Drive My Car

I went to The Projector on Tuesday this week for the 7:30pm screening of “Drive My Car” which won “Best Screenplay” in the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

It is a movie adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same title. (SPOILER ALERT: important plot points will be revealed, so please do not continue reading if you plan to watch the movie – it’s really worth watching)

The movie unfolded like a dreamscape – a meditation on intimacy and the distance between lonely souls. The title credits did not come in until 30 mins into the show when many plot points had already been established.

It really made me wonder for a long time what was going on.

It was such a departure from the usual narrative style of Hollywood Movies or even most other Asian movies influenced by that style. The surrealist style is pervasive even in the way the characters communicate. Most of what they say is so subtle and understated it is easy to miss.

A lot of the exchange is symbolic.

Words are kept to a minimum and every word means so much more than what is uttered.

The story revolves around Yasuke an actor and play director who, two years after losing his wife is still beset with grief.

The movie opens with a portrayal of Yasuke’s complicated relationship with his wife, Oto.

Yasuke and Oto live a harmonious life together – no dramas, no disasters, no fights. However, something is amiss. Yasuke and Oto seem to communicate through stories. Oto reveals herself to Yasuke through original stories which surface post-coitus.

She relates the plot-point and main character of this story and he takes what she relates and runs with it, expanding on the story, exploring with her ways the story can develop.

Their relationship is marked by grief and trauma from the death of their young daughter, who passed away almost 20 years ago. Their relationship, while seemingly intimate and creatively expressive, reveals itself to be somewhat delicate.

The protagonist and his wife aren’t able to break out of a comfortable but limited way of relating. They aren’t able to have real conversations, so they connect over sex and the stories that evolve from their sexual connection. She writes to work out the grief of losing their only child.

There is a fine balance in their relationship, but it requires them to hide aspects of themselves. This suppression of their real selves eats away at their sense of intimacy and they are both hidden from each other.

Unfulfilled, she seeks out deeper emotional connections through sexual encounters with the various actors she hires to act out the stories that she writes.

Her husband is well aware of this fact but fails to confront her.

One day he leaves for the airport only to have the flight cancelled due to a blizzard. He returns home to find her having sex in the living room with Koji, a young and handsome man – the latest actor in her long string of illicit sexual rendezvous.

Yasuke is visibly overcome, however, he quietly leaves the house and heads to a hotel near the airport.

I was mulling over how come Yasuke did not get mad and confront her when he caught her in the midst of copulation with Koji whom she’d brought on set.

He reveals later on that he was scared of losing her.

But this wasn’t even about self-respect…or his lack of it, it seems as if it is more about the fact that he really loved her. He accepted her fully as she was. He didn’t have the capacity to confront her because he felt that perhaps this was how she was coping with the grief.

He wanted to maintain the equilibrium.

I suppose people live like that – with compartmentalized hearts and lives. I was really surprised by how he talked to her over a video chat almost immediately after catching her and her illicit lover in a sex act and leaving the house.

You could see affection written all over his face even as he spoke to her. His wife had just betrayed and lied to him again, but he was just like his usual self, full of love and kindness. I just couldn’t believe it.

How?

He was an actor. Maybe that’s how.

He had leaned so deeply into that role that he essentially became that person. The person he was became indistinguishable from the role he played.

One day his wife expresses to him she’d like to talk to him when he gets back home later in the evening. She wants to have a real conversation with him, however, Yasuke is petrified – afraid that whatever “real” conversation they have will cause their relationship to breakdown. He spends hours driving aimlessly on the road, screwing up the courage to talk to her. When he finally gets home, he finds her collapsed on the floor, he runs to gather her into his arms, only to realize that she is dead.

The post-mortem reveals that she died from a brain aneurysm.
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Two years later, he is commissioned to direct a play by Anton Chekhov – “Uncle Vanya”. Koji, the last actor who’d slept with Oto unexpectedly shows up for the rehearsal for “Uncle Vanya”. Surprisingly, Yasuke does not turn him away and in facts gives him the lead role of Uncle Vanya himself.

Over the course of rehearsals, Koji seeks Yasuke out for drinks at a bar. Koji reveals that he is looking for “connection.” He feels drawn to Yasuke because he is the husband of the late Oto whom he deeply admired. It’s quite common for the people left behind by the departed to bond with each other because they share the common trauma of losing the same person. It can be a healing process where one can gain relational insight through connecting with the other loved ones of the departed.

Yasuke and Oto find out more about the late Koji through each other – more secrets are revealed and it is hinted to Koji that Yasuke knows about his affair with his late wife. However, there is no blame assigned, only acceptance and a deep love and respect for the late Koji – in spite of her excesses.

There was a mute girl on the set who inhabits Sonia’s character in “Uncle Vanya” played by Korean actress Park Yoo Rim. She took my breath away with her acting. If there is anything that confirms that our vocal chords are not necessary for communication, her acting definitely does that. The way she emotes with her hands and her body language is so solid, like it comes from a place that is deep within her. You know she is whole, you know she has integrity, you know she means what she says and says what she means, all without articulating a word.

That is something else.

It was also very interesting how on stage these actors speak in their native languages. The Taiwanese actress character, playing Elena in “Uncle Vanya”, is fluent in English and Mandarin, but cannot speak Japanese, so she reads out her lines in Mandarin. The cast is multi-lingual, but the dialogue flows as if they speak the same language.

To me this only goes to show how much is communicated without words. How was Koji able to play his role so seamlessly across from the Taiwanese actress role as Elena at the rehearsal for “Uncle Vanya” when they couldn’t understand each other verbally? They knew their lines, but they intuited the communication from each other’s body language.

I have left the best character for the last – Misaki – A 23 year old driver who is appointed to be Yasuke’s chauffeur for the duration of his stay in Hiroshima as he directs the play.

I really love how Yasuke’s relationship with Misaki unfolds: at first he balks at even having a driver – he was really guarded – this defensive, almost aggressive part of him did not surface until he encountered the person of Misaki. The car is where he practices his acting lines to a tape recording of the play. He deeply resents the idea of having a driver intrude on his private practice space. Due to health and safety regulations under company policy, however, he cannot refuse a chauffeur.

Misaki is introverted and very restrained. She remains unfazed despite Yasuke’s cold reception to her; yet, she caters well to Yasuke and intuits his needs even though she does not say much to him. Over time their relationship evolves and as they become more familiar with each other, they share raw pieces of their history in a way that brings deep healing to both of their stories.

It is revealed during one of their quiet rides together that Misaki had a mother who would hit her whenever she drove the car jerkily. However, she seems to have internalized the abuse she received and tells Yasuke that if it were not for her mother, she would not be able to drive as well and as smoothly as she currently does.

When the play is almost fully formed, Koji unexpectedly gets into legal trouble and has to abandon his role as Vanya. Yasuke is compelled to take over the role of Uncle Vanya, a role that he has tried to evade because “it forces the real [him] out.” In taking over the role of Uncle Vanya, a neurotic and difficult character, Yasuke is forced to confront his internal contradictions which he has long buried, along with his late wife.

Upon realizing that he has to take over the role of Uncle Vanya, he reaches a near emotional meltdown which he circumvents by asking Misaki to take take him back to her hometown, to the home where her mother was buried by a freak landslide – the site of Misaki’s own grief.

Misaki carries enormous amounts of guilt for having “killed” her mother. As she surveys her collapsed home that is buried in the snow, she relates how after brutally beating her up, Misaki’s mother would regress into another personality, a young girl 6 years old or so, who wouldn’t be able to walk, and who loved puzzles.

The phenomenon of taking on an alternate personality is called “splitting” – it is a dissociative symptom experienced by those who suffer from severe abuse in childhood. Your personality is split off into two or more parts. Exiled parts yourself (mainly the child-like parts of yourself) stay hidden and do not come out until something triggers the shutdown of the broken adult part of you. After beating Misaki up, her mother’s abusive personality would “shutdown,” and her exiled vulnerable inner child would come out instead.

Misaki reveals to Yasuke that she bonded with this young girl, took care of her and eventually came to see her as “her only friend.”

Yasuke, in turn, shares about how he wishes that he could see his late wife, Oto – if he had the chance to speak to her, he’d tell her how angry he felt with her, he’d scold her, but he’d also tell her how much he loved her. He cries while pouring his heart out to Yasuke telling her that they will always think of the ones who have died.

In that moment I teared up.

It’s been 6 years since my Father passed on from Pancreatic cancer. I am still grieving him. In addition to him, I think about other loved ones who have passed on: Anthony Yeo – the father of Counselling in Singapore, who, in my early twenties, when I was going through suicidal depression, counseled me twice a week. If it wasn’t for him, and the safe space he provided for me, I wouldn’t be alive today.

They say that when people die, a part of you dies along with them. Anthony Yeo shared with me though that you can talk to those who have passed on. When he was still alive, he would talk to his own dearly departed too.

I talk to my Dad – sometimes I tell him how sad and disappointed I feel about some of the things he did. One time I shouted at him and blamed him for abandoning us when we were kids. He came back though, and tried to be present in our lives in the limited way he could. Other times I tell him “thanks” for all the ways he’s been there for me. In rare moments, I find myself sharing a private joke with him.

“Drive My Car” really drove home the point to me that there’s a vanishing point in our suffering. If we were to paint a picture of our life and our struggles, there is a vanishing point in the picture which ties all the disparate pieces of our broken lives together. In that quiet place, everything slows downs, and as we lean into our suffering instead of trying to run away from it, the skein of our unprocessed grief is woven into the larger fabric of our lives.

Grief is strange – it comes back at odd moments, hitting hard like bullet holes to the heart.

However, when you take the time to listen to how you really feel and attend to your deepest needs, the pain lands, and you realize you are safe, despite, and maybe even because of the pain that you have finally chosen to stop running away from.

Using Humor to Disguise Fear or Terror

“Oh, Peter, of course I understand. And I approve. I’m a realist. Man has always insisted on making an ass of himself. Oh, come now, we must never lose our sense of humour. Still, I’ve always loved the tale of Tristan and Isolde. It’s the most beautiful story ever told – next to that of Mickey and Minnie Mouse” – Ellsworth Toohey (From “The Fountainhead”)

I have been reflecting on this idea a lot as I consider how I wound up in a gaslighting and abusive relationship and stayed on for as long as I did.

Upon exiting this relationship, something in me became unlocked, and I started writing a lot of poems – here’s one of them titled “How Abuse Starts”

It’s funny
It’s fun
It’s exhilarating
It’s dangerous
It’s evil
It’s routine

Feels like home

One of the key reasons why a woman may find herself attracted to a man is if the man is able to make her laugh. Incidentally, when a man wants to win a woman over, he often goes out of his way to make her laugh, and it works. We are attracted to humour because it is often seen as a marker of confidence, intelligence and charm. Laughter is deeply associated with pleasure and happiness. It activates the limbic system in our brain – the lower order center for emotional processing and causes the amygdala to release endorphins – a feel good hormone. On an interpersonal level, laughter signals acceptance and positive interactions. It is the lubricant in conversations and the analgesic to humdrum small talk. It cuts through our superficial defences and touches our emotional core, so there is a very primal aspect to it.

People who can make us laugh at ourselves get even more stripes. Think about the Canadian comedian Russell Peter. In a podcast interview with Jordan B Peterson, Jordan wryly noted that Russell Peter’s jokes which “insult one ethnic group after another” drew a multicultural audience which would be “waiting with bated breath for their turn to be insulted.” Russell Peter responded with a resounding “Yes” to this rather bizarre observation, to which Jordan said “what do you make of that and how the hell do you get away with it?”

Russell explained that when he talks about a certain group of people, he talks about them from their perspective, not his perspective – the way they read it is “this guy actually understands us, we can’t be offended because he just said something only we should know about ourselves – which means he’s either an insider, or he’s really paid a lot of attention to us, so one way or the other, they know it’s done as a tribute, as opposed to making fun of us. They think, ‘how did he know that? Okay we can trust this guy’ ”

Therein lies the rub – when you feel seen, heard and felt, you develop trust toward the person making you feel that way – your humanity is being acknowledged and it touches your soul. When you are able to apply humour in a way that makes the other party feel acknowledged, the Endorphine rush from laughter elevates the experience of being seen, heard and felt, and that makes you much more open and trusting of the person that tickles your funny bone. If you are the funny guy, you have hit the human jackpot, in my case, as my ex-husband has well and truly milked me for my inheritance, the phenomenon is more literal than figurative.

But my question today is “How do we allow humour to be a stand-in or an escape from dealing with difficult things with integrity and honesty? I think of situations where we laugh out of a sense of awkward discomfort because we cannot believe what the other party is saying. We do not know what to make of the situation, or if we do, we are afraid to confront them or hold them accountable, instead we dismiss and deny by laughing, as if automatically assuming that they meant what they said as a joke – when deep down inside, we know it is not.

The more you do this, instead of calling out what you see and feel discomfited by, the more it eats away away at your true sense of self and wholeness. It eats away at your confidence.

I think of situations in my own marriage where I lost touch with my feelings of fear and what those feeling were trying to tell me when I would let myself get distracted with my husband’s absurd jokes and inane but nonetheless amusing behaviours. In these instances I believe I was using humour to hide terror and fear – the fear and terror of knowing that my husband did not have my back, and that he was just using me for as long as I was complicit in not naming and calling out his covert abuse.

I think of how we can make fun of ourselves as a way of avoiding our own deeper more intense emotions – we dismiss, trivialise, stick our heads in the soil like the proverbial ostrich just to get away from the true feelings hiding behind that wry facade, or goofy humour. Over time, repeated behavioural habits of masking deeper emotions with humour results in us being tone deaf to our own emotions. It makes us blind to reality while robbing us from the joy of living out our true self.

I personally think that when you hit the point where you think anything is fair game for a joke, you have hit a new level of delusion. Horace Walpole, an 18th Century writer and historian, said “Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.”

This has been quoted to me on occasion when I shared with some friends how I felt about certain events in my life. Instead of showing empathy and holding space for me to articulate my thoughts and feelings without judgement, they told me in essence to “think more and feel less”

There have been other friends who have said to me, “Don’t think so much” or “Don’t overthink it.” I personally think that saying things like that just shuts people down emotionally and shames them. It is easier to tell someone not to overthink than to say what you actually mean: “I’m sorry to hear that that you’re struggling, but I don’t really want to know the full length and breath of what you’re dealing with, so I will just ask you not to overthink it.”

It is hurtful at worst, and insensitive at best.

To be fully human, we have to be able to be fully open to our feelings and emotions and examine the length and breadth of them. This is crucial in gaining more knowledge of ourselves. When you try to trivialise or minimise your emotions, you are denying a part of who you are.

It is one thing to feel your feelings and observe them, it’s another thing to fuse with your emotions and allow them to define who you are. The former is healthy and the latter is unhealthy. For example, if you think to yourself when feeling triggered, “I am angry” it is quite different from telling yourself, “I am feeling angry” – there is a space that is created between you and your emotions when you recognise that you are just feeling an emotion, rather than being owned or defined by it.

When we are able to hold space for ourselves to feel our emotions fully and articulate them, whether to a trusted friend or in a journal entry, that is when we will be more self-aware and able to extend that same love and self-awareness to others as well.

Let humour have its place in the world. But let us not use humour to avoid the hard work of dealing with loss and working through grief and unprocessed trauma.

“Laughter cannot mask a heavy heart. When the laughter ends, the grief remains” Proverbs 14:13

References

Peterson, Jordan, host. “S4E24: How We’re Breeding Narcissists| Russell Peters & Jordan Peterson – MP Podcast.” The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, Season 4, episode 24, MP Podcast

Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York, Penguin Random House, 1943

David, Susan A. Emotional agility: get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life. New York, Penguin Random House, 2016

Cardoso, Silvia. Our Ancient Laughing Brain. New York, The Dana Press, 2017

The Living Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, 1971.

The Cathedral of Your Mind

What do you build in the Cathedral
Of your mind?

Garbage in, garbage out
What are you watching
These days?

What images play in your mind?
How do you like them?

Does your spirit sense
Something’s amiss
Or is it like sleeping beauty

Waiting for true love’s kiss

Do you feel like you were
Made for something more
Than just another day
Of going through the motions

Which parts of yourself
Do you sell
So you can runaway

Have you considered
That you don’t need
Anyone else

To own your own reality?

Have you realized
That it’s okay to love

Yourself well enough

To let go and ask Jesus for what you want?

Not what you think you should?

Now,

What will you build in the Cathedral of Your Mind?

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Jesus said “Unless you turn to God from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore anyone who humbles himself as this little child, is the greatest in the Kindom of Heaven. And any of you who welcomes a little child like this because you are mine, is welcoming me and caring for me.” Matthew 18:3-5

For years as a Christian I couldn’t pray truly honest prayers.

I thought I was being honest, but so many emotions were buried deep within me that I couldn’t access them and articulate them in my prayers to Jesus. A deep sense of shame and unworthiness kept me from accessing my true feelings like fear, happiness, sadness, anger, surprise and disgust that were hidden under a general sense of ‘stress and defectiveness.’

As a result, my prayers to Jesus felt wooden, empty and rote. I felt like I was going through the motions and it felt like a wall was growing between us.

As I have learned to draw near and depend fully on Jesus through this time of testing, I have learned to let go and live as a child, to get in touch with my true emotions and to accept myself unconditionally as a beloved child of my my Heavenly Father.

This means trusting that He is working all things out for me even if I don’t understand how. This means having the peace that passes all understanding even if there is a long-list of things to get done, trusting that I’ll come to each of those items as the Holy Spirit enables and empowers me. I get those things done from a spirit of rest rather than that of worry and anxiety.

This also means not depending on the approval, opinion or validation of others for a sense of internal peace and security, because all I need is God’s approval, and I already have it.

This also means listening to Him and writing down the things He’s saying to me, and also taking steps of faith to do the things He’s asking me to do day by day, even though some of these things may seem difficult and daunting to do.

I do not have a lot of courage or confidence in myself.

I never have, but with the assurance that I can come to Christ as I am, with all of my foibles and peccadillos and be completely accepted and loved, fully as I am, not as I think I OUGHT TO BE, I can find the courage to keep moving forward with honesty and integrity in spite of all the challenges and opposition I face.

In addition to this, I am encouraged to pray boldly for myself, as well as those God has put in my life.

Praise be to God for allowing me to pray freely and live in the fullness of faith!

I do not pray because God is going to necessarily do everything I pray for, but I pray because I know God’s heart is good and He has put it on my heart to pray for myself and others and, as a result I can live in simple obedience to His call on my life. There is so much joy that comes from being able to pray honestly and boldly while releasing the outcome to God’s sovereign will.

In the book of Hebrews, it is boldly stated, “Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22”

We can approach God in our prayers like little children asking honestly for the things we want. We can also tell him how we really feel about things, like if we feel hatred for someone or wish someone were dead – all these are things that David the Psalmist earnestly and openly shared with God without any shame.

Jesus meets us where we are at and wants the real us, not the ‘good’ (read ‘contrived’) us. Trust God to be big enough to handle you in all your shades and trust Him to bring you to repentance and right-mindedness even as you pour our your heart to Him. So come boldly and ASK.

Ask, Seek, Knock

Ask and it will be given to you; 

Seek and you will find;

Knock and the door will be opened to you. 

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 

Matthew 7:7-11

I love the Lord because he hears my prayers and answers them. Because he bends down and listens, I will pray as long as I breathe.

Psalm 116: 1-2

Rambutans

Why can’t I let go
Of this memory
The one that I never had
With you?

The one where
We’re sitting at the canal
Looking at the water
Together

Peeling rambutans

Biting into the soft white flesh
Me masterfully pulling
flesh from
woody skin

You gazing off into the distance
Musing about
Jesse and the
Ants
He’s writing his PhD
On

And I silently wonder
How many more rambutans
We have left

The poem above captures an imagined scenario of hanging out with my sister. She talked about it one time, when I wistfully mused about how I wish I could just chill and eat rambutans by the Sunset Way Canal. (See picture above)

She said “Sure, we can go do that, why not?” I felt heartened by her easy carefree way of talking about hanging out. A big part of me wanted to spend time chilling by the canal with her, but in the end, it never happened.

Why not?

Because I rarely had anything meaningful to say to her; most of the time she would dominate the conversation and talk endlessly at me about some guy or another that she was dating. It would get really boring after a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have problems listening to my girlfriends tell me about guys they are dating or interested in, however, I draw the line at 1 hour sessions hearing an endless litany of musings about her current crush, about what he does and this and that.

It’s really boring.

I wonder if it’s because I just wish she would tell me instead what she’s doing. What was she doing apart from hanging out with these guys that she gets so fascinated by and who are just stringing her along and wasting her precious time? Is she doing anything with her own life to attend to her own emotional, spiritual and mental growth?

Also I wished she would actually be interested in me for once. And listen to me without judging me and talking down to me about the things I was doing, saying or thinking. I always came away from our conversations together feeling shit and completely misunderstood.

I never said anything explicit about our relationship in the past because I did not want to cause her offense. But upon writing the poem and having had some time to think about it and what it means, I realize that I wrote it to capture the dynamic in our relationship which was always marked by an abject lack of psychological, emotional and mental connection.

All of this stymied our relationship and led to dead-ends in our conversations. When I tried to tell her honestly how I felt, she would inevitably turn on me and criticize me, saying that I was too harsh or that I did not listen well, or that I had some serious anger problem.

I used to feel really bad about it. There were times things she said would make me feel like ending my life.

I used to think if only I tried harder to be kinder, nicer and more patient, or that if I were more self-aware and tried to sift out the truth of what she said, that we would have a good relationship, but now I realize that somethings just aren’t your fault.

There are some things you are never meant to carry – it’s not your responsibility. Good relationships require mutual respect, understanding and reciprocity; emotional intimacy involves holding space for each other.

She never once held space for me.

I have finally learnt to let go of a relationship that was never good for me.

I have developed what you might call ‘self-respect’.

Below is another poem I wrote about my sister which captures some of the nuances in our relationship.

MY SISTER LOVED ME

My sister loved me
But she broke me
In so many ways
So many splinters in my soul
So many fractures
That never healed whole

Did she know?

And what if she did?

Was the pain she held
Too much to contain?

Did it have to spill over
Messing everything up
Like that?

The seeping spread
The septic wound
The sopping rag
Couldn’t stanch the flow

Of life
She drew out from me
With her harpooned words

I was beached
Like a whale on sand

Gasping for air
Each ragged breath
Drawing sharp
Stabs of pain

The pain that
Tore through
Her soul
A cancer that
Threatened to consume
mine

But I have released her

And

Today,

I’ve found my way back
Into the water

I’ve found my way back
Home

Epitaph

As if life wasn’t hard enough
You and I danced a beautiful
Dance of dysfunction

As I look back
There were all these signs
But why did I ignore them?

Was it because I was
Drawn to the fire
As a moth is drawn to
The flame?

You told me life was precious
But you didn’t know
Just how precious it was
Until you walked out on me

You sang a song of freedom
But there is no
Freedom without surrender

I’m tired of running from the pain
My love
So I’m letting you go

The story you wanted to
Write of a nuclear family
Tight and close knit
Constricts my soul,
Like a vice around my neck

Because that’s not what I was designed
For
I fought so hard for us
But now it’s ashes in the dust

Hot coals in the fire
The forgers fire
Is calling out to me

I must surrender to His call
And you must reckon with
Your creator

Broken eyes
Broken heart
Broken soul

I’ll see you again on the
Other side

16 “See, it is I who created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals into flame
    and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
17     no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 54: 16-17

Listen

I rediscovered recently on an older blog of mine that I had forgotten about.

My entries in that blog really spoke to me and reminded me of the person I am deep inside, someone that went into hiding for a long time.

I wonder if in the process of being married and building a life with my ex-husband, where I felt compelled to focus so much on externalities, I forgot who I really was.

I wrote this poem in 2012. It’s called “Listen.”

Listen,
To the internal clicks and sighs
The silent telling of whys

Follow,
Those signs
The little longings
That beckon you to quiet

Watch,
The moments transform
As you allow those
Voices to die

Laugh,
From the belly
As you awaken
From sleep to rest

And Thank,
Your lucky stars above
As you quicken
to who you are

Scorpio Revisits The Mirror

Boxed in a living, brooding black
Hot, crackling fury enraged in the vacuum
I crave, I thirst,
I am on my knees

but

Your words break me
like
shattered glass
and the screaming hammer
against the door

A child, blithely
Bouncing, up and down
Up and down
on the mattress.
Even as the world
Crumbles and implodes in the universe of
Her heart

and

The door is marked
With the deep round imprints of unmitigated
Rage.

Give me space not
Broken nights harnessed
By the gnawing, nameless
Certainty that

Tomorrow,

I’ll see the image
Of your back
Walking out on us again

Brother, when you read the news
At the dining table, sunlight filters
Thru’ my mind

You sit quietly,
Unperturbed, in silent enjoyment
That picture fills my heart
And the noise clears my head.

I travel through the
Amazon,
a myriad maze,
My jungle book.

Those yells,
Those lusty, knowing voices that
Insist, persist on telling me
With such intense glee

“You’re Wrong
That’s your name
You’re Wrong
You’re Wrong

Wash the dishes
Clean the house
Scrub up, work hard,

Smile

Even harder,
Slam down the competition
With your grades,
if you can…

Shut your mouth
Be good… and maybe
Just maybe
Things will get better

But only
if you can
Learn how to be good,

This house of cards
Will stand maybe
If you shaped up
you sick,
fuck up,
you little piece of..”

ARE SILENCED

I stumble out
onto a vast green field

Blinded by sudden sun,
assaulted by
A fistful of daffodils
dappling the green, green grass.

I breathe in deep,
I pluck one out
And kiss its face
Something that feels like
Sheer relief
rushes in

With reservoirs of tears,
To quench the numbing ache.

Gaslighter

Over and over again
It goes
In my mind
And my thoughts
My soul

Who was he?
Who were we?

Quiet memories of
Evenings spent watching LOTR
And your favorite animes:
Full Metal Alchemist
Death Note
Naruto

I lived for these
Moments of connection
With you
Where I could catch a
Glimpse of the
Worlds in which you lived
The tropes you operated on

How many times
Did we fight
And all I ended up
Feeling was a sense
Of abject failure?

How many conversations
Did we have
As to where I felt
We were stuck in
A holding pattern?

I got zero no matter
How much
Energy I expended

How many confrontations
Were deflected
And how many promises
Undelivered

There’s a word that’s
Coming up a lot in my mind
These days:

“Gaslighter”

I lived in your reality
For so long
I thought your barbed words
Were ‘cute’
You passed off hurtful words
And actions
As ‘jokes’ even though
They formed a consistent
Pattern

Gaslighter
For nine long years
I lived with
You and endured
So much self-doubt
Shame and blame

You found me when
I was vulnerable
And twisted my reality
For yours

I kept feeling
Afraid you’d
Leave me one day

The day came

You beat me up
And said
“This is it, you fucking
Bitch, I’m getting
A divorce”

As I sat in the
Corner of the couch
In a foetal position
To protect myself
From your blows
Raining down on me

Gaslighter

I loved you

In the end
All of these affections
Ended in such
Violence

Gaslighter

I hurt you

I kept apologizing
For losing my temper
And yelling,
Being controlling,

You called me a bully.

I thought you were joking

Gaslighter
I thought I needed you

But all this while

I was running
Away from Myself

How Our Brains Trick Us

If I told you that we all are living in some kind of delusion to differing degrees at any one point in time, would you believe me?

The reality is, each one of us lives in the world of our mind and its perceptions of our personal histories, situations and events; this narrative we build in our minds encompasses stories we tell ourselves about people, and our relationships with them. We make sense of the world and the objects in them through the way we think about them; the bad news is that our minds often trick us.

Yet, Mother nature has her reasons for allowing humans to evolve the way we did. If we lived completely free of delusions, we would either want to end our lives, (just because our brains could not take the painful realities we would need to face up to) or we would be unable to survive and adapt to our environment.

Either way, let me unpack this rather intriguing concept.

Our brains are designed to be efficient, so we expend the least possible energy in making decisions. This is a practical evolution: we make many decisions every single day, so if we had to deliberate over every single decision we would be left completely incapacitated and overwhelmed.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman states that we reason at two speeds: System 1 (fast) which relies on heuristics (or rules of thumb). You make decisions on the spur of the moment with broad strokes, relying on rules of thumb and generalities. This is a rather shallow approach to thinking, but it is the level at which we function most of the time, because it saves us time and energy and is adapted for the hectic pace of life many of us move at. However, the quality of the decisions we make are poor.

Such poor decision making affects our society in profound ways: a 2011 analysis of a thousand decisions made by eight Israeli magistrates revealed that their decisions were contingent on their blood sugar levels.

After a lunch break, or even a short recess, magistrates approved 65 percent of parole applications and gradually became less forgiving until they turned down practically everything. This pattern repeated itself following the next recess where their approval of parole applications went back up to 65 percent. This pattern of behavior was consistent throughout the course of the study. While these poor decisions may not affect those who make them, it has profound implications for the justice system in Israel, the prisoners petitioning for parole and the future of their families.

System 2 (slow) offers a more powerful, precise, and subtle, way of making sense of the world. It is capable of flights of mental gymnastics. It focuses, pauses, and proceeds at a slow pace. It burns up great amounts of energy, and takes a lot more time, but the quality of this sort of thinking is higher and much more precise, so if you are trying to make an important decision it is best to rely on System 2 thinking, even if it costs you more time and energy.

Even then, you almost never come close to pure logic and rationality. Herbert Simon, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978, suggested that while we are rational creatures, our rationality is riddled with bias and limitations, and counterintuitively, this is precisely what has permitted us to survive as a species.

As the psychologist Jean-Francois Marmion states, “If our ancestors had assumed the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker every time they had to decide whether to flee a predator or an enemy, humanity would have become extinct a long time ago. It was necessary for System 1, however flawed, to exist.”

Another strong precursor for flawed reasoning is the drive to conform. The social psychologist Solomon Asch has demonstrated that the impulse to conformity leads us to deny our own perceptions. If you are the only one in the group who recognises that two lines are of the same length, you are likely to go with the group’s perception rather than maintain your own for the fear of appearing crazy or wrong-headed.

If you think this is a purely rational decision and that your actual perception remains unmoved, but is merely kept private, consider this same experiment that Gregory Berns, of Emory University in Atlanta, repeated using MRI scans.

He found that when the brain itself refuses to accept external evidence, the neural area that comes into play is not the specialised section that deals with cognitive conflicts, it is the part that controls spatial perception.

In other words, other people’s judgements transforms our perception of lines. The error is not merely due to superficial thinking, it literally distorts our vision.

How does this happen? It happens because of the need to resolve cognitive dissonance: the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. Our brain is amazing, but it is also lazy, so the easiest way to resolve the difference between our perception and that of the group’s, as well as our intrinsic need to feel a sense of personal integrity i.e. that we are not liars, is for our brain to trick itself into thinking that the two lines are the not same length as everyone else is saying when in fact they are.

In case you are still not quite convinced of the veracity of this claim, I will share with you personally how I found my own brain to be full of biases in the perception of spatial relations and lines. It started last year when I took up drawing.

I was working in a motion graphic company as a Creative Project Manager and had to get hands on with a project as we were short-staffed. I decided to take it as a challenge to improve my drawing. Subsequently, I did some research on Reddit and saw that the book ‘Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain’ was highly recommended.

The author, Betty Edwards, talks about how we are often unable to draw accurately because our true perception of space, lines and the relationships between them have been hijacked by symbolic thinking, a heuristic pattern of conceptualizing the world that is shaped by words. This system comes into place when we are children as we start to acquire the basics of our native language.

Edwards posits the question, “what prevents a person from seeing things clearly enough to draw them?”

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception and says, in effect, ‘It’s a chair, I tell you. That’s enough to know. In fact, don’t bother to look at it because I have a ready made symbol for you. Here it is: add a few details if you want, but don’t bother me with this looking business’

This system of symbols comes from childhood which becomes embedded in your memory ready to be pulled out whenever you chose to draw your childhood landscape.

All of us as children have drawn some kind of landscape like this, representative of a home. The windows, roof and rectangular structure of the home are all symbols, not actual reflections of reality.”

It is this mental heuristic that dominates our thinking because words have reduced our perceptual understanding of houses to that of “rectangular structures” and windows to that of “squares with crosses on them” and roofs to “pointy triangles” – which makes sense, from a simplistic point of view, but this sort of thinking obscures the reality and form of these objects.

One of the exercises she uses to overcome this mental bias and access the right side of the brain is to turn the reference picture upside down when you draw it. This is meant to help you access the right side of the brain more easily, as the logical left side is unable to produce symbols for the upside down picture which looks altogether foreign.

Here is the reference picture:

This is the first time I drew the tiger with the reference picture right side up. As you can see there were many corrections and it was hard for the drawing process to “flow”

This is the 2nd time around I drew the tiger, but with the reference picture upside down. Drawing the tiger upside down “tricked” my logical left brain to cease and desist from ‘fixing’ the ‘problem’ of drawing and allowed my right brain – intuitive, perceiving and in tune with spatial planes and linear relationships to take over.

This time around when I drew there was a natural flow and my drawing and line work was so much more fluid and confident. I was not starting and stopping, neither was I second guessing myself. It is almost as if something took over and did the work for me. I just had to let it happen.

I believe that most of life can be lived in this state of flow. How do we get to it? That is a topic for another day.

But for today, I think it’s enough to recognize that

1) Our brains trick us into accepting false realities because of the mental heuristics it defaults to most of the time.

2) Being aware of this mental pitfall, we can in turn ‘trick’ our brain into embracing reality, so as to work with it instead of against it.

As we ponder all the ways that our brains could be tricking us, here is a little cartoon to enjoy: