This image features stock image vintage illustrations of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), and a knot.

Letters To What We Want is a series of letters composed by friends, responding to the question ‘What do you want? In 2021 and beyond?’. The format was left open, as was the choice to sign off anonymously or with a pseudonym.

In exchange, I sent them an artwork, which can be viewed at the end of the post.

18 Dec 2020

Letter to a friend

If undelivered, return to:  

24, Kuala Lumpur, Writer


Dear Mermaid Emoji,

If I want anything at all, I want you to be able to see your family again. If it’s not too much for me to ask, I also want for everything to turn out alright for you in the end.

Perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever met, being friends with you has taught me what it’s like to live out on the very edges. Most of the people I know have places they can come back to—even if it causes them a lot of psychic pain and even if it means giving up their last shred of dignity. Most of them have somewhere to return to, whether it’s blood family or chosen family or you-don’t-get-to-choose-your-family family. You scare me more than anyone I know, because you’re so very alone. You’re like the last neon light blinking on a dark empty street, just asking for trouble.

The truth is, if I think about you too much, I get sad. There is so much about the world that is hopeless—you and I became friends by commiserating over this fact. We believe that the light at the end of the tunnel is just the light of an oncoming train. But it’s one thing to say, abstractly, that the future of humanity is hopeless; yet another to say that a single person’s future is hopeless, even though that’s the logical conclusion of what we talk about. The only way it is possible to keep living within so much suffering and chaos without succumbing to despair is by deliberately dampening our consciousness of other people’s suffering.

In general, people are lost causes. Most of us become stuck as we progress through life, and after a certain point, it’s either take it or leave it, there’s no changing anyone. The same with our fates: take it (i.e. suffer through it), or leave this world. But I tell myself that the fact of us being lost causes is the humbling thing about being human, and also the thing that makes our mere survival seem incredible, even if it is tampered with a little self-induced ignorance (and alcohol, and cigarettes, and etc., etc.) to make it more bearable. The fact of us being lost causes is ultimately where love springs from. If we were all perfect beings higher than our nature, then we wouldn’t need nor be worthy of love, which is voluntary blindness.

When I was younger, I very naively thought that I would never grow up to do anything illegal. Like, just don’t do it, right? As I grow up, I start to realise how easy it is to fall through the cracks, especially in a world splintered over. 

Down within the cracks, you meet people that it’s impossible not to become friends with, and in the underground there’s freedom in the air, freedom sometimes confused with nihilism, and for a while we have fun, but only one of us can emerge back into the surface-world, while another one of us cannot. You tell me all the stupid things you’ve been up to, and I pull your ear and slap your wrist; in this way, I try to restore morality and a sense of justice into this tiny world, so we don’t fall so far down the hole. For me, I can go home and afford not to think too much about you, but for you, there is no exit, you cannot be anyone other than yourself. Maybe in a few days, when we meet again, we’ll share some laughs, we’ll part again, you’ll continue going to places I don’t follow. What I want for you is more than the freedom of nihilism. I would rather that you have real material freedom in this material world, which you still exist in, even if it feels like you don’t. You will say that this is just a false idea of freedom, and that anyway there is no one who is really free on this earth that has been forsaken by god, but still.

Image of Country Musik: Movements #1, given in exchange for this letter.
An edition of this work is available in the shop.