Headspace: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department write about a place or space they go to write, read, study or create. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
‘I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves.’ —W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence
My secondary school classmates often referred to me as the girl who lived in her own world. I think, by ‘world’, they meant a mental space I put myself in, that separated me from the outside world, a space in which I dwelled quietly and felt at home. This space was invisible and more real to me than any tangible material world, for I had the notorious habit of indulging in this self-invented space at the expense of catering to daily, routine activities. ‘Lost in her own world’, as my mother would say.
As I grew older, this world faded away, but it remained my chief weapon to wield against the ‘stings and blows of fate’. This ‘space’ took on a more substantial form, as my wandering inner self found a home in various bookstores. ‘If I am not at home, I am in a bookstore; if I am not in a bookstore, I am on my way to one’ has become my motto.
A bookstore is a curious place, where I can be one among many others, but my ‘self’ is strictly protected from the interference of other people. Here, time seems to pass slowly, while my mind fixes itself on pages in which writers from all ages and cultures speak among themselves. It is where I can be fully myself, without any earthly obligations and desires and feel deeply connected to all humanity.
I have such a strange temperament, craving intimacy but loathing disturbance. People come and go gently beside me, and I placidly observe the movement of life. It is where the ‘sound and fury of life’ seem pleasant under a detached view; on the stage of the mortal world, I acquire more generosity and peace.
The ‘space’ is often reduced to any book I happen to favour on a particular day, withdrawing from the funhouse of life to have some solitude in someone else’s mind. The conflating of time and space seems to make one more confused. Perhaps life is made up of thousands and thousands of similar bubbles, and we are all enveloped in such illusions and shadows.
Minnie Chung is a final-year student studying at the Department of English Language and Literature.