Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Loony Files

I just wanna stop, and tell you what I feel about you babe....

I'm huddled in a corner crooning to myself when Steve shows up and eyes me nervously. He seats himself far away enough to be out of reach, but close enough for a conversation. He's disgusted, but he's fascinated. It's not everyday you meet a loony you used to know before they crossed over.

Mind you, even in those days, he suspected, he saw through me...yeah, I didn't take him in. Not for an instant.

I nod affably and go on singing. I pause for the sax solo and he cuts in.

"Um, hi Jennifer, how's it going?"

"Wonderful, couldn't be better!" I wink at him.

I just wanna stop. The world ain't right without ya babe...

"It's been awhile..." he pauses, unsure how to continue.

"So, did you lose your mind all at once or did it happen gradually," I chortle, filling in the blanks for him. He doesn't get the reference (Fisher King, in case you were wondering) and moves a little ways aways.


Except that it isn't.

Not to me.

We loonies notice everything.


"So, are you supposed to be out here, all by yourself, with no one to..." he trails off again. No keeper. No one to look after me. No one to see that I don't attack respectable citizens at the train station, with places to go, people to see, things to do.

"No, no one, no one at all. I lived in a bubble and it burst!" I'm laughing so hard it's hard to continue singing. But I manage nonetheless.

For your love...for your love...for your love...

Hold on, I switch off the smile abruptly, narrow my eyes and glare at the respectable citizen.

"How do they classify you? Human? Subhuman?"

Steve recoils. I have offended his delicate sensibilities. He wishes he hadn't started this conversation. Curse his compassionate heart! It ALWAYS gets him into trouble. You can't talk to these people.

"Look," he mumbles, "I have to go."

"No!" I bellow. "Human or subhuman? If you're classified human, you have in effect, been breaking the law. Hear that? The law? The Law? The LAW? Humans are not allowed to talk to subhumans. You know that, Steve, you of all people, know that!"

(I'm a nice person but it really gets to me when people break the law)

Steve has moved off. And I'm screaming into the emptiness of the train station.

In Cape Town you're always looking away into nothingness which accounts for the sharp precarious beauty of the city.

In Lappland, you dive into the snow and it absorbs all your noise. And angst. And poetry.

It's 10 below now. Hot, by local standards. Step into the sauna to heat off. Then into the snow to cool off.

Blow hot.

Blow cold.

That's me all over.

They said that the subs have to be euthanised.

They said it was for the best.

They said no one would miss us.

The song has changed. I don't know this one. I sit quietly and wait for my song to come around again.

You see, I lived in a bubble once.

And it burst.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Suffering for our Art

It's a school, it's a frigging school, the kids are walking past in their teenagerly nonchalance, and some of them glance at us a little puzzled as we sit there puffed out from the uphill climb to get here. I stare into space, Jackie curses eloquently and Simon, peacemaker that he is, tries to smooth things over.

We have taken to blaming the sat nav (satellite navigator, for those of you who are unfamiliar with these funky abbreviations) for everything, most times unfairly, but this time, with considerable justification. We were meant to be heading towards the Musee de Matisse. Instead, it led us to a school, a perfectly ordinary school, with the kids just having finished their morning session. And there we sit, like paedophiles-in-training, staring at them staring at us.

"You have reached your destination," the electronic male voice tells us confidently. We experimented briefly with Yoda and Darth Vader voices - but none of these were clear. And when you're navigating you'll take clear over amusing any day.

When Jackie programs the actual address iof the museum in (by street this time because it is obvious the sat nav has no clue where the Musee de Matisse is) we find we are 9 miles off. And there is no way in holy hell any of us are going to walk 9 miles to get there.

"I wonder if Matisse appreciates all the trouble we are going through to get to his place," Jackie wonders idly, as we puff our way back into town to refresh ourselves with an extremely overpriced Orangina each. Then we find our way to the Chagall museum instead, which is apparently nearer. If that bloody sat nav hasn't fooled us again.

The Chagall museum is the only art museum in Nice with an entrance fee. 8.5 Euros each, to be precise. But Chagall is breathtaking - his reds are basinfuls of blood, his blues are the colour of the sky in the South of France, his greens are emerald dreams. We wander around speechless, reading the little notices next to each painting which explains the imagery - mostly Jewish - he seems to like cockerels and Hanukkah candles. And there is the creation of man, and there is Moses, and there is Adam and Eve...and he likes to look through windows a lot. And there is a short filmlet of the mosaic he designed for the Plaza in Chicago. The New World. In 1977.

He kept changing his mind, refining it even to the last minute. The poor sod who actually had to cut the tiles sighed heavily at all the changes and extra work, but went gamely ahead. When you're dealing with a Master, you submit to the Master. Every whim.

When Chagall finally says: "I am giving you so much trouble - I am hard on you but only because I am hard on myself. Some people are so easily satisfied." He shakes a bony finger at the notion.

An artist is NEVER easily satisfied.

Then we make our tired way back to town - to have lunch. We are all starving by now. A nice little cafe with an old man waving at someone near us (I nearly wave back cos I think he's waving at me, I seem to make that mistake a lot here). This cafe is cheap and cheerful and everyone seems friendly. A baldy smiles engagingly at us as he bites neatly into his baguette.

Then as we're walking back to the carpark (we think we'll give the Matisse museum a miss for today) we run into a little adventure.

There is a police car with sirens blaring inching forward in front of the cafe. This is unusual as testified by the fact that everyone is craning their heads to look out. A police car attracts attention here. Simon is chugging on cheerfully ahead, in front of both us as usual, and I notice a man trying to hide behind a car. He looks so innocuous that I can't believe he is what all the commotion is about. He passed us a little while ago, hurrying but trying not to appear to hurry and suddenly a tall official looking man barks out:

"Arrestez vous!"

The crouching man straightens up and goes without a murmur. The plainclothes policeman stuffs him into the noisy police car. Simon steers us off into the opposite direction in the meantime. Jackie has visions of Simon (who was closest to the guy) being dragged into a hostage situation. But really, for an arrest, it was severely anti climatic.

We giggle a little hysterically, recount what we each saw, and try to figure out what crime this guy must have committed.



Can't say. He looked harmless enough.

Anyway we finally find our way back to the car (and the massive parking bill) and decide we will spend the afternoon at the beach. But stop at the supermarket first. To get a few essentials. Like an adapter (Jackie cannot use her straightener and her hair is getting curlier every day) and...snacks. We get tarts and eclairs and cakes.

All we do is eat. And look at art. (hey, I just realised that art rhymes with tart)

And then we're on the beach unloading our booty and watching some poor sods windsurfing not very successfully. Jackie and Simon are reading. I am writing postcards.

Just another ordinary miraculous day.

But Jackie will never forgive that sat nav.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fire Walk With Me

I remember writing an essay in the good ole days when I had essays to write, arguing that Jabberwocky is nonsense. All attempts to impose a meaning to it being the result of the human need for order in the midst of chaos. Lewis Carroll himself may have said that he didn't mean anything more than nonsense, but good ole David Buchbinder eked out a meaning - calling it a quest, etc, etc.

Which may be why I read so voraciously these days, attempting to find the hidden code to what is happening in the world now, stringing together random words from various books like some sick Dadaist poem, fingers...desperately....turning....pages....

And I watch Twin Peaks which was one helluva mystery beyond the murder mystery and the "who was Laura Palmer, really?"....and wish and wish and wish they had the sense to allow a third season so it wouldn't have finished in the air, so to speak, with the bad Dale returning from the Black Lodge. I mean, it ended on a cliffhanger, for crying out loud. A cliffhanger and they cancelled it...so the ending was European, at best, leaving you with more questions than answers.

I had lunch with a good friend today and we talked of many things and I told her about Plot Against America which I had just finished and which she would probably like as she followed the recent elections so closely, listening to every debate, following the issues and arguments, while I avoided all of the same.

And I walked into a bookshop to get a birthday present for a friend and ended up buying two other books (one depression memoir, another an appetite memoir) because I couldn't, couldn't, couldn't resist them (although I have enough books unread to last me till the end of the year, and that's if I read fast).

And I realise that the only place I get the candy store reaction, is the bookshop. You could turn me loose amidst oodles of chocolate and I would make my desultory way through, maybe tasting a bar here and there, but not really caring, you could turn me loose in a make-up counter, or amidst clothes and shoes and bags, and I would get bored, tired and ask the air...aren't we done yet? Can we go home now? Please?

But a bookshop, now that's different. I recognise the signs of addiction. It was like that time when I had nothing but juices (fruit and vegetable) over the course of a month and I started going wonky in my head, reading recipes like it was extremely accomplished porn, closing my eyes and tasting bloody meat on my tongue, fantasising about spaghetti and meatballs and avoiding Kentucky Fried Chicken because the aromas made me miserable. Aromas that I normally ignored or never even registered when I was eating normally.

And that's how I am with a bookshop, even when I have loads to read and re-read....and I don't understand why.

But excuse me, I have to go read one of my new books now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Amazing Grace or Because It's the Right Thing To Do

I forced her to watch It's A Wonderful Life and Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, so she held a gun to my head and forced me to watch Amazing Grace.

And I watched it today after I emerged from a very deep evening nap in which I all but passed out.

And I woke up and crawled out of bed to have some dinner, reheating what had already been put away, and decided that I would watch the second of the DVDs Mary thrust on me. (Watched Northanger Abbey, the older version earlier and was not impressed)

And to say I loved it would be putting it mildly. Even as I watched it I wondered at my reaction and thought maybe, just maybe it was because it was about one man, in fact, a bunch of people who banded together to fight the good fight, without any hope of gain or political mileage, doing something right because it was right, because it was the humane thing to do.

I know why every time I watch or read something where the characters have integrity and a sense of purpose, I am blown away. Especially when I read the news about crossovers and those who take the easy way out and remember the people who made a guest appearance in my life last year, the toxic ones who lied and schemed and cheated, trying to outdo each other for a prize that was so far shop-soiled and diminished that it was difficult to comprehend. Or give credence to.

And the image of the Coyote keeps popping up in my mind. The trickster. The one who gets run over by a truck, then gets up to see if that was a truck who ran her over, and gets run over again.

The Coyote.

The trickster.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lying Low

The message was clear: Keep your head down, keep your nose out of trouble. Paralysed is good. Action is bad. In effect, I was supposed to lie low and deal.

Arriving at home, exhausted, I thumbed through the last few pages of Ceremony but was too tired to finish. This book cannot be skimmed. It is not a straightforward narrative. You have to read every word or you get mixed up. Halfway through a passage I realise she is not talking about a mare anymore, but a woman. I wonder if the writer knows that you have to introduce a subject before you substitute it with a pronoun. But it keeps you on your toes. So much so that my already muddled head cannot take it. My eyes ache. I need to sleep.

And in the morning, before anything, breakfast, morning pages, morning rituals, I finish the book. Stunned at the violence that comes to a head. It was building up. If I'd paid attention to the markers Francine Prose tells us we have to pay attention while reading, I would have seen it coming.

And I set down the book and glance at my table, clearer than before, but still piled with books I have yet to read, and run my fingers along the various spines, settling on Philip Roth's Plot Against America. Earlier, I thought I'd finish Virginia Woolf's Diary (not the Writer's Diary which I finished sometime in December, but the other one, the compressed rest of her life diary, the one with the gossip and the bitching and all the stuff her husband found nececssary to excise from the demure Writer's Diary). However, I'm now 80 pages or 2 chapters into Roth. And I find the book chilling. Maybe I'll do a happy book after. Do I have a happy book?

And while lying low, there are all these projects which I put on the backburner some 10 years ago, or whatever time it was I abandoned them that I can resume. Finish them little by little while I "deal", while I wait out this phase of my life.

Cleaning my room turned up a lot of stuff. I'd forgotten how much I had, or rather all my "stuff" was hidden in all that clutter under layers and layers of dust. Now I take each object out (or pot of goo) out, dust it off, set it on my table, and use it. Nice.

And there is still The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain I bought a couple of years ago that I can dust off. And learn to draw. I drew my last picture sitting on a park bench in Fraser's Hill (actually I think it was a summer house) overlooking some pine trees, in the rain. Sketching, trying to drown that edge of desperation that kept rising up and choking me.

Because I didn't want to be there anymore. And I didn't know how to leave.

But then I learned.

The beauty of life is that nothing is indispensable and you can say goodbye to anything.

Or anyone.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Myth Behind the Meaning

In roughly an hour I will be on my way to pick Mary up and find out how her first week at work went. I called her at an hour past noon and she answered, the both of us having just unclosed an eye. She has an excuse. I need to get my act together. Phew.

Having said that each day is pretty productive and items are flying off to the to-do list like autumn leaves. I now have lists for everything, so things actually wind up getting done. A very satisfactory state of affairs.

And I am three quarter ways through Silko's Ceremony. I didn't really notice the burgeoning anger or the meaning of the symbols till now, when she spells it out for us (just in case we're as blur as me, and have missed all the symbols). It is a powerful (though difficult) novel, and I am glad to have finally got going on it.

I watch four episodes of Supernatural every day (while it holds out) and that's a lot of fun (a less brooding James Dean, bright witty repartee - corpses and clowns - an unbeatable combination). I also watched It's A Wonderful Life yesterday and have decided that it IS the best Christmas movie ever. (This is after having ploughed my way through so many unsatisfying ones these holidays).

Yesterday I decided that the root of all my problems was second level signification. Or rather, not what someone says, but the meaning I ascribe to their words. You know how we're always asked not to make assumptions? And then we make assumptions about having been asked not to make assumptions (what did they really mean by that?).

Well that's where I'm at, at the moment.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Strange Dreams

Maybe it was the oils that I mixed together willy nilly in a terracotta burner to fragrance up the room. Maybe it was watching The Man in a Grey Flannel Suit just before I went to bed. Maybe it was Francine Prose's Reading Like A Writer that I finished just before I dropped off at, what was it, 2? 3? in the morning.

Whatever it was, I had the strangest dream. So strange (even for me) that I woke up still caught in it silken web, thrashing my limbs feebly trying to sort out what was real and what wasn't.

The phone rang. I let it ring. After all, if someone wanted to contact me directly they would call on my mobile. After staggering out of bed to check said mobile, I discovered that it was off. The battery had run out. Oh glory.

And now I want to read Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony but it's pretty hard going. Doing an inventory of the books I still have piled on the various surfaces of my room, I realise that if I don't buy another book this year, I still have plenty to last me for at least the next six months. (To say nothing of the books that I simply MUST re-read because they were so good).

I think I'll go switch on my phone now.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


I'm feeling somewhat relieved. My room is now practically pristine...I realise now, after cleaning each thing individually and seeing all the spares I have, that I may have to catalogue what I have, just to keep track and not keep buying the same thing over and over again.

And wonder of wonders. My writing desk is actually clear enough for me to ...you guessed it, write. Oh happy day calloo callay!

A few more odds and ends to get through but basically, you can stick a fork in me, I'm done.


It's 11.38 in the morning and my recycling (or charity) man has been here to collect my stuff. There was a suitcaseful of clothes, my old radio (which I had faithfully repaired three times already but given up for lost when it broke down after only less than a week back from the repairshop), my old laptop (the one the repairman said was only good for parts), shoes, teddy bears, and lots of books.

Old aspects of my personality falling away. I guess I should feel freer. Except that I've always found it easy to let go of "stuff". I might miss said stuff 10 years from now when I start to wonder whatever happened to such and such...but that never crosses my mind when I'm offloading.

And now there are sweaters and scarfs scattered on the floor (all my warm clothes which I emptied from the suitcase I was giving away) which have to find some more permanent place of abode.

And there are all the errands I have been meaning to run since I got back but haven't gotten around to yet. And there are still the three letters I was intending to write but which I still haven't.


Shifting Dust

It's late, very late now, and I've just watched the last episode of Monk, Season 6. Kind of fascinating how his arch-nemesis Dale the Whale is the perfect opposite of the fastidious, obsessive compulsive detective. Over the past few days a few of my friends have expressed surprise that I am into Monk, but I think if they just watched a few episodes (from the start that is), they would find him funny and endearing (rather than irritating).

So much for that.

I spent the day shifting dust in my room (still heaps and heaps of dust more) and I must say, for the first time since I got back, some order is emerging out of all this chaos.

Tomorrow the recycle man will pop in and I shall offload a great deal on him. I think I will breathe easier after that.

Interesting thing whenever I clean the room, and I mean a real clean as opposed to a desultory dusting, I find so many former aspects of my self. I read bits out of books on my shelves, decide that a few of those books really don't serve a place on my private shelves anymore, come across journal entries, letters, scraps of things I wrote to myself...I keep finding surprising bits of me buried under all those layers of dust.

Even the to-do lists or to-buy lists are interesting after a space of time. Nice to see what I was making or what was in my life at any one point in time. In the same way, it is nice to go back in this blog and see what was happening at any one point in time. If I bothered to update at that point, that is.

I am not tired yet (although I should get to bed as I have a couple of appointments tomorrow) and will resist watching Supernatural or It's A Wonderful Life or The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

Maybe just some more to-do lists and then it's to sleep, perchance to dream.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Check Your Bills

I was sitting around wondering about how I managed to rack up such a high Maxis bill, when I had changed my plan from paying for RM150 of airtime I didn't use to RM50 of airtime I didn't use, when I decided to follow my friend Mary's advice and scrutinise the itemised printout (for which I paid RM5 a month, after all) to see where all the extra charges came in.

Hmmm, there was RM50 for changing my SIM card. Except that I hadn't changed my SIM card. Of such "little additions" do the telcos thrive. I called the Maxis customer service number and after negotiating myself through a maze of menus (press 1 for English, press 1 for bill inquiries, if you still have a question hang on the line and our customer service consultant will be with you in a couple of hours) and finally got put through to a human voice.

When I told him of my predicament, adding that I had NOT changed my SIM card anytime within the last four to five months, he said he would check up on it and call me back. And he did apologising for the error (it was theirs) and saying that the RM50 would be credited into my next bill. Unfortunately, they would not be able to give me a refund.

Which sucked out loud, seeing as I had planned to disconnect my bloody postpaid service and get another prepaid starter kit (at least with prepaid, you know what you're paying for - with postpaid, they just tagged on charges upon charges as they pleased) and now I would have to wait a month, till the company had refunded my money. And I am determined to do so.

Not being in the habit of scrutinising my bills I just wonder how much extra I have paid for services I did not use, without knowing it. I am sure billion-dollar telcos like Maxis live off suckers like me.

But just in case you think Maxis is bad, I was having a drink with a friend who uses the DiGi postpaid service, and who, like me, is not in the habit of checking her bills until one day, almost by accident, she noticed they were charging her a large amount for MMSes. This, at a time when her phone did not have the MMS capability. As per SOP, the customer care consultant apologised profusely (our mistake) and rectified the problem.

Are these honest mistakes? Or are these giants deliberately out to cheat us, relying on the fact that like so many careless Malaysians, we will never scrutinise our bills at the end of the month?

Maybe this is how they pay for their huge advertising campaigns and price wars.

If times are as hard as people are determined to make it out to be, I don't think we can afford to keep subsidising these big bad corporations. RM10 here, RM50 there - it all adds up.

Time to start checking our bills.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Shadow People

They emerge from the shadows and are suddenly right in front of you like a traffic accident, in fact, worse than a traffic accident, because traffic accidents you can ignore, and these shadows will just not leave you alone.

Sometimes it's the little boys who beg: "Please akka, please." wanting you to buy a bunch of pens you do not need. They pretend to be hungry. You may have forked out if you hadn't seen the pimps, but now, you think you'll give it a miss. No point in funding yet another syndicate.

But I especially like the little old lady - she's Indian, she appears diffident and peers at you uncertainly. You think she is lost (how can you be lost in front of the Bangsar Maybank for crying out loud?) and wants to ask the way to somewhere or other.

Until she prefaces her request with "Sister..." and you remember where you met this little old lady with the sad and sorry face, the kind of face that makes your wallet tingle. It was with the Dementor, and she asked for money (bus fare I think it was, if it wasn't money for a meal) and he told her off for begging, for lying and for trying to pull a con.

"I've seen you before, auntie, and I know you do this every day. Not today, auntie, not today," he says and she smiles sheepishly and amazingly, walks away leaving you alone. (The Dementor had some uses)

This time, however, she gets you alone and has made eye contact before you realised she was a crook, before you realised it was better to avoid her gaze. She steps forward hopefully. But by then you've remembered. So you turn and walk away. Quickly.

And she follows, her footsteps ringing angrily on the cement pavement behind you. So angrily that you look back to see her following, her face twisted in demonic rage. Once you catch a glimpse of the face, the footsteps cease. She slinks back into the shadows from whence she emerged.

Waiting it out. For the next victim. This is Bangsar. There's always a sucker to be had. Today, thanks to the Dementor, that sucker isn't you.

But vaguely shaken from that glimpse of that evil face, you keep looking over your shoulder for the rest of the day.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Oh God, It's Such A Tip!

I put away my suitcase. Which is a big big deal cos it took up so much space and I kept tripping on it every time I took a step. And all the various and sundry travelling bags that had been unseated when I took down my suitcase.

But the room is still in terminal condition. Monk would die. He would simply die! And now I look at the clothes and the books scattered on the floor and just cringe. I need to impose some order.

Instead, I took a break and watched four episodes of Monk (Season 6) back-to-back.

They cut off the water supply which means it will be difficult to take a shower after cleaning the room. It also means I wont be able to mop it, as there is no water.

Oh the humanity. Oh the destruction.

Some order please, some order. Any order.


Procastination Is The Thief of Time

It's not just that my room is a tip. It's that it's such a tip that I prefer to sit outside and contemplate it and sigh heavily. I know I have to gird the loins and set to cleaning it up. But I dread the job. So in true Jenniferian spirit, I am procrastinating. Or as some wit whose name I can't remember said:

"Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow. And never do tomorrow what you can put off indefinitely."

So yeah, I'm back in KL. And yeah. Real life is rearing its head.