. Like sculptors, we all have different ideas when it comes to carving the perfect image of ourselves. Some of us pursue popularity, while others might chase material wealth. It takes courage to fight for our dreams and aspirations, but it takes even greater courage to accept that we sometimes choose the wrong paths towards them. The key, dear readers, is to play the game of life according to your strengths. If you’re a quiet, unassuming person like me, seeking countless friends or unrivalled attention may just be out of reach. On the other hand, the insights you acquire from being a silent observer might make you a priceless advisor! Knowing who we are and what we’re capable of, that’s the secret to success. Of course, everyone has their own definition of success. But if yours is simply to be a happier person than you were yesterday, the course of action I described above might just be the perfect first step.

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Taciturn

“Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation.”

Still air hung like a wet blanket over the crowd as he patiently awaited their response to his joke. His fists, sweaty and cold, were clenched in anticipation of manic laughter. After all, the lead up was executed to perfection. Yet, despite his best effort, the wet blanket was never lifted. The vexatious silence didn’t last long, however, for normal conversation resumed as soon as he slid back into his chair in defeat. He lived for their laughter, and fought for it whenever he had the slightest of opportunities. Deriving comfort from attention may be an unrewarding pursuit, but it’s one he called his own. Attention fueled him, yet it also hollowed him. Once he had tasted the sweet milk of affirmation, he always craved for more. It was never enough – and sadly, it never would be. He would always try desperately, in a vain attempt to break the surface of his sea of sorrows. Alas, the water level would always rise faster than he ever will.

I was never really an avid attention-seeker, for I was, and still am, an introvert. I treasure quiet solstices, away from noisy summer, and remain reticent about my personal affairs. Therefore, in the race to be the most popular individual, I am very much a non-player. If there’s one thing that changed from when I was younger, it’s how aggressive my peers are in increasing their social standing. The passive stand that I take in the rat race that surrounds me thankfully allows for a more neutral point of view. It is only when you withdraw yourself from a fight, and view it from a distance, that you can truly appreciate its magnitude. Through my untainted lens, I see friends clamoring over one another, using each other as springboards towards their own social success. I hear slanderous words being exchanged in the shadows, hidden away from the truthful light of day. I taste the metallic tang of spilt blood, pouring incessantly from ruthless stab wounds.

I’m not one to sugarcoat my words, and there’s simply no word to describe the situation other than disgusting. Craving attention and affirmation is one thing, but to betray your own morals to acquire it – that’s entirely different. Does using someone as a mere stepping stone towards achieving your goals really make you a better person than them? Does the notion of being a God amongst men, with thousands of underlings at your feet really excite you? Pardon my distress, for I usually try to maintain a calmer tone whilst writing. However, this issue is of particular importance to me, as I was once a victim of the wretched acts described above.

Putting aside my inability to comprehend such individuals, let me offer up the insights I have acquired after a year in college. However clichéd it may sound, I’ve now fully understood the significance of quality over quantity. I’m glad to have found friends that truly are quality, and they’re the reason why I hang onto my own life so dearly. I’ve also realised that the only way to obtain elusive happiness is to be content with what you already have. And this is to my dearest friends, those whom my little heart treasures and beats for. Never worry, for I won’t ever trample over you for the sake of climbing a ladder that doesn’t exist. I won’t betray you, or spread falsities to curry flavor towards myself.  After all, men that chase this broken path would only ever find themselves arriving at one destination. Not the glorious throne that they had envisioned, but rather a stool of thorns that they’ll be forced to sit on for eternity. An excruciating, and everlasting reminder of their shameful past.

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Together

I could feel my thumb throbbing as I penned down the final sentences of my essay, providing what was hopefully a fitting conclusion to twenty-one pages of crazed scribbling. I’ve never been a quick writer, for I always favoured precision over speed. However, to complete the grueling History paper within three hours, I had to throw my practice out of the window. A metaphorical one of course, though I wish there was a literal window – through which my script would follow in my escape. Three months ago, when I sat for my first History paper, I fell two pages short of completion. Three months later, though completion was secured, the same lack of confidence overcame me as my script was collected. Though unsettling, I’ll won’t let this issue ruin the three weeks I have to enjoy before receiving my results.

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

The weeks leading up to the promotional exams were tumultuous times for my weary soul. Academic vigour and insecurity, coupled with the stress of disintegrating friendships, filled my plate with more than I could handle. The issue was further compounded by a lack of sleep, which often left me irritable and disgruntled. Furthermore, a mere three days away from the examinations lay my birthday. People often write off the importance of birthdays, saying that they’re mere opportunities to satiate the celebrant’s desire for attention. That may be true, but birthdays, at least to me, hold far more meaning.

A birthday celebration reminds people that they mean something to others, and that they’re appreciated. Life can be lonely, and affirmation can be a painful pursuit. What is wrong with sprinkling a little love unto someone’s life? You never know the difference it could make. It’s safe to say that I didn’t expect a party. After all, with the examinations being a hair’s breadth away, time was a valuable commodity. Imagine my surprise when balloons were thrust into my hands and a cake set before me. Holding back tears of joy was never so difficult. Thank you, my dear friends, for a memory that’ll always have a big place in my heart. This, however, was only a brief respite from the storm that was to come.

Having trudged through the year with as minimal an effort as possible, the enormity of the situation in hand struck me like a sledgehammer to the gut. I had to compress and devour an entire year’s worth of content in three days. Glancing through the required knowledge was already a challenge,  much less committing them to memory. I chugged black coffee by the gallon in valiant attempts to keep awake, and snacked till my belly cried for mercy. Some lose their appetite when they’re stressed, but in my case, anxiety only serves to whet it. Yet, as quickly as the onslaught on my well-being began, it ended. The effect of having the entirety of the examinations over the course of three days is that there’s no time to ponder over previous papers – you’re whisked on to the next before you can even blink.

Despite the overwhelming odds against me, the journey was never lonely. My schoolmates gave me the emotional support I needed, and the physical tokens I craved. They were the pillars that kept me from crumbling, and still are. If I was a seed when I first started my college education, I’m now a towering tree. Their support is to me what water and sunlight is to plants – desideratum for growth. These are the people that I’ve grown to love and treasure, and I hope with all my heart that we’ll always remain as united as we are today. The race is lengthy, and sometimes even torturous. The light at the end of the tunnel might seem beyond reach, but I’m sure we’ll finish strongly and as one, no matter how this story might end.

CCZH

Unalloyed

It was half past nine, and the city was a coruscating kaleidoscope of colours. The sky was streaked with grey clouds, providing me with the daunting prospect of rain. Donning my pullover in anticipation of bad weather, I strode onwards, weaving my way through the crowd. Glancing around, I noticed a myriad of different emotions plastered on the faces of passers-by. Some bore happiness, and others bore anger. Some, to my horror, bore an expression of utter defeat. Their eyes seemed glazed over, their backs were hunched, and their gait was most accurately described as begrudged shuffling. Seeing those dejected individuals brought my own troubles to mind.

The academic struggles over the past months have left me exhausted, maybe even enervated, from a lack of rest. Friendships too, have been a source of distress. Unlike the more innocent years as a primary and secondary school student, the people around me are not half as easy to read. They disguise their thoughts about others, all while hiding gleefully behind their masks. It almost seems as if they have a different mask for each person they meet. Eager to put forward an ideal picture of themselves, they sacrifice what – at least to me – matters most, authenticity. If everyone strives to be humorous, intelligent and witty, there can only be one outcome – an uninspiring pool of homogenetic teenagers. Then again, these people are the least of my worries.

My friends, well, at least who I think are my friends, they are the source of my perpetual distress. While some of them, albeit the minority, make their thoughts about others blindingly obvious, few share their refreshing openness. Most continue to treat even their mortal enemies with indifference, for fear of burning their bridges. What I fail to understand is why they would save a bridge, or even construct one in the first place, if they know that it’s never going to be crossed. True, maybe keeping our options open is intrinsic to human nature, after all, why rule out the possibility of reconciliation? Yet, such behaviour would always be a sign of indecisiveness. And such indecisiveness is fatal, especially if those that care about you are on the receiving end.

I value my friendships, more so than many of those that claim to be genuine. I dare say that I give my unrestrained affection to those whom I feel deserve the commitment. Yet, when I’m unsure of the sentiments of the opposite party, it’s impossible for me to make a substantial investment, be it measured in emotion or time. It may seem cold and distant to be referring to friendships as investments, but is a one-way transfer of love and energies really considered a friendship? It would be alarming, not to mention selfish, if you, my dear reader, veer towards the affirmative. Negative past experiences aside, if I cannot ascertain the fidelity of the people I surround myself with, I’ll always be on the losing end.

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