by tyrina toh, photo credits.

I recall being utterly fascinated when we were told during a dry biology lesson in the afternoon that broccolis, cauliflowers, and cabbages were products of artificial selection from the same wild mustard plant. Simply put, these wild mustards were bred by humans to emphasize certain characteristics to make them more marketable. Fast forward a few weeks, and I found a prompt online for a story set in the future where what had been done with wild mustards had been done with humans. Disregarding the portion of the process that involves selective reproduction for the sake of specific traits, it crossed my mind that perhaps to some extent; we are similarly subject to some sort of selection – subconsciously. Moreover, the bulk of the selection processes that we go through in the span of our lives would involve troubleshooting the errors that arose in the mechanisms within us – the troublesome process of maintenance, replacement and regeneration of dreams gone dry, and words left unspoken.

Tracing back to our childhood, we were untainted and introduced to the notion of living in a society where everyone stood on an equal ground – the grass wasn’t always greener on the other end of the grey wall and there was no need to make a series of runs and leaps over hurdles. We could blossom right where we were, if we had the right mindset, and if we had the passion. We were told that our parents will support us regardless of our intentions, as long as they were within acceptable boundaries. And hence dancers were free to draw circles across the parquet flooring every Sunday, their hands pressed lightly against the bars and singers were given the comfort of a room to let their emotions loose; perhaps even with the accompaniment of melodies from the light strumming of the guitar or majestic pressure applied against black and white keys. In short, we were transported directly from the hospital ward into a room with white walls – crisp, pristine, and divine, in which the air we breathed was akin to the gene pool of a population.

Its only when we find ourselves panting, hands against our quivering knees as we see blurry images of our scuffed-up shoes that squeaked against the concrete floor that we realize that as we gain years of experience and inches of height, we begin to fear growing up. The thought of hurling oneself forward into a rapid series of mad scrambles towards our goals before they expire scares us because we live in a society where dreams run dry and memories alone aren’t sufficient to build walls. We end up embracing our natural instinct to take what we’ve got and run towards the neon lights forming an imitation of the firmaments; because we can never hope to reach the real thing.

Ultimately, the paint in the ‘gene pool-room’ begins to fall off in the form of miniscule flakes. And as we’re left in a confined space which grows more stifling with every passing minute, the white walls are replaced by mirrors, and we’re left to watch ourselves. We learn to strap ourselves to buttoned collars and cuffed wrists – and indulge in the slightest of things; even if it means to watch oneself barely through the panel of windows overlooking another building, even if it means to sweat double, and even if it means that freedom is now defined by having a lunch break which lasts for an an hour.

And when the dancer returns to the empty dance room on a Sunday evening, there isn’t anything new but the slightly sour scent of daffodils overpowered by hints of silence and freedom. It’s no longer as glamorous as how she used to transit gracefully from every curve of her spine to catching the beats as easy as breathing. That’s when the selection process begins, where society favours the outgoing individuals with the gift of the gab, where employers favour the all-rounders with a well-structured balance between intelligence, spontaneity and tolerance. It is only natural that the rest is swept away to flow in the converse direction of success through a labyrinth.

And along with the periodic movement of hands against the face of a clock, along with the beats at the end of the song as the dancer curls her spine once again; along with the last abrasion we’ll fall – knees against tiles, passion against responsibility. Yet as they all say, the dawn right before the sunrise is the darkest – the key is to remember not to run backwards.

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