2014 hurt. 2014 hurt like goddamn. For days-weeks-months-whatever I have been trying to write about it but I can’t; the best I can do is to skirt around the edges. For a long time I thought I might never stop crying. And over and over, I found myself thinking: This Is Actually Happening. Everything I didn’t want to happen all congregated in one massive clusterfuck. It was too much to take in, which is why the grief didn’t seem to let up; once I’d halfway processed some aspect of it, another angle would hit me again. It is still too much to take in, and I’m not really interested in trying any more.
Instead I want to talk about the small shards of hope that pierced my despair.
I finally read Junot Diaz in 2014. I started with The Cheater’s Guide To Love and it stabbed me right in the heart but I kept going. I got a library card while I was cat sitting in Daylesford, Victoria, and I ordered in This Is How You Lose Her and The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao. (Libraries are amazing. Also they couldn’t get copies of Bitch magazine but one of the librarians lent me her own.) Junot Diaz didn’t just distract me from my pain: he illuminated things and spun sentences that wrecked my head in the best way.
I had a neighbour who had four dogs, two cats (one of which resembled a rug), a pet sheep, the best dress sense for miles around, unlimited stories and an enormous, beautiful heart. I was new in town but we instantly felt comfortable with one another. When she visited, the entire procession of animals accompanied her. When the pain welled up again I went over to her place, drank red wine, told her what I could, and knew that she was okay with receiving it.
Before everything started to go wrong, I went on holiday to the island of Flores, where I finally got to use the Bahasa Indonesia that I’d dipped in and out of studying. And I snorkelled and saw giant turtles and sharks and, best of all, manta rays, gliding through the water like flying carpets. I saw flying fish and dolphins. I saw komodo dragons up close and magnificent. I am not sure what they’re called in Bahasa, but I like to call them biawak gemok, or cicak besar; please don’t ruin it for me.
After everything started to go wrong, I turned up at Clare’s place in Edinburgh. I’d warned her that I was a mess and couldn’t stop crying. She said that was no problem. “You can have a room to yourself and hide in it if you want to,” she said, “or you can tell me all about it, or we can talk about other things to distract you, or we can just watch 21 Jump Street.” Also, she had brandy. It turns out 21 Jump Street is pretty great.
After everything had gone finally, irreparably wrong, I fled to Lyttelton. I resented being in New Zealand in the middle of winter, but it was the best I could come up with. I cried when I woke up in the morning and I cried after I switched the light out at night. I cried when I was walking home from the village. And one time, I started crying in a café, and I started packing up to go, but a stranger saw what was going on and bought me a whiskey and said all the right things, and when I walked home after that I cried a little less.
I found myself in a city where I know a lot of people and feel like part of a community, and that city isn’t Edinburgh (which I am certain I am done with), it’s Kuala Lumpur.
Four other people in the places I stayed in KL endured dengue fever, but I somehow didn’t. Thank you, 2014, for sparing me at least one kind of bullshit.
I found a new home. First I was a guest for an extended period of time; soon I’m going to be subletting an actual room. This means I will have my own cupboard and shelves and, hell, I could even put something up on a wall if I feel like it, all of which is pretty novel after so many years on the road. The flat is peaceful and yet close to things. There are not many mosquitoes. There are cockroaches, but I’ve become a dab hand at murdering them. And there is also Sunday, or, as I like to call her, Poozerface. She’s a little stubby-tailed tabby cat with big anime eyes, who is wicked but in the most adorable way.
Although work was patchy in 2014, on a few occasions I had an excess of it. For the first time in almost six years of self-employment, I was able to pass work on to other struggling freelancers, just as they’ve done for me. My work with the sex workers’ rights movement increased. I also edited publications on Islamic feminism, on sociology and anthropology, and on human rights violations in the war on drugs. A regular income would be super, but I’m thankful that the work I do is stuff that I’m interested in and care about.
Creativity mostly took a backseat this year, and I tried to just be okay with that; I can’t force it; my head was not in the right place and there was no point in beating myself up about it. But I did manage to make a Random Brothel Exposé Generator, write a short memoir piece for Rip Publishing, and put my hand to a little microfiction. I read at a poetry open mic in Christchurch even though it wasn’t poetry.
I DJed at the last ever Rainbow Rojak. People cheered and applauded a whole bunch at the end of my set and I was so anti-suave I tried to hide under the table or something, but don’t think I wasn’t glowing.
I sang karaoke in Melbourne and I was fucking great, by the way. I sang Marlene On The Wall by Suzanne Vega and Walking After Midnight by Patsy Cline. I also sang karaoke in KL but it was a disaster so let’s not talk about that.
I sold zines at Art For Grabs and the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair. I picked up a copy of Why Are Faggots So Afraid Of Faggots? for cheap. I found some fantastic zines, like Cast Aside and Tofu Is Not Vegetarian and Fucked. My own zines got discussed in a couple of academic theses.
My friends were kind enough to wait until I came back to Malaysia before organising a road trip to Ipoh. We visited a secret lake. You go through a quarry and then a cave tunnel and then you are in this place that’s so beautiful, so tranquil, and then you turn around and see a message painted on the wall in Chinese which warns that you’re going to die or something, but okay. If you’re in Ipoh you should go to Tiny Space, and the Sinhalese bar around the corner, whose owner is friendly and welcoming and where the drinks are so cheap nobody could believe it.
I learned a lot through my experiences and I tried to learn things that were not just negative, not just what not to do in the future. I tried to learn in ways that would not be cynical or bitter or shut my heart down. I made space to appreciate the beauty despite all the sadness. These days, I gaze out to sea and I take my time and I try to accept the pain of this year and just let it be whatever it’s going to be. And all these good things I’m telling you about here, they give me hope.
Most of all I want this to be a love letter to my friends, the people who held me, literally and metaphorically, through the bad times. I feel overwhelmed by the number of days when I felt like a wreck, and the number of people who had energy to spare for me. I am forever grateful and in awe. I don’t have financial stability, or a permanent home, or a secure immigration status, but thanks to these people I feel blessed. My friends make games and art and music and films; they write stories and essays and poetry; they lend me their homes and their ears, pick me up at the airport at 5am, and cross borders just so we can meet; they raise children and sheep and hell; they put their talents to making the world better, and they enrich my life by being in it.