Creativity needs freedom

My friend is in his late twenties, works for a multi-national company, and earns a standard five-figure salary—a more than adequate income considering he was single and lived in a share house with five others. 

His day begins as usual: brush, wash, shower, and bus to work. He clocks in at 8 for his 9 o’clock shift and get an overtime bonus. He skips coffee breaks, brings canteen lunch to his desk, and keeps a bottle of water beside him at all times. He has no reason to engage in office chatter, which has made him more efficient than others and mechanical in completing work on time.

“Get a life!” People tell him.

He spends Saturdays in office, sometimes for the overtime bonus and sometimes for the cheap canteen food. He sleeps in on Sundays, saving breakfast expense and surviving on a big brunch.

He’s the office nut case. No one knows what he likes to do for fun or how he spends his money. He doesn’t read, he doesn’t sing, he doesn’t listen to music. Doesn’t paint, doesn’t write, doesn’t…live. According to the world, he had no creative nerve in him. He was a good-for-nothing corporate mushroom who churned out labour in exchange for payment he locked away.

No one knew—

that he was paying off his family’s debt.

He had no time for art and music and poetry. He was too engrossed in getting through each day, subsisting, so that he could sustain long enough to become free.

We don’t always realise it, but creativity is strenuous. It’s hard work and it demands your full attention. To create, you need a clear mind, a soul that’s not crushed by the weight of poverty and responsibility. That’s why every struggling creative needs someone or something to support them so that they can shed their worries, even momentarily, and create. Those who have that assurance—through family, friends, or a support group—end up making magic. But those who don’t, like my friend, may never unleash their creativity.

Taken for granted

Living in South Asia, cooking was one of the biggest concerns for my mother. She’d wake up at 4 am to prepare breakfast from scratch. She’d feed us, and once my brother and I left for school and our father to work, she’d clean up and start making lunch. When we got back home, not only would we have a plate of wholesome rice, vegetables, and the occasional meaty or fishy treat, but we’d also have perfectly-proportioned tea and a snack to get us through our homework. While we gorged on the spring rolls, cutlets, or some other goodness, she’d set up the kitchen for dinner. From kneading the dough to rolling it out and cooking it, my mother would spend at least two to three hours sweating over each meal, painstakingly poring over the rolling pin, making sure each flatbread was even on all sides, not too thick or they wouldn’t cook in the middle, but not too thin either for they’d then become too crispy and brittle-like. All the while, she’d ignore the sweltering heat emitting from the stove as her skin and life burned.

She wouldn’t go to bed until after 11 pm.

In a day, she’d spend at least 6 to 8 hours prepping, cooking, and cleaning up. To say she was tied to the stove is an understatement.

She wasn’t the only one. A lot of Indian families had a similar lifestyle. A lot of Indian mothers never had time for a ladies’ night out or even to go to the bathroom at times—because their toddler would wail if they leave the room.

I grew up observing my mother. And although I wouldn’t have had the same life as her, I would’ve still spent a lot of my life cooking and scrubbing had I stuck around the same societal mentality.

When I moved to Australia, I couldn’t believe how easy the food was. I’m not referring to the abundant restaurants. Cooking itself is now effortless. I rarely eat out—it’s way too expensive. But I do cook a lot. It’s too easy. Canned pulses, frozen fruit and vegetables, and oven-friendly meals have transformed cooking from a chore to a ritual as simple as pulling on a favourite t-shirt in the morning. I don’t cook three meals a day either—I make a pot of beans and use it for three days. People think it gets boring, but it doesn’t. I always have some fruit and vegetable lying around for a quick snack or meal. My meat-eating brother gets chicken wings and shoves them in the oven. It takes less than an hour to prepare a weeks’ worth of meals. It’s fast food without the harmful ingredients and effects you’d associate with fast food. Because everyday meals are so quick and easy, I get a lot of time to work on my hobbies and endeavours—to experiment with new recipes, to read and write, to prepare an elaborate meal once a while, or just to wander the streets, aimless. It’s such a nice feeling not to be a slave to the kitchen.

It’s all too late for my mother, though. Sadly, she didn’t have the convenience that I now have. 

That’s the problem of modern life—we take so many things for granted that we fail to realise that even the seemingly instantaneous chopped tomatoes weren’t always that instant.


Image: Melissa Walker Horn on Unsplash

St. John’s Wort, a review

St. John's Wort, a poetry collection written by Alexus Erin. Published by Animal Heart Press.

It’s hard to say what Alexus imagined when she titled this book, St. John’s Wort. It’s the name of a European medicinal shrub known for treating depression. Like most of the world, if you consider the book at face value, you’ll think it’s therapeutic, that it calms and elevates your experiences. 

It does. 

However, as you read through the poems, over and over again, to make sure you don’t miss a beat or the depth of meaning folded neatly in between lines and stanzas, you’ll realise that Mayo Clinic was perhaps right. As one of the top possible side effects of St. John’s wort (the shrub), it lists agitation. Which is what you feel when you’ve read these poems.

Alexus doesn’t look at the world around her and burst into flowery language. Instead, her poems are deliberate. Each line, each syllable rings with meaning, and whether or not you directly relate to it, you feel what she sees, and you see what she feels.

Imagery is for the ear as much as it is for the eye, you learn as she describes in Laughter,

“I know God laughed
when night bathed tabletop-
tabletop cradled the New York Times, a pound cake. I sang carols over the brushed, high-hat hiss of a Vanilla Coke can.”

Alexus’s poetry isn’t simple. Layers upon layers of complexity lie in each poem, and she makes you work to reap the sweet benefits of the sadness lingering in those hard words. 

“When I learned my father had an aneurysm, I thought about the day his brother had the aneurysm.
I thought about Plath, then Hughes
then about how suddenly I needed to buy pudding
from the grocery store.”

When referencing a father dying of aneurysm, not everyone draws a parallel with Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy“, where she confesses struggling to forgive her father’s involvement in the Holocaust and his lack of self-care that resulted in a gradual demise. Alexus cleverly matches the Plath reference with the seemingly related Hughes, while instead, with a subtle streak, alluding to pulmonary artery aneurysms, a rare autoimmune disease first described by British physicians Hughes and Stovin.

Good poetry resounds though your being, leaving blotches of reality, like ink on paper, marking you for life. This collection of poems takes it further—you have to marvel at Alexus’s wordliness, the way she’s melded poetry with dark reality, and the way she’s dejargoned medicine, revealing it in bits, like droplets on whiskey, just enough to hit you with a boldness that momentarily disarms you.

It’s not, however, a book you need to pair with a high-edition dictionary—although a nice Riesling surely complements. Scattered throughout the book, in snippets that speak the truth as it is, are poems so simple and so pristine that you can’t help but pause to inhale the beauty of words.

“What among us won’t, one day,
Be turned inside out?”

She asks in such tepidity that it strikes you, slices through your pretence, as intense as hot knife through cold butter.

Alexus ends that poem, Year of the Rabbit Hole, hinting at self-help, while artfully voiding her voice of the unworthiness that comes with such books.

This collection is a chain, flaunting a range of topics, all bound by the string of tragedy. Every poem is an ode to an incident in life—sometimes personal, often not—leaving you with a shudder, questioning you, and enticing you to question the world you see.


Musings from reading St. John’s Wort, a poetry collection written by Alexus Erin and published by Animal Heart Press.

Lost for words

Stunted, I stand—
like a child facing its father
drunk, with no pride, scowling;
as that child registering,
look on its mother’s face.

Stunted, I stand—
as a yearning pianist
learning, watching masters
gliding fingers, seamless
so much to be stressful.

Stunted, I stand—
as a teen, hopeless, in love
curious, cluelessly licking,
purposefully his own lips,
to feel remains of hers.

Stunted, I stand—
mute as a muted video,
blinking, in slowed motion,
afraid, lest the picture fades,
the sun in my horizon.

Going home

“Come hither!”
She beckons,
arms wide, lips curling
twisting, my soul with it.

Thunder echoes,
whispering hope in ears
rustling as autumn leaves 
brushing against 
my callous frame.

Worn by weather,
marred by wear,
my eyelids droop—
crinkles catch up,
I let go.

She bundles me—
warm scoop and ice cream,
melts the cold away,
carries me home.