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Today, I got accepted into film school and cried when I found out. Most of it was of happiness, but a lot of it was empty tears. Ever since my mum died, there’s been a weird taint to all the celebrations in my life—I just wish she was here to see it.

I’m still trying to figure out these emotions, still trying to understand the process of grieving. But in the meantime, mum, I can’t wait to show you everything you’ve taught me.

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Prologue

Ever since I was a child, I had always strived for a life alike the characters in my favourite movies. I craved adventure and adversity in spite of my sheltered suburbia. But instead, when my mum died, I aged a thousand years. Since then, both old and new memories have been fragmented into storyboard form. And even though it’s been years, it often feels like I have been watching the whole thing from somewhere else, like I am watching a movie about my life instead of living it. I rewatch scenes over and over again in my head, and as I grow, I discover frames I never noticed before; deleted scenes that should have stayed deleted. The doctors called it a mix of Major Depression and Anxiety. I called it a Major pain-in-the-ass.

In my elementary school days, thoughts began forming, and not the usual invasive ones. Dynamic characters and their stories wrote themselves in my head. I was intrigued with this new development, and vowed to experience all that I could to keep these stories coming. I read every book and every movie available to me at the library. I joined every club, every team, and befriended every person I could find. I was a sponge, trying to soak up every moment life had to offer. At the time, no one was talking about their struggles, except for the characters in my fictional worlds. Through these creative mediums, I was given a safe space to reflect and figure out who I was. Stories became my sanctuary. Though I found reality underwhelming, literature and films allowed me to experience dozens of adventures I would have not normally faced. To record and reflect on these experiences, in Grade 2, my mum gifted me my first notebook. When I couldn’t fathom my thoughts to words, she swapped the ruled paper for a sketch pad. Since then, I’ve completed over a dozen of these notebooks.

By the time high school rolled around, I discovered my obsession with creating, particularly, with a camera. Something about photography/videography intrigued me; by capturing certain moments at certain angles, I was able to depict the general in the particular and the strange in the familiar. It was the same for sports, whether it was the field or the court, ball or puck, I was told I had “vision.” Mum noticed this before I ever did, and being the psych-major that she was, she encouraged me to develop this skill. But being the self-conscious pubescent teen that I was, a casualty to the social hierarchy of high school, I resented myself for these differences and kept my creative passions to myself. On my 16th birthday, instead of the usual journal, my mum gave me a storyboard notebook. I left it blank.

After a couple more years of resistance, various staff members approached me about the high school’s advanced-learning program. It was called Explorations, and its mission was to encourage creative-thinkers. My answer should have been clear, but I fought against instinct. At this point, I was finally starting to feel accepted by my peers and was comfortable focusing on arbitrary issues if it meant keeping that social stability. I was editor of the yearbook, captain of the soccer, basketball, volleyball, and field hockey team; all while maintaining my principal’s honour roll. On paper, I was doing great, and yet, I was miserable. My social anxiety was at an all time high, and I struggled with my identity on a daily basis. Something had to change, and my entry into Explorations was the exact opportunity I needed at the time.

You know that kid in class who raises their hand for every question? Now imagine an entire classroom of kids like that–that’s what being in Explorations was like. Being in this high-energy environment taught me the importance of the thoughts I’d leave unspoken. I witnessed my words resonate with others, and actually help people in the process. It was then, in this program, where I directed, filmed, and edited my first short film. After expressing my vision for our class-wide public service assignment, the decision was unanimous, and I was nominated by my peers to lead the project. The topic of discussion–ironically enough–was mental health awareness. The project was extremely time consuming, and incredibly cringe-worthy in terms of execution, but all in all I’m proud of myself for seeing my vision through.

Later on in high school, I decided to narrow down my five sports to two in order to make time for my creative endeavours. I filmed and directed several short films in that newfound time, one of which involved directing 200 teenagers at once. By the time I graduated, I had started making a name for myself in the community for my video and photo work. People would reach out to me for help with their own creative endeavours including the local news, and most notably, my own photo teacher who asked me to shoot alongside him at weddings. Eventually, I even did his.

I was no longer watching a movie about my life, I was directing it. After so many years of resentment, I had switched my perspective, and learnt to embrace my differences; instead of “overanalyzing” I was “reflective”, and instead of “sensitive” I was “passionate.” My illnesses were draining, but they also gave me a unique perspective I intended to share. Rather than the usual minimum-wage job, I was able to support myself financially with my freelance work, taking photos for the paper, shooting portraits, and making wedding videos. I started to see every scene of my life as purposeful and lead myself to believe that everything really did happen for a reason. So when my mum was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, my life was flipped upside-down.

It was one of the most trying times for my family and I, but I reminded myself that upside-down was just another perspective to gain. Mum was no longer gifting me notebooks, but I continued to post entries, poetry, and videos, only this time publicly. Though anxious, I was no longer scared. I learnt that these qualities of mine that I used to hide, gave me power and a purpose. While my mum got sicker physically, she became stronger mentally, and continued to push me creatively. To stay close to her, I carried on my education post-secondary at various local schools, playing on various teams and taking dozens of English and Film theory classes to keep me busy. When mum passed a few months later, and my heart broke into a million pieces, I had the means to mend it.

In the moments where I feel out of control of my own life, my art allows me to be my true self; to share what I cannot say with words. It has become my medium of speech and has been my way of connecting and expressing myself in my happiest and most challenging moments. My purpose, paved the way by my mother, is to make the intangible a conversation, and the difficult approachable. I see a social revolution happening in the world right now, and see living a life unfiltered as my means of supporting the movement. After 20 years of sponging up experience, I am excited and hopeful of what else is to come. I want to tell the stories of the thoughts left unspoken, the voices left unheard. I want every stigma stomped and every barrier broken. That is my purpose in life. My name is Rachel Kwan, and I will not stop until our stories are told.

Our Application for BUSABOUT EUROPE | Megan & Rachel

BusAbout is recruiting an adventure-seeking team to travel Europe for five months – this is our combined video entry! Introducing Megan Kwan as the big sis/brand ambassador, and me, Rachel Kwan as the lil’ sis/better looking/video producer. BusAbout, we may be young but we are ready…

So so excited to finally release with you all! I’ve packed my heart and soul into thhis 5 minute video, spending more time with my computer than ever before–I want this so bad I’m going to puke. Though it’s scary to be this vulnerable with the world, it’s crazy empowering at the same time.

I’d greatly appreciate it if you guys could take a few minutes to watch/share this video! Thanks in advance 🙂

The sky is everywhere 

I remember the day after mum told us she had cancer

Wildfires had broke out

The sky was red, the air,

pure smoke

It was as if the world had erupted 

And the apocalypse had started
Me and ryan kicked the ball back and forth, not talking 

Our eyes stinging from the smog

While I couldn’t run from what was happening

I could insist on staying out 
The day before she died the skies were white

The streets were deserted

And the drive to the hospital

pure silence 

I had seen her eyes wide with fear

Gasping for air 

Like a deer caught in headlights 

And was hoping 

Just hoping

That wouldn’t be the last time I’d get to see them
The next few months, the sky was black

And nowhere was safe 

My body lay slack on my bedroom floor

Laying to waste

My sister begging me to hold on

While the rest of the world kept on keeping on

I dropped out of school

Dropped out of life

Father crying why can’t you just get up
But Dad I don’t have legs anymore

My arms do not work

The daughter you have raised

Was no longer herself 

She is broken

In a world, that promised so much 

Instead she was given barely enough 
It’s been a year and I now live in a place where the sky is always blue

And though I have lost, I have grown something anew 

The sun still shines

And it will continue to shine on

My mum is the sun

And the sun you cannot lose
Its rays hug the ground and kiss every sea 

And while sometimes it rains

The sun never leaves

Sure there are clouds 

but the world is stripped bare 

Because my mum is the sun 

And the sky is everywhere 

Overthinking 101

 

Though I hate to admit it, the past few weeks, it took all of my sister’s force, to get me out of bed. I so want to be that person who helps break the stigma of mental illness, but sometimes I feel like I’m feeding into it. Setbacks kept arising and I kept shutting down with my negative and all-or-nothing thinking.

Situation: Messed up a play I usually wouldn’t mess up in tryouts.
Thought: you’ve reached your peak.

Situation: Feeling awkward trying to make conversation
Thought: people don’t want to be around you.

Situation: No acceptance letters from UBC or UVIC yet
Thought: You’re falling behind everyone and are wasting your potential

After publishing my vlog, “The Bad Guys“, I tried to make weekly-scheduled videos. It made sense to do one of the activities that made me feel more like myself. Plus, as a bonus, I thought documenting this stage of my life would feel refreshing as people typically only show off their “good side” on social media. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out so well.

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After filming/editing 3 seemingly incomplete videos, it was starting to make me question myself, and not in a constructive way. The process of making a video was feeling so forced to the point that I would lie on the ground all day, making any excuse, just so I wouldn’t have to work on my videos. And when it came to vlogs, the idea of always talking about my situation was causing me some grief. In the end, I decided it’d be best if I just made videos when I feel more confident/inspired. I’m glad I tried though, or else I would have never known.

And hey, don’t fret, there has been some serious progress in the past week. I’ve been working out again, and it’s really helping me mentally; after just a few consecutive days at the gym, I’m feeling more myself again. On top of this, I’ve agreed to see my counsellor more regularly, meaning I’ll have someone to sort out my thoughts to in a healthy way. And lastly, I’ve decided that my blog does not have to be a record of chronological events, more of like a stream of consciousness. That way, it’s a whole lot less intimidating; I can reflect on funny/memorable moments in my life instead of dwelling in what sometimes feels like the unknown. From now on I, Rachel Kwan, vow to produce at least one piece of writing per day. The pieces I feel most confident about will be published online.

So please don’t be sad. 

 

 

Miss you, mum

[Written on December 15th, 2015]

4 o’clock AM, captain’s log:

First things off, I’d like to take this time to thank my insanely low tolerance for caffeine for making this late-night/early-morning sleepless escapade possible. Thanks to you, my friend, that ginger ale I drank at 1:30 PM is still very much existent in my bloodstream. Or my spleen or whatever – There’s a reason I’m not in Science.

On the bright side, I guess this puts an end to my 4-day writer’s block which has possessed me ever since mum passed away last Friday. If mum can hear me right now or whatever – I’m not religious – I know she would never want to be the cause of my writer’s block. Cus’ if anything, she was one of my biggest – if not the biggest – supporter.

It kinda sucks that it had to take all of this to truly appreciate all that she was. For example, just the other night, I watched Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” with the cousins. Backstory: Mum always urged me to watch some Wes Anderson because I’m a film nut but I never found the time to do so — end of backstory.

Okay, It was so good (like seriously go watch it after you finish reading this). Where do I even start? Well on top of his perfect balance of close-up, medium, and long distance shots, he had a sick controlled colour palette that really encapsulated the time period. The composition? Impeccable. The cross-cutting shots? Quintessential. POINT BEING, I’m probably boring the hell out of you guys, but never mum, no, she never complained. After every movie I watched, I would boast about the brilliance of the film. And after every bad movie I watched, I would rant to her about the stupidity of the film. The best part? She actually listened to me and discussed the jargon that I learned from the three film-making video lessons I found online. And when she was done with listening, she gave the best advice. For example, no skateboarding in the house! Get a hobby! Rachel, take your damn volleyball out of the salad bowl — True story!

No but seriously, if Rachel 101 was a college course, she’d definitely be the professor; she knew me better then myself. Frick, I wrote the wrong “than”. See this is just another reason I miss her, she was the best peer-editor/dictionary/thesaurus; she always knew what word I was thinking of.

When we had our weekly book-reading sessions, I’d always make sure she was within reaching distance so I could ask her about words I didn’t understand. I swear, she could define each word, it’s synonyms, as well as use it in a sentence (maybe that’s why she was such a good study buddy for the spelling bees I used to do). Most people stopped when they were kids, reading books with their mum, but we never did. It was our bonding time, our chance to go on adventures with our favourite characters like Junie B. Jones and Lennie Walker, from the safety of my twin bed.

We were so compatible, mum and me (and not just because we’re huge English nerds). Just a couple months ago, we discovered that we had similar taste in music; It ranged from Johann Bach to Black Sabbath, classical to classic rock, and we both played the ukulele. The only difference in taste is when I wanted to listen to “sad” songs; she always used her veto for “happy” ones. I liked to show her new songs that I thought she’d love, and in return, she showed me old songs she thought I’d like.

I’ll never forget the day we spent playing all of her favourite CDs. It was just the two of us and I needed music to “study” for my English lit final.

Disclaimer: I say “study” with “quotation marks” because I was really just skimming, pretending that Elton John’s ballads weren’t interrupting my train of thought.

When I did finally finish studying, I was feeling pretty “bleh” from the heavy content. She suggested I hula-hoop my worries away. I asked if she knew any good hula-hooping songs. She had me read out her entire CD and vinyl collection to her – which she alphabetized, of course. I was on the last row and losing my talking stamina fast when she told me to stop on The Fine Young Cannibals. I pressed play and recognized track one, “She Drives me Crazy”, immediately.  And just like that, our dancing bodies were taken over by the characters in “The Breakfast Club”. Heads banging, hands flailing, we were having a time and a half together.

See, I’d been hooked on that makes-you-dance kinda music ever since mum told Meg and me about the musical she choreographed in Elementary school (she had the entire class dance to “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones, it was legendary).

Mum didn’t stop smiling the entire duration of The Fine Young Cannibals album – which just made me dance harder and crazier. It’s funny, she has this saying she always said, “Dance like nobody’s watching”. But after that impromptu dance party for two, I’m changing it to “Dance like only mum’s watching”.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, mum was sick at sports. Not only was she short but speedy, but she also obliterated the stereotype of “playing like a girl”. She could always anticipate where the ball was going – a key reason why my friends always wanted her and dad to play volleyball in the backfield with us teens. Whether it was baseball, volleyball, basketball, or hockey, mum excelled at them all – no wonder she was the captain of so many of her high school sports teams. That and the fact that she was always so positive and encouraging, no matter the situation.

She had the best outlook on life, all the philosophers I learned about in school never stood a chance. Among a family of perfectionists, she revealed the cons of that mindset, the centre of my anxieties. Finally, I get it: there is no such thing as perfect. But for the record, if there was, she’d be the closest thing to it.

Long before my diagnosis, we visited dozens of counsellors together in hopes of finding the right fit for me. She never gave up on me, even when I gave up on myself. And in the fall of my senior year, when the doctor told me I had major depressive disorder, she worked even harder for me to relocate the happiness I had lost. She helped me be happy again, it just took me a while to realize it.

She helped me find joy in the ordinary which sounds cliché but is nevertheless true. When I was unable to leave my bed due to sheer exhaustion, she would lie on my bed with me for hours or however long it took.

At school, when my social anxiety got the better of me, I’d call her crying from the bathroom stall and she’d stay on the phone with me until I calmed down from my panic attacks.

She was the most selfless person I’ve ever met, and I get to call her mum. How cool is that. Better yet, how cool was she? Answer: super.

Cus’ that was what she was like to me, and continues to be: Super-mum. My dad? super-dad. Meggy? Super-sis. And my cat? Super-moosh. We’re like the incredibles except less white and more asian.

Throughout this whole ordeal, we’ve become closer than ever before. The members of my family are my best friends. Dad’s really stepped up his game, and Meggy has become my adult goals. Heck, even Mooshu has stopped pooping on our furniture (I hope I didn’t just jinx that). Even though she wouldn’t want to take credit, she never liked the spotlight, mum made this happen. She taught us that, like us, life is short, and we better make the most of it.

And hey, congrats mum, you did it; you’re still managing to teach us life lessons in the after-life. Guess that’s cus’ you never left.

I feel you with me when I read.

I feel you with me when I write.

I feel you with me when I sing.

I feel you with me when I dance.

I feel you with me when I’m happy.

I feel you with me when I’m sad.

Basically, I feel like you’re with me all the time. Cus’ it’s true, you’re in all of our hearts forever. I’m gonna read all of your favourite books, watch all of your favourite movies, and learn the lyrics of all of your favourite songs… Just not now, it’s getting late – or is it early? It’s like 6 am as I write this. Ugh, I should really listen to you and stop drinking caffeine in the afternoon. Like you always said, mum knows best.

Goodnight mum, I love you.