Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NO! And I don't mean maybe, baby!

It's gotten so bad he can't sleep at night. It's not because of the divorce. Frankly that was a relief. She had stopped loving him a long time ago and you can only take so much abuse. It's something deeper than that, a profound disquiet in his soul. He reaches into the darkness for something to hold on to. His fingers close on nothing. Somewhere deep inside, he's weeping. He spreads himself out trying to cover this silence. But he's spread himself too thin. There is nothing left, nothing.

Echoes and emptiness.

Of course, in the beginning they stayed together because there were the kids to consider, but even the kids are better off this way. Oftentimes at night, they cowered in bed while she unleashed her fury:

"Ten years, I suffered, ten years, and all you care about is your fucking family? When they walk all over you, they walk all over me too. Who comes first Ranny, who? Us or them? Answer me! Us or them? I FUCKING HATE YOU, BLOODY SPINELESS WIMP!"

And he would end up on the sofa. Exhausted. Too many nights, too many fights.

And now the divorce is through. The kids with him while she has visiting rights. He works longer and longer hours trying to make ends meet. The kids are acting out of course. The boy hangs about with bad company and has recently started to smoke. The girl runs up thousand dollar phone bills. She says: "Daddy, I want... Daddy buy me ..." He hears: "If you don't, I wont love you anymore." And so many people have stopped loving him.

All he ever wanted was to make everyone happy. His parents, his brother and sister, his wife, his children. He said yes. And when he said no, he meant yes.

But something happened. Mother died. He paid for the funeral. Older brother said: "Sorry bro, wish I could help but business going badly." Older sister threw a tantrum and fought with his wife.

His wife had had enough: "This is our money you're forking out. Ours. Not just yours. Call them and demand they pay their share." He couldn't bring himself to. Anger calcified into contempt. Soon there was a lurking fire in her eyes.

Father had to be put in a home. Again he forked out. His wife said: "Call those bastards! He's their father too, and they can bloody afford it while we can't." She was right. With two kids and average jobs, they really couldn't.

But brother said: "Things haven't been going well with my business since 911, I'll try to see if I can send some money next month. Or the next. Or the next." Sister said: "I'll lend you some to tide you over, but I must know, when can you pay me back?"

A young man, getting greyer. His wife threatened for seven years to walk out. Held it over him like a sword of Damocles while she systematically destroyed him. Then she cut the thread.

Now he shuffles, bent over double, a soul-deep weariness in his eyes, the weight of the world on his shoulders. He loves them all. He loves them all. He really does. If only someone could understand.

We watch this shattered man place one weary foot in front of the other, on his lonely march to the grave.

And we wonder: will he ever learn the magic word?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Now children...

Sam and Lillias had been married for 10 years. They were a pleasant couple, reasonably well off. Sam's business was going well and Lillias quit her job as a schoolteacher to stay at home. She sat on the committee for various charities, went for flower arrangement classes, met up with her girlfriends for brunch. They lived, with their Filipino maid, Sarah, in a beautiful, spacious bungalow on Bangsar Hills.

Everything was just perfect. Except for:

"So, not thinking of having a kid ah?"

"How long have the two of you been married again?"

"Don't you long for the pitter patter of little feet?"

"I thought before I died I would see a grandchild...ahhh, such is my fate, my only son, some more..."

You get the picture.

It wasn't that they hadn't tried. And both fully expected the child to come along, sometime or other. And suddenly 10 years had passed...

One day Mrs John called. She ran a children's home and served with Lillias on various charitable committees.

"Lillias, I was wondering...we just received this baby boy and I thought of you."

Lillias was astounded. She and Sam had discussed adoption, the same way they had discussed IVF. Not seriously.

A few minutes later she was in her car, speeding towards the home in Petaling Jaya. And hour later, Sam's mobile went off:

"Yes honey, what is it?"

"I need you to come home now. You need to take care of the baby while I go out to get milk and diapers and all..."

Sam nearly fell over. What baby? When he got home, she thrust the squalling infant in his arms and scrambled off to get the necessaries. Sam looked at his new "son" and thought: "By God, this is the ugliest baby I've ever seen." A week later, he, like his wife, was utterly in love with the boy.

Eight months later, Mrs John was on the phone again: "Lillias, this time it's a baby girl..." She didn't get to finish her sentence. Lillias slammed down the phone thrust Robin into Sarah's arms and made like a Malaysian driver, speeding all the way to the Children's Home.

From no kids in 10 years of marriage, Sam and Lillias were now the proud parents of two. She found that two toddlers, Robin and Rebekkah, incredibly close in age, took up all her time and almost all her energy. Although she loved her children to death, she found herself increasingly exhausted. And surprisingly nauseous.

Her husband suggested vitamins. Sarah, being the more astute of the two, said: "Ma'am, you're pregnant."

"Oh rubbish," Lillias replied. The doctor, however, confirmed Sarah's diagnosis. She was indeed pregnant. Seven months later, Ephraim was born. And exactly nine months after that, little Antonia made her appearance.

The doctor insisted on tying her tubes.

Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But incredibly, while I changed the names, this is a true story.

It's dedicated to...well, you know who you are. Don't stress about it. It'll come when it comes. Pray for rain, then go build your dam.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Memoirs of a Desperate Woman

So she walks into an anonymous bar that smells of Dunhill and Malboro Light and makes her way to the stool at one end. Here, screened by the large, thuggish Indian drunks, she gestures to the bartender. Gin on the rocks. She empties her glass in one motion, leans back and sighs. There is a slight easing of the painful knot in her belly. A few more ought to do the trick. She signals for another and the bartender nods impassively as he moves to get her drink. He's seen her type before.

Across the room, a man watches. He too has seen her type before and his nose quivers appreciatively. He notes her well-cut clothes and the gold card she proffers in payment. He notes the slight plumpness and he knows when he gets nearer, he will he able to smell her profound sadness. She'll do.

He buys her a drink. When she raises her glass in acknowledgement, he sidles over. Takes care not to touch her as they feel each other out with trite phrases. He lets her talk. Nods sympathetically like he's not heard it all before. Takes care to see her glass is always magically filled. With a little more firewater down her gullet she feels a wonderful lightening of spirit. He starts to appear attractive. Such a nice deep voice and so sympathetic. And still, practised as ever, he keeps his distance. Soon, she is touching him, a hand on the shoulder, now one on his knee. He refrains, managing to keep himself aloof but available, not an easy combination to achieve.

A month later, she's staking out a strange house because his car is parked outside. She followed him because she suspects. Sure enough, he emerges, looking satisfied, if sleepy, at about 4 in the morning. She revs up and they engage in a high-speed chase throughout the streets of Damansara. Her best friend, who has been dragged into this comedy against her will is screaming as the car careens wildly from side the side. Oblivious, she sails over the speed bumps like she's on some bad cop show.

He made the first move. She could have sworn he did. And he borrowed a tidy sum, more than she could afford to lend. There was some emergency, and it was only for one month, he had cashflow problems, he would pay her back first thing next month - it was now the 15th and he gets irritated whenever she brings up the subject. If money is not enough to keep a man faithful...

The smoke in the bar clears. She thanks him and stumbles out to her car, dropping her keys along the way. She shouldn't be driving anyway. All that gin. Chased with brandy. He catches her, picks up her keys and they smile at each other.

Sex in the car: it's uncomfortable but she's too drunk to care. It feels good to be touched again. Actually she's too drunk to feel, but you get the picture.

"A man wants me, a man wants me, a man wants me. Eat your heart out Simon, eat your heart out Tony, eat your heart out George, a man actually wants me!"

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Immigration and Customs (The Sequel) or Situation Normal All Fucked Up

"Aaaarggghhhhhh!" I am standing at the KLIA cargo and the nice "customer service officer" has just told me that I need to pay him RM230 to "settle" with Customs. Apparently my boxes, just arrived from Perth as unaccompanied luggage, have contraband - as in my DVDs and a bottle of wine.

"But they are old DVDs, not even new, I brought some of them from KL to Australia."

"That's irrelevant. You need a permit to bring DVDs through cargo."

"And I thought we could bring in at least two bottles of wine..."

"No, that's only in your luggage when you're flying. If you want to bring it in through cargo, you need a permit. Problemlar miss," He shakes his head worriedly and I feel my stomach plunge.

"Er... I kinda don't have the cash on me," I say, hoping for a reduction in terms.

He silently takes in my scruffy tee-shirt, hair untidily bunned up in a scrunchy, unwashed face. Then he glances over at my car. (Oh for crying out loud, it's only a Proton, how on God's green earth can you possibly mistake me for a rich kid?) He ponders the fact that I have just returned from Perth, which means I could afford to study OVERSEAS.

"No problem, I can direct you to an ATM."

I give in. Of course, I am getting ripped off, but what if he is right and Customs actually confiscate my stuff? There is my LOTR ROTK (extended version) and Hamlet (with Kevin Kline as Hamlet, a present from Charles, irreplaceable). And the one bottle of wine Katherine gave me before I left.

We collect the three boxes and one small suitcase from the Freight Forwarders. RM110 there, but I already knew about this fee in Australia, so it doesn't sting as much. My mobile goes off. It's the news director of a cable tv station:

"I got your number from Darla. So you're back. Whatchoo doing ah? Wanna come in and talk business?"

"Um, I really appreciate your call, but I'm kinda stuck in Cargo right now. Can I call you back?"

"Sure, fine, no problem."

The customer service officer flashes me a grin. "Was that your Daddy?" It's obvious that he has me pegged as some spoilt rich kid, the kind I personally despise. Note to him: A spoilt rich kid would have other people to do this for her. Or would be accompanied by some big shot from Daddy's office to smooth everything out. A spoilt rich kid would be driving Daddy's BMW. Or Volvo. Or Merc.

Then I drive over to Customs, to fill up a form. Actually, the friendly "customer service officer" (he doesn't tell me his name) fills up the form for me. He keeps up a lively chat on the way, telling me not to worry: "No problem one, I take care of everything." And I think, well, it's like hiring a consultant; you pay them to settle the hassles for you. But the fact is, having just arrived home, without a job, I'm still virtually penniless. I wouldn't be hiring no consultant, and honestly, can I afford to pay top price for one?

So he goes off to fill up the said abstruse form, kindly informing me that he is valuing all my goods at RM200 (that's RM30 less than the fee he expects). I swelter in the car for 10 minutes (aircon notwithstanding) and listen to Light and Easy trying to calm my nerves. The more this guy reassures me, the more anxious I feel. He returns, waving the form in my face. Same pleasant grin. "Service with a smile. We like to keep the customer happy, lalalalala..."

Then we drive to the Customs examination checkpoint, where he gets down again (in all this I don't get to see any customs officers, they're these stern, mythical invisible creatures) and comes back with a stamp on the Customs form that declares I will be subjected to a 100 per cent examination.

"You'd better take out the bottle of wine and put it in your knapsack." I do. Feeling more and more criminal. Why the hell didn't I just put it in my luggage to carry home with me?

We drive off to the 100 per cent examination point. He gets out and some things happen offstage as I wait for the officers to go through my "three boxes and one suitcase" with a fine toothcomb. None show up. He gets into the car, the form suitably stamped. I gape.

"Um, where are the officers? Nobody checked anything!"

"Don't worry, I settled with them."

"How much?"


He pauses. Then: "You can pay me now."

I fish for my wallet and count out RM230. His teeth practically blind me. Easy money. Soft mug. Christmas must have come early this year. I try and calculate how much this guy makes if he does at least two of this a day. The mind boggles.

One more hurdle before I'm home free. The exit, where they may just decide, proper documentation notwithstanding, to go through the contents of my car. Instead, the officers at this checkpoint flash him a knowing grin and smile sweetly at me. I wonder how many of them are in on it and how many will get their cut.

I am out of the cargo now. He alights and strides purposefully to the security guards at the entrance. I made the mistake of asking these guards what I was supposed to do when I arrived, having never collected anything from cargo in the whole course of my interesting life. I remember feeling a little surprised when the security guard in question offered me his seat, pulled out his mobile, made a call after which smiley guy emerged. Only the best service...

Later that day, I'm on the phone with a friend: "Bloody bribery and corruption."

"Honey, don't be so harsh. It's called distributive wealth."

I laugh. "Don't they realise I have no wealth to distribute?"

"Aiya! Welcome home to Malaysialar!"

Friday, December 09, 2005


When you come home what you gonna do
Oh brother, oh brother
Don't you try to deny
What you know to be true
The same mess of misery that you done been through
Standing in line
And it's waiting for you
One kiss leads to another
Brother when you come back home

Oh Brother, James Taylor

Here I am, stuck between worlds. I have left Perth, but am not quite back in Kuala Lumpur. Head in the clouds, waiting for the aircraft to land, the wheels to touch ground, that harsh jolt of reality.

Most days, I drive around in a daze, wrapped in cotton wool, a sheet of glass between me and real life. Maybe it has to do with being broke and not having a job yet. I can't go out and buy stuff, hang out in cafes, do anything.

But what's even worse is that I'm not looking for one. A job, that is. Content to lie curled up in bed while storms rage outside, lost between the pages of some ancient children's novel.

Evadne Price, Richmal Crompton, Anthony Buckeridge, Jane Shaw...

When people ask me if I've applied to so-and-so newspaper, wire service or magazine, my eyes become unfocussed and I tell them I'm sending out good thoughts. They regard me in a puzzled fashion.

"We always knew she was peculiar, just not this peculiar. Australia must have seeped away what little sanity she has left."

I smile vaguely at them and turn to walk away. It feels like I'm swimming through the steamy air. Nothing seems real, I can't make it real, I'm floating three feet away from my body.

"So have you started on your novel?"

"My what?"

"Well isn't that why you went there? To learn to write novels?"

"Er...no, not exactly, it was a kind of time-out from life. But I guess I could, write novels that is, except that I don't feel like doing anything once I'm here."

"Grow up girl!"

I get so tired of sensible advice. So I walk away.

Nothing seems real. I can't make it real.

Christmas cheer all around as I sit wrapped in my customary rags, waiting, waiting, waiting...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Everything melts in this heat

So, it was not a dark and stormy night, and the plane landed, when it landed, on grey dust. And the airport was full of perfume smells and chocolate and whisky-flavoured memories. I sighed and clasped my two obligatory boxes of Corica apple strudel to my chest, tried to balance my laptop on one shoulder, my backpack on the other and my duty free shopping bag of Macallan's single malt in a spare hand. (As Roy Cohn put so beautifully, in Angels in America, I wish I was a fucking octopus) I would have to continue my juggling act until I could get a trolley (which was not anytime soon, seeing as I had to pass through Immigration first).

OK, there is one thing I absolutely love about Malaysia. If you're Malaysian, you actually get to go through the autogate, where you plunk your passport into this reader thingy and put your thumb on the required spot. It verifies that you are you, and kazaam, you're through customs. No waiting around for surly immigration officers to stamp your passport and forget to welcome you home.

Finally, I arrived at the baggage claims and my suitcase actually made it out there quickly. Oh, better and better. And when I went through customs (Green Lane, but of course) the officers, whose eyes I met steadily, barely gave me a second glance. The joys of being a scruffy, unprepossessing student-type.

Another thing I love about Malaysia is my family waiting to greet me at the airport. I get lost in a flurry of hugs and smiles as they take my suitcases - we proceed to the car and unload them into it. I chatter nonstop and my brother, who is driving, hands me the phone. It's Mom.

"I'm glad you're back, Jenn. When you coming home to JB?"

I tell her I have to wait for my unaccompanied luggage to arrive and she worries about the fate of her apple strudel. Corica is legend in my family, ever since, during my first-year holidays, when I brought back a box and forced everyone to have some at midnight.

I meet up with one of my best friends for breakfast: "Angel child!" she screams as she hurls herself on me. We go to Strudels in Lucky Gardens for breakfast and have clove and cardamom teh tareks. Nice. From where we're sitting we get a perfect view of the continuous stream of traffic coming in to have breakfast or brunch or do some shopping.

"Honestly, it's nine on a Tuesday morning. You'd think these people would be at work," she remarks.

"Nolar, we're Malaysian. Eating is our national pastime. You could go to the stalls at four in the morning and you'd still see people chomping away."

We laugh. It's hot. I am steaming in my tee shirt.

Everything melts in this heat.

I take five baths in less than 24 hours. Finally, I simply drench myself in cold, cold water and lie naked under the fan. The family are all at work or else I wouldn't. We don't do nudity here. My cousin calls:

"Whatchoo doing?"

"Lying naked under the fan. Too hotlar."

She giggles nervously. We don't talk about such things in our family.

We agree to meet for dinner. And I have a lunch appointment today. And dinner. And so on, for the rest of the week.

"Wow, you're efficient," she says. "It took me a while after I got back to meet up with people."

"Not efficient, just bored. Sides, it will be nice to see everyone again, let them know I'm back for real."

"What about the ones you don't wanna meet?"

We pause for a while. Even before hitting the tarmac, I have received calls and invitations from people who give me a pain in my solar plexus. In Australia, I only hang out with the people I like. I don't have to pretend. Over here I seem to fall into the path of least resistance. There is a certain integrity lacking: I smile at people I can't stand, do time with people who make me feel tired and unhappy, chat with people who I would rather cross the street to avoid.

I need to say: "Listen carefully. I don't want you to call me again. I don't like you and refuse to pretend that we're still friends."

If only.

I'm so afraid of losing my soul again.

Everything melts in this heat.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Love, uninterrupted

The human spirit is not dead. It lives on in secret... Albert Schweitzer

I read once in a book, that when you're drowning in sorrow, look around and try to make someone else feel better. What goes around, comes around.

I was like any arrogant young person, secure in my impeturbability. I thought I could handle anything life threw at me, without breaking down, showing a reaction, acting like a girl. Then when the dark night of the soul showed up, it was like... a living darkness, I could not plumb its depths. It was like being thrown down and crushed upon the ground over and over again. Every time I picked yourself up and thought, OK that's it, I can begin to rebuild, the darkness would hit and there I would be, cracked glass shattering all over again.

You will never stop falling...

Of course, if you asked me then what the value of this experience was, I would have said, absolutely nothing at all. Suffering doesn't strengthen. It turns us into bloodless shadows. But when I came out on the other side, I found I suddenly had compassion. Gone was the youthful arrogance of: "Oh, get a grip."

I knew now that some pain went too deep for glib solutions. So many Eleanor Rigbys out there thinking, if I were to die, who would know, who would even care? A pine box, some earth, and it will be as if I never lived.

An old lady sat next to me on a park bench. She started by asking me about where I came from and went on to tell me the story of her life. I bought her a coffee and listened. It was like someone had unstoppered a dam. She couldn't wait to get the words out and I don't think I have ever met someone so lonely, hurt, abused and yet, innocent, childlike and trusting. I know if I had met her before, a part of me would have been scornful at her lack of self-control, her eager confidence in a complete stranger. Now, I saw only a deep pain and a loneliness so profound that it threw all natural caution to the winds.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from...

I don't know where they come from. I just know they're there. Broken people. Like us. We're broken too. You know what I mean...

And sometimes the misery slams you against a wall and you know you're gonna crack right open. But your skin holds together. That is the miracle of skin. It doesn't crack under pressure unless you help it to.

To be broken is to know that nothing is right and nothing will ever be right again. You know what I'm talking about. You know that you can look at a Van Gogh and just want to curl up into a ball on the floor and scream silently. You know that however much you cut yourself, you can't bleed it away. Or dull it with wine. Or sky-coloured pills.

And nobody understands. Nobody will EVER understand. Remember that. And just keep on shattering. When God arrives to sweep up the pieces maybe you can finally ask why.

But being broken ourselves, we do understand. Being, 'there, but for the grace of God, go I' we can help.

I came upon a doctor who appeared in quite poor health. I said: "There's nothing I can do for you that you can't do for yourself." He said: "Oh yes you can. Just hold my hand. I think that would help." So I sat with him a while then I asked him how he felt. He said: "I think I'm cured." Conor Oberst

It's called love. It goes a long way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Maybe Tomorrow

Maybe tomorrow things will be different. Maybe tomorrow they will see what a wonderful person Sue really is. Underneath it all. Sometimes, she tries to affirm her reality. I am here. I have a name. I breathe. Then she pauses. But what is it I do? Why do I matter? If I were to disappear tomorrow, who would even notice? She does not have a job. She does not have a partner. She does not even have friends.

Ten years ago: It's her sister Clara's 16th birthday party and everyone is standing around as she cuts the cake. Sue is crouched in a corner pretending to read Pride & Prejudice. She hopes someone will notice and call her to join them. But they don't. Tears glide silently down her cheeks.

If only she weren't always so tired. If only she could wake up before noon. But she has nothing to wake up for. Nobody to talk to. Nowhere to go. She exists in a world of whispers and shadows. They have forgotten about her.

Seven years ago: Sue fails her university entrance examinations and her parents tell her to get a job. She becomes a clerk at an import-export firm. It is undemanding work and she doesn't earn much but at least she can say she's gainfully employed. Her six siblings troop off to university and soon she is unable to join in their scintillating conversations.

When people don't notice you, you cease to exist. How can I occupy all this space and not exist? Sue rolls around on her bed. It feels hot, lumpy, uncomfortable. She considers rising, but it would be too much of an effort to throw off the pungent covers and have a shower. She needs to, though. Her bladder is at bursting point. She doesn't exist but she could still stink up the bed. And let's face it, the bed is foul enough as it is.

A year ago: Sue reads an article in the local newspaper where the writer tells amusing stories of his futile search for a bride. The woman he likes is much too sophisticated to tie herself down. The one who wants to marry him, pestering him with calls, letters and presents, is only a clerk in an import-export firm - silly, cheap and inconsequential. He pokes gentle fun at her, before moving on to the next candidate. Sue quits her job the next day.

She pads over to the bathroom in her tiny studio apartment and squats over the white ceramic bowl. Her life has shrunk to its two basic functions - eating and excreting.

Her parents are livid. They threaten to kick her out of the house. She, the last remaining "child", despite her age. She walks out and spends an interesting night on a tree. When she returns the next day, she finds them suitably chastened. They tell her they understand that she may need some space and let her to move into one of their investment apartments to keep her off the streets. And allow her $50 a week. Same reason.

Itching all over, Sue finds she really has no choice. She will have to shower. She stands under the steaming water, limpid as plasticine, until her skin wrinkles. Then she makes her way back to bed. Still itchy. She throws off her bedclothes and replaces the sheets. Ahhhh... this is more like it.

Six months ago: It's another birthday party and as usual Sue wanders around feeling lost. She tries to join a group of cousins, but they ignore her and go on with their conversation. She feels stupid and miserable and resolves never to go for another family function.

She still can't get to sleep. She reaches in the fridge for a Snickers bar and it explodes in her mouth, a mess of chocolate, caramel and nuts. Satisfied, she licks the roof of her mouth and gets back into bed.

She didn't attend her brother's party and her own birthday passed by unremarked. No card, not even a phone call. Maybe she has actually disappeared. Like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense.

Her head is full of voices. She reaches under her bed for her latest journal, powder blue with a picture of a lighthouse on the cover and starts to write:

My life is a lingering sob. Nobody loves me, I wish I were dead. But why give those bastards the satisfaction? I'll show them. Tomorrow, I'll get up early, work out, look up arts courses, make a start towards a new life. Tomorrow I will get a part-time job, find love, start living.

Yes, it will all happen tomorrow. Maybe. She chucks her journal aside and goes to sleep.

Monday, November 28, 2005

You Say I'm A Bitch Like It's a Bad Thing

"Self-help books!" Terra spits the word out at me in disgust. "Honestly, Jenn you should write one. You'd become an instant millionaire. There's plenty of stupid people out there who needs some unqualified idiot to tell them what to do. They need to see it in print before they can recognise the bloody obvious!"

I squirm uncomfortably. Like Bridget Jones, I have been known to search for life's answers in one of these learned tomes. They helped me through seriously horrific patches. I passed on the wisdom to others and hey, light came streaming in through our murky windows. We held hands and danced naked around campfires, chanting the old hymns: Live your dreams. Follow your heart.

Terra doesn't notice my discomfort. She is on full rant mode: "All the idiots in my class swear by this book. But everything this guy says seems to be so damn obvious, I tell you ah, I can't believe that we were that stupid at their age. A hot guy is a hot guy, but if he treats you like shit consistently..."

"Um, which book is this exactly?"

"He's Just Not That Into You.

Inaudible sigh of relief. Am not guilty of this one. "So what's the problem with it?"

"OK, there is this girl in class. When she goes out with her friends, her boyfriend invites himself along. But when he has plans with his friends, he never lets her come. Not once. And they have been going out for a year. Then she reads this dumb book and it's like a fucking lightbulb goes off in her head and she says, Terr, he's just not that into me. And I say, well duh, haven't I been trying to tell you that for months?

"And there is this other girl. Attractive as hell but really dumb when it comes to men. She goes out with this army guy who takes her to meet his parents and then tells her to back off, because she's started to act like his girlfriend. And she says, but you took me to meet your parents, what was that all about? And he says, I take lots of girls to meet my parents, it doesn't mean anything. She too, had to read that bloody book before she realised he was not that into her. I mean, come on, there are limits to stupidity, right?"

I laugh with her, but am wondering all the same: Did I need to get permission from a book to quit my dead-end job? Um, yeah. Quitting my job went against conventional wisdom because, although it starved my soul, it allowed me to suffer in relative comfort. And the flak I got when they heard I was taking a degree in writing (Writing? are you crazy, what kind of job will you get from that?) Loads of well-meaning advice from people who wanted me to realise that life was a serious, serious thing and that my misery was par for the course.

Where would I have been without Martha Beck? Or Sonia Choquette? Or Julia Cameron? I'll tell you where; stuck in some sad corner of the office, trying to find new ways of writing about venture capitalism. Or biotechnology. Or (God-help-me) photonics.

So sometimes even though it seems fricking obvious to the rest of the world, I guess I just need the external validation to be found in the pages of these books. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Follow your heart. Live your dreams. Follow your own North Star.

I'm trying Martha, believe me, I'm trying.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


The long slow mourning has begun
And the air resounds
with the gentle sounds
of someone weeping.

It's my last week in Australia.

All the nice people who have drifted (or stormed) into my life are now taking leave, with mournful eyes, bowing out into the blurry past. I watch them leave and a heaviness begins in my centre and spreads out to infinity. We go for one last lunch, one last tea, one last dinner and they hold me close and tell me, with tears in their eyes, keep in touch, keep in touch, I'm gonna miss you.

And I say, of course I'll keep in touch, don't worry, I'm very good at keeping in touch and I am gonna miss you terribly, so terribly and I am gonna miss this place and this peaceful feeling and the smell of flowers and the taste of the sunshine and the cafes in Fremantle and the vegetables in Subiaco, the quiet pavements, and walking around Hyde Park, listening to the music of running water.

And there they are, all these people I never knew before who have come to mean so much to me. Aged 21 to 83. Except that I tend to forget their ages when I'm with them. It's just like one big extended family. My people.

I have people I love back home. I do. And I will be happy to see them. It's just...

Friendly bus drivers, who say hello when you step on the bus and have a nice day, when you step off. Cheerful teenagers at the supermarket cash register who ask you: "And how are you today?" as if they really want to know. Strangers nodding and smiling at you on the street: "Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. Lovely day, isn't it?" Neighbours who stop to chat, invite me over for coffee or tea or dinner. Comfortable people, everywhere I turn.

Goodbyes are flavoured with coffee and Cabernet Merlot. Triple chocolate muffins. Vindaloo and rendang. Double fudge frosted brownies. And Corica's apple strudel, the best in the world.

I have been mourning Perth for a whole semester now. Feeling the goodbye tear through my body. I know love is always only a fleeting moment and we have to let these moments go. And I am trying. But, beginnings are my forte. I have never been good at endings.

So Susan, Charles, Christa, Katherine, David, Brendan, Chris, Sydney, George, Marguerite, Barry, Simon, Hui Hua, Corey, Marcella, Zaven, Cynthia, Shelly...goodbye. I love you. I will miss you. Thanks for everything. I will try to stay in touch.

You were never mine,
But I don't know
how to let you go.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Beauty: Mind of the beheld?

"I want to be beautiful. I want to be really beautiful. In fact I want to be goddamn stunning."

"Um, but you are beautiful. I think so anyway. You look sort of...interesting."

Ella tosses me a disdainful look. "Oh interesting! Everybody tells me I look interesting. Interesting is not beautiful. I want beautiful."

I have never seen her like this. Her voice hard, her face, almost flinty, haggard from a week of continuous vomitting, because of a demoralising visit from the people who made her paranoid in the first place - her family. I went over because I happened to be in the city, and that's where she lives. Now I am wishing I hadn't. Her superhuman self-control is down, and I see the trapped creature inside. It looks out at me with starving eyes, clutching at words, seeking reassurance, believing nothing.

Beauty is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying...?

Ella shows me a picture of her sister. Her sister is dazzling. Hollywood beautiful. Her sister has this wonderful new man in her life. A man who's a saint, by all accounts. And Ella wants such a man in her own life.

But all relationships peter out into nothing and her latest lover has found a new love. He didn't bother to tell her it was over. She found out at a dinner with someone who, not knowing her connection with Mr Flawless remarked casually: "What a lovely, lovely man. And his girlfriend is simply gorgeous."

"Er, what exactly do you think you have to do, to be beautiful? I venture tentatively. Since there is not an ounce of superfluous flesh on her, I'm thinking it will be plastic surgery. At this moment she seems crazy enough for anything. I consider playing Unpretty by TLC or suggesting that she read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, but desist. The way she's feeling now, she might actually slug me.

For a while Ella is silent.

Then: "I need to accept that I am beautiful."

"Phew." I let out a sigh of relief and smile inadvertently. "Just that."

"Just that? You think that's easy?" Her face hardens once more. Oh God, this is like walking on eggs. I don't seem to be able to say anything right.

We talk a bit about desperation. And how trying too hard pushes whatever we want away. And about how she may have chosen to be alone at the moment to sort certain things out. And how her life is really very rich and fulfilling (ordinarily you need to book weeks ahead to see her).

But they're all words - and behind the words, there's the insistent: "I need to be beautiful. I need to be dazzling. Like my sister. I want men to look at me, the way they look at her. And nothing you say is gonna make a difference. That's just the way it is."

Fast forward two days: I am having dinner at a food court with my friend Cyn. We're both scarfing sushi like it's going out of style and Cyn is telling me about some of her latest conquests. Her air is one of tolerant amusement rather than conscious pride.

"I tell you ah, that fler is mad. I mean, I say I'm not interested and he thinks I'm playing hard to get. I drop him off at his place and he leans over and kisses me. On the lips. Now if was one of our Malaysian guys, I wouldn't take it seriously, you know what jokers they are. But these Indian Indians. So I say, Savi, look, I'll sleep with you, no problem, just as long as you don't think it's going to go anywhere."

We erupt in laughter. I say: "Gosh Cyn, I can't believe you said that. How'd he take it?"

"Aiyah you knowlar. Thought I was joking. Finally he became so heavy-handed that I had to start ignoring him to get him off my back. Don't like to be mean, but if they can't get the picture when you tell them nicely..."

Lately, she has acquired a stalker who sends her obsessive SMSes, shows up at places he thinks she might be and keeps telling her: "You're the kind of woman I can see myself with." "Which part of no don't you understand?" is lost on him.

Everytime I run into her at uni, at least five guys will stroll over to chat. There is just something so irresistible about her.

I wonder at this. Of course, Cyn is an attractive woman, but she's not that much more attractive than Ella. The difference is that she takes all the attention for granted. There are no destructive tapes playing in the background telling her she has to prove herself. She attracts attention effortlessly because frankly, she doesn't give a shit.

There is a lesson here of course. But it's not one that can be transmitted to anyone who really needs it. Those who feel the desperation will go on feeling it. They will starve themselves, overdo it at the gym, search for salvation in a $500 moisturiser, spend five hours a week at the hairdresser, simonizing, simonizing, simonizing the paint job.

It wont work. It never works. But that's OK, try it anyway.

After all, what doesn't kill you can only make you weaker.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I'm Sorry

Well she did it. I never thought she would. I figured it was all threats and drama. Because she was all threats and drama. Her life was a hysterical Tamil movie, complete with histrionics and swollen emotions and tears. So many tears that you stopped noticing them. So many tears, you were afraid of going out with her in public. So many tears that her brother said, "bitch, for fuck's sake grow up."

I hadn't spoken to her in a year. There was no quarrel, no blow-up, just a long overdue recognition that this friendship served neither of us. 13 years is 13 years. But there were too many favours demanded, too much taking for granted, too much:

"Jenn, where are you? Can you come pick me up and take me to ..." I was tired. No, I was fucking exhausted. And when I got away, I left her behind. Betrayal. She wept and held on and grew cold and then colder. She spoke in monosyllables and then she stopped talking altogether.

I was hurt, but heck, if that's the way she wanted to play it... a year went by. I didn't send her a greeting for her birthday. Not a phone call, not an email, not anything. The first time in 13 years.

And I didn't care. Or thought I didn't. You never know you care terribly until...

The cold dark silence in your soul when you hear the news. And the guilt. Oh the guilt. If only I had known. Maybe I could have done something. I should have guessed that she was this desperate. I should have guessed where she was heading.

The goodbye we never said bleeds out into the cadaverous silence.

There are no echoes.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Some of this is real

He was a maker of lists. He liked to have everything neatly ranked and categorised. As he looked across the table at his date, he didn't see a person, just a candidate to be subjected to this rigorous interview process. And crossed off a list. Or not.

"Firstly, you have to like Dr Who. That's non-negotiable!"

"Excuse me?"

She was already beginning to regret meeting this guy in person. Just because he had been funny and personable over the Internet didn't mean he wasn't a serial killer in real life. Her first impression hadn't been good. And things were not getting any better. She had never met anyone so abrupt. And he didn't even fit into the usual stereotype of the brash, self-assured guy. They were usually jocks - handsome, well-built and conscious of the fact. This guy was thin, knock-kneed and weedy with darting goggle eyes. Baggy, cheap, shiny suit. Clip-on tie. Maroon shirt. Ugh!

Meanwhile, he was running on oblivious, filling her on his expectations of a girlfriend. Or even, a second date.

"Look, do you have a form or something? Maybe I could fill it out to save you all this trouble."

He nodded, beaming. "Actually I do have a form, though I usually fill it up myself based on my subtle interview process as well as personal observation. I assign a weighting for each criteria. For instance, looks would probably carry a weighting of about 25 per cent while intelligence would rate 30 per cent. Similar interests - yeah, that would have the highest rating. I want to be with a geek who's into Dr Who and Buffy. To fill the time between sex." He guffawed loudly.

"And what do you do with the results?"

"I assign a number to each girl and plot in on a graph." He was on a roll. Having mentally dismissed this girl as unsuitable - too short, too plump, does not like Dr Who, rolled her eyes at the mention of Buffy - he was more than eager to share his brilliant matchmaker programme.

"Are you for real?"

"Yes, why?"

"I can't believe it. Have you looked in the mirror lately? I don't know who you think you are, but someone who looks as gawdawful as you do, would be lucky to score a crack whore. I'm leaving, I've had enough." She pushed back her chair and swept out of the restaurant, just as the waiter arrived with the menu.

He sighed, took out his palm pilot and calmly crossed out her name.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sweet like Chocolate

I am working my way through a deluxe box of chocolate creams. Really. All by my ownsome. It's been a long time since I did something like this. But then, an elderly gentleman, who didn't know that people don't do suchlike these days, gave me a box of chocolates.

I reacted with that usual pull of guilt in the gut. Like, oh my God, all those calories, all that fat, fat, fat, fat, fat. What was I gonna do?

Fortunately I was reading Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth at the time. And Kim Chernin's Womansize. Throw in Cathie Dunsford's The Long Journey Home and you have, well, me. I realised that I had been worried about my weight from the time I was 20. Which means I have spent more than a decade worrying about my weight.

Yes, self-loathing definitely factors into it. So much so that earlier this year, I actually went on a juice diet for a month. I had nothing but fruit and vegetable juices twice a day for all that time. Life lost all its flavour, I withdrew into my room and talked to nobody and I developed a permanent stitch in my side. And my jaw and gums ached continuously. I stopped watching my favourite shows like The Waltons because nearly episode had the family gathered around the dinner table at last twice a day. I avoided shopping centres because I couldn't take the smells. All my waking hours, I was looking through recipe books and dreaming about food. Dreaming about the taste of blood on my tongue. Dreaming about biting into something adequately satisfying.

Yeah, so I lost about 10 kg in that time, and could fit teenage jeans sizes, so what? I lived a half-life and was constantly in pain. It amazes me to think that somehow I thought I was doing something good. So when I read through Wolf's wise words on hunger, it was like something went off in my head. How can skinny be attractive? Women's sex hormones are stored in fat. So no fat, no sex drive. Hahahahahaha! What an irony.

Both Chernin and Wolf talked about how women grow larger as they age - and how it is OK. In fact, studies show that women who are 10-15 pounds over their supposed ideal weight according to life insurance companies, lived longer. As long as they hadn't screwed their systems up with dieting.

Then I read how thin had suddenly become fashionable in Nigeria, a place they used to send brides-to-be to fattening farms to bulk up before marriage, after Agbani Darego won the Miss World 2001. Most of the older Nigerians were stunned. They didn't find her beautiful at all. Too tall. Too skinny. Now thin was in. It was lepa. Oh dear.

Or how the rate of eating disorders in Fiji had quintupled in 38 months after the introduction of television, according to a study done by the Harvard Medical School. Girls, fed on media images, had started to lose weight. Before this, if you started to lose weight, the elders would gather around you and medicate, convinced that you were suffering from a wasting sickness. Suddenly, it was OK to be wasting away. Oh dear.

And then there was Cowrie, the protagonist in Dunsford's lesbian, postcolonial novel. When a young dyke called her fat, she responded poetically, talking about the beauty of making love to a large woman, which she compared to entering the face of a giant hibiscus. There was something about an exploding frangipani in there, which was all very sensuous, but since I don't have the book with me, I can't quote verbatim. She said, after all this, who would want to lie down next to a blade of grass. Who indeed.

So that is what I think of as I work my way through this box of delicious chocolate creams. True, it has hurt my tongue and I now can't taste much besides, and I feel tired and cranky for no particular reason, but goddammit, I am making a point here.

Stay tuned for developments.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Art of Death

A few years ago I started collecting suicide notes. I thought it was interesting, the last thing a person chose to write, just before they ended their lives. Those sad, powerful, touching words, blasting you away with their intensity. This particular obsession was sparked off by The Hours. Much of the plot seemed to be centered around Virginia Woolf's suicide note, and as I listened to it, I thought, tears in my eyes: "How beautiful, how unutterably beautiful."

Of course, I had a lot of material to work with. Or so I thought. I mean how many artists, writers, singers out there have committed suicide? A bushel and then some. But surprisingly, even the most eloquent, articulate writers on death didn't seem to have left a note. Like Ernest Hemmingway. Or Sylvia Plath. So for the Sylvia Plath entry into my album of suicide notes, I used Lady Lazarus.

Is an art, like everything else,
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.

With Anne Sexton, I was spoilt for choice. Of course, there was the only Suicide Note she left, where she declared:

But surely you know that everyone has a death,
his own death,
waiting for him.
So I will go now
without old age or disease.

And her obituary for Sylvia Plath which swung wildly from sadness:

Sylvia, Sylvia
where did you go
after you wrote me
from Devonshire
about raising potatoes and keeping bees?

to envious anger:

Thief! how did you crawl into...
the death I wanted so badly and for so long.

to a tired resignation:

and I see now we store him up
year after year,
old suicides.

And she invokes the fraternity of self obliteration in the poem Waiting to Die:

Suicides have a special language
Like carpenters they want to know
which tools.
They never ask why build.

And then of course, there was Virginia Woolf's own suicide note to her husband Leonard, which I dug up from the Internet:

If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.

And Kurt Cobain's:

Thank you all from the pit of my burning nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the last years. I'm
pretty much of an erratic moody person and I don't have the passion anymore.

Surprisingly, one of my favourite suicide notes was fictitious. It was the one Marcus's mother writes to him in About a Boy. I remember sitting in MPH and surreptitiously copying it into a notebook. As I don't have my suicide album with me now, I can't give you an excerpt from that.

But of course, it was not enough to read other people's suicide notes. I had to write my own. So one dark winter's day, in the holidays, when I felt lonely, isolated and suitably depressed, I penned the following. I am happy to say it freaked my poetry lecturer out:

Maybe I would start with
I am sorry,
(but am I?
if I was,
I wouldn't)

Then I would say
but I can't go on.
Life is not worth living.
It's not that I feel too much,
(although sometimes I do)
It's that more and more
I feel nothing
Nothing at all.
Like there is a scar,
where my heart used to be.

Even pain can't hurt me anymore.
Isn't that terrible?
Even love can't make me feel.
But what am I talking about?
There is no love.
Only lovers,
And sooner or later
they all merge into one.
The one I don't want to be with.

And maybe I would say:
I am sorry to do this to you,
to leave you with this grief,
these questions.

But who am I kidding anyway?
Let's make a deal,
I won't pretend to be sorry,
and you don't pretend to cry.

What I am sorry for is the embarrassment.
Suicides are always embarrassing,
If I knew how to do this quietly,
so there would be no body,
I would.

But as it is...

Don't bother with a funeral
No open casket with the curious
breathing into my skin.

Burn me instantly.
And scatter my ashes anywhere.
I'm not particular,
Maybe on a vegetable patch
So I could fertilise tomatoes
or broccoli.

I could end by telling you I loved you,
in spite of it all,
And that I would miss you,
but let's keep it simple, shall we?

Good luck with your life,
Hope it turns out better
than mine.
And if it doesn't
you can spend your time
perfecting your own suicide note.


And that's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

You Need Do Nothing

"Having my parents here after not seeing them for five years has been wonderful. And challenging," her voice was faux upbeat. Underneath the bubbles, there was a current of pain and exhaustion, which communicated itself over the phone line.

Shelly was the type pf person who would never tell you when something was wrong. Tiny, birdlike and piquant, I met her at a poetry reading. We were strangers and yet, when I saw her, in her tights and baseball cap (she has just been for a run) there was this blue streak of recognition. I had never met her, but I knew instinctively that I knew her. It was like meeting a member of your tribe, those rare individuals that you resonate with almost instantly, and wonder why that is so. I overheard her tell someone she was a "practising idealist" and was intrigued. Who was this woman?

I was struggling through a carrot cake with walnut icing, and when she sat at my table, I grinned and asked her if she would like to have some. To my surprise, she accepted willingly, so there we were, two strangers, working our way through cake. And that is how we became friends.

As a practising idealist Shelly always sounded positive. I took this at face value and imagined her life to be all sorted out. How far from my own.

Today, however, it was clear something was wrong. Her parents had been visiting and it was the first time she was seeing them in five years. She had been so excited to have them over and I simply assumed that everything had gone swimmingly. Silly me. Five years is a long time and people change while expecting everyone else to remain the same.

Slowly, she let a little of the story unfurl. How he father, angry at the way a conversation was going, jumped out of their moving car. How her mother looking around critically, asked why there were no young men in gunsight: "You're not getting any younger, honey. Your little sister is married. Why do you have to be so picky?" How they both hated Australia, because if was different from America. Because their daughter had given them up for it. Or so they thought.

As is her wont, Shelly bent over backwards, trying to please them, while struggling to retain her own identity. Now, as they were packing and she was getting ready to take them to the airport, she was feeling shattered. The way she used to feel after being on call for 78 hours back in the day when she was a surgeon, and hard work, almost her religion.

"I tried so hard, you know," she sounded broken.

"I know." I hadn't known her for long, but I could already see what a perfectionist she was. "Maybe you don't need to try so hard. Maybe it's OK to just be."

"Oh dear. I try too hard." she sighed and I could feel the sheer weight of her thoughts. Another imperfection to work on.

"Hold on, let me read you something. I got this from a Dan Joseph (http://www.danjoseph.com) newsletter and I think you will be able to identify.":

Perfectionism is a socially approved trap. It may sound reasonable to "always aim for the best" to "never settle for second place" and so on. But in the end, perfectionism is a hopeless game. It is like endlessly chasing a carrot on a stick.

On the deepest level, you could say that perfectionism is a futile search for self-worth. "If I do this one thing better," perfectionists say to themselves, "then I’ll be worthy. Then I’ll be a good person, and people will like me. I just have be better than I am."

It’s quite tempting to pursue that goal – after all, what a reward! Do this perfectly, and you’re granted worth, acceptance, and love. Just do it perfectly. But of course, the brass ring always stays just out of reach. Tempting, calling – but out of reach.

So what’s the alternative to perfectionism? Some people say, "I’d rather be perfectionistic than lazy and apathetic." But those aren’t the only choices. In fact, the true answer to perfectionism lies at the heart of many spiritual teachings.

"You are a child of God. Nothing can change this. And because you are a child of God, you are perfectly loved, perfectly forgiven, and spiritually perfect forever. Accept that truth about yourself and others."

This attitude, of course, is the opposite of perfectionism. Perfectionists say, "I’m not perfect – far from it. But perhaps if I work harder, or do this better, or improve myself in this way, I have a chance to redeem myself. I just have to try harder."

Again, the spiritual teachings respond by saying, "It’s impossible to ‘make’ yourself perfect. Don’t even try. Instead, be willing to reach deep down into your heart, and into the hearts of others – into your spiritual core. There you’ll find the perfection that you’re seeking."

Lofty ideas! And sometimes hard to accept. For these ideas begin to dismantle the whole thought system of the human ego – the thought system that says, "I can earn my worth. I can acquire love. I can make myself acceptable." The spiritual teachings say, "No – worth, love and acceptance are yours not by your efforts, but by the grace of God. You need do nothing but accept them."

There was silence at the other end of the line. I think I could hear stifled sobs. It was a release.

And all I want to say is, you're beautiful as you are Shel. You're already perfect. So relax.

You need do nothing.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The babe, the bitch and the bimbo

"What's the difference between a slut and a bitch?" he asked, eyes twinkling.

"I don't know," I shrugged wearily. "What?"

"A slut sleeps with everyone. A bitch sleeps with everyone but you."

"Hardi har har."

It was late and I really wasn't in the mood. The extreme misogyny of this place was getting to me. When we moved from from the protected environs of the the training centre to the "floor", otherwise known as the cesspit, we suddenly found ourselves labelled "fresh meat". The more attractive ones would get lascivious invitations over the internal messaging system:

"You've been on the floor for a month. It's time you spread your legs for all the guys." And that was mild. Some girls succumbed to depression and could be found weeping in the toilets. One, gave in her resignation, before the harrassment was investigated and put a stop to.

There were several ways of dealing with these guys. One could evolve into a babe or a bitch. For the bimbo, these jibes were like water off crystal. Nothing penetrated that haze of deliberate stupidity.

The babe exuded a quiet strength. She never got drawn into trading obscenities with the other reporters or giving tit for tat. She managed to hold herself aloof without giving offence (a very delicate task, as male journalists have fragile egos). She was intelligent and professional and built up her contact base pretty quickly. She never traded on her good looks to get her out of work but she did use all her assets to get her the best stories. Naturally, not everyone liked her but they respected her. In our office, at least, she was very, very rare.

The bitch gave as good as she got. She would laugh at the men, hold them up to ridicule, if they tried to mess with her. Extremely aggressive, she was an ace reporter who stepped on anyone she had to, to get what she wanted. It was not a good idea to encroach on her territory, because you found yourself with a formidable rival who would train a laser gun, and make like a Dalek from Dr Who: "Exterminate, Exterminate". Once the male reporters cottoned on to her type, they usually gave her a wide berth.

The bimbo was not necessarily dumb. She just had her brain on suspend mode, because she was not too concerned about the job. It was merely a stepping stone to her real object - a nice fat businessman or politician with loads of moolah. She was necessarily shunned by both the babes and the bitches, who saw her as a disgrace, embodying the worst female stereotypes of stupidity and helplessness. My favourite bimbo story, one that had passed into apocrypha, was one about a TV3 newscaster who had come to my newspaper on attachment. The girl had been sent to interview the Sime Darby head honcho, and such an important interview required careful preparation. Her mind cheerfully empty, she simply asked the questions already prepared for her by the editors. These questions, mind you, had already been faxed to the chairman and his PR machinery had drafted the answers. All went smoothly until the "journalist" decided to try her hand at ad-libbing, towards the end. Convinced that she would make a fantastic impression, if she asked a really "hard" question, she fluttered her eyelashes and fired the following salvo: "So Tan Sri, when does Sime Darby think of getting listed?" His mouth fell open and a few minutes later a call was put through to my office:


You have to understand, asking Sime Darby when it was thinking of getting listed was like asking Jack Welch, if General Electric had any plans of going public. It was the kind of obvious mistake that called for colossal ignorance. Long eyelashes notwithstanding, she failed to make an impression.

So what's the difference between a babe, a bitch and a bimbo? I don't know really. Ask me tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I love you. You're perfect. Now change.

It was one of those days. There were more than six dishes to get through and so far, I had only managed dessert (though not the sauce for the dessert). And there was still some shopping to do. The lady at the fish market picked out a suitable fish (don't ask me what, my knowledge of all this piscine is abyssmal) and shovelled 600 grams worth of tiger prawns into a plastic bag. She looked at me, hopping from one foot to another:

"Dinner party?"

"Yes. Someone I really need to impress. Dunno if the food will turn out OK though."

"Look love, when someone cooks for you, it's always delicious. Don't worry so much about it."

"Yeah, thanks," I nodded, not believing her.

I am a chronic worrier; I guess you could say that anxiety is my normal state of mind. I worried as I was on my knees on a very grubby bathroom floor, scrubbing away. I worried as I made the special paste for the fish, rubbed it deep into the fillet, wrapped it in a banana leaf and shoved it in the oven (what if it didn't turn out, what if he didn't like it? Even worse, what if his wife didn't?). I worried as I made a mistake with the butter prawns (I put in the grated coconut before the Chinese wine and the soy sauce, rather than after). Aaaaaarrrrggggghhhhhhh! I worried as I fried the parathas which insisted on coming apart in my hands. And the papadams, which kept burning.

I kept glancing at the clock. Oh dear, only an hour and a half left. And I knew, I just knew he would be incredibly punctual. Back home, when you say six o'clock, you would be lucky if your guests rocked up at 6.30. Here, it was punctuality to the minute. His classes, for instance, always started on the microsecond.

With an hour to spare, I had a quick shower, blowdried my impossible hair (thank God I had it all chopped off recently) and changed. No costumes, although it was Halloween. I opted for a black turtleneck (but let us be conservative, or die). By this time, there was only about a half hour left and I had started to squeak as I shoved the table into the hall (student house, what can you do?) and tried to set it.

It was groaning under the weight of the dishes - Portuguese baked fish, butter prawns, Italian-herbed potatoes, creamed broccoli, nasi kemuli (a Nyonya wedding rice), roti paratha (onion and plain), papadams and there was a glistening sticky toffee pudding on the kitchen table for dessert. There was hardly room for the plates.

Like I expected, he arrived with his wife on the dot. This, my favourite lecturer. 60-something, grizzled, and often cantankerous, but brilliant, funny and surprisingly warm when you least expected it. His wife was a tiny, vital person with short hair and flashing eyes. As I expected (despite his professed MCP proclivities) she was a fighter and would not let him get away with making a sexist remark. I knew he wouldn't have married a pushover, no matter how he ranted against feminists. Another tick on his list of perfections. My other guests arrived (actually there was only one another, my friend Lisa, who took his classes as well and liked him) and it was time to begin.

We dug in. I was too nervous to eat, having dined off the smell the whole day. I held my breath and watched them out of the corner of my eye. Lisa was ill but even she was managing to tuck something away. As for my year-long crush, he was eating, complimenting and asking for seconds. I was ecstatic.

"The food is really delicious. Where did you learn to cook?"

"Back home. I decided to, when I couldn't take my boyfriend's cooking one minute longer. His philosophy was 'everything but the kitchen sink' and all the dishes were so incredibly rich they had me running for the bathroom almost instantly." Hahahahahaha.

Did I imagine it or did he look a little sad when I mentioned a boyfriend? (of course, it is an ex I'm talking about, all my boyfriends are exes)

Amici Forever was playing softly in the background and I saw a faraway look steal into his eyes as he zoned out. I leaned over and whispered, there's also dessert to come, you know. He turned to me, coming back to earth and said, sorry, I just know this song, it's Ungrateful Heart. Yes, I grinned, nodding cheerfully, it is. Another sigh of relief. He liked my music selection. You may think I was being overanxious, but this was one fussy professor. An Elizabethan scholar. He disliked nearly everything contemporary - finding them brash and vulgar and just plain dumb. I fell in love with him over Shakespeare and Socrates.

After dessert, we watched the Othello bits in Stage Beauty. When I first watched Stage Beauty I was riveted. At the startling denouement I remember being pressed into my seat, hardly daring to breathe, going no, no, no, no, no! Of course I had to know what he thought of it.

"I loved it, but then I am easily pleased, wouldn't you say?"

He flashed me a look, suspecting sarcasm. We watched the beginning, where Desdemona died "beautifully". We watched the end, where she fought for her life. My other guests were as riveted as I had been. I stole a look at my lecturer. What did he think?

"That was really good. It was also very historically accurate, you know, the way the stage was set up and everything. They obviously did a lot of research. That was supposed to be Edward Kynaston?"

He had obviously heard of Kynaston. And when I mentioned Nell Gwynne, he nodded sagely: "Yes, the king's mistress." That's what it's like having an Elizabethan scholar watch bits of a period movie with you. They know all this stuff before you tell them. "What's it called again, Stage Beauty? I will have to get it out. Looks very good."

It was nearly eight and the two of them had to leave. His wife said: "We have to be up at the crack of dawn."

He said: "And these girls need to prepare for their exams."

We went out to his car to say goodbye. He thanked me for the lovely meal and the lovely evening. He opened the car door for his wife and saw her safely in. Then he came around to say goodbye and gave me a hug. It was long and satisfying. And I felt sad all over again.

I thought I was over him, but I guess I'm not.

I love you. You're perfect. Don't change.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Babe in Total Control of Herself

It was all about having the right comeback at the right time. It was all about keeping your knives sharpened so that the microsecond you were insulted, you could respond. Sometimes you practised in front of the mirror. It was that important. Timing was everything.

Rana was a star. She had her own column and civilians actually wanted her autograph. People knew her from her photo byline and she would be stopped in the street by fans who panted adoringly: "Are you the Rana Weera?" She wrote about being the most beautiful woman on the planet. And how a perfumer told her she had so much personality that she should host a talkshow. And how this extremely delectable black man addressed her as "Hey Gorgeous". And she was. Beautiful, that is. Just not svelte beautiful. And if you know anything about Malaysian men, you would know they insist on svelte beautiful.

It was an ordinary day in the office. The cheerful clatter of reporters pounding on stone age PCs. Hot and heavy flirting going on through the internal messaging system. One young recruit ducking under her table when she saw the news editor looking purposefully around, long press release in hand. Another one, with five files on her desk, on the phone, with her brow furrowed in concentration (she was talking to her mother).

Rana strolled over to Bubbly's desk to get a name card. Bubbly, who was working on a cheerful little piece on suicide, flashed her a million-dollar-smile and started rifling through her Rolodex. They were good friends but Bubbly was svelte beautiful. And she didn't have to write about being much sought after. She actually was.

Rana, tapping her foot impatiently: "Look, if you don't have it, just say so."

Bubbly, in saintly tones: "I don't like saying no to my friends."

Rana, with a sarcastic sneer: "Yes, rumour has it."

Bubbly's head snapped up. A loaded pause as she let her gaze wander over Rana's Rubenesque form.

Then: "At least I say yes and get somewhere."

Like I said. It's all in the timing.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Post-Colonial Discourse

We watch a short clip about an old man in an old folk's home who carries around a bit of turf he stole from the lawn bowling club. He has no sense of belonging anywhere. We read the novel White Teeth and discuss transnationalism. We talk about anal bleaching and how that reflects on post-colonial discourse. Did you know there is a cream to turn brown nipples pink?

My mother says: "Why are you so black?"

I say: "It's called melanin Mother, I just have more of it than you."

I sit through class because I love Susan and this is my second-last class with her. Ever. After this I graduate and return to my land of teh tarik and roti canai and perpetual haze and mosquitoes and people asking me in that patient, understanding tone: "When are you thinking of getting married?" And me replying with the sweetest smile I can muster: "Which part of GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE don't you understand?"

And now I have an essay to produce by Friday. An essay about concubinage in Malaya during the colonial times, contrasting the approaches of Somerset Maugham (colonial) and Simone Lazaroo (post-colonial).

They used to call us "little brown fucking machines", isn't that quaint? What's even better, they still do.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

40-year old virgin

I just watched the movie and it surprised me in many ways. I mean, you would think a 40-year old (male virgin) would have a stash of porn, masturbate continuously and be gagging for it. Instead, this guy had "hobbies" (no, not that kind, get your head out of the gutter), cooked elaborate meals and was very respectful of women. When he finally got into a relationship he held off on sex. When he was hit on by a skanky chick, he decided that he could not have sex with a woman he didn't respect. In short, this guy went against every stereotype of male virgins that I had built up in my head.

My view on male virgins was formed by a man I dated who was practically a virgin. Practically, not technically. He had never been kissed until he was 31. Little known fact: When you have sex with hookers (he had to get rid of his virginity somehow) you don't get to kiss. Yeah, he had his porn stash and his desperado stories. Women ran when they found out that their meetings were considered dates, and that he wanted to go further.

In university, he sneaked into the girls' toilet and wrote his name and phone number on the wall, along with, "wanna have some fun, call..." Needless to say, it didn't work. He considered joining the newly-formed Bonking Society in his uni, but desisted because it would have been too embarrassing. Instead he wrote long diatribes about the free sex indulged in by other students in the uni newspaper, earning him a few enemies who yelled as he passed by: "Hey loser, get that carrot out of your ass!"

So he played the odds and went all out to get laid without having to pay for it. No, not even the price of a date, because he always went dutch on dates. Once he "broke the curse", it was like all hell broke loose. He wrote a blog entry entitled: "Power" where he shared his newfound sexual magnetism with faithful readers.

"Where before I couldn't get a date to save my life, now all I have to do is have dinner with a woman and she falls desperately in love with me."

What can I say? Women are stupid. I know. I speak from experience.

Monday, October 24, 2005


My favourite priest is leaving. He said his last Mass today and I found tears snaking down my cheeks as he went out to a rousing rendition of "Shine Jesus Shine" by the youthful congregation (it was a youth mass). He is Irish with rosy cheeks and a comforting beard. I went out for coffee with him once and he was so terribly kind. Yes me, the superlative sinner having coffee with a priest. Laughable, I know, but there it is.

During Mass, they sang the "Prayer of St Francis":

Oh grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to consoled
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love with all my soul.

And I thought, maybe that's what's wrong with me. I seek to be consoled and understood. Not to either console or understand. It's a Liz Wurtzel-brand of self obsession. Oh poor me, my life's all fucked up. But it isn't see? It's great. I guess self-obsession always leads to this kind of freefall into emotional hell. Everything seems dark and hopeless and you don't even know why. You try to assign reasons for the void, but none actually make sense.

I walked to Blockbuster after Mass to return a DVD and thought about what it would be like to become a nun and lead a life of prayer and contemplation. Poverty, chastity and obedience. Away from these complicated complications that I don't understand. Maybe I would find peace.

And then I get a flashback to when I was 17 and I actually told our school nun that I wanted to join the Convent. She was kind. But she said:

"The religious life isn't a place to escape from life. You only join if you feel the call. And believe me you'll know if you feel the call. It's not ambiguous."

So I didn't get to run away. I had to "live" instead. Except that life hasn't felt like anything so much as a series of head-on collisions. I have barely survived. I spent three years in another place recuperating, getting my head around things again, sitting quietly in parks, smelling roses on my way back from the bus-stop. And now I have to return to the centre of chaos and something inside me just shrivels.

I don't know if I can take it. Underneath the bravado, I am scared and lost and helpless and alone. I don't want to fight anymore.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I was finally gonna leave this dump. I knew my boss Strang had approved my VSS (that's voluntary service separation for all you non-Malaysians who are wondering). And everyone knows, if your immediate boss approves it, your group editor will sign on the dotted line. I mean, he was way too important to know every stupid rookie in the place.

So when Strang called me into his office to give me "the letter" I was reasonably confident. I flashed him a sweet smile and he bared his teeth in return. Then he sighed.

"You didn't get it."

"What you talking about? I know you approved it. And that's all there is to it, right?"

"Yeah I approved it. I shouldn't have though. Arshad rejected it."

Arshad was our group editor. He existed in the rarefied regions of the fifth floor descending occasionally to take off in his chauffeur-driven seven series. He was not supposed to know me from a bar of soap.

"But why?" My face crumpled in disappointment. I had so wanted to leave this place. And this way I would be leaving it with heaps of money in the pocket.

"When he came to your form, he said, isn't this the one with the..." Strang paused delicately.

Now Arshad is about 100 years old. A tiny, dried-up old man with a face like the bark of a tree. So when I asked Strang to go on, I was genuinely not prepared for what he said.

"With the what? Come on Strang. Don't hold out on me."

"Well, you know how he is."

"No I don't know how he is. We had been taught in training to respect him as the god almighty group editor for crying out loud. What did he say?"

"Is this the one with the big boobs?"

"Ewwwwwww! The big what? He said that? He wouldn't sign my papers because of that? The bastard! And I don't have big boobs!"

Strang smiled. "Well no, it was not only that. He asked me why I approved your VSS and I opened my mouth to say you were unproductive. But then I shut it again. So I said, well you know we have to let some people go, and very few agreed to the VSS. And he said, brother, just because we have to let people go, doesn't mean we will let someone who is young, pretty and good at her job go. Not approved."

I felt surprisingly warm. My (admittedly pervy) 100-year old group editor actually knew who I was. And he thought I was good at my job. Months of walking around feeling isolated and unappreciated melted away.

I walked back to my desk and saw my colleague Mals eyeing me warily.


"Um, Arshad said no."

"Yay!" she broke into a spontaneous cheer. "I knew it, I knew it. Why?"

I stared at her for a while and then grinned mischiveously: "Apparently, he likes my boobs."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Churning

The thing to remember about Lisa is that she is not that type of girl. She has never gone up to a man she likes and asked him out. Even for a coffee. Usually she just gets this churning in her solar plexus that intensifies everytime he walks by. Once she almost fell over and had to go out for air. (God, how I wish I was kidding)

"Ask Ryan out, what's the worst that could happen?"

"He could say yes!'

"Come on! You're being facetious."

(We're both writing students. So we do use five dollar-words like facetious. Really!)

"No, really I'm not. If he agreed to go out with me, I'd spend all that time worrying about what I was going to say and how I was supposed to behave and even if it went really, really well, I'd worry about whether he actually likes me or if he is just being kind..."

"Chill sister, it's only a coffee. Look, I asked Charles out and he said yes. I had lunch with him and somehow that helped me to get to the other side. I am now officially over him."

Lisa reels for a moment. "You asked Charles out? On a date?????"

Let me explain her amazement. Charles is our lecturer. He is 60. We both think he's great, with a difference. Lisa thinks he's a nice (well actually, nice would be stretching it, maybe interesting?) guy while I am (actually, was) desperately in love with him.

"Well, it wasn't really a date. I mean, I am leaving after this semester and I asked if I could meet him for lunch once during the break. He said yes. So we had lunch. I asked him all the questions I wanted to and he answered. He was sweet but somehow it broke the spell. The churning in the pit of my stomach - that's gone."

Lisa looks terrified. She knows she is allowing herself to be talked into this crazy idea. But how can she go up to this guy she barely knows (but has a huge crush on, nonetheless) and ask him out?

Fast forward one day: We have both just come out of the theatre. It was a student performance of King Lear. Ryan played Edgar and we are both very impressed. He comes out from the actor's exit in jeans and a sleeveless t-shirt, nods at us, smiling, and prepares to leave.

Lisa asks: "Um Ryan, can I talk to you?"


I turn away. This is a private moment and I don't want to look. It's cold outside and I clutch my shawl around me, wondering how it is going. Oh God, what if he says no? Will she be OK? She really really likes this guy. I have never seen her act this way about anybody. Of course, I've only known her for a year or so.

Lisa joins me about five minutes later and I scan her face anxiously. She is smiling.


"No go. He has a girlfriend. I mean, he said yes to coffee but when I found out about the girlfriend, I begged off."

"Oh dear. I'm sorry. How do you feel?"

"Surprisingly good, actually. Like this weight has been lifted off. The churning's gone."

Yes. She felt the fear and did it anyway.

And that, as they say in Hollywood, is that.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Women: The New Men

"You know what they say. Women are the new men, hahahahahaha," DB laughed like it was the most hilarious thing in the world. Except that it wasn't. Not for him. His wife had left him for another woman (yes, it does happen outside FRIENDS) and now she was happily partnered while he was negotiating for space in his large double bed with his cat and dog. He was not frustrated, perish the thought! He was peaceful.

Women, the new men? I wondered. For as long as I could remember, we were chastised for being clingy, needy and demanding. Now it seems that most of the cool chicks I knew were happy to be alone, with a casual lover or two for physical gratification (or a really good vibrator, who can tell the difference?)

Take Eileen, for instance. She refers to love as the "L" word and marriage as the "M" word. If any man is stupid enough to mention either during sex, she stops, adjusts her perfect hair, and, to not put to a fine point on it, kicks his sorry ass out. She has a kid she picked up along the way and she may pick up another one. But no man. None. And that's the way she prefers to keep it.

Or Dawn. She's 65. Her boyfriend, 55. But she refuses to move in with him. She does her own stuff, goes her own way and tells him to stuff it when he gets overly sentimental.

Or Theresa, the coolest dudette I used to know, who succumbed to familial pressure and acquired the requisite suitable husband and kid. While she loves her kid, she laments her lost wings and finds motherhood severely "overrated". When she met my (admittedly unimpressive) fiance, she took me aside: "Don't let them fool you. You don't need to get married. Don't make the same mistake..."

DB said women were "afraid of commitment". That they were "not in touch with their feminine side". Independence, of course, being unfeminine.

"So how do you figure," I asked. "All this time, we were told to hide our feelings, be tough, build our own lives so we were not leeching on yours. I mean, how would you like a woman who called 20 times a day to ask if you loved her?"

"What's wrong with that? I mean, it's nice to know you're needed. I mean we don't even feel you need us anymore."

Damn straight, buster! We don't! And if you need to be needed, that's your problem. I could recommend a good therapist.

"But before, it was about boundaries and reining in emotion. And we got pretty darn good at it. And now that's a problem?"

"Yes, that's a problem. For Chrissake, it wouldn't hurt to show some estrogen!"

"Fuck you! We don't need you. We will never need you again. Deal with it!"

DB and I glared at each other, breathing heavily. (Cue weepy violins)

"So you wanna?"

"Huh? OK by me."

"My place or yours?"

Monday, October 17, 2005

Blogging about blogging (how low can you go?)

This is fast becoming my favourite blog. I never knew just how satisfying it could be to rant without anyone actually knowing who you are.

I have just finished a book written by a blogger, Julie and Julia which I would seriously recommend to losers like me who trawl blogs in desperate search of friends and like minds and commenters. Her life was coming apart. She was turning 30. So she decided to go through the Mastering the art of French Cooking cookbook and try every recipe. Oh yeah, and blog her way through it of course. If you cook 524 spectacularly difficult recipes and nobody hears it in cyberspace, does it still make a sound? Is the number 86 possible or even necessary?

Anyway, she acquired quite the following very quickly (ah, every blogger's dreams, comments on what you are actually writing and not nothing, or stupid spammy shite) and her "readers" (she referred to them as bleaders) would get upset if she didn't post. They would say: "Julie, where are you? Are you alright? What about the aspic? And the crustacean murder? And the tarts?"

Well anyway, I liked it. It was like reading a really funny, zesty blog (a cross between Ah Yes, Medical School and Belle in the Big Apple perhaps?), but you just got so much more. I mean, it was not a post, it was a whole fricking book. And she would sometimes tell you what the commenters were saying (invariably hysterical and funny and thought provoking and sometimes downright ineffable), so it felt like reading this large, large blog. Her blog caught on and then the Christian Science Monitor wanted to interview her, and then all the various newspapers and then Almighty New York Times.

All that publicity, like puppies on her doorstep, tongues hanging out, tails wagging. And then the book deal. Wow. They came to her. What do you say to that?????

About the only things I didn't like in the book were the annoying insertions of scenes from the life of Julia and Paul Childs, which were, of course, fiction. They jarred with the tone of the rest of the book, making it slightly off kilter. I skimmed through these (which were all in italics for crying out loud) until I got back to Julie ranting about some kitchen emergency, where I would settle down comfortably and read with interest and attention again.

Why is it that we only want to read about people we identify with going through stuff we can relate to? Is that why blogs are so popular? You feel that someone can relate? You want to talk to other commenters and get a conversation going about the exact meaning of "flying under the radar"?

Anyway, liked the book. Pick it up if you're a blog addict. It costs $29.99 Aussie dollars and you can get it at Angus & Robertsons.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Howker's Isaac Campion is a first person account of the death of Isaac's much-loved older brother and surrogate father Daniel and the subsequent disintegration of the family as a result. This death is the single most important event in Isaac's life and is remembered by him, more than 80 years later, in vivid detail. “April 17th 1901. That is the day of our Dan's death...That day's fixed in my mind like a picture. Do you know something? I can even smell that day...” From this, we can are able to gauge the extent of the impact of Daniel's death on Isaac, even before he spells it out.

The funeral is dwelt on in detail. Isaac describes the solemnity of the ceremony, with the family dressed in mourning and all the neighbours coming to pay their last respects. Death, in those days, was an event, and treated accordingly. Isaac was scathing about the modern fashion of pretending everything is normal to save everybody from embarassment.“Everyone could see you were grieving and so nobody was pretending that everything was normal, you follow me? Because life in a family is not routine when the eldest son dies, or when any of the family die.” The ceremony itself and the outward indications of mourning, seem to be as important as the grieving process itself. Here, we can see that death was acknowledged and grief respected.

Howker also dwells on the economic and emotional impact of Daniel's death. As Daniel helped his father with the horses, Isaac will now have to drop out of school to do so. Daniel's death also brings into sharp relief the discord between Isaac and Samuel. Daniel, easygoing and self-assured, had always acted as a buffer between the two. Now he is gone, Isaac is subjected to the full extent of his father's brutality. As for Samuel , he is unable to grieve for his son in a normal way. Eaten up by anger and hate, he plots revenge and murder, exposing himself to his younger son, in the process, as the weak person he really is. This culminates firstly in Isaac standing up to his father and then in his leaving the farm for America with his favourite uncle. He does not return to England until after his father is dead. Although his 96-year old self understands and forgives his father, it is clear that his younger self never did. He ran away from an image of what he could be, and in doing so, broke the vicious cycle of violence, passed down from generation to generation in his family.

While Isaac Campion only pretends to be autobiographical, Night actually is. It is Elie Wiesel's account of his experiences at the death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and in part a psychological study of what happens to human beings when they are placed in unrelenting spiritual, emotional and physical deprivation. While at the beginning Elie feels the full impact of the deaths he witnesses, the sheer horror of the situation hardens him and blunts his feelings. Eventually he simply records the deaths in an almost dispassionate manner, having lost his faith in both God and humanity.

When Elie, the hitherto mystic Jew, starts to lose his faith in God, he is left with bitterness. It resounds through his “prayers”. The long, slow process of deterioration starts the day he arrives at Auschwitz. He witnesses children and babies being thrown into the flames of the terrible crematorium. Later that night he lays awake contemplating what he saw and bidding goodbye to his soul. “Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.” He is angered by the poor prisoners who cling to their faith in the midst of their afflictions and while they pray, he stands aside cold, proud and angry, condemning rather than praising:“I was the accuser and God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man. Without love or mercy I had ceased to be anything but ashes, yet I felt myself to be stronger than the Almighty to whom my life had been tied for so long. I stood amid the praying congregation, observing it like a stranger.” He does not fast on Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, as a further act of rebellion. In giving up his faith, Elie gave up a major part of himself. The resultant void swallowed up everything else, including his love for his father, the most important person in his life. In the end he manages to keep his life but he lost his soul. As Ora Avni pointed out, Night is a negative Bildungsroman, in which the character does not end up, as expected, fit for life in society, but one of the living dead, unfit for life as defined by his community.

The book also documents the slow death of Elie’s love for his father. When he starts out at the camp, his father means everything to him. Gradually, however, the inhuman conditions drain his love away. He feels only irritation when his father “provokes” a beating. He watches the sons around him either kill their fathers or abandon them to die, and prays to a God he no longer believes in that he will not do the same. In the end, however, he does. When his father becomes ill, Elie watches an officer deal his father a violent blow with a truncheon and shatter his skull, not daring to interfere or offer relief. Finally, when his father is removed from the camp for the crematorium, Elie can feel nothing but relief. “There were no prayers on his grave. No candles were lit to his memory. His last word was my name. A summons to which I did not respond. I did not weep and it pained me that I could not weep. But I had no more tears. And, in the depths of my being, in the recesses of my weakened conscience, could I have searched it, I might have found something like – free at last!” Some time after he is liberated he manages to find a mirror. He has not seen himself since he was in the Jewish ghetto. “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”

The two books differ greatly in their treatment of death. Isaac Campion is more of a personal, family narrative. Daniel's death, while grisly, is purely accidental. It is treated with respect and the family grieves accordingly. As for Night, a proper grieving is not possible as too many have been wiped out. Elie, who has been stripped of feeling, is unable to mourn his father. There is no proper funeral and no prayers for the dead. While Isaac is able to find some form of resolution after his brother's death, Elie is condemned to hollow despair. He is betrayed by his God and he in turn abandons his father. It is something he will have to live with for the rest of his life. As he no longer possesses faith in a higher power, he cannot look to it for forgiveness. As he has stated repeatedly, Holocaust survivors live in a nightmare world that can never be understood.