i, epigram
write wide, write deep

the shelf: t's writings

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?"

Anne Lamott

on breathing

I am alive. I am awake. Just barely. My eyes are still closed, but I am breathing. If you place a mirror under my nose, the mirror will fog up; I will also consequently freak out and you will need to be prepared to run for your life. The fact that I breathe, and that the process enables me to run after you, proves that I am alive. My mother would explain breathing as the process that transports air in and out of your lungs, a part of the body’s circulatory system. I am sure you wouldn’t be surprised when I inform you of my mother’s current occupation; she is a high school Biology teacher. (Needless to say, my “birds and bees” conversation with my mother seemed more like a tutoring session in human anatomy and the reproductive system.) Exhaling, I make a mental note to call my mother. Other than its necessary nature, I find the process of breathing quite fascinating.

My breathing process is very simple. Most of the time, I breathe through my nose. There are always the unfortunate days when a cold visits my general nasal area, forcing me to breathe through my mouth. I exhale through my nose regularly except when singing. The interesting part of the process of breathing is where the emphasis lies. I am at work, exhausted and defeated; the emphasis of my breathing lies on the exhale. No one ever pays attention to the stealthy inhale, but everyone recognizes the exhale. The exhale is short, focused, and often followed by a pause. I exhale and the image of a white flag shooting up into the air invades my mind. Every time I find myself exhaling this way, I picture my failures escaping with the carbon dioxide, far away from me. I secretly hope plants’ photosynthesis have the ability to change those failures into victories. 

After a few hours, I find myself dealing with procrastination; the breathing in is long, followed by an even longer pause, concluded by a bubble-bursting and reality-embracing long exhale. This happens when I try to balance a list of tasks with little check boxes next to them and the colorful connected rectangles that makes my day’s schedule. No breaks. One meeting after another. One deadline after another. While typing furiously on my keyboard at work (I was working on other deadlines unrelated to work), I remind myself to breathe. “In and out. In and out. You can do this.” I am my own personal coach. I would breathe in and hold my breath, wishing time would pause long enough for me to take a quick coffee break. It’s the same feeling you get when you’re drifting at sea among the wreckage of your ship, trying to stay afloat. (I’m sure everyone have experienced being adrift at sea among the wreckage of a ship.) Random thoughts come to mind. After a while, I realize that my body needs oxygen, and I exhale, immersing myself back into the sea of checklists, papers, and meeting reminders.

It is late when I got home, exhausted and spent. I prepared for bed. As my breathing regulated, I drifted into sleep. The slumber did not go unperturbed. At an ungodly hour between midnight and the break of dawn, I lie awake, my brain still chugging along with adrenaline left over from the day’s busy schedule. I dread the feeling I will have to deal with in five hours, the insomniac’s hangover. The coffee maker is all set to deliver two cups of Indonesian coffee in the morning. I will need that. In five hours, not now. I tried demanding myself to sleep. It didn’t work very well. I am now at the point of begging like a little girl in her Belle princess outfit, holding tightly to her father’s leg on the first day of Kindergarten and screaming at the top of her lungs. That didn’t work either. I lay there, breathing: four counts of inhalation meets four counts of exhalation. I matched the counts with the ticking of my room clock. Inhale, tick, tick, tick, exhale, tick, tick, tick. Repeat. This is all I can do. Inhale, tick, tick, tick, exhale, tick, tick, tick. The pattern of inhalation and exhalation entwined with the ticking of the clock morphed into a melody-less lullaby, a Yogi’s lullaby. As my mind’s locomotive slowed to a stop, I surrender my consciousness and hope to wake up in five hours. Still breathing.


Tirza Magdiel - Seattle, 2012