Thursday, July 22, 2010

Catching Up

Am a bit tipsy now. Just came back from Duke where I watched Mark and Victor perform...for about half a set. Mark said: "I haven't seen you in a looooooong time. How's the book coming along?" Victor just hugged me.

Go figure.

Anyway I had one glass of overpriced house pouring (seriously table) wine on an empty stomach and now am sort of up in the air. Floating is nice when it's only me and when I'm back from watching my favourite misantrophe who told me, among other things, that he hates the place, that the crowd is too young...blah, blah, blah...but I know's just first night jitters and that is how he lets off steam.

I was at Backyard earlier with Jab. Haven't seen both in ages. We caught up.

"I haven't seen you on Facebook for so long."

"Um yeah, that's cos I've deactivated it."

"Oh yeah? I thought you had gone overseas or something."


And I'm meeting Alison for breakfast tomorrow. And Esther on Saturday (to say nothing of my favourite dentist).

And then I'm taking off for Johor indefinitely.

And Mark said, see you real soon.

So I smiled and said, no you won't.

And Katherine will be here in October.

And Shelly whom I came back to chat with is not online.

Early breakfast tomorrow.

And so to bed.

(Am halfway through Catch-22. Yossarian Lives. No really. He does)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hello World!

Esther just called which was good because I was thinking about her and wanted to call her and ask to meet. So we are. Yay! She told me her brother and his fiance have discovered Backyard and she was able to say rather nonchalantly that she discovered it two years ago and prefers to go on Mondays. (Har har!)

So I'm back from the Farmer's River and plunging into KL life once again (for a while). And then I'll be off to JB.

I'm a transient and don't stay anyplace for very long. And when stressed, I pull away from everyone, curl up into my shell and shut the world out.

I'm peeping out of the shell now.

Hello world!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Sungai Petani Chronicles

I am in Sungai Petani now. After a night of no sleep (mosquitoes, what can you do?) I took off at six in the morning and arrived here at about 10.30am. Then I followed the signs, made my way to the middle of town, and called my friend Mary, to come meet me. She did. I've been staying with her ever since.

Today I'm having my second glass of jeera water (or water boiled with cumin seeds). I think it's having a very positive effect on my system. Also, despite the heavy traffic passing right in front of the house 24/7 (and I do mean 24/7 because I can walk up at 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning and the traffic outside is just as loud and heavy) my body has slowed down and I'm having a peaceful time.

Mary's mom is delightful. She had been very deaf for a while (a case of misdiagnosis and her eardrums soaking in fluid for six months before the third audiologist found out what was wrong and gave her the required operation) but her hearing has improved marvelously (with Mary here full-time) and we have all these chats where she tells me about the old days and what things were like, in Kerala, in Malaya). As a sort of history buff (I don't care about politics so much, but more about the homely details of everyday life), I lap it all up.

On my second day here we went out to town, for a shop. I parked my car in SP Plaza, stuffed my car keys in my pocket and we walked all over town (stopping at the stationery shop for my Lamy refills, the pork lady for the Sungai Petani Chinese roast pork specialty) and from thence, to the open air market where we proceeded to get kilos and kilos of fruit (mangosteens, rambutans and durians). We left it with Mary's boy:

Boy: Just call me Mi...

Mary: Is that short for Suhaimi?

Boy: Also can?

Mary: Also can? What's your actual name?

Boy: Helmi.

Anyways, then we made our way back to SP Plaza to pick up my car so we could swing by and pick up our things...too heavy to carry and I was already drooping from the heat, which Mary assured me was mild compared to what it could be in SP. When we got back to SP Plaza, and Mary had done some light shopping at the supermarket, we encountered our first reverse. I stuffed my hand in my pocket and realised...there was no car key there.

Things went rapidly downhill from there. We had wandered all over creation that day. It would be next to impossible, firstly to retrace our actual steps, secondly, that even if we succeeded in doing that, that someone else would not have picked it up. We wandered in front of the median swatch of grass in front of the clock tower, and as we dragged our feet I saw the police station. I suggested we go to the police station and see if anyone had found the key and dropped it off there.

After all, that's what I would do if I found a set of car keys. It was a faint hope at best, and I didn't like police stations from various negative experiences in Selangor, where I would go to report something and instead of helping the police would bully me.

First we had to locate the entrance. The actual entrance was locked. The second entrance had something built in front of it. We had to go round the back. When we finally located the entrance and got into the place that would take our report, there was this young Indian girl there talking to the police officer on duty, who glanced at Mary and me (hot, dishevelled and worried-looking) and asked us what the problem was. I thought she was there to make a report as well, and thought, wow, for someone who has just been robbed or whatever, she does not look distressed.

OK, the long and short of it, was that this 24-year-old was not a member of the public but a police detective. And while I was making the police report (which the officer on duty actually did for me), she made some phone calls, and signalled for Mary and I to follow her.

Apparently, she had called the locksmith, was going to drive us there. Which was very kind (I had dreaded walking any further in this heat). But Milani's kindness did not stop there. She drove us to the locksmith, hopped out of the car to get the locksmith in question who could not leave his shop unattended to get on the phone and contact someone from the network of locksmiths in SP to come to SP Plaza, then drove us back to the car and waited and when she found out that we had left food at the market and needed to pick it up, drove us to the market to pick up the stuff, drove back to SP Plaza, waited until the guy had opened the car, disabled the alarmed, fiddled with the keyhole until he had made the necessary measurements, started the car, so I could follow him to his shop, where he made the key, and did not leave until she had seen us safely on our way home.

It was all a little surreal. I had never met any stranger who would be as kind and who would go so much out of her way. It was lunchtime and she was hungry but she refused to leave us to our own devices, or allow us to buy her lunch.

It's my job, she said, every time we tried to thank her or invite her out for a meal or tea or anything.

After a profusion of thanks (she kindly but firmly asked us to stop thanking her) she left and we exchanged a few text messages. We discovered in our talks with her than helping people was just what she loved to do.

She had joined the police force at 18. And while she was doing a diploma in IT at night, it was not because she wanted to get a job outside. She loved being on the force.

Milani was unusual. But everyone at the Sungai Petani police station was courteous, helpful and all said, don't worry, she will take care of you, she will help you. They handheld us every step of the way and what started off as a potentially horrible experience had turned into something really positive. Our hearts overflowed with gratitude and we were carried along, as it were, on the waves of all this collective kindness.

It's been a few days here. What I've learned in this short time is that Mary is a superstar.

Everywhere we go, we have taxi drivers honking hello to Mary (one of them even goes as far as taking his hands off the wheel to bring them together in a namaste), shopkeepers chatting happily and giving discounts without being asked, and of course, our fruit boy Helmi who willingly keeps all Mary's shopping for as long as he's there.

She bought him two Snickers bars.

He grinned and immediately gave one away to one of his friends at the fruit stall (he's a durian man and the three durians he picked for us were so good as to render us speechless).

I've also been feasting on the mangosteens and rambutans. Mary's cooking is superb. She made fried rice yesterday and she is making her famous bihun today. Tomorrow I'm making chicken vindaloo, herbed broccoli and mint and coriander rice. Mary says it will be a treat because they eat very simply here.

She has lost a lot of weight as she walks everywhere here and lives of fruit, vegetables and rice.

We have been downing jeera water like there is no tomrrow.

Yesterday we watched the Middle Earth Paradigm episode of Big Bang Theory. She loves Leonard. I adore Sheldon.

I brought a whole bunch of books to read but am reading her Pickwick Papers instead which I find addictive and I love Sam Weller and Sam Weller's daddy.

So there you are.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It is Finished

I'm done. I finished in the wee hours of Sunday morning and celebrated by watching the sun rise and writing a letter to a friend. If not for the love and support of friends and family (and by family, I mean my mother) I would not have seen this through. Definitely. I was so ready to throw in the towel a million points along the way. Every time I felt angry or frustrated or cheated (which was like, all the time).

And towards the end I worked in a vacuum, with no reply for the stuff I sent, no acknowledgement, nothing.

Note to self: Working in vacuum is hard.

But I did it. There was not one point in the journey when I felt everything coalesce, come together. Before this, no matter what I've done, what I've finished, at some point, things coalesced. Here, it was just more misery, one weary foot in front of the other, wading through mud.

But I finished. Every night, I worked till six or seven in the morning. Till my eyes were scratchy and my neck and shoulders ached. Till the whole bloody world dissolved into a single flaming cursor on the screen. Until I could have thrown my laptop across the room and screamed until I passed out.

When I sent the final profiles, I said in the email that I would be stopping at the office to drop off all the material that had been clogging my room these past four months. Of course, it wasn't acknowledged and I had no idea of my reception. Shouldn't have worried. Mr Nothing If Not Fake (or we call it civil), met me with every appearance of friendliness, helped me carry all the stuff from my car into his office, asked me to send him the interview transcripts and then said he would get my cheque ready and if I didn't want to come collect it (if I wasn't back from my road trip) he would bank it in. So I sent him the transcripts and my bank details and as usual, he acknowledged nothing.

I do think I'm going to be paid. There's no reason to drag out this unfortunate connection any further. The question is when.

On another note, have finished Moll Flanders and moved on to Catch 22. Hmmm...Moll seems to have been very adept at lying. She was a survivor who told everyone what they most wanted to hear. And never got at anything directly.

Frankly I think the book is brilliant. I never quite take to Moll (I don't like prevaricators but then they seem to get through life a whole lot better than I do), but I think the way she sums everyone up, the way she manipulates everyone, the way she always ends up coming out on top no matter what her crime...well, she's a true survivor.

Maybe my problem is that I've never had to live by my wits.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Narnian Gives Way to Moll Flanders

On an unrelated note I finished the CS Lewis biography and I was wrong with my assessment at the beginning. It was written by an academic, there was sufficient meat to bite into, to masticate, to swallow, to nourish. Of course after reading such a biography the normal response would be to rush out and get his books. But I wont. I still have all the unread books on my table (noticeable lessened since I have been hacking away at them and not allowing myself to read books I've already read).

I'm now quarterways through Defoe's Moll Flanders which is a lively tale indeed. Sex, sex and more sex, but told with modesty. I love the euphemisms employed. To do a kindness, to be someone's gallant, to have conversation with...but what I've come to see is that despite the extremely sexist introduction (which now I'm reading it again, appears to be more tongue in cheek than anything, rather like the introduction for Taming of the Shrew which sets that up as a farce) it seems to be a feminist text.

Which is good. Kind as CS Lewis was, he was anything but feminist.

So moving from Ursula Le Guin to him was a bit of a jolt.

I feel like reading Narnia. I did read a children's book, Moonfleet, which Helen gave me all those years ago, and which lay on my desk for just as long without being tackled. I especially want to read Narnia now armed with everything I've read about Lewis. Which is stupid because you take the book as the book, without an inquiry into the author's life to guide you. The text should stand by itself, no?

OK, going to do some actual work now.

Later for you.

Grinding Towards The Inevitable End

This thing is finally, finally drawing to its close. I think when we are assailed by the huge waves, tossed about on a sea of emotion and the pure unadulterated fear of non-performance and overwhelm, we break out into hysteria and madness.

I was mad.

I felt myself going mad.

I knew I was mad.

And try as I might I couldn't do anything about it.

You try standing on a walnut in the midst of the ocean and battling the waves. No matter what you throw at them, the waves are going to win.

Yesterday, for the first time, after a weary night of putting together profiles, I didn't feel scared. I had done enough so the task ahead of me wasn't as overwhelming as before. I could see the shore.

As anyone who has ever despaired can tell you, seeing the shore is the thing.

On the one hand, the other party, whom I faithfully send the products of my day's work, is silent and resentful.

It makes me no never mind. He can continue silent but once I have finished, I can wash my hands off it, and take off without worrying. I cast all worry from my mind.

This job was a mistake. It's hard to see a mistake when you think you're desperate and need to take whatever comes along.

Nobody is ever that desperate.

After Monday, I will need to figure out how to move on from here.

But it's like when I broke up with one persistent millstone around my neck. He said, one day you will come to regret this. I said, maybe, but the relief of not having to deal with you now, the sheer relief makes it all worth it. And then I waited to feel sorry. And I waited. And years passed and I was still waiting. And not only did I never feel sorry, I wondered why I had allowed him to drag out the end for so long, why I had endured his noxious presence for a microsecond longer than I wanted to.

I hear that some people even miss their tumours.

Apparently, I'm not one of them.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Dear Wormwood

It is nearly two in the morning and I still 16 profiles to write. What of that? The important thing is, no matter how distasteful my task has become, to keep on, trudging ahead, even though I don't feel like it, even though I stopped feeling like it a long time ago. In fact, where this project is concerned, did I ever feel like it?


I see his lips curl in a mocking sneer. "You see, I knew you wouldn't finish. You don't have what it takes to stick it."

And I say: "Oh yeah, then you're double the fool to have hired me."

He shrugs: "Oh well, you came cheap. What can I say?"

And I say: "You don't seriously expect to drag this damn thing on do you? I mean it's already taken forever, we're not talking to each other and when we do, we're barely civil. Other than royally screwing me by making me work for more and more time, with the law of diminishing returns on my back, what do you get from it? You hate me nearly as much as I hate you."

And you say: "You got that right. But I need to win. It's all about winning. And crushing you beneath my heel. You think you can bark? I'll make you howl. And just to be ornery, I will draaaaag out paying you. How's that for charming?"

And I say: "Oh screw you. If I keep talking to you here, I'll burn all the documents, tell you to go screw yourself and take off on my road trip right now. Today. I can't let you get inside my head. You're not worth the emotion, not even this anger. I have to remember that."

And you say: "Oh yeah? Good luck. Hop little bunny, hop. You'll find that you end up doing what I tell you to do. Eventually. Remember that. Over and out."

Monday, July 05, 2010

Mornie Alantie

And in the declining light
of this decaying world
I see only suffering
and the promise of worse
I've got to escape
life is a curse
before the light's
completely faded
and my spirit
completely jaded.

The Morning After

You do not call.

I don't even know
if I expect you to
You were cold when I was there
right next to you
why should you warm up
when I'm a couple of miles away?

For there you lay
turned away
cuddling the cat
soothing the dog
your back
a huge red wall




It resisted me
shut me out.
You know how a back can be.

And so
I tossed all night
on twisted sheets
the dog at my feet
so I couldn't stretch out
sad, uncomfortable
thoughts skittering around
like mice
or white moths
flapping tired wings.

I awoke at four
and waited for six
when I knew your alarm
would go off.

Resisted your offer to "sleep in"
asked to be sent to the station
so I could get back to my own bed
and relax.

But now,
icy sheets piled on me
I can't sleep
I can't get out of bed
I just lie here
in my misery
feeling ashamed
that I did it again.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Starbursts and Glitter

I've painted another picture. I always think when I paint I should come up with a verse to complement it. But so far there are only colours.

Theys swirl around me in starbursts.

All the despondence that came from having to apply myself to a task I would rather not be doing seems to have evaporated.

Which is miraculous.

You know why the centre seldom holds? Because we haven't put in any love to keep it together. When I look at what I've abandoned I realise that it I just didn't care enough, love enough, to see it through.

Loving nothing makes me weak, brittle, just about to break, never quite breaking, on the floor, swept up with the other rubbish, brief, discordant, fading.

Can you learn to love if it doesn't happen spontaneously? I'm not talking about people. I'm talking about projects. Can I pour myself into one I have no feeling for?

I'll let you know.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Second half of the know what that means!

You know what time of the year it is? It's time to start making wassail, Christmas fruitcake (with enough alcohol to show up on a breathalyser test) and buying and wrapping Christmas presents and hiding them in convenient boxes and figuring what I'm going to give everybody.

Also, this year, I want to make my own cards.

Wow, for the first time in a long long time, I feel happy.

Chewing the Cud

I have been working steadily, maybe because I'm way past deadline and as such, have no choice. The drama is there bubbling under the surface and erupting once in a while in mild and not-so-mild hysterical outbursts, but thankfully, I have the house to myself so there is no one to witness the bouts of weeping, the screaming into pillows, the full out tantrums in front of the TV and the wild angry dances I do by myself to really soft, gentle music, you know the kind with waterfalls in the background?

Sometimes I go out in the garden to pluck stalks of grass and chew meditatively. Is this how it tastes to cows? What if I had four stomachs? Could I stand chewing cud for hours looking out into the uninteresting horizon thinking about...who knows what cows think about.

Maybe they're reciting The Wasteland in their heads. Maybe they're translating Greek poetry. Maybe they're chuckling at a scene from Lysistrata. Maybe they're wondering how to design the next birthday card. Maybe they're trying to figure out what Gary Larsen's cow tools are. (Not the saw, I got the saw, the other two tools)

Anyway, I can't chew cud now. I chew pizzas instead. And have The Big Bang Theory playing in the background as I write about chevron lights. Not a good idea as no matter how many times I've seen the episode I have to watch it again. Sheldon fascinates me. Like a blinking chevron light. Like a median screen. Like tiger's eyes (the road stud not the semi precious stone).

When you're chewing cud you can get sorta thirsty.

My fourth stomach is reserved for dessert.

I may become normal again when I have finished this book.

But then again, it's me we're talking about here.

Which means, I may not.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

On All Fours

Sometimes I feel like I have manacles on my feet.

Every step hurts, pushing forward, breathe, breathe, breathe, OK one inch forward, maybe two inches today? So it's half five in the morning and I've finished another section. It killed me to do this and I wonder, why? I am an experienced journalist and I know how to write on demand, hell, how many times before have I written on demand?

It's just that this project is so vast and cavernous and unwieldy. I fall on all-fours and crawl forward. Little by little. Laying track as Julia Cameron calls it.

Deadline come and gone. I don't hear from the person who is supposed to be overseeing all this. He's decided to go silent again.

Never mind.

Crawl a little further. Push a little dirt out of the way.

Move forward.

Just a little today.

OK, little more.

And now, a little more again.

Coming up with tricks to fool myself into writing. There is a blank wall up in front of me. The blank wall is me. The blank wall is my monumental indifference. The blank wall is my fear. I am trying to push past the blank wall. The blank wall is impervious to my fists.

My fists are bleeding. The blank wall is indifferent to my pain. It is deaf. It doesn't hear me screaming. I don't hear me screaming. Except inside my head. Inside my head I'm loud. Inside my head I'm unbearable. Inside my head I cannot find the black hole to disappear into.

Inside my head is a rattling gourd.

Rattle, rattle, rattle.

But the sounds have no meaning.

I want to sleep now.

No more coffee for naughty Jenny.