Ha Long, Ha Long must we sing this song… A Beautiful Day in Vietnam

 

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If I can’t see ‘the island’ back home, I know that it’s raining. Or else, that it will be sometime in the very near future. Islands are fairly black and white in that sense.
They stay put.
Although still unpredictable, this small droplet of observant common sense derived from a fine-tuned intuition has proven more useful and informative than many weather forecasts. Strange how a place can become so familiar that you tune into it’s weather-warnings and signals as naturally as if each gust of wind were it’s very breath.

This morning, over 6,000 miles away from home, the fog is so thick that most of the boat tours out into Ha Long Bay from the mainland have been cancelled. I can’t see the ‘islands’; big chunks of grassy rock and land protruding at random from the still, grey waters like stubborn weeds or sudden video-game obstacles to be navigated – an image which makes progressive sense after the go-karting and uncontrollable chaos of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.

 I admire our guide’s positivity. “Sun come out later”, he reassures us.
“You will see. Trust me.”
So I do.

The Northern bay of Vietnam is colder than I’m expecting. The ‘cruise’ ship’s blind persistance through the eerie silence of pre-dawn waters sends a chill down my spine, along with a twinge of regret that I failed to check the weather conditions for today. No matter. Experience has taught me that storms always lift, and that even through the most deafening downpour of rain– the islands always stay the same.
Making the most of my short time in Vietnam has meant bypassing several stops I had previously intended on, but there hasn’t been a draft of the guidelines I’ve drawn for myself where Ha Long Bay does not feature.
One thing I notice as the waves become more stable is that the sea breeze here doesn’t quite cut the skin like it does back home. The chill I’m feeling is purely due to movement – our progression through the still air the only instigator of activity for several hundred meters around us – the distance from our boat to the next stationary vessle, a ‘party boat’ still lying sleepily comatosed in the early morning haze. Several small fishing boats have passed since setting out from the docks, a familarity I can’t help but admire – it takes a special kind of storm to perturb the fishermen in the West of Ireland too.

As expected, our approach to the main attraction slowly brings clarity to the previously foggy mounds of matter. The mainland view might be good, but the towering mountains rising from the surface of the water like proud statues of Gods overlooking their kingdom are even more impressive up close. Colours saturate every glance. Pure nature, pure height, depth, and growth dwarf every man-made structure I’ve ever laid eyes on.

All attempts I’ve made at reassuring myself this trip it won’t be in vain fall overboard, as I stare in awe around me. These aren’t islands. These are natural works of art.

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Why I’m Going to Keep Writing Even If I Never Get a Job Doing It

I don’t need to make brilliant art.
But I need to make art.
I don’t need to write award-winning novels, or groundbreaking, academically praised and published articles.
But I need to write.
I don’t need to write stories that will be remembered, passed down from generation to generation like engagement rings or other binding pieces of jewellery until the weight of a headstone of ancestors hangs around my neck, God forbid I should ever misplace it at the swimming pool.
But I need to write stories.
Even in my head. Even for nobody. Even if the only tangible form they ever embody is a whispy squiggle on a page as I doodle, coaxing ideas and the crazy knot of Christmas lights out until they all sparkle beautifully in alignment together.

Words are like that.
Alone, in the right context, they can shock. Enthrall. Bamboozle.

But the longer and more complex the cable of thoughts or ideas wishing to be expressed and made sense of, the more difficult it becomes to correctly put them into any sort of order to experience the dazzling after-effect of a well-structured sentence.
That’s why I find words so fascinating.
What numbers are to mathematicians, words are to me. I find solace in many art forms – music, singing, drawing, and yoga (I’m labelling it an art form for this articles’ sake). Yet words remain some of the most versatile and all-encompassing notes to the tune and harmonious chorus I hear when I have effectively teased out a quick sequence of words that actually makes some sort of sense.

Structuring sentences, making fleeting ideas tangible by sticking with them even just long enough to assign them a context, surname and postal address, gives me a sense of satisfaction I have yet to find elsewhere.

That is why I’m going to keep writing. Even if it never pays for more than a yoga class and some vegetables.
I’ll write about that yoga class and those vegetables.

Art, Language, and Yoga as Forms of Personal Expression

 

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They say that art calms the mind, and soothes the senses.

As someone who is regularly plagued by bouts of extreme and intense anxiety, coupled with irrational responses to everyday occurrences, I have truly found solace in writing; in expressing my thoughts and worries elsewhere before they get the opportunity to take over my life.

Writing especially I have found to benefit me extremely in this sense, yet also other art forms too – singing, practicing yoga, translating, doodling, creating anything…aside from the obvious enjoyment and productivity associated with these acts themselves, it’s comforting to realise that regular practice and engagement with them have massive health benefits too.

The calmness and ease I feel after writing or praciticing yoga for a short time, or expressing myself in some other way is what I imagine most people (and by most, I mean people who aren’t prone to anxiety or extremes of thought patterns) feel on a ‘good day’. A ‘good day’ being a day where they awake feeling relatively content with their lives; their job; the balance on their latest bank statement; an upcoming night out or short holiday planned to keep them ploughing on through the next workday. A good day is all I want. A mediocre day without stressing over what to eat for breakfast, how I should break up the day ahead, whether or not I’ve had a response from the latest job application I’ve submitted…

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When I was travelling I had many, many of these ‘good days’. So many in fact, that I’ve come to associate the very act of travelling with these feelings of contentment, understanding, and acceptance of the world around me. When I’m travelling, it’s not only MY world I’m accepting – the things and people I see on a day-to-day basis – it’s the ENTIRE world. It’s a level of acceptance and bliss it’s difficult to recall now as I sit alone in my parents’ house, the grey clouds of an Irish ‘Springtime’ taunting the pale skin that has only just begun to lose the thick spatter of freckles Asia provided as a thoughtful departing gift to remember her by.

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Language and Writing

People are quick to comment on SouthEast Asians’ calmness and politeness of character, something I have experienced first-hand and now seek to put into practice myself. Even the various languages and alphabets as they are written- the delegation of equal importance and respect to each line, component, and meaning of each letter in each and every word they speak and write is absolutely fascinating, and humbling in comparison to the almost careless way we seem to throw our words and thoughts around a lot of the time.

In taking the time to sit and write them out, we are treating our own minds with respect, our own thoughts, however frivolous they may be, are being given the time of day they deserve and not hushed away in the back of a wardrobe or the ‘junk drawer’. This can be achieved no matter what language we are writing in.

Yoga For Self-Awareness

 Sitting with a new language and attempting to fully understand new structures, words, functions, and patterns is similar to sitting with our own bodies and listening to our needs. We slowly become more and more in tune with them; understanding the unique functions, strengths, cycles, abilities and limitations, the positive and negative reactions to outside stimuli, the huge spectrum of potential and possibility for this ever-evolving life-form that we’ve been given to power through a ‘lifetime’ here.

I don’t pretend to claim a clear understanding of all things body and mind and language-related and the vague sort of tenacious connection that I am now more certain than ever is in existence between us all – I’m merely enjoying the process of exploring it. I’m not expecting to ever understand it all, because that would defeat the purpose of the journey and of the creative exploration of what we’ve been given to work with. I can only hope to maintain an enjoyment of this journey, to sit with it, associating words and symbols and ideologies with different concepts and ways of life and language; with physical movement and accepting my body through yoga being a medium through which this change can work – a way for me to continue exploring it.

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Home Is Where the Art Is

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Time has temporarily come to a standstill. The heavy, consistent and reliable beat of activity, functioning, and output which I have been keeping for the past few weeks has ceased to be so persistant; yet I know it to be only a brief lull. I have returned home to the house in which I spent my childhood, teenage years, and adult life up until now, after living away and working for a short while. While gone, I couldn’t have even considered returning to the stifling atmosphere of being back here, so freeing and liberating was the work, not to mention creatively stimulating and socially consistent, the last thing I wanted was to be forced to spend any amount of time here among my old clothes, things and rooms which I know inside out and back to front – where is the imagination here? Where is the newness? Where is the potential for progression and growth?

I have been so preoccupied with moving forward, with moving on and nourishing change and growth that I have almost lost the importance of that which is at the core of it. Instead of rejoicing at the prospect of relaxing and being at ease with things being exactly as and where I left them, both in my room and in my parents’ lives, I had become anxious with anticpation of how stagnant it all can feel, and wary that I would be ‘sucked into’ it again.

That is how it has felt before, in times when I have been progressing and growing steadily by myself in situations outside of my home life – it has seemed almost counterproductive to return to this state of apparent sameness, the begrudgingly slow process of progression being stifled just yards after it has finally made some noticeable headway, and anxiety at it’s proximity overwhelming any sense of productivity.

This time however, the lull has been noted, and my awareness of the temporality of all things has been strengthened. The beating of the creative drum had a good run this time – things were written, recorded, conducted in ways and on levels of success I never believed myself capable of. But just as seemingly endless and frustratingly peaceful as this visit home has been, the persistance of such a contrasting level of frenzied output can only be maintained for a certain amount of time, and will only be possible once again if I take this time now to recooperate, recharge the mental and physical batteries with good nutrition, a decent amount of sleep, and a couple of hundred words written to aim to keep the nudging elbows of anxiety at my lack of creative output bubbling under the surface away.

Because I have realised now that creativity has to come from somewhere. It may not be a gift or a trait that can be readily bestowed upon someone, or found in any single library, concert venue, practice room, or gallery; but through correct environmental factors and an unknown period of time, I believe it can be coaxed into existance in certain individuals, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. My home and life experiences up until now have clearly provided the seeds and tools necessary to glean new understandings and to present unique manifestations, angles, and viewpoints of our environment and lives, something which can be achieved by something so small as this paragraph of words on your screen. This, really, when it all comes down to it, is the essence of creativity as a concept in itself. I have used the environment and experiences I have been afforded to the best of my advantage, and for now, for this present moment in time, this is the best I can present you with – a few hundred words typed hastily in the middle of a bedroom strewn with half-unpacked washing. In my work up until recently, I utilised the bustling, chaotic atmosphere around me to coax new ideas from my core and take bold risks that may or may not have resulted in disaster – the nature of such an environment, however, allowed for these risks, as even if they had failed, the movement forwards is swift, and does not take long for the failures to be learned from and forgotten. For now, for the time being, this is what I have to show – a short piece of chaotic, excitable and progressive thought captured within a room full of old teddies, in a house that has been the same colour since I was first brought into it 23 years ago.

Heard Melodies

At the risk of sounding overly sappy, I live for passion. I live for those moments where you just feel. Where nothing on the outside matters, purely because inside is so brimming with potential and prospect for what is to immediately come or what is currently taking place, so much so that you sometimes get lost in the heat of it all and come shakily back down to where you originally stood, shivering at the ghost of the pure emotion that just rushed through you, and craving it’s power again.

I’m currently in a limbo between things that make me feel. Whether it’s a song, a person, a memory, a night, – whatever it is. That tingly kind of ‘I know I shouldn’t be so excited but this feels so damn good and I am twenty-two so why the fuck not just let myself FEEL it’ kind of buzz  is what makes life worthwhile. I’m not saying I feel nothing at other times, or in between buzzes, but there’s an excitement that your heart and soul reserve for only certain, special things – things I don’t want to ruin by listing here and risking their frivolity for you – and that’s what keeps me going.

The thing with art is that it lets you know that feeling, no matter how good or bad or unexplained, is always real and justified. Through art, we see people’s truths. People can express their BUZZES through a medium which is more widely accepted than an excited non-sensical text message trying to describe exactly how much something means to you;
‘omggggggggg have you HEARD Mumford& Sons new song omg omg omgaeohaeja akejrttttagndflgkadkfajrgejka LOVE’

It shows humankind for what we really are, and helps us to understand that we are all as bare and naked and lost as each other, following only the things that makes us feel most strongly as we move ceaslessly forward.
That it is possible for us to look at or be with another and feel such justification and purpose is enough sometimes to keep me going, knowing that truth is possible…..that feeling is real…we just need to give it a chance and let it take shape. The fact that I have yet to experience this is only a minor deterrent. I have come close, very close – close enough to appreciate it, and recognise the potential. Close enough to actually feel some of that ever- elusive buzz. In a way I suppose you could say that I have experienced the best of it. The lead-up. The potential. The uncertainty. The risk. 

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter;
therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees,thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”
John Keats

It will happen again…someday. Art dilutes the condensed, uncontrollable and overpowering feelings that life sometimes shoves at us. The undiluted may taste nicer for a time, allow us to indulge in the potential of things – but ultimately it is unhealthy, omnipotent, and damaging to our systems. My favourite way to deal with the urge to splurge on emotions, is to use my art, or somebody elses, or turn anything I see into some form of something that is art, and to simply buzz.