equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
19 Jun 09

Largo Ma Non Tanto

Show me Bach, she said with her hands.

Show me love, I said with my lips.

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17 Oct 08

A Change In Writing

There’s so much to say, and not enough time to write. It’s obvi­ous that I haven’t been stick­ing to any kind of post­ing sched­ule lately. The ben­e­fit is that I don’t feel the pres­sure of hav­ing to write some­thing every day, the draw­back being the fact that things I want to get down are often lost. When I do get a chance to write, it’s like I’m per­pet­u­ally writ­ing about thoughts, feel­ings, and events that are a month old.

Perhaps another evo­lu­tion in the way I write.

I used to write my thoughts quite often. Things I had to fig­ure out or get off my chest. Now, it’s mostly things that hap­pen in my daily life, and some­thing ran­dom here and there. It’s like I’m mov­ing beyond my con­fused ado­les­cence into some sort of reflec­tive dotage.

The entries from the first year were writ­ten with so much more fre­quency — roughly three times a day. Then that changed to once a day, then every other day. A few times, I tried to write less fre­quently, with­out a set sched­ule, but that never really worked. The writ­ing itch was always there. At one point I took a month-long hia­tus.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m try­ing to say.

The thing I par­tic­u­larly miss are the entries writ­ten late at night. Spilling my soul out in words, with the music, the sky, and the empty streets guid­ing me. As tired as I would be (I swear, some­times it was the exhaus­tion that brought it out in me), I always went to bed after feel­ing satisfied.

Now, I’m not sure what this all is.

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24 Jul 08

Restless Writer

I have 106 unpub­lished drafts in my database.

Things I don’t feel like say­ing. Parts of myself I’m not ready to reveal.

The writ­ten word has always been my medium of choice. Photography is only an exten­sion of that, when I need to express myself bet­ter than words can let me, and video goes one step further.

I used to be a ter­ri­ble writer. During a parent-teacher inter­view in grade 10, my his­tory teacher asked my par­ents when we came to Canada. They were quite embar­rassed to tell him that I was born here.

Aside from pick­ing up a use­ful word here and there, I’ve never made a con­scious effort to improve my writ­ing. The things I say are taken from my mem­o­ries, expe­ri­ences, and thoughts. How I say it is inspired by snip­pets of Nabokov (when I’m feel­ing lyri­cal or ver­bose), Cohen (when I’m feel­ing sad or roman­tic), Herbert (when I’m feel­ing dry), or Irving (when I’m feel­ing quirky or hon­est). The only way I’ve been able to gain any sem­blance of a writer is by mim­ic­k­ing to the best of my abil­ity the lyri­cal styles I enjoy the most.

Sometimes I won­der if I’ll ever stop. Writing is often a need, not a want. I do it when I’m feel­ing rest­less, when I have some­thing to say, when things are unset­tled, when I have things to fig­ure out. And the case most often is that life is filled with these moments. Perhaps if I ever find some sort of per­ma­nent seren­ity, I’ll be able to stop.

But I prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to.

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17 Jul 08

Questioning Happiness

Last class, Mike asked how I was doing, and as a some­what phatic response, I told him I was doing well.

He told me, with a chuckle, that if he didn’t know me any bet­ter and went only by my writ­ings, he would imag­ine me to be like Joe Btfsplk, with a per­pet­ual rain cloud above my head.

So I went home and read through the last cou­ple pages of my entries, and found that they painted a some­what lugubri­ous picture.

I’ve always con­tended that hap­pi­ness is too hard to write. When I feel like express­ing myself, it’s often because of a prob­lem of some sort, inter­nal or exter­nal, that I need to fig­ure out. Writing has always been a way for me to get my thoughts in line, and off my chest. Not much of a peace­ful, detached, care-free Taoist, am I?

Perhaps I’ll always lead a Cohen-esque life, where love, sex, phi­los­o­phy, and depres­sion are the dom­i­nant themes.

The funny thing is that my life has improved tremen­dously after ther­apy. I used to be a very dark per­son. After gain­ing the sta­bil­ity of a house and a career, along with sep­a­ra­tion from my mother, not much else has changed. I’ve come to real­ize that it’s not so much the things in my life that’s improved in the last few years (aside from the strug­gle with anx­i­ety), as my atti­tude. To be hon­est, I have noth­ing to com­plain about.

That doesn’t change the fact that my entries have been some­what depressing.

Perhaps I’m still not truly happy yet.

Or per­haps I’m still not look­ing at things the right way.

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29 Apr 08

Making A Difference

Over the last while, I’ve been receiv­ing some very nice let­ters and com­ments.

Two, in par­tic­u­lar, touched me. This one:

I stum­bled upon your blog a few days ago. I’m read­ing all your archives right now.

One of your entries moved me so much I had to pass it to my best, most initi­mate, most sensitive/sensual girl­friends. It wasn’t a big group, but a group I felt could hear what you were say­ing in your entry. It was about find­ing the spot on a woman that should be kissed.

I read your blog every day because I can’t believe there is a man out in the uni­verse who is this intu­itive, in tune, so aware of him­self emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally. I wish you had gone to my col­lege — you would have been so loved and admired.

So this entry dis­tresses me, and I don’t even know you. I under­stand lon­li­ness — I’ve never had inti­macy, or rather, I’m very afraid of it. I don’t even know why I’m telling you all this because you don’t know me either and you won’t care, but this entry hurts. You must know by now that some­one thinks of you every­day. Maybe it is your mom, maybe an ex-lover or girl­friend or male friend or co worker.

I think I’m more in shock that you can write so hon­estly and openly. I’m jeal­ous of that.

well, I just wanted to let you know that. And that I have a crush on your blog. Can a per­son crush on a blog?

Please take care,
Zaira

And this from a few months ago:

Hi Jeff,

you don’t know me and we will prob­a­bly never meet. It’s sort of inter­est­ing the way the inter­net has changed the way we can know someone.

Allow me to intro­duce myself, since you have already bore your soul in a very real way that has moved me to write to a com­plete stranger-something i have never done.

I am a 30 yr old inte­rior designer, a born and bred new yorker cur­rently liv­ing in brook­lyn. It’s been slow at work lately, so to pass the time I have taken to read­ing blogs mostly design related, but some­how i read a com­ment that you had made on a ran­dom blog, look­ing back i can’t remem­ber which one unfor­tu­nately, and it led me back to your per­sonal blog somehow.

you see I am not like you at all. I feel sim­i­lar feel­ings, and even have sim­i­lar beliefs, but I don’t have the guts to put myself out there in that way. I dont even have a blog, and i can barely talk to my friends about the way im feel­ing. so for me your blog is very ther­a­peu­tic and refreshing.

like most peo­ple who blog, im sure, you won­der if any­one out there is read­ing. Well just wanted to let you know that I really like your blog and will con­tinue to read it.

I have added you as a flickr con­tact and i see that you have reciprocated-*armadilliz* I am not a stalker / crazy per­son, or any­thing like that, just a fan, so rest easy.

Take care,

–Liz

And while peo­ple tell me how much they appre­ci­ate me being open and shar­ing myself, it’s noth­ing com­pared to what they share of them­selves in these let­ters. I don’t know what com­pels some­one to write to a total stranger, but it’s a warm­ing ges­ture, some­thing that inspires me when I’m feel­ing closed and self-conscious.

So I want to say thank you.

Thank you to the peo­ple who’ve writ­ten me. Thank you to the peo­ple who share their own prob­lems and issues and lives. Thank you to the peo­ple who let me know that I’ve inspired them to start their own jour­nals. Thank you for sup­port­ing me when we’ve never even spoken.

It’s your words that make me feel like I’m not so alone when I’m sit­ting in my house, won­der­ing what to do with myself. It’s your kind­ness that gives me strength when the world is falling down around me. It’s know­ing that I’ve been able to make a dif­fer­ence that keeps me going.

Thank you.

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22 Mar 08

Like A Moth To Flame

I’m think­ing this and writ­ing this and I have to say some­thing to some­one but Pat’s busy, Julie’s out of town, and John’s gone miss­ing. Not that they would under­stand any­way. Not that even I understand.

De-loused in the Comatorium is cranked on my speak­ers right now because it’s how I feel. Last week, my neigh­bour told me he’s never heard a peep from me. Now I ques­tion whether I’m push­ing my luck. It’s like I stepped out into the dark­ness of a cool night from a pro­duc­tion of Equus. These synapses fir­ing. The jit­ter­i­ness. It’s ten, I haven’t had din­ner, but I’m shak­ing too much to eat.

I feel like I could write for days and days and days and days. Maybe I’m just happy to have some­thing to write about. Maybe I’m just happy to feel this way again. This self-destructiveness, even in the face of cer­tainty.

A lit­tle clock in front of the turquoise man says I’m away, but I’m here. Talk to me, Darren. Where are you? Only you would get it. Only you know how I feel, because you’re prob­a­bly feel­ing the same thing right now.

We’re drawn to that which hurts us. In this way, we reveal our vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and only those who are so vul­ner­a­ble rec­og­nize their own.

It’s time I turned down this music. It’s time I put some food in my stom­ach. It’s time I scalded myself in the shower. It’s time I got some sleep.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re alive until you’re burn­ing.

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23 Feb 08

Hanging Party

I feel utterly intoxicated.

Reading poems around the piano

With a ham­mer and a lad­der, we hung my pic­tures tonight, care­fully decid­ing where to place each one to bal­ance the colours, the ori­en­ta­tions, the shapes, and the concepts.

Amongst the wine and the wood, the kids and the colours, we stopped to admire the art in the house. Adrienne dropped by to share her lat­est graphic poems with us, along with her alco­holic find­ings. “From The Desk Of” Penelope was writ­ten that day, dense and deep, full of details taken for granted. The words must write them­selves, I thought.

Thumbnail: Poem reading
Thumbnail: My fruit and body series wall
Thumbnail: Old fashioned side-table
Thumbnail: Akio
Thumbnail: A hammer and a poem
Thumbnail: Old style heater
Thumbnail: Frederic and Akio
Thumbnail: Nicole Beaumont artwork
Thumbnail: Akio on the ladder
Thumbnail: Wine, ice, and salad

Misun and I seem to share a kin­ship through our appre­ci­a­tion of expres­sion, some­thing I’ve never had with my friends. Not that there’s any­thing wrong with them, but I’ve always felt like they can’t relate to me when it comes to emo­tions or cre­ativ­ity. As I seem to be the cre­ative brother she’s always wanted, and she seems to be the sup­port­ive sis­ter I’ve always needed, we agreed to be adopted siblings.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In a recent inter­view, Frédéric said, in his ebul­lient Parisian accent, that one of the rea­sons he wanted to open the Salon is to pro­mote dia­logue and inter­ac­tion. Perhaps it’s this hunger for dia­logue that con­nects us. He also men­tioned to me he was stressed out about being inter­viewed; being put on the spot made him freeze up. I told him I had the same prob­lem with pretty girls. “You’re affected by beauty”, he said, some­thing I knew, but not some­thing that every­one understands.

I left, feel­ing like I was a part of some­thing won­der­ful, some­thing greater than myself.

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29 Dec 07

The Challenges Of Expression

For feed­back, I showed Frédéric some of my ini­tial work for the next expo­si­tion, a cou­ple con­cept pho­tos that cap­ture the essence of my theme.

He told me I was being shy. That my work isn’t shock­ing or dis­turb­ing enough. Technically, it’s per­fect, but lack­ing the qual­i­ties that make it art. For my sub­ject, there’s a fine line between artistry and com­mer­cial­ism, and I haven’t yet crossed that line.

It made per­fect sense, what he said.

My sub­ject includes a lot of skin. But as a pho­tog­ra­pher who doesn’t have an estab­lished rep­u­ta­tion, I find it extremely dif­fi­cult to get peo­ple to take their clothes off, even for non-nude pho­tos. I’m try­ing to work on a lim­ited bud­get, with lim­ited mate­ri­als. I can’t afford to pay peo­ple to be my mod­els, so I rely on the favours of friends1.

There’s so much more I’d love to explore with eroti­cism, but I feel sti­fled by how uncom­fort­able peo­ple feel about being naked, along with a strong sense of propriety.

Working with mod­els is a chal­lenge in itself. There’s an ele­ment of uncer­tainty and unre­li­a­bil­ity when deal­ing with peo­ple, and being a con­trol freak, this has proven to be extremely frus­trat­ing. It would have been sim­pler to pho­to­graph objects instead of peo­ple, but human shapes are the source of my interest.

It’s also dif­fi­cult for me to pho­to­graph what is not con­sid­ered “con­ven­tion­ally” beau­ti­ful (to my tastes, at least). Bless the beau­ti­ful, I once wrote.

In addi­tion to all this, it’s hard for me to for­get the mean­ing I’ve always placed in what I cre­ate. For this exhibit, I’m try­ing to cre­ate out of pure aes­theti­cism. It’s not an easy thing to do, but I have to let go of these old habits.

At this point, the suc­cess of the show is still uncer­tain. Hopefully I’ll be able to pull it off in time. January will be busy. I know if I can over­come these chal­lenges, I’ll be able to over­come so much more.

It’s become a test of myself more than any­thing else.

  1. Tiana was nice enough to put out an announce­ment on her blog for model help, and care­fully noted that I’m not creepy. []
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24 Nov 06

The Diary Under The Bed

On the 25th of September, at 11:04 am, my mom Googled my e-mail address, and found this blog.

She vis­its every day like clock­work; around 8:30 am when she gets into work, and some­times dur­ing lunch around 12:30 pm. Even though I told her never to con­tact me again, she con­tin­ues to check on me.

It’s some­thing I’ve known for a while now.

The exis­tence of this web­site was a secret I kept from my par­ents for as long as I could. I felt like I owed it to them to over­look my child­hood mem­o­ries because they stayed together for my sake, so I never wanted them to know this seem­ingly unrec­on­ciled side of me. When they told me they were get­ting divorced, I wrote an entry (that’s never been pub­lished) about how I stopped car­ing. It was their turn to start car­ing about me.

Of course, this was only true in theory.

To be hon­est, I was dev­as­tated. Bronwen likened it to her mom find­ing her diary under her bed, and I tend to agree with the analogy.

Chinese kids don’t talk to their par­ents about much. Even after being out of touch for a long time, par­ents will only ask whether they have enough money, whether they’re eat­ing enough, and how their marks are in school, if applicable.

The dis­cov­ery must have opened a can of worms. This is where I share my prob­lems. My inse­cu­ri­ties. My sex­ual expe­ri­ences. My past drug use. The bit­ter mem­o­ries of child­hood. On here, I’m no longer the dis­tant son they’ve known for 25 years. I’m open. Naked. Exposed.

Some were sur­prised that my mom would con­tinue read­ing my blog, believ­ing the things I say would be too painful for her to read. It makes sense though. This is the only way she can stay close to me.

So I have to ignore the entries in my server logs that con­stantly remind me of her pres­ence. I can’t let it affect the only place where I can write unre­stricted. I just have to let go, and con­tinue writ­ing. Damn the con­se­quence, as some­one once said. There’s noth­ing else I can do. After all, this is a pub­lic jour­nal. I have no right to com­plain about who comes here.

When you let go, you can write about anything.

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13 Nov 06

Letter To An Ex-Girlfriend: Introduction

An ex e-mailed me out of the blue the other day. She blamed it on the fall weather, caus­ing her to rem­i­nisce and Google my name. We hadn’t seen or spo­ken to each other in over five years.

After feel­ing each other out for the first part of the exchange, we caught up on each oth­ers lives. She’s been mar­ried for three years. Moved out to Kingston after liv­ing through the pol­lu­tion and over-stimulation of down­town Toronto. She has a full-time job while work­ing toward her Master of Education part-time. Her husband’s an artist at heart, she says, try­ing to make a liv­ing off cre­ative writ­ing. No kids yet, but instead, two cats, Emily Wednesday and Shadow.

Me? I moved to Ottawa for uni­ver­sity, bought a house, recently got out of a rela­tion­ship, been work­ing as the mar­ket­ing and IT man­ager at a den­tal lab­o­ra­tory. Oh, and I have one cat, but I’m think­ing of a second.

There were some things I’d been mean­ing to ask her for a while. Going through a series of rela­tion­ships since ours has changed my per­spec­tive, and I’ve always won­dered whether she’s grown in this way as well. I put a few ques­tions to her, but she told me, in an ami­able way, that she wasn’t com­pletely com­fort­able indulging my curiosities.

What she had no prob­lem talk­ing about before was now taboo and off lim­its. Was she afraid of upset­ting her hus­band by dis­cussing such per­sonal things with an ex-boyfriend, or did she sim­ply change so much?

There are a lot of things I’d like to say to my ex-girlfriends, but the nature of a break-up can be that of ran­cor. Communication breaks down. People lose per­spec­tive. I’ve always had a tremen­dous need to express myself, per­haps to the detri­ment of my rela­tion­ships, but dig­ging up what’s past and buried for the sake clo­sure seems a bit self­ish. After hav­ing this ex tell me that she was uncom­fort­able, I real­ized that it may have been rather inap­pro­pri­ate of me.

It’s only here that I can say what I want.

The Letter To An Ex-Girlfriend series

  1. Introduction
  2. Ashley
  3. Michele
  4. Christie
  5. Jackie
  6. Louise
  7. Bronwen
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11 Aug 06

What Can I Say?

Things have changed.

I don’t write the same any­more, or about the same things. I’ve lost my fer­vent ver­bosity. Every time I sit at my com­puter, my mind blanks. Writing has become a chore. Even this entry has taken me days to think through. I find myself writ­ing and rewrit­ing every point, every paragraph.

In the begin­ning, blog­ging was a form of cathar­sis. Developing cog­ni­tively beyond my ado­les­cence was an emo­tional period, filled with con­fu­sion and grow­ing pains. The only way I could make sense of it all was to write out my thoughts, forc­ing myself to reflect and learn from every challenge.

It was also a use­ful tool in fig­ur­ing myself out, as a part of my life where I could approach things with the con­vic­tion that I lacked in the rest of my life. Now that I’ve gained enough con­fi­dence, it doesn’t seem so nec­es­sary to prove myself with words any­more. It would seem that I’ve become a vic­tim of my own self-assuredness.

I could fill this blog with entries, find­ing solace in the writ­ten word, when I was going through some­thing as sim­ple as a bad day. As time has passed, I’ve elim­i­nated most of the things that bother me enough to turn to this medium. It was a slow and sys­tem­atic process, both inter­nal and exter­nal. My new-found seren­ity has left me with lit­tle rage. I’m hap­pier now, and hap­pi­ness is too hard to write.

It would seem that I’ve run out of things to say.

There have been few epipha­nies, and even less inspi­ra­tion, in the last while. Maybe it’s because I’m in the mid­dle of a tran­si­tion. It takes a foun­da­tion of sta­bil­ity, some­thing I haven’t had in months, to grow. My life hasn’t quite set­tled yet.

Writer’s block is a sign that I’ve stopped grow­ing, a tes­ta­ment to what and how much I’ve been through.

But more impor­tantly, it’s a sign that I’m approach­ing where I want to go in my life.

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18 Jan 06

Quills

You can’t be a proper writer with­out a touch of mad­ness, can you?

—Madeleine LeClerc, Quills

Has this become my only refuge?

No. Not even this.

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12 Dec 05

Without Bias And To Hold Nothing Back

Even after three years, it’s still strange when peo­ple e-mail me, peo­ple I’ve never met before who men­tion my expe­ri­ences and quote the words I’ve writ­ten. When they share a bit of their lives in return, per­haps from the guilt of find­ing them­selves the unas­sum­ing and unabashed voyeur, it never ceases to be inter­est­ing. They’ll tell me of their pot smok­ing habits, rec­om­mend music that’s touched them in some way, talk about the abuse they suf­fered from their par­ents, share the kinky habits that are nor­mally reserved for those with a phys­i­cal familiarity.

It’s strange because even with these details, I really know noth­ing about these peo­ple, while they know some of the most inti­mate things about me, stuff that I hide from oth­ers in every­day life.

And the more I think about it, the more I real­ize that I’d rather not find out.

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06 Aug 05

Damn The Consequence

One of the keys to blog­ging is to never give a shit about what any­one else thinks. Never write for an audi­ence. Never cen­sor one­self based on what other peo­ple may say. Never be embar­rassed or ashamed to admit anything.

Otherwise, one isn’t being true to one­self. If there are those who are nosy, those whom we’d rather not have read­ing, that should never be an issue. I may have my fair share of creepy inter­net stalk­ers (one is already more than enough), but I refuse to let that stop me from say­ing what’s really on my mind.

It may be dif­fi­cult to let go, but it’s worth it. The free­dom is com­pletely empow­er­ing. Blogs are a per­sonal space, as pub­lic as they may be, and should be treated as such.

Expression is an act that should never be hin­dered by some­thing as harm­less as opinion.

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