Friday, March 31, 2006

A Little Soup

Last night I was pacing up and down my room, my mind churning vitriol, the worst of the worst thoughts swirling around, making myself furious with imaginary conversations, when I paused at the bookshelf.

What should I read now to ease my mind and put me to sleep? Agatha Christie? No, I read all these at least 40 times each. Jennings? No. Not interested. A little too banal. Charles Dickens? Not really. Jane Austen? Not in the mood. Salman, I'll read that when I get back and real life begins.

Then my eyes flickered over my Chicken Soup for the Soul collection. Several times. You see, there was a time when these were a mainstay with me. I would read and re-read the stories about people being nice to each other, overcoming obstacles, expressing love, and I would feel comforted. I remember when I was living alone and having a horrible time of it. So lonely that I would scream silently into pillows to relieve my feelings. I didn't have any money at the time (it was all being poured into rent, and as this was during the financial crisis, the company had frozen all our overtime, with which I had planned to pay the rent in the first place), but when I saw a new Chicken Soup book out, I would scrape together my coins, sally forth and buy it.

Then I would spend the next night going through each story, weeping copiously (but it was good tears, tears of release) and somehow feeling better after it. It was like talking to a non-existent friend. It was like someone stroking my hair. The reminder that love was out there, even if I was not personally experiencing it in my life at the time. But somehow, it was almost as if I was. It leapt from the page and comforted my sore and battered heart.

It was around this time that I actually met one of the co-writers, Mark Victor Hansen. He was speaking in Kuala Lumpur, and being a reporter, I managed to wrangle an interview with him. What can I say, he was as lovely as his books suggested. The anxious PRs hovered around, telling me sternly to keep it short as Mr Hansen needed to have his lunch, but he said, no problem, ask as many questions as you want. And he kept saying, one more story, one more story...

Like how there was this guy in jail (let's call him Jake) who spent all his time trying to plan the murder of the one who put him in there. Jake's sister sent him a copy of one of the Chicken Soup books and he read it six times. Then he wrote to the authors saying he was no longer planning that murder: "I bet that guy's relieved," Mark laughed.

He could see that there was something wrong with me at the time, so he gave me an extra special hug and told me to write to him when I had come through to the other side and had my own obstacle overcoming, coming-out-of-the-dark story to tell. I promised I would (and I will, once I have that story).

So I picked up a 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul and started reading. Pretty soon, I was blubbering, but like before, they were tears of release. I felt the ice walls inside dissolve and I went to sleep peacefully, without those destructive tapes playing havoc in my head.

A little soup goes a long way.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Implied Audience

I wonder how many of us skew our writing to please an implied audience. When I started this blog, it was because too many people I knew read my other one, and I was constantly having to edit out the stuff I didn't want them to know.

So fine. I started another one, completely anonymous, so I could bitch, rant, say whatever the hell it was I wanted to say.

And then something weird happened. I became a part of a small community. Other people read this (certainly more other people than there were reading my other blog). I found myself editing, editing, editing:

"No, I can't say that, no, that's not nice, no, let me try to put it another way."

Honesty seeped away, the way it always does, when there is an implied audience. An implied audience of really nice people you don't want to offend. I don't know if you've noticed, but I've been trying to recapture myself, leave in those nasty bits, so what you have is not a bowlderized version but the real me. Warts and all.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tagged and Weirded

Nancy tagged me and it seems I have to list out six weird things about myself. As before, I will do the tag without passing it on...I had to give it a lot of thought. Of course, to us, the crazy things we do don't seem weird at all; it's the rest of the world that is out of step. After much thought, I have come up with a sort of list. Oh well.

1. I am so indecisive I sometimes trip over my feet which are vainly attempting to walk in two different directions at once.

2. For the most part, I prefer to be alone. I like going for movies by myself, having tea by myself (with a book and a notebook, who can be lonely), walking around shopping centres by myself. I don't need a constantly chattering companion by my side as there is incessant chattering going on in my head.

3. I remember stuff from when I was a baby. Like the time I woke up crying, because I wanted my supper, and my mother sat up in the bed, tired and angry, and scolded me. I didn't know what she was saying (I didn't understand language at the time) but it was the first time anyone had spoken an angry word to me. My father got up, calmed her down, carried me off to the kitchen to make my milk. He broke my bottle. The thing is, I shouldn't have remembered this because I was only a few months old, but it was corroborated later by my mother who told me the story.

4. I don't like the pale beige of ordinary life. I prefer the violent reds or purples. Which is why I move from obsession to obsession. And I get obsessed about really strange things (or people). Salman Khan. Darren Hayes. My Shakespeare lecturer. M*A*S*H. The Waltons. Essays by Jeanette Winterson. Brown suede jackets. The doughnuts at Starbucks. The Lord of the Rings (extended versions, which I have watched at least 20 times each). Baking triple chocolate muffins. Anne Sexton.

5. I frequently like to smell my face. I do this by bringing my upper lip up to my nose and sniffing.

6. When I was a kid, I loved to let the air out of my mother's tires. I liked the whooshing sound.

7. I have to add another one. I am remarkably good at cancelling people out. Meaning that, once I reach a certain point, they have no existence for me. When I was 12, I had a nasty fight with my brother about nothing in particular. I didn't speak to him again for 17 years.


They found three pairs of clean underwear in his suitcase. Three pairs. I mean, when someone has three pairs of clean underwear left, surely they were planning on sticking around, at least for three more days. But sometimes there is an open window on a high floor and the call of a chilly night. Sometimes there is too much champagne and carbonated good cheer and a wedding when all feelings come to a head. Sometimes you step off and wish you hadn't but it's too late to reach out and there's no ledge to break your fall.

We were at Perth for my graduation. Staying at a relatively pleasant hotel in the heart of the city. I was doing my headless chicken impression, rushing around trying to catch up with half a dozen people, ploughing through Cabernet Merlot (with the occassional Shiraz), breaking a lot of promises I made when I left (I am coming back in March for graduation and when I'm here, I swear I'll call and catch up with you) and telling myself I didn't feel nervous about the whole graduation she-bang.

OK, so there I am, it's an ordinary night and the friends I am out with are giving me a lift home. It is one in the morning and the streets are deserted. But when we approach the hotel, we found the place cordoned off with crime tape. The police are there, looking grim, and I feel my heart leap into my mouth. My Mom is in the hotel, and if anything has happened to her, while I have been out gallivanting...

The police officer allows me behind the tape, when he discovers I am staying at the hotel and escorts me to the lift. There is a large woman in an inappropriately tiny white boob tube wailing on a sofa at the reception and another guy, on another sofa, who simply looks stunned. Bad vibes, bad vibes all around, I feel myself start to shake.

"What happened here?"

"You don't want to know."

"No, really, my mother was here and I do want to know."

"You don't want to know."

And that was that. I am convinced that a rape or a murder had taken place downstairs and my voice quavers as I call out to my mother to come open the door for me.

"Oh my goodness Jenny, do you know what time it is? Don't you realise you have your graduation tomorrow?"

"Um Mom, what happened here? Did you hear anything?"

"What do you mean? I was so worried and I tried to find your number to call you and look at the time..."

"OK, OK, I couldn't get a cab back and finally they had to send me home, but...the place is crawling with police and there is a woman bawling her eyes out at reception. Something happened here...didn't you hear anything?"

"No. Now go to sleep. You have to wake up early tomorrow. Try not to think about it."

Yeah, right. Like that is even possible. I toss and turn all night, squinting at the little digital clock near the bed which tells me it was all of 5 in the morning at one point. After that I refuse to look. My heart is tripping as I imagine all the nightmare scenarios that could have taken place downstairs. Or maybe even upstairs where I am. Suddenly I don't feel so safe anymore.

The next morning, I flew around half stoned trying to get ready for graduation. I was too nervous to be sleepy and I slapped on tons of make-up and squeezed into a floor-length ballgown, over which I threw the graduation robes. Not the scarf because I didn't know how to put it on, or the mortarboard, as that could come on, once I had reached the venue.

I met a guy in the lift with a clipboard. He looked like he belonged there. I was feeling a little diffident after the brush-off by the unsmiling policeman, but still...

"Are you with the hotel?"

Smile. "Yes. Why?"

"What happened last night?"

"A wedding guest jumped out of his bedroom window. He died. Naturally the rest of the wedding guests, to say nothing of the bride and groom, were really upset about it."

"Oh my God!"

"Yes, it was pretty awful."

"I don't know what to say..."

It was not what I had imagined, but horrendous nonetheless. I mean, this couple's wedding would be always tainted with the memory of this suicide. A jilted lover? Too much champagne? A depressed friend who didn't think he could go on?

What thoughts passed through his head as he climbed on his bed, opened the window and looked out into the chilly night? That life had become too unbearable, and here in the hotel room with the large unbarred windows, he was just a step away from oblivion?

Those three pairs of clean underwear, would seem to suggest different. That he hadn't planned on ending it all. That he had enough optimism to go on. If only for three more days...and then three more. And three more again.

Surviving the minutes until they turned into years and then, decades.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Knee Jerk

I have noticed that my knee-jerk reaction to anything is always wrong. It comes from years of negative conditioning and wrong-thinking. When something happens (or even when I imagine something happening) my chest tautens, my body tenses. I hold my breath for a while and fire starts rushing through my solar plexus. All ready, for the build-up, the eruption.

Then wham! The fire streaks out from me at any target within sight. I fight to kill. Nothing in-between. It's the way I've thought myself to think. As if nothing in-between is a good way to go. You don't have to tell me, I know. It sucks.

Lately, I've taken to pausing before each eruption. I allow myself to breathe. Then before I lacerate with words, something is tripped and I say, "knee jerk". As in "your knee-jerk" reaction is always wrong. Let's think about this before you open your big mouth and let everyone within the vicinity have it. Remember, knee-jerk!

Funny, but it seems to work. When people do something, say something or even look something that offends me, I find myself taking a second or two to react. That second or two is precious. Most time it cools me right down and allows me to gain some form of perspective.

Knee Jerk!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Return of the Beast

"Oh God, the guy is nearly 100 and there he is, still raring for a fight. Why doesn't he just pop off gracefully instead of interfering and causing trouble this way?"

My friend shook his head over a cup of designer coffee. We had agreed to meet at one of these expensive cafes near his office, and as usual (you can't avoid it here) talk had steered round to our erstwhile Prime Minister and his shenanigans.

"Yeah, I guess he's mortified. He's been head honcho so long, I guess he bought into the lie that he would always continue to be in control. Even when he handed over the reins. Something like Lee Kuan Yew," I offered.

My friend was unimpressed. He went on to detail all the ways Mahathir was poking his nose into what was essentially not his business, causing trouble for the sake of it and just behaving like a belligerent old man reverting to second childhood. "If anyone else had done this while he was PM, they would have been slammed in jail before could you could say ISA."

I nodded thoughtfully. They would have. And even though the guy had been out of power now for a couple of years, I still looked around the cafe carefully to see if anyone was eavesdropping on our conversation. It was a legacy from my Mahathir years, where everyone watched everyone because it wasn't safe to express a negative opinion of the man and you never knew who might be listening.

I remember when I first joined the press as a trainee. I didn't know then that the man was God. A senior reporter told me that the Press Club (where my friends and I hung out nearly every Friday) used to be a Special Branch (that's our secret service) interrogation centre. She said the reporters knew where the hidden cameras were and would shake their fists at them saying, "Fuck Mahathir" in loud, ringing tones, over a glass of beer. Or whisky. I was filled with admiration. How could they be so brave?

I had only been in the newspaper for a short time, but I was beginning to be aware that nobody did this and lived to tell the tale. He was referred to as "The PM". Our "Our Beloved PM" (this in speeches during most official functions). Or Datuk Seri. Or "the old man" (affectionately, of course). He laid down the law, forced his opinions on everybody, micromanaged us to death (he once wanted a reporter in my newspaper fired for using two "inappropriate" words in a stock market report - nobody bloody reads these reports anyway), and gradually, people accepted this and saw this as right. And even felt his hugely paternalistic approach was for the good of the country. The newspapers were gelded, the judiciary, a bloody joke...but so what? I mean it was not democracy like they had in the West (but look what their form of democracy got them? Immorality and race riots and people blowing up buildings), it was a "controlled democracy", where everything was done for the "good of the people". Sometimes, people needed to be led. They didn't know what was best for them. He did. He knew everything. Omniscience is an awful burden. No wonder, it took only 21 years for the guy to finally break down and quit his job, sobbing, like a, like a, well, like a child.

They recently staged a Julius Caesar, where the Caesar came across as a loud, pushy, blustering old man. When he was killed, everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief...because it was only right for a man like that to be killed. I think the director misread the situation and the play, both. Ours was not a Julius Caesar-type situation, and he didn't need to sacrifice Caesar's character in that way to make his point. He should have staged King Lear instead for everyone to have gotten the parallel. Lear, handing over the reins, but expecting to remain King. Lear railing against his ungrateful children for not loving him after they pretended to. Sharper than a serpent's tooth...

I recently read an article from the "independent press" which said, because of the changes in the country now, fuel hikes, etc, the Mahathir years are starting to look good. To the writer, all I can say must be suffering from a severe bout of amnesia.

Have you already forgotten what it was like?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Oh life, where is thy sting?

The very last time I saw him, I ran away and kept running. I was terrified and he was drunk and it was a small place and I was in a strange country and there was really, nowhere to run.

I called everyone I knew and they turned up, pulling him away from me, as he staggered threateningly forward, telling him to lay off. Someone else, a friend of friend, sent a car, and got me the hell out of there.

Before I left, I glared at him, angry, disgusted at this wreck of humanity who had dared woo me over the Internet, pretending to be what he wasn't, even more disgusted at myself for ignoring the glaring signs along the way, that Denzil was no more than a broken-down alcoholic.

"Why don't you kill yourself?" I suggested.

"Wessy?" he named his daughter, his eyes whisky-moist.

"She doesn't need you. I think you would be more useful to her, dead."

He wept. Piteously. I turned away. Icy.

And that was the last time I saw him.

I blocked his email addresses, so he wrote to a friend of mine:

"I've been ill in hospital. Jaundice. If Jenn would just write to me as a friend, let me know she cared at least a little, I would feel so much better."

My friend told me and I lost my temper. "Jaundice, isn't that related to the liver? His illness has nothing to do with me. He's a fucking alkie. Besides, why the hell would I want to make him feel better? I want him dead! If there was anything I could do to speed that process now, I'd do it in a shot."

My friend sighed. "It's not for you to decide if he lives or dies, Jenn."

"No, I suppose it isn't. Just don't try to lay a guilt trip on me, OK? It won't work because I don't give a flying fuck!"

Oh you, whom I've hated so terribly...

I got an email this morning from someone I met in India. Someone Denzil had introduced me to. He told me that the man had a heart attack on March 12 and died in Thailand. His body was cremated by his wife's family and sent back to Bombay. The mutual friend went on to add:

"Denzu was a gentle and sweet tempered soul. We all will miss this kind and nice friend."

Sunday, March 19, 2006


We tell stories of the events in our lives, stories that define us, and as we grow older and gain perspective, these stories change. Sometimes we stop seeing ourselves as victims and acknowledge the part we had to play in bringing about our sad and sorry outcomes. Here is one of my mine:

1. He was my first love and I adored him terribly. Such a bad boy which was half the attraction (although being a good Catholic Convent girl) I could never admit it. Naturally I tried to "reform" him. And he responded (or at least I thought he did). He started going to Church, I took him for Confession, we were all set for a life together, oh I don't know, maybe ten years down the road. He was a bad boy but now he was getting good. He loved me back. I know he did. Those other girls, they were not suitable. OK, so we always got bored talking to each other; those daily phone calls, I would look forward to them, but when he was actually on the phone, there were many pauses filled with the silence of two people who didn't really have anything in common, or anything to say to each other. So what? He became progressively crueller. Hurt my feelings. Then I found out he was fooling around on me and broke up with him. We got back together that same day because I forgave him. And besides, she didn't mean anything, she was in trouble and he was just trying to be nice. She was a friend and going through rough times and he was there to hold her hand. Hmmm. Hold her hand. I didn't like it, at 17, that seems a terrible betrayal, but still, I guess I could live with it. Especially since he said he wasn't gonna give her up. And then, we broke up anyway when he was leaving to study in KL. We broke up because my Mom insisted, but really, he didn't put up much of a fight. Just let it be. And less than a year later, he tried to get back together. But by then, I realised that he bored me. I had come to KL too, my horizons were expanding, I met many new people and I couldn't bear the thought of those interminable phone conversations, saying nothing, leading nowhere.

2. Well, he was sort of my first boyfriend, I was attracted to his bad boy reputation, but I should have known, he was bad through and through. And dumb. Really dumb. I think I can forgive a man anything except utter stupidity. He never had anything interesting to say. Didn't read so he couldn't discuss books. Or ideas. The mind of a three-year-old. Really dumb. And... he cheated on me. That bloody stupid good-for-nothing. With a stupid bimbo junior from school. He was cheating on me the whole time. They did everything but actual sex, (he told me later) and then of course, she dumps him and he comes running back. Can you believe it? He comes running back to me after he is left out in the cold. One of my colleagues in the newspaper went to college with him. She told me she used to talk to him because she felt sorry for him. He was so pathetic, no girl gave him a second look. That's why he came running back to me after he got dumped. He suddenly found himself girlfriendless and unwanted, a fucking reject. When I first saw him at a press conference and learned that his Dad had pulled strings to get him a job at a rival newspaper, I was contemptuous. He looked at me, expecting recognition, a greeting, some form of acknowledgement, but I turned away coldly and ignored him. As a newbie, wet-behind-the-ears reporter he was now less than nothing. Beneath me. Not good enough to associate with. And I would never forgive him for cheating on me all those years before. When I hate, I hate for life.

3. I went into that relationship with my eyes open. We were not suitable for each other, me for him or him for me. Really. We had the misfortune of having best friends who were going out with each other who decided to play matchmaker. Although I knew who he was, even before that and had been terribly attracted to him. (Everyone knew who he was - he was famous, notorious in our small circle and I gained a certain notoriety going out with him) Let's face it, he was cute. And at 17, that counts for a lot. I now feel sorry for him. When you're a teenager you want to have a partner who is fun and flirty and wild like you. He wanted to talk about sex. I wanted to quote Scripture. I mean to say, what? She was the girlfriend he was supposed to have. And I, funny as it may have seemed at the time, was the intruder in their relationship. Of course we bored the hell out of each other. When you're not meant to be together, when you have nothing in common, that's what happens. And there is no way of papering it over. You either live miserably together, for the sake of appearances, or you cheat on each other. Better still, you break up and stay broken up. When he admitted years after we had broken up that he was fooling around on me, I was furious. My pride, more so than my heart, took a beating. I wanted to hurt him back so badly. So, when he called, practically in tears to tell me that his then-girlfriend was leaving for England, I laughed and said she would find some nice Englishman and dump him because he was worth so little. "You've changed," he said with a sob in his voice. "You're a bastard," I said evenly. And as you know, it doesn't matter what you say or do to bastards. They have no feelings we need care about. He never called again and we stopped speaking. Years later, I saw him and turned away. He was my my first mistake, the first in a long line of losers I dated and I would just pretend it never happened. That he didn't exist. You see, I always secretly felt I was too good for him. And when someone you're too good for cheats on you... As I said, it was more pride than feeling. Maybe if I see him now I will nod and smile. And maybe he will turn away. But at least, I'll feel a little better about it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I like walking along the beach, barefoot, by myself. Watching the inexhaustible waves. Feeling them wash away these pieces of my broken heart. Sometimes, I think I can fool the world into believing I don't care. And I do. I fool them all. But then, you see, the thing is, I can't fool myself. And I do care. And that's what makes everything so fucking hard. I care, I care, I care, I care.

Imperturbability? HAH!

So I make hundreds of resolutions. I have filled maybe 20 goodly-sized journals with them. I resolve to endeavour to try to pull myself up by the bootstraps. Start afresh. Go somewhere. Achieve something.

But it's all flat, flat, flat. Tepid. A Coke left out in the rain. No more fizz. No more bubbles. No more life. No more champagne. What happened to effervescence? What about that little spark of joy that starts in the solar plexus and travels up to my throat?

Let's see. Let's do a he said, she said, shall we? Just for fun.

He said: I love you. Will you marry me?

Then he said: Oh, yeah, but it comes with provisos. I think we could both work on you, make a few improvements.

She said: I thought you said you loved me.

And he said: I do, I do, but what's love anyway. We live to evolve...we should make improvements. What you need is a loving hand to guide you.

Here's where she should have told him to go fuck himself.

Instead, she said: What did you have in mind?

And he said: I've lined up a personal trainer. He will be here on Saturday.

And he said: No, I think you've had enough. No dessert. Don't forget what we're trying to achieve.

And he said: Have you gone running today?

And she said: My soul is no longer my own.

And he said: Don't exaggerate.

And she said: Look, no offence, but I need my own space. I want to move out.

And he said: You want to move out? Really?

And she said: You betcha.

And he said: In that case, it would be better for us to break up.

And so they did. And they wrote each other out of their respective stories. And years later, she saw him across the street, walking with his wife, both chubby, middle-aged and happy...and she wrote the following:

I'm not there,
You know I'm not
You have cancelled me out
a hole in the air,
an absence
that was never

That picture you took,
has started to fade,
It knows what you've done.
It knows.

Replaced me with flesh and bone
a bellyful of tubes,
pumping real blood.

She's vivid,
with reds and blues and purples.
Rubens, perhaps?
while I am sepia-tinted
unfocussed, blurred.

You can cancel history,
Rewrite the past
so I cease to exist,
if you say it often enough,
they will believe you,
they will believe.

I feel the wind,
blow through me now,
I feel the gazes slide off,
I'm a hole in the air,
I'm just not there.
Not there.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Old friends

I bumped into her at the bookshop (where else would you find me?) and that she was startled to see me, was evident. We gazed at each other for a while, sizing up the other's weaknesses. I'd been back three months and hadn't called her. Hadn't intended to. Although I knew in the close circumscribed circle in which I moved in KL, I was sure to bump into her some place or another.

I watched her regard me thoughtfully. She was looking for contrition, maybe a little apprehension. But I kept my face carefully devoid of expression.

"Hello Jenn, what are you doing here?"

"Looking for a card."

"I wrote to you about a month ago, how come you never replied?"

"Did you? That's funny, I never received any email."

"It was on the Yahoo Messenger."

"Oh I see, that doesn't count. I hardly log on and besides, everything gets erased the moment you lose your connection."

"What's wrong with you? Why are you acting like this?"

"Nothing. I'm just not interested in pretending to be friends with you. I don't like you very much and am not a good an actress as you are."

"How dare you? Where were you when I needed you? You knew my Dad was dying, my husband had left me, you knew things were not right with me..."

"And? I spent all this time trying to be your friend. You pushed me away. Turned cold without an explanation. No, I don't give a flying fuck that you were going through hell. You're always going through hell aren't you? Always some reason for everyone to feel sorry for you. You like the attention and the drama...sorry, not into that. Go find some other sucker whose willing to listen, pat you on the shoulder and tell you things are going to be alright."

The words shivered in the air between us. I was trembling. All these years, they were stuck in my throat and finally, finally, finally, I got to say them. I watched her flinch. Then close up. Self protect.

She held me with that nonchalant gaze and yawned. Deliberately. "I don't know what you're getting so upset about. The least you can do when you meet old friends is try to be civil. Dear old Jenn, always the drama queen."

And with that she turned and walked away.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

No to Yuck?

Do you ever feel like you're resisting the world you're living in? Like you shut your ears to the news, refuse to read the papers, because if you don't know about it, it didn't happen? And doesn't the world have a way of creeping up on you and imposing itself on your notice anyways?

My sister had a "say no to yuck" policy, where if it was bad news (somebody died, somebody fought, something got blown up) she didn't want to know about it. It made her too angry or upset. But eventually, the news would filter through and there she would be experiencing all those emotions she had tried to avoid.

But why should I talk. I'm worse than she is. Much worse.

There's none so blind...

Even when I was working in a newspaper and expected to be up-to-date on all the inane happenings of the world, I resisted, keeping up only with the happenings in my beat (to see who scooped who) and blotting out the rest. I just didn't want to know. Nasty news upset me so much I couldn't sleep at night. So I stuck to my Chicken Soup for the Soul alternate view on life, people being nice to each other and overcoming obstacles.

A typical conversation with my Mom, who devoured the entire newspaper as well as the evening news would be...

"So what do you think of what happened in Chile, ah? Wasn't it terrible?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh come on, it was front page news..."

"You think I got nothing better to do than read my crummy newspaper?"

Mom is a simple soul. She could never understand the permutations of my twisted mind. She'd sigh at this point, giving up the idea of an interesting discussion on world events with her supposed journalist daughter, and ask about my health, my taxes, whether I had gone to church that week. If our conversations were monotonous, it wasn't her fault.

Lately I have been trying to let the world creep in. I try to quell the rising anxiety, the panic attacks. It has to even out someplace.

I go shopping and buy three pairs of shoes.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Back to the future!

So I pull up at the entrance of my old office. The security guard squints into my car, his eyebrows raised inquiringly. Recognising me, he gives a tired sort of smile and I grin right back.


"I'm here to see one of the reporters. A meeting." Hah. I'm actually here for tea with her and can't be bothered to find a parking space outside. If you want to park inside, you have to have an official reason to be there. Them's the rules. I almost wish I dressed more conservatively. Light blue slacks and a brown velvet blouse don't actually suggest business meeting. But then, I don't fit my business suits anymore. I barely fit into the blue slacks. Jogging, yeah, I'll go jogging tomorrow.

This is the first time I am entering my old office since I've been back. Another guard looks at me, and with typical security guardlike charm tells me that I have become incredibly fat. He puffs out his chubby cheeks and says, fat, fat, fat, just in case he hasn't managed to get his point across the first time. He must be twice my size. It's incredible how nothing ever changes here.

Another one takes my driver's licence (I need a security tag here, important newspaper after all) and asks if I will be returning to the newspaper. I say no. He asks what I'm doing now. I say freelancing. Which is sort of my noncommital answer to this question. It's better than saying, um, just bumming you know. Which is what my sister said for eight whole months, before she got her job. It was time well spent though. She watched M*A*S*H reruns for eight hours a day and tuned out when the folks bugged her about it.

My friend comes down to join me. She says, let's go to the mamak place outside. And I say, but I've parked the car inside. Won't the guards kick up a row? And she says, not if you're with me. Sure enough, they nod smilingly at us as we ease ourselves out of the tiny aperture at the side gate, left open to allow human bodies (but not cars) through. She has a surprise. She has been transferred to another section and promoted to editor. Effectively immediately. I laugh and congratulate her and she fixes with that penetrating look of hers:

"So what are your plans?"

I shrug nonchalantly: "Dunno. Freelancing for the moment."

Her forehead creases: "Kuti*, that's not very stable. And you know, freelancers get paid pittance and like months and months late."

Many people have told me that. They say you need a real job. Come work for us. Either that or we'd love you to come work for us, but I think you'd be too expensive.

"Yeah, but that's the newspapers and magazines. I want to do projects for the corporate sector. They pay well and quickly," I smirk. Actually I have just come from two significant job-type meetings at Megamall. At least one is good to go, which means I'll have some cash, come next month.

She tells me about her new job: "My mandate is to turn my section around. I don't want anymore PR bullshit interviews with some stupid salesgirl selling cosmetics. And if they have to write about handbags, why not write something interesting, like what sort of handbag would suit someone with a big ass like me. Valid fashion question, what?"

I start to giggle. I can just imagine how her first staff meeting must have gone.

"So, you want to write for us?"

Oh oh. I didn't realise that this was quite the turn our conversation was taking. "Um...well, what kind of stories did you say you were looking for?"

"I told you. Real stories. About real people. In-depth stuff. Something people would actually like to read. Come on, prove to me that you actually deserve the degree they're giving you."

The thing is, I'm never good at proving anything to anyone. Especially someone like her, who is terrifyingly intelligent and tends to intimidate me with her black, beetling brows. Besides, I took the degree to have a three-year time-out from life. And learn something along the way, obviously. Here I am, three years later and...well, I can quote Shakespeare with the best of them, tell you that Julius Caesar was not politically relevant over here (they should have staged King Lear instead), explain why I hate the Futurists, consider the prospect of a Virginia Woolf novel without blanching, not gaze blankly at you when you mention Foucault or Bakhtin, but really, how do I prove I can write?

By writing, obviously. Ah, yes.

We finish our teh halia si kosong (ginger tea with milk, no sugar) and I saunter up to her office with her. I find I have committed to writing at least one article for her. It's one of those things that will require a doglike determination. The people in question don't want to talk, I am gonna have to turn into aggressive, ruthless journo to go after it, and frankly, I hate being aggressive ruthless journo, but she is all excited.

Her boss strolls over and looks at me curiously. "You look familiar, haven't I seen you someplace before?

Duh! Like I only worked here for 11 years!

"No," I smile limpidly at him. "I have a common face. You must be mistaking me for someone else."

My friend quips: "Yeah, you probably met her evil twin."

He continues to stare at me, so I help him out: "Jennifer."

"Oh yeah. I remember you. How are you? What're you doing now?"

"Oh nothing. Just bumming. Have to go now. Bye."

It's the end of the day now. I find I have committed myself to at least four different jobs, all with deadlines within a short space of each other. Maybe I was a little over-enthusiastic.

Oh's been nice.

Just bumming.

* Child. In Malayalam. Our common language.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I just watched an episode of Extreme Makeover, my first, and I have to admit, I was rather startled. It wasn't as superficial as I thought it would be. And yet it was.

Two months to change you physically. To change your life "forever". What about the stuff inside? How did that change? Were these people subjected to motivational seminars, good literature, loving company?

I mean, did they spend most of the two months in darkened rooms, recovering from the plastic surgery? Who talked to them? How did they pass those interminable minutes?

I can live through anything but the minutes.

"I could see his mouth move soundlessly and as I read lips, I knew he was saying, you're beautiful, you're exquisite, you're dazzling. Over and over again."

"You don't know what it feels like to look into the mirror and actually like what you see."

"And suddenly, there I was. Young again. I finally looked like me."

You'll see it when you believe it.

I don't.

I broke up with Ernest today. I thought it best. The weather continues charming.