Unrealistic reality

Reg Mombassa's artwork titled The Temptation
The Temptation by Reg Mombassa

Who but the demon
would nurture stereotypes,
of men and women?

Of working from home

I’m a remote worker. And for the first time in a long time, I spent an entire day at home. Working.

Writing for work, without a break, hoping to get the damn thing finished so I could spend more time writing more stuff—poetry, opinions, random strings of sentences I wish would make a reasonable story.

Then, I’d edit my works in progress, expecting to get a lot done, as much as I could, within my limited daytime.

As I wrote on, my heart longed for the great outdoors. Through my window, soft breeze and cloudy sky called for me. After three months of bushfire smoke haze, the rains of last week had cleared the air and people’s lungs of deadly particles. It was, at last, beautiful outside.

Over the last week, it seemed like summer had decided to call it a day. The temperatures had cooled down, delaying sunrises and expediting sunsets. Though I still saw the light at quarter to eight, the sun had already retired, taking much of the heat with it.

And all the while, I sat on my desk, typing away, taking a minute or two to distract myself on Facebook or to tune into the radio to hear the last of the daily quiz show.

Just as I finished my work stuff, I realised I hadn’t showered in two days. Though my pedestal fan prevented any perspiration, I was still uncomfortable in my own skin. A bath later, I remembered I still had to meal prep for the next couple of days. As the light waned in the garden, I let my imagination and hopes melt in the heat of the stove. All the stirring, sautéing, and the dishwashing that followed left me drained.

Nothing worse than when the body is able, but the mind has already shut down for the day.

I felt claustrophobic, even with so much light and ventilation. It was like being in a cubicle, shut off from the rest of the world. I love my home, but it drove me crazy. It felt wrong not to go out, to interact with people, walk, or rush for the bus. As if everything normal in my life had taken a sudden break, crippling me.

That’s when I realised: working from home is great, as long as you’re not in your home.

A psychedelic experience

I went to an art exhibition titled Psychedelic Realism. It’s a collection of about 50 paintings by a renowned Australian artist and musician, Reg Mombassa.

Keeping true to the overarching theme of the exhibition, most of the art work on display illustrated unreal impossibilities, yet harsh truths that you often associate with out-of-the-world experiences. An alien eye, for example. Or a disfigured robot taking over humankind in space.

I knew I was walking into unfamiliar territory. I’d seen a few images online that helped me gauge a pattern with this kind of art. However, I am a complete novice in psychedelic artwork and wasn’t sure what to expect.

Welcoming me were a few questionable robots. One sat in a chair with a bloody blind over its eye. Another seemed to be trying to take advantage of a man. Yet another one wore a suit parading its masculinity. It all looked a little… controversial and worthy of raised eyebrows.

To complement the work, a mild drumming music played in the background, helping me transition from an aloof bystander to a more immersed viewer, reading into and attempting to decode the artist’s brush strokes and glitter usage.

For there was glitter. To my surprise, the artist had incorporated shiny matter to make his colours and characters pop out.

As I moved trough the aisle, I saw other types of work as well. There were houses and bush lands, and Victorian landscapes as the artist interpreted them.

I later learnt that the artist is the owner of Mambo comics and murals—a popular style of art that uses unrealistic and humorous elements—like an Australian Jesus—to drive home a message. Here’re a few examples:

This exhibition has been an eyeopener for me. having seen various styles of psychedelic art online, I never expected to see anything as unique and unconventional as this. Even though I’ve never had a psychedelic experience myself, it was an interesting to wonder what the artist had in mind when creating these.

Defining minimalism

I’m a proud minimalist. My unrealistic dream is to own one pair of shoes that I can wear for everyday commuting, running, hiking, and the occasional work-related public speaking.

When I arrived in Canberra, migrating from India, I had one cabin bag—which contained my laptop, a few snacks, and the essentials for surviving an overnight fight. I had to check in my luggage because it weighed 12 kilos, a little over the 8 kilos of maximum allowance of a cabin bag.

And I’ve often narrated that story without the slightest sense of shame. While most people would identify themselves by the things they own and the value of those items, I lack the lust for materialism.

To put that in a different context, if a bushfire approached my house and I had to leave immediately, I’d have less than half a backpack to carry. Everything I own fits into my yellow rucksack.

However, as I’ve navigated society, I’ve developed many relationships and therefore, interests. As a result, I’ve started accumulating things. Stuff. Possessions I cherish, not because they’re mine but because I have anytime access to them—I now need them. For instance, I need proper running shoes, separate from my everyday sneakers. Of course, I didn’t start running until mid November of last year. And I would’ve have started if it hadn’t been for my friends talking about their running.

More than everything else, however, I can’t help but acquire books. I’ve always had that problem. Before I moved to Canberra, I gave away so many books because it made no sense to carry them all with me. Books—especially ones you want to re-read and enjoy for a lifetime–are, in bare terms, baggage. If I’m emotionless, I’d say books are an unnecessary burden. Having my teen ages possessed by technology, I’d argue I could get all the books in the world in one ebook reader—for the size and weight of one.

Yet, my social activities and my friend making has altered my view of possessions. I realised this last week when I visited a book fair. Even though I’d been to many such events in India, I’ve never bought anything because my string mind voice opposed to it. This time however, I ended up buying three new books, to add to the rather small pile that I know I’ll hold on to as long as I can. Unless there’s a bushfire and I have to evacuate immediately, I’d take these books with me.

This has made me question my principles.

I still consider myself a minimalist, but with a larger collection of things than I had before. I’ve come to understand that minimalism isn’t about having fewer things, but instead, about knowing the difference between wants and needs. It’s impossible to have one pair of shoes that’s ideal for all activities. And it’s ok to have two or three good pairs of shoes. As for books, I can always donate, and borrow when I want them again. Buying a book introduces me to the title. Once I’m familiar with the title, the author, and the style of writing, I can loan as many as I want.

That was my lightbulb moment. Minimalism isn’t about limiting your experiences, but it’s about expanding them. And you can do that without overloading your backpack.

Of falling in love. Of breaking up.

It’s Valentine’s Day. 

My housemate’s ex-partner sent her a surprise in an email. They’re almost 9000 miles from each other, and at 8 pm her time, 4 am his, he called to say hello to her and their child. They haven’t lived together in years, and yet their affection for each other hasn’t changed an ounce.

In a different part of town, a friend prepared herself for the conversation with her boyfriend of four years. Not the one about marriage and kids and becoming soccer mom of the year, but about the chasm that’d always existed between them and how bandaid fixes are no longer holding things together. The day after Valentine’s Day, they’ll break up. It’ll hurt him and test her emotional capacity, but she’s determined—they want different things.

Back in India, my best friend from work has gone out for lunch at Burger King with colleagues. She’ll go home to her toddler son, and together they’ll call her husband, now working in the US, over Skype. It took them almost nine years to come out to their parents as an inter-racial couple. As with all Indian families, drama ensued, was overcome, and they had a lovely wedding almost two years ago.

When we think of V Day, we often focus on the falling in love aspect of it. Of being sleepless and restless and going up the Space Needle, only to find your soulmate there, just as sleepless, and just as reckless. No one talks about the pain that comes with choosing the wrong person, losing the right person, or the immense heartache associated with subsisting in a confounding relationship—being with the person who drains your energy without you even knowing it.

Until this year, for me, Valentine’s Day was that odd day of the year when everyone went loopy, wore black to boycott celebrations, treating it as humbug. I stand corrected. Over the last year, I’ve seen more couples, in varying stages of maturity, approaching this day and the entire concept of love in a myriad of views. Love is all-encompassing—and no two people have the same experience or perspective. It’s time we stopped stereotyping V Day.