Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me

For my friend, John

Last night I dreamt
That somebody loved me
No hope, no harm
Just another false alarm
Last night I felt
Real arms around me
No hope, no harm
Just another false alarm

So, tell me how long
Before the last one?
And tell me how long before
Before the right one?

The story is old, yeah I know
But it goes on...
The story is old, yeah I know
But it goes on...

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Music Swims Back To Me

Mark woke me up today. He said, did I wake you and I grunted sleepily. So he remarked, yes, sorry to call you so early, right at the crack of noon, no less. And I said, it makes me no never mind. I tried to explain that I only dropped off when the paperboys raised a racket delivering their inky loads, and he said, what, insomnia again? And I nodded miserably into the phone, despite the fact that my gesture was futile, my phone lacking one video camera.

And then I said, oh happy day, callooh callay and danced in the airwell to my own caterwauling but Mark remained circumspect. He hung up on me after a brief conversation on weather and streptomycin and I lumbered over the black household god to see if anyone had typed words to me. (I found the secret code positioned strategically the back of certain magazines and was eager to share this theory with my tribe but I received nothing in reply)

My dearth of emails didn't bother me. Much. I danced some more and broke into my father's whisky cabinet. Pouring myself a liberal dollop of McCallan's, I read out loud from my latest book, to the television. "Thinkest thou we shall ever meet again?"

And the teevee spoke over me because it is impervious. I wonder if that made me pervious. But I felt more gruntled than not.

The neighbours were beginning to pass my gate purposefully, peeping in to see what all the racket was about. Waving my glass of whisky, I pranced out and told them that our electricity load estimates were way off base and we didn't need so many power stations. They listened gravely and chattered to each other in dialects I could not understand. So I tried to tell them about Dr Amory Lovins and how he said we could slash power consumption by 75 per cent.

They lost interest (everyone loses interest when you bring in percentages) and went back in their respective houses. I danced about and the skies were dark and lowering.

"Ahhhhhhhhhh" I sang.

"Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" I sang.

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" I sang.

The neighbours emerged from the fastnesses of their hideouts.

"SHUT UP!" they screamed.

"Ahhhhhhh!" I countered.

We harmonised something wonderful.

Then beep beep, there went my phone. A friend wanted to have a very serious conversation about semicolons. "Kurt Vonnegut said that semicolons are for pretentious wanks," I assured her soothingly.


"Doesn't that make you a wank?" she wanted to know.

"I suppose it does. Haha, I'm a wank; I'm a wank; I listen to no one; not even the great Vonnegut," and I was off dancing again.

After all, it made me no never mind.

The mango tree regarded me sternly, so I hugged it and murmured soothing imprecations.

It didn't calm down so I gave it a little whisky.

And then the storm broke out and the tree danced with me.

"Take off your clothes," it rustled.

"Not right now, if you don't mind," I pleaded amiably.

"Why not?"

"Humans are not nearly as civlized as mango trees."

My mango tree sighed. "I think you'd better go in little girl. You've had enough whisky for one day. Single malt notwithstanding."

I felt sad that it didn't want to play but I shuffled inside obediently. The neighbours broke out in a cheer, so I turned and bowed.

Anne Sexton said: "Oh music swims back to me."

I said: "And candour flies out the window."

The mango tree crooned: "Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by..."

And I rapped: "Shake that booty, shake that bark, come on let's take a walk in the park!"

We harmonised something wonderful.

And music swims back to me...

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I finished Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins today.

Still to go are:

1. Will in the World - Stephen Greenblatt
2.A Nyonya in Texas - Lee Su Kim
3. The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles
4. An Autobiography - Bienvenuto Cellini
5. Where I Came From - Joan Didion
6. Moonfleet - J. Meade Falkner
7. Billy - Pamela Stephenson
8. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis - Alan Jacobs
9. The Jungle is Neutral - Spencer Chapman
10. Lighthousekeeping - Jeanette Winterson
11. Specimen Days - Michael Cunningham
12. Wodehouse: A Life - Robert McCrum
13. Remembering Babylon - David Malouf
14. All The Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy
15. The Plot Against America - Philip Roth
16. All My Dreams Came True: A Journey of Life, Love and Death - Abigail Judd Bishop
17. Stones for Ibarra - Harriet Doerr
18. After Henry - Joan Didion
19. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts - Maxine Hong Kingston
20. Pepita - Vita Sackville West
21. Storylines - Bruce Chatwin
22. Shalimar the Clown - Salman Rushdie
23. The Great War for Civilization - Robert Fisk
24. Past Mortem - Ben Elton

Think Maxine Hong Kingston will be next.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Romancing the Crone



Are you still rooting around for a reason to breathe?

Not today.

What's different about today?


Jane Austen?


And how many others?

About 25.

A veritable library.


And after you are free to stop breathing?

Technically, yes.

How long do you think it will take.

Well I was averaging a book a day so I would have said 25 days. But All The Pretty Horses confounded me. So I switched to Freakonomics. It may be more.

Freakonomics? Good one. Conclusions?

That I will never be an economist.

Why not? You're crazy enough.

Yes, but I always base my conclusions on a sample size of one. They call it anecdotal. I call it the last word in truth.

I see your problem there. What conclusions did you draw from this sample size of one?

People who read nothing (and I mean nothing) but The Malaysian Accountant are so boring, they're scary.

And you extrapolated that from...

Yeah, from...

But he was scary.

I know. But maybe he's Unique. Maybe there are other factors that cause the uninterest in books which lead to his stagnant pond, relate-the-same-anecdote-fifty- million-times sort of personality.

You mean the lack of reading could be an effect, not a cause?


I see your point. But The Malaysian Accountant? I mean, come on.

Oh yeah, that and Auditors' Reports: The Best Of, series.

You're shitting me.

I'm not.

So 25?


Care to tell me what?

No, not really. Too much of a fag. But you take one trip to England, throw in one birthday and two booksales and you have...

A library?

You got it!

OK then, call me when you want to stop.


No, breathing.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


She sweeps into the place abruptly and you can tell from the tightening of her oval jaw and the harsh flicking of her long black hair that she's fighting mad.

I savour my spoonful of ice-cream, butter pecan topped with hot fudge, rolling it around on my tongue and finally closing my eyes in sheer bliss as it slides down my throat. In front of me, Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, too consuming to set aside.

A card-carrying hedonist. That's me. Or do I mean a sybarite? OK whatever.

I smile politely anyhow and raise my hand in greeting. Also I drop the other hand surreptitiously to feel the soft folds of fat beneath my loose dress. Bones and angles make me nervous. God forbid I should starve into them, the skinny ones.

No dessert please, I'm on a diet.

Chocolate? Why that's positively sinful!

Don't be naughty, you know I can't have cake.

And don't even get me started on ice cream

She seats herself opposite and looks at my pleasure in disgust. Funnily enough this only serves to sharpen my enjoyment. Not on purpose, mind you. I'm not trying to piss her off. God seems to have left something out when She made me.

A thin skin, perhaps. Or maybe angst.

"Weren't we supposed to meet at Harley's? At like 7?"

I nod cheerfully. We were, of course. Only the last three times we were supposed to meet at Harley's at 7 she swanned in at 8. No hard feelings. I read my book in a corner and enyoyed my screaming orgasm on the beach. The drink of course. But today, I craved a butter pecan with hot fudge.

Beep. Missed call. Beep. SMS.

"Where the fuck are you?"

I don't hold with profanity. No need to get upset.


Which is why she sweeps in here, in her little black number (she has about 50 of them, all told, there are nuances she says, they all say the same thing, I say) eyes gleaming dangerously.

I keep spooning the wonderful mixture into my mouth and wonder if I feel like another one while she taps an impatient foot and forbears to mention that I'm like, so fat, and I shouldn't be eating all this junk and that I really, really should let her personal trainer look at me. She has before. And she would now, if she knew it would upset me. But the thought of stripping down all my comfortable flesh to be a clothes hanger - all sharp corners and bitter diatribes, like, on purpose, makes me giggle.

"Why don't you go on to Harley's first? I'll come join you," I drawl lazily.

"You know I can't. You know the moment I get there, they'll hit on me."

But she gets hit on even more when I'm there. The perfect foil for her magazine-arbitrated beauty. That's why I'm there I guess. An unlikely friendship, this. I bring a book to read so the lucky guy doesn't think he will have to include me in the conversation. I don't do the yawn-stifling thing very well.

And she leaves with whoever. Sometimes, she tells me about them. All these men. All versions of each other. I don't think she gets as much pleasure from them as I do from a single spoonful of butter pecan.

All those steamed vegetables. And half a grapefruit.

It must be hard.

I smile some more.

I want to be a writer. And my folds give me that magic cloak of invisibility. Nobody looks at me. No guy sidles over to chat me up. I get to listen in on conversations, see people being themselves, see all these stories playing out around me.

I come home and write them down.

Read them to myself and laugh.

And laugh.

And laugh.

It's all so ridiculous.

Too deliciously funny.

Even comforting, somehow.

La dolce vita.

I will never stop laughing.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

No, I'm not ignoring you; I just don't have my phone!

I left my mobile in JB. Well, it was four in the morning. I had spent a tortuous night watching eight episodes of Supernatural (yeah, I know it's not very good, but it's addictive). And then I decided it was time to take-off for my three-hour drive back to KL. Because, of course that's what anyone would decide under the same circumstances. I took out my phone and placed it next to my pillow in anticipation of a nap. I didn't take that nap.

So, if you've sent me SMS-es or tried to call and think I'm ignoring you on purpose, I'm not.

I'm just Phone-less in Petaling Jaya.

Both inconvenient and liberating.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

He Needs Space

He stands trembling in the middle of the room like a slender papaya tree in a tropical rainstorm. Slowly he unfurls blossoming out towards the edges of the room as his eyes resolve themselves into points of darkness.

He needs space to express his madness.

And then a howl is torn from his throat shattering the crystalline icicles of conversation. They were talking about Plato. And poetry. And roses. And second-level signification.

He needs space to express his madness.

A wall is inanimate. It doesn't mind if you smash it. It won't complain if you call it ugly. It never leaves.

He needs space to express his madness. Space and an audience.

He comes for the wall with a mop carelessly left there by someone has never seen the demon gaze or heard the enraged animal cry emerge from this small, neat, dapper person. He raises the mop to bring it crashing down on... but trips on a pool of porridgy vomit. The mop is sent flying as the wall cowers in a corner and whimpers.

He doesn't hear.

He needs space to express his madness.

Space and an audience.

And there is always tomorrow to unmake tonight. Whisky cancels memory and with it consequences.

And walls, even the animate ones, don't tell tales.

Monday, February 05, 2007

More Of The Same

What do you write when the days are interminable and there is really nothing to say? You don't. Instead you copy other people's words in hopes that that will amuse or entertain anyone who stops by. Preferably about someone who is the opposite of you.

The Mysterious and Magical Lives of KC (from The Way of the Wanderer by David Yeadon)

Maine's lovely, lonely, pine-clad islands attract many offbeat characters. Some are the flotsam and jetsam of war traumas or of a world gone slightly wacko. They wash up on the shores at random intervals. Most stay only a short while, make a few bucks or live off scraps of welfare, and then move on in search of other places, other answers. A few stay and reinvent their lives and become, eventually, accepted "comers-in".

But then there are the "loners", the "hermits", the "gurus", who quickly vanish into the thick pine forests of these small, wild places, set up reclusive homes of sorts and appear only once in a while to buy supplies before burrowing back again into the dark, silent interiors of these islands.

Totally by chance I found one such "hermit home" on a hike I took across the southern tip of a lovely island. I strolled through the thick, resin-scented forests and along the edges of small coves carved from the pink granite bedrock which gleamed and twinkled, its surf-scoured forms polished into shapes resembling soft, downy pillows.

The house was one of those places hopeful hermits dream about - a tiny, obviously self-built A-frame sheltered by pines and placed on a rocky ledge on the curve of a small cove with windows overlooking the ocean and a boat ramp of natural rock linking it to the tiny beach.

The yard was neatly organized: three piles of cleanly chopped wood - kindling to the left, fast burning in the centre and slow, all-night logs to the right; a stack of lobster traps surrounded by neatly coiled ropes, buoys, and a large blue plastic barrel for the catch; a generator and an outside refrigerator stocked with cold beer and basics; a small outbuilding used as a toilet. Everywhere a sense of perfect harmony and order.

I knocked on the door. There was no reply but a note pinned to the wall was one of the most welcoming I've ever seen:

Welcome - come on in -
there's no dog to bite
only water, food and beer
to keep you here
til I return
before the night. KC

So - I let myself in and entered KC's little world.

The inside was similar to the outside, neatly organized, and consisted of a single room, around 20` by 20`, equipped with all the basics of KC's life - wood burning stove and oven, battery-powered stereo and CB radio, sofa covered in an old quilt, scattered rugs, a well-stocked library with a distinct bias toward ecology, hand-built homes, carpentry and small-scale farming. On the low table by the sofa was a manual for constructing a solar greenhouse, and in the corner by the stereo, a meticulous balsa-wood model of the house itself, obviously a feature of pride. What was not present was a TV, family photographs (at least not on display), dishwasher, microwave, washer-dryer, freezer, huge racks of pots and pans and dishes and dinner sets, bread-maker, pasta-maker, toaster, or any of the other stuff we seem to clutter our homes with.

Around the cooking/washing area was a raised platform reached by a rough-cut ladder, which contained a mattress covered by another colourful old quilt, a lamp, and more shelves of books. Sunlight trickled through segments of stained glass into the room, illuminating the floors and walls.

And that basically was it. A totally self-sufficient home - economical, extremely cozy and full of the owner's - KC's - presence.

Or rather - presences.

For it was then, after I'd taken this initial inventory (in preparation for a spate of hermitting myself?) that the richness and variety of KC's lives - the remarkable range of interests and talents - began to open up in front of me. For a start I'd underestimated the scope of the library. Now I spotted organized groupings of books on nonfiction writing, screenplay writing, movie-making, interior design, gardening (yes, I later found an equally well-organized garden-in-miniature behind the house brimming with herbs, tomatoes, beans, and squash), hunting, boat maintenance, lobstering, gourmet cooking (primarily vegetarian), philosophy, invention-patenting, art (more than twenty manuals on watercolour and oil techniques alone), scuplture, herbal medicines, poetry, and a host of self-improvement and mystic works. And then there were some real oddities on hologram design and manufacturing, hot-air-balloon designs, logo-creation and strangest of all, an untitled book containing reproductions of ornate mirrors from countries all over the world, with, in each case, a silver mirrored surface which gave back faint reflections of the reader.

Then I looked at the walls. They were packed with oil canvases and framed watercolors - mainly island landscapes and all bursting with the energy and confidence of an artist who understands his subject and knows what he wants to say and how to say it. And on a long shelf below the stained glass window was a series of black files - some crammed with KC's poems, a nonfiction book on island living, a novel, two screenplays, a cookbook-in-progress with the working title Nature's Bounty, and a score of other KC projects.

I sat on the floor exhausted and exhilarated. I felt I had walked directly into a stranger's head and been treated to a whirlwind guided tour of dozens of selves all gloriously rampaging and roiling around this tiny A-frame shack on a little-known islet in Maine, two miles from the nearest paved road (actually the island had only one paved road) and a million miles from what passes as normal life in the world beyond this tiny cove.

I wanted to meet him (or her). And yet in a way, I didn't. It was enough to feel the energy, the presence, the range of talents, the incredible array of selves so generously displayed and accessible to anyone who happened to be lucky enough to come across this hidden nirvana.

A little handwritten note tacked above the stove read:

Ideas are as abundant as the stars in the universe...reach deep into your own universe and take them. Your creativity will bounce on the breath of the Creator's laughter and joy. KC.

I waited for an hour and then decided to leave. But not before scribbling a brief note:

To KC - whoever and wherever you are...
I could easily have missed this place
lost in the constant race
of my own thoughts and mental din
but I came, and have come on in
as you suggest
- and have been truly blessed.
Thank You.

And I walked back through the deep woods, singing and tingling.