Day 9

How the room looks now: exercise bike by the bed, facing the TV, tucked away so I do not trip over a pedal at night and scratch my ankle. Desk by the other side of the bed, facing the window, chair oriented such that my background is the mirror and the corner of my pillow, not my bedsheets or said exercise bike, and nothing offends on a Zoom call. And so I can look out, as I do now, at City Hall and the sea of buildings behind it, Singapore fading into sea.

My biggest accomplishment of rearrangement was one day heaving up the couch and shifting it around so it, too, faced the window, and I could use the window-ledge as an extension of it: to rest a coffee cup or book or pillow, or the pair of binoculars I use to look down at my parents in the evenings. I can lie on the couch, back against the pillows, and read; if I want to give my eyes a break, I can look out beyond the Pan Pacific and Ritz to the Singapore Flyer and Gardens by the Bay. Or down at the Merlion, where still I can see the dots of people congregating.

My books pile behind the couch, on the cabinet where I store my exercise equipment. In the bathroom I have repurposed the bathtub edge to dry my dishes with an extra towel they gave me. One sink is for washing dishes, the other for brushing my teeth. The kitchenette: my row of condiments, my row of cutlery and dishes. A wine glass of the peanut butter M&Ms that my mother and I share as a guilty pleasure and that I bought as a treat to myself in SFO airport.

Best of all is on the mirror by the bed and the wall by the TV I erected the five drawings I drew over the winter. I sat during my Zoom classes and tore out pages from my sketchbook and painstakingly lettered each out. I would take a day to conceptualize each, then begin bit by bit: first an outline, then pencil, then pen, then colour, if needed.

A drawing of the mountains I liked, from Etsy; I began unambitiously and moved on from there.

A drawing of a dark-eyed junco, a bird I spent hours watching for a class.

A quote from a Richard Siken poem I eventually wrote an essay on. (Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all?)

A lyric from a Lumineers song I listened to over and over. (And if the sun don’t shine on me today/and if the subways flood and bridges break/will you just lay down and dig your grave/or will you rail against the dying day?)

An oblique reference to a quote from Anne Carson, two nested square brackets, that I spent days doodling abstract shapes in and out of.

All questions, not statements. The Anne Carson quote is not from a Carson book, but rather from Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, where Nelson cites an interview Carson did. The poet was asked a question deemed overly personal. So instead she responded with those two nested brackets – [[]]. Their space meant to hold everything and nothing at once. The answer passed because the interview was for a literary journal, and because Anne Carson follows no rules and will write a series of poems treating ancient Greek philosophers as TV actors if she must. Nelson was annoyed at the self-amused brevity of the response, embedded within it the idea sometimes silence is the best answer of all. Terse as it is, I don’t quite know. Make of it what you may. Take these brackets and fill them how you want. All the stories you can tell. All the stories you want to tell. Make my answer the way the world makes sense to you.

I put the drawings up on my dorm room wall as I made each one. My professors followed them as they came up and asked me what I would add next. When the quarter ended I rolled them up in a tube and then I took them with me to San Francisco, where I collaged them by my bed. Now the drawings are here, and later I will put them up in my next room, wherever and whenever it is.

I call my friends and I tell them I am living in luxury, not least because it’s undeniably mine.


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