What other people learnt

Stefan Sagmeister’s list of things he learned in life:

i. Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.
ii. Thinking life will be better in the future is stupid. I have to live now.
iii. Being not truthful works against me.
iv. Helping other people helps me.
v. Organising a charity group is surprisingly easy.
vi. Everything I do always comes back to me.
vii. Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on.
viii. Over time I get used to everything and start taking it for granted.
ix. Money does not make me happy.
x. Traveling alone is useful for a new perspective to life.
xi. Assuming is stifling.
xii. Keeping a diary supports my personal development.
xiii. Trying to look good limits my life.
xiv. Worrying solves nothing.
xv. Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses.
xvi. Having guts always works well for me.
xvii. Actually doing the things I set out to do increases my overall level of satisfaction.
xviii. Everybody thinks they are right.
xix. Low expectations are a good strategy.
xx. Whatever I want to explore professionally, it’s best to try it out myself first.
xxi. Everybody who is honest is interesting.

Still he procrastinated

She wants kids…

A smile flashed on his face as his eyes trailed the line of words once more.

A small pang of pain burst in his heart. Once upon a time, it would have paralysed him emotionally. For now, it was manageable. The wounds would now have become calloused, one layer of skin heaped almost carelessly over an old one.

Scenes played in his mind. Words, almost made inaudible by the muddled voices of the past, befuddled him. Slowly, he made out voices of others before he found his, in a sea of noise.

Looking out of the window from the eleventh storey of a building, he could see seven crosses – one stuck on the side of a building; two on a gate; and four on the roofs of chapels.

As the noise – voices and sounds – died down in his head amidst the silence of the room, he found words sitting at the tip of his tongue. They were his response.

Just that he couldn’t say it out. Because they will hurt. And he didn’t mean to. He didn’t want to.

There must be closure, the words flashed sharply in his head. They were the words he could say without hurting anyone, not least her… despite the fact that she couldn’t have heard them even if she was there anyway.

He was amazed at how people – not least himself – could hold on to things, events, scenes, words, emotions and reactions for so long. Would a symbolic act of release free her and through that, release him too?

He gazed at the crosses again. He felt as though they had a message for him and willed him to do something, anything, to shut the door, close the chapter, and end that hope.

For a few moments, he buried his head in his hands before rubbing his face.

Still he procrastinated.

Collectively, they hissed, “Sissy!”


He woke up to hope brimming in his heart. It didn’t matter that the Manchester derby was a dud. There was something to look forward to. His emotions were lifted. There was a spring in his step. He thought the world beautiful, the skies awe-inspiring, and the smile well-worth it.

Later, his heart sank. Confidence dissipated. The skies turned gloomy literally. Looking out of the window, half of the world he could see was covered in rain. It started as a drizzle at first before the downpour came. The lightning flashed twice. But by then, he could no longer hear the thunder. Dealing with a raging storm in his heart now, the crackling sound of the thunder faded.

Yet another dream shattered. A tiny hope of a small fairytale flickered and died.


It took him almost 40 minutes to spill out his emotions. By then, the time given to him was almost up.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have time to go into that today,” she said apologetically. He saw empathy on her face. He believed she was sincere in wanting to help him, notwithstanding the fact that he was her paying client.

He talked about the surge of fear. He shared about the trepidation, which pushed its way through his consciousness as he got off the bus. The torrents of memories associated with that place overwhelmed him. He didn’t want any of these. He thought he would be strong enough to face all of these, or better, rise above them.

Somehow he couldn’t.

“Is this a sign of weakness?” he asked meekly and instantaneously assumed that the reply would confirm that he was.

“I’m a man after all,” he added, hoping to strengthen a cause which would put himself down.

“No. This isn’t,” was the reply.

He was ashamed to have compared the experience to that of a molest or a rape victim.

“The fact is you were harassed,” she commented. “I agree with the analogy you used.”

He gave her a wry smile. He didn’t know if he should confirm or reject it.

He wasn’t convinced.

Later that evening, he found himself trying in vain to explain… himself.

“I can’t use this space freely for self-expression anymore,” he attempted a spirited defence over MSN. “Which is why I’ve resorted to other things in an attempt to fill this space.”

His heart was screaming for validation.

“Could you please consider?” he begged on another MSN conversation.

He wanted so much for this to work, but neither of them was prepared to accept.

When the rejection he received on Monday turned into a weapon which tore his confidence into pieces, the disappointment he had to deal with on Tuesday became a voice which reminded him how much of a failure he was repeatedly.


There were now voices in his head. While they taunted and sneered at him, he tried to convince himself of his self-worth. That his life was indeed worth something.

He was reminded of the session on Tuesday when the counselor used a wrong analogy.

“Think about life as a race. Some people’s race is long, while others are short…”

She stopped herself midday. Her face told of the realisation that she might have gotten this wrong.

Before she could correct and explain herself, he jumped in.

“You know, if I had a choice, I want my race to end now,” he spoke clearly, breaking the silence.

A surge of emotions. His eyes were close to tearing. All his heart wanted to say was “I don’t want to live this life no more.”

In the evening, he sat by the roadside. Clutching the packet of chicken balls from Old Chang Kee, he gorged on them to starve off the hunger. His active imagination – coupled with his emotional state – gave him ideas about how he cut a sorry figure by the roadside.

“It shouldn’t have turned out this way.”

“It shouldn’t.”

He left the last stick of chicken balls for his grandmother. It would be the perfect snack for her. He knew she loved him. But he wasn’t sure if her professed love to him was the result of him being one of the very few grandchildren of hers who visited her regularly.

Nonetheless, he loved her. He reminded of all the times when she took his hand forcibly and planted a kiss to express her love as they said their goodbyes.

If he were to end it all, they would have to keep it a secret from her or lie about why he hasn’t come for the weekly visits.

Later that night, he visited a blog. On it, there was a photo of someone’s husband decked in military uniform. He told that friend over MSN about how smart her husband looked. He ended the comment with a smiley.

Then he looked at the photo again.

A voice then spoke in his head.

“You wear the same thing too. But the difference between you and him is that he looks ravishing and smart in that uniform while you’ll just look like a bloody tree stump.”

A sneer. Laughter.

All in his head.


He learnt of the news that yet another friend has found a job. It effectively meant that of all the people he knew in his life who were out of a job around the same time he lost his, he was now the only one left having to send out resumes and hoping against hope that the blasted mobile phone would ring.

“Congrats!!!” he typed in his SMS reply. At every punch of the button on the phone, the image of him standing alone at the harbor waiting for the next ship to take him away sharpens.

He was happy for all of them.

But the voices in his head have begun leveling every charge against him for being a failure.

Sneers. Laughter. Smirks.

“Perhaps a wrong turn in your life,” said one.

“Perhaps MANY wrong turns,” sneered another.

“All wrong. All wrong!” another interjected.

“You’re a mistake,” laughed another.

All in his head.

Repeat and rinse.

His lone voice in the midst of this?

“Where is a hug when I need one?”

Collectively, they hissed, “Sissy!”


Today, he realised that he could never publish some of the stuff he wanted to write.

As much as he wanted to.

Because they meant something to him.

But he couldn’t.

He didn’t want her to know, to read and to infer.

In the midst of the storms that are ravaging his life now, love has to take a back seat.

Almost everything now is a test of his resolve, whatever strength he has left and dare he say it, his faith.

He started thinking about the “what ifs” in his life again, almost obsessed with all the possible wrong turns he made in his life. For all he knew, he would have become someone other than himself now.

If there was any damage, he had no idea how to undo them.

If there was a way back, he had no idea where he should take the U-turn.

Whatever it was, he knew his feelings were real. Just that it seemed wrong to have them now.

No, he told himself. Not when the storms are raging. Not when his boat would capsize any minute.

It would be folly of him. All he wanted to say to her is a (oft-used) sentence which comprised three words.

Somehow, it wouldn’t be right.

Somehow, it wouldn’t be time.

He loves her, but he just couldn’t say it.


A broken heart a fount of tears
Ask and they will not be denied
A broken heart love’s cradle is