Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hydrocortisone Coming In Useful Now

One of my favourite ways to get awakened (after a bad night and a mysterious rash on my shoulder that effectively put paid to sleep, kinda like Macbeth) is by an editor telling me that my story, the one I constipated through and worried about yesterday, is "delightful". Kinda makes it seem worth it.

After a bad night, I'm moving slowly, fighting my way through all this amniotic fluid, or humidity if you prefer. I need to go out and buy some food for lunch. And maybe after that, take off for Harvinder's to see if I can complete the last project I bought from her, which I still have on hand. I've done the big stuff, now have to fill in the little details.

I'm still working my way through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, trying to get the difference between the romantic and classical viewpoints (I realise my complete incompetence with anything mechanical brands me as romantic while my mum who can dig under the hood of a car and do the basic checks at least, is classical). And yet there are things that I figure out how to do, technical though it is, which makes me sorta classical.

Somewhere in between, I guess, unlike Meredith Brooks (who's nothing in between).

Picture perfect memories scattered all around the floor
Reaching for the phone cos I can't take it anymore....

I've a to-do list, but waking up just a little before noon kind of throws it all off. Maybe if I sit down, list out the things I can still do today, it'll all work out.

Yes, I'd rather hurt than feel nothing at all...

Addendum: I can see it's going to be another one of those days. Where I just keep incessantly updating this. The only way to stop is to go out. And I will. Just as soon as I feed Arnold (who's food is now heating up nicely on the stove) and shower. I just gave my scruffy little doggie a scrubbing and he's gleaming black.

OK I've just switched off his food. Will leave it to cool for a while before heaping it into his bowl. He knows, and he's come by to say hello. I pat him and marvel at how soft his fur is, newly bathed.

I got this in the mail today from a company whose service was so execrable that I will not be giving them one red cent more. It figures that after taking all that money and being horrifyingly expensive and ineffective, they cannot invest in a proper editor for the what you get is what appears to be Freudian slips except that they're not smart enough to understand the concept of Freudian slips and so, this is nothing more than sheer ignorance, i.e. they don't know any better.

We will do our best to make you feel homely.

Really? You will? Imagine that. But no thanks. I do a pretty good job of making myself feel homely all by my lonesome.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writer's Bloc

Here's the thing: I've taken Arnold for two walks today. He's now lying on the floor next to me, tongue hanging out, looking fairly content. I realise with this one I cannot skate by. I have to figure out what he needs, what makes him happy, and go along, even if I have other things to do.

Also, I've nearly finished my story.

Constipated through it the whole day.

When I don't feel like writing, I don't feel like writing.

Num saying?

In The Mail Today

Hi Jennifer,

Here's an astonishing fact you may never have considered: Your level of personal happiness throughout your life will depend upon your ability to completely forgive those who have hurt or offended you.

In point of fact, the emotional-spiritual skill of forgiveness is critical to becoming a resilient person, to acting effectively and to your physical and emotional health. And it is indeed a skill that can be learned by anyone, though it may seem terribly difficult to do at times.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Make Them Ignite The Light And Let It Shine

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
Six feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you?

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go, oh
You're gonna leave 'em falling down

You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

Maybe the reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will blow
And when it's time, you'll know

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go, oh
You're gonna leave 'em falling down

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It's always been inside of you, you, you
And now it's time to let it through

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go, oh
You're gonna leave 'em falling down

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

In The Backseat

Jackie sent me the following and I had to share it with all two of you:

Isn't he the cutest pupchen ever?

Have just come back from walk with the pupchen. I think he missed his walkies (I didn't go yesterday) and was refusing all food. Dadda called "Arnold, come and eat" and cajoled him and I yelled, dragged him to his food and even smacked him.

To no avail.

He looked at me sadly out of his big brown eyes and settled himself out of reach underneath the table. Finally I figured it out. After a phone conversation with Jackie, I took that shower, put on my "going for walkies" togs and affixed the lead to his collar.

Arnold came alive. He cavorted (which is what he does when he wants to show he's excited about the walk) and we took a round - the park, down the "secret passage" of old, round to the back of the house. Then I got my book, and settled down on one of the benches and released him. Instead of running around wildly, he jumped on the park bench and cuddled up close.

So I had one hand round him patting him absently, singing along to James Taylor on the iPod, reading my Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Arnold stayed quiet for a while and then he decided it was time to head for the hills. Or rather, the rest of the park. One false start as he rushed forward only to see a large troupe of Nepali workers ambling along the road on their way to work. He made a U-turn and came rushing back to me, scrambling up on the park bench. We sat there watching the workers passing, me still singing to him and trying to read my book.

When he was sure that every single last one of 'em was gone, he ventured forth again, and this time, he made it. That was the last I saw of him for a while. Then the yappy little dogs three houses away started barking. (Arnold loves to stand outside their back gate and provoke them) I looked up and there he was running back and forth on the road. And then he'd had enough. He stood on our back doorstep and turned to wait patiently for me to come home.

I said, no, you come to me. Held up his lead. He started to make his way but was distracted by cat hovering temptingly in his vicinity. Turned and chased said cat and I screamed. There is a certain quality in my voice when provoked that means "somebody's gonna get it good". Arnold recognises this. He gave up pursuit of said cat and ears and tail down, pattered back to the backdoor.

I let him in and thought maybe I'd go back to the park bench to finish the chapter. He turned inquiringly as I let him and locked the gate without getting in as well.

"You going somewhere?"

I sighed. OK, there were way too many mosquitoes outside. I unlocked the gate, let myself in and saw my little doggie heading straight for his bowl. A little water and then he attacked his food.

Came to visit me in my room after, give me his customary "I've just eaten" lick and settle himself down on my now-clean floor.

Maybe I'll take him for another walk later.

For now, I promise I won't write again until I've done some work.

Some real work.

Zen and the Art of...

I am sitting amidst a swirling mass of entropy. It happened when I wasn't looking. And now, I look around at the chaos and realise that I have to do something about it before I tackle the story I'm supposed to write for Theresa. I can't get down to it with this all around me.

Of course, when you've got a busy day planned it doesn't help when you only wake up at noon. But I didn't sleep the night before (heat, mosquitoes) and then I had an early assignment (went for it zombiefied, although the woman I ended up interviewing was beautiful, vital, articulate and pretty damn amazing so I kind of woke up).

Called Theresa to brief her over the phone and then it was off to Bangsar Village to see Harvinder. I hung out with her, watched her students make quilts, sari blouses and check out the different stitches they could do over the funky new Brother sewing machine, and read the last bit of my Global Soul. Finished now. I was progressively colder and more tired so I repaired upstairs to have a hot chocolate (with whipped cream) and a doughnut and kept dropping off at the table. Wondered how I would drive back through rush hour traffic like this.

I did.

Happy to say I only crashed in my bed. With young Arnold sleeping nearby. I needed to wake up to go to Backyard but there I was, still in work clothes, crumpled up on the bed, utterly exhausted. I couldn't think a few minutes ahead, let alone a few hours. I was meeting Addy tonight or (and Mark, please forgive me for this) I would have given it a miss.

It was a lovely night and Addy gave me a fabulous Christmas present (I love elastic Christmasses almost as much as I love elastic birthdays) and now I'm awake and the headache that plagued me most of yesterday is gone. Because I SLEPT.

All better now.

Now I will lie here, read some of my Robert Pirsig and procrastinate some more until I figure out what I want to do first.

OK I just realised I cannot lie here and procrastinate because I have to make some fish curry, herbed broccoli and rice.


I want to sleep again.

Addendum: The lunch is cooked. It's 3.13pm now. Late late lunch. Poor Dadda. He was so looking forward to that fish curry. Dunno how it turned out. As is typical, cooking the food and feeding off the smell, I lost my appetite. That and having two peanut butter sandwiches at noon. Instead I'm having the tomato juice that Mary gave me. It's delicious and so satisfying. Now I'm surveying the chaos around my room and trying to psyche myself up to tackle it. What to do first?

Further addendum: I've started a desultory arranging of books. I love books. Now I just got too many. Another bookshelf is called for. Urgently.

Note from the Universe: Take it, make it, bake it, go.

Note from James Taylor:

It's like a honey to the bee, babe
sugar to the sugarcane, jelly to the doughnut
it's like a walk to a lonely man
over and over
to be loved
to be loved
to be truly truly loved
to be loved
to be loved
to be truly truly loved

I've finished my tomato juice. Need to get some more because it was delicious and satisfying.

My room is still a mess. Less of a mess. But still a mess. Swirling vortex of entropy. Dear old Sheldon. Need to attack corners with a broom. But arrange stuff first. Yes. Organise.

I do not like organising to begin with.


Note from Thanissaro Bhikku's Hang On To Your Ego:

But ego functions don't just say No. They also have a mediator's sense of when to say Yes. If they're skillful, they negotiate among your desires and your super-ego so that you can gain the pleasure you want in a way that causes no harm and can actually do a great deal of good.

And lastly, let's hear from good ole Henley:

I'm learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know
the less I understand
all the things I thought I'd figured out
I have to learn again
I've been trying to get down
to the heart of the matter
but everything changes
and my friends seem to scatter
and I think it's about
forgiveness, forgiveness
even if you don't love me anymore.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Global Soul

It's the price of rootlessness; motion sickness. The only cure: keep moving. Mr Lies, Angels in America, Millennium Approaches

I'm halfway through Pico Iyer's Global Soul and funnily enough, his description of these rootless, displaced, anywhere-and-nowhere-is-home human beings makes me long for home. Not a place, per se, but a feeling. And as I don't really like flying, hovering in the air, in the middle of nowhere, always on the way to someplace else, worrying about immigration wherever I go to (unless I'm on my way here, in which case, my passport allows me to bypass the human factor, stick it in a slot and verify that I'm me) that feeling will only come when my feet are on some earth somewhere; when there is some/any ground beneath my feet.

I hate rushing about trying to catch up with myself. I prefer to saunter, my head in the clouds, dreaming, repeating bits of poetry, phrases from books, song lyrics, extemporaneously to myself, scribbling down thoughts into a minuscule notebook, maybe transferring them to a blog (or no), getting nowhere fast. Enjoying the journey, nonetheless.

As it is, I take root nowhere. Or rather, I grow like a weed on the fringes, waiting only for the painful, inevitable uprooting that happens to all who grow where they don't belong.

I bought two more Iyers (ordered another one), two more Chatwins (ordered another one) and one Mann. Books referencing other books as I chase the elusive signifier from one text to another, from one description to another, from one definition to another - a Derrida-en journey - the kind that is a journey for the sake of itself, leading nowhere....

The price of rootlessness is that you belong nowhere. The price of rootlessness is that you drink yourself to oblivion with other rootless people, all you hovering in the air, somewhere between jobs, somewhere between relationships, somewhere between homes, somewhere between cars...nothing to ground you (because if there were, you would abandon it, give it up, put it to sleep, resisting the anchor, because anchors are heavy and you want to breathe).

Your idea of noble sacrifice; my idea of needless suicide.

What happens when even the familiar faces become strange? When you no longer remember what you're doing here, or who these people are, and why, why, why you are filling your days with such banal inanities?

So yes, I'm looking for home. The smell of cookies baking for Christmas? (No. I tried that. And it doesn't work) Lace curtains fluttering in the breeze? (No, I tried that. Didn't work) Another F*R*I*E*N*D*S episode? (No, it served its purpose then. Doesn't work now. Not anymore) Getting drunk and writing some more of this? (No. At least I don't know. I'm not drinking at the moment)

And therein may lie the problem.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Anti-Laugh Brigade

There are people who don't smile, not a genuine smile, not one from the heart. If their faces relax into a smile, it is usually a pained smile, with foreheads still crinkled up in worry and eyes, well, their eyes tell a different story altogether. Not an ounce of joy in them - just anxiety, nervousness, and if you look real deep, sheer terror.

There are people who do not laugh. No spontaneous eruption of merriment, no staccato bursts, no body shaking with the ha has. Instead, they emit a mirthless sound full of irony and often, sarcasm.

Ha ha, they seem to say, we're all fucked anyway, don't you see we're all fucked?

Fatalism is the new reality, they say, at least I'm not fooling myself. If you knew what I knew, you wouldn't be giving me that silly grin, you wouldn't be dumb enough to laugh at this tripe, you wouldn't be sitting here, thinking about all the vacant things that fill your vacuous mind, because life is real, life is serious and we are surrounded by threatening people and situations ALL OF THE TIME.

They can't help it of course.

But not to laugh is such a serious malady. And if there's only bile and bitterness inside, sooner or later, they melt everything around them.

Like love.

Like friendship.

Like the spontaneous enjoyment of a simple moment. Untrammeled by context or explanations or paragraphs of explication, explanation.

Newsflash. Life is fatal. You're gonna die anyway. It's all a cosmic joke. So let go. It doesn't matter.

It really doesn't.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Peacekeeper Take Your Time

A typical narrative: some hook to catch their attention - then you rev it up, rev it up, rev it up - to climax - and then it all comes down and settles into afterglow.

Take no prisoners,
only kill...

And if you lose interest in the narrative halfway, you can either abandon it or (if you're attached to it and think of the hours you've put in) force out words to allow it to limp along to its conclusion. 1,000 words a day. 2,000. It doesn't matter. Just keep churning. Fill the pages. Can always come back and edit.

But we still have time to hate
and there's always something we can sell

But you won't cos you don't care enough. The work, the great work is just another monstrous abortion. This manuscript is worth only the fire you're going to use to light it with. And not even that.

Don't be afraid to fight
Love is a sweet surprise

I want to write what happened after but I can't. The fingers are as numb as my lips. I understand the concept of deadening the senses with alcohol. But what will we do when we're ghosts?






Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Fall of an Idol

Me: I no longer admire you.

The Formerly Admired One: Good. You may not realise it, but it's an awful lot of pressure to be put on a pedestal. After a while you get used to it, and start to hide your feet of clay. And dishonesty spells death for any relationship.

Me: I'm sorry. I didn't realise that my wide-eyed worship was causing you such discomfort. If I had known...

The Formerly Admired One: Oh no, it was a drug. Nice at first. And then, addictive. You know once you're addicted you tend to do anything to get your fix.

Me: Yeah, I guess. I wonder why I do it.

The Formerly Admired One: You want these qualities in yourself. You don't see them. So you fix on an object and project all the qualities you want. It doesn't matter whether they have them or not. You tend to explain away and rationalise deficiencies and bad behaviour. Until suddenly there is one so big that not even your denial will ignore it. And then it all comes crashing down.

Me: Every single time.

The Formerly Admired One: I'm curious. What was it with me?

Me: You mean you really don't know?

The Formerly Admired One: No. I can't think of anything sufficiently cataclysmic.

Me: It was your book. The rough draft that you gave me. I realised you were angry and hurt from the divorce but you were the one who always took the high road. But you were downright mean. And racist. And superior about everyone or everything. I know you'd made a point of stressing your education and pedigree before that. But I'd never realised that you looked down on people without the same.

The Formerly Admired One: I don't really. I take people as they are. That book you were reading, (I mean, I didn't end up publishing after all) was just therapy. Getting that person out of my system. A free-write so to speak. Only our friends could read the worst parts of us and not take it seriously. Only our friends could continue to love us despite it all.

Me: I guess I felt attacked.

The Formerly Admired One: If I was attacking you, I would have never given you that book to read.

Me: I should have thought. But I couldn't edit it. I just couldn't bring myself to deal with it. Stuff like that should be left within the pages of a journal, not for public consumption. No, not even a blog.

The Formerly Admired One: I guess I trusted too much to your wholehearted acceptance of me, no matter what. And that's stupid. No one loves us like that. Especially not our fans.

Me: So I'm a "fan", am I?

The Formerly Admired One: Does that offend you?

Me: I thought I was a friend.

The Formerly Admired One: Friends are more equal. And they can take the good with the bad.

Me: This just gets better and better.

The Formerly Admired One: Yes, I suppose it does.

Me: You never said goodbye.

The Formerly Admired One: Is that what all this is about? Well, goodbye, then. Goodbye.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Turning Japanese

I'm reading Pico Iyer's "Open Road" now and it struck me that he lives in Japan. I wondered what he thought of all this. Well, there are no comments on the net (or if there are, I can't find them) but I did find this essay he wrote for the Washington Post in February 2008.

The Writing Life
In which a writer living in Japan learns how to think in Japanese.

By Pico Iyer

Arriving in Japan 23 years ago, on holiday from my job writing for Time magazine in New York, I knew just how I would master the alien and impenetrable island: by treating it as an assignment. I read all the current books on Japan. I mastered all the standard ideas and explanations. I dutifully spent my two weeks in the country seeing the temples of Kyoto, the Peace Museum in Hiroshima and (ingeniously, I thought) the newly opened Disneyland in Tokyo (cleaner, more compact, more all-American even than my favorite theme park in Anaheim). I took notes, voluminous notes, on a magazine called Lemon and a video arcade called "We'll Talk." I scribbled down the notices seen in tiny Japanese inns -- "Please have friendly relations with foreign people at meals" -- and even wove in an account I'd read of Bruce Springsteen's recent tour ("Kyoto?" said a member of his band. "It was just like New Jersey.").

I couldn't speak any Japanese, but that was no problem, I decided: I would just capture the country through baseball. A strikeout is (or so I thought) a strikeout in any language. Japan can be the most obliging and efficient of countries, very anxious that no foreigner come away disappointed, and so, sure enough, I saw what I wanted to see: mysterious local heroes who wrote the Zen word for "spirit" or "patience" when asked for an autograph; massed figures in the black-and-white stripes of their Hanshin Tigers, at once strikingly lyrical and yet ready (so I decided) for war; aged Major League stars come to make money in their retirement who -- I knew -- had to symbolize Japan's equivocal relations with the West.

My first days in Japan generated probably 200 pages of notes and 40 pages of finished, handwritten prose, saturated with detail and irony and, I was sure, the definitive wisdom of a 28-year-old journalist, on what linked the silent rock gardens of Kyoto to, in fact, Tomorrowland in Tokyo Disneyland (this all went into my first book).

And yet beneath all the motion and excitement, something had caught inside me in Japan, and it was perhaps (I see now) all that I couldn't explain, everything that I couldn't put into tidy boxes and pinwheeling sentences. I had walked around a temple near the airport at Narita, during a morning layover, waiting for my flight back to New York, and something in the mild October sunshine, the gathered quiet, the shelteredness of the scene, took me back, unanswerably, to boyhood and England: Japan made me feel more at home than I'd been in a life of traveling the globe.

So I quit my job in New York and decided to come over for a year, to try out the premonition. I would do what every other earnest foreigner did in Japan in those days, join a Zen temple and study the nature of nothingness. I would sit in front of the rock gardens and pen haiku, with the autumn moon rising above a rustic teahouse, and put myself into the very scenes I'd savored in the novels of Kawabata, the woodcuts of Hiroshige. I'd also -- since now I'd left my job and published a book (about my travels in Japan and nine other Asian countries) -- make it a longer assignment: whatever happened in my year in Japan I would annotate, and whatever came of all this, I would turn into a book.

Within a week of arriving in a temple on the backstreets of Kyoto, I found, of course, that it was nothing like the pretty pictures I'd been admiring in New York. There was work involved, cooking and cleaning and raking and sweeping. The hours of meditation were part of a strict military drill that included bowing and scraping, and not sleeping for days. It wasn't an aesthetic domain at all; it looked, in fact, suspiciously like real life. I slipped out of the temple into a foreigners' guest-house, fell in love with a Japanese woman and decided that her story would be my book and my way of understanding impermanence and egolessness: by evoking the changing relations of Japanese women (or one woman at least) as the country left its traditions behind without quite finding anything to replace them.

That book (The Lady and the Monk) found some friends and readers, as my first book (brilliantly titled by my editor, Video Night in Kathmandu) had done. But as books have a habit of doing, it threw off any number of unintended consequences. I now had a strong attachment in Japan (that lady). A part of me relished living thousands of miles from any life I knew. I could write my books to support myself -- I'd been writing essays for Time while sleeping on a tatami mat in my temple -- but there was something else in the country that tugged at me and tugged at me, and it was something I hadn't quite got down in 338 pages of antic episodes, sonorous essays and -- again -- pages of chatter and analysis.

I came back to Japan, perhaps for good, and found myself in a two-room apartment, completely Western, in an entirely Western neighborhood, far from temple or shrine or aromatic backstreet or lanterned inn. Japan was now dry cleaning and tax receipts and taps that suddenly went kaputt; nothing remarkable at all. I still had to work for my living -- novels on Cuba and Iran, heavy tomes on globalism and the wars of our planetary neighborhood -- but Japan now became my backdrop, not my subject. After all, I'd already written down everything I knew about the place.

Yet as the years began to pass, something strange began to happen. I wrote about Yemen and Bolivia and Ethiopia and Haiti, while sitting at my tiny desk in Japan. I tossed off books and daily articles and letters to myself and to my friends, about every subject I could think of (except Japan). And yet all I was really writing about, underneath the surface and in the spaces, was the new country that had become home, and the reasons (its genius for silence and for thinking about others, its habit of self-erasure) that had brought me there.

My sentences grew shorter and shorter, and more and more empty, till they looked a bit like that room where I'd slept in the temple. My pages became so quiet you had to lean in to hear them, and, as with any good Japanese, completely unstriking, and neutral on the surface. I grew less and less interested in explanations, because the mere moment seemed enough in itself; where I'd written 40 pages after my first two weeks here, and then 338 pages after a year, now I found I could barely write a postcard about Japan, if you'd asked me. Image had taken the place of idea.

Perhaps the greatest beauty of the writing life is that it offers you concrete evidence of all your changes; the pages you write are like those charts nurses place at the end of your bed to map your progress. Whatever you need to know about yourself is there, if only you know how to read it. And as time went on, I started to realize something most unexpected: I was turning Japanese.

I barely spoke the language, and I had no official role in its society; I lived at my desk, in my head, as I had done in New York. But less and less of what I was writing was visible on the surface, as if it were all being pushed down to that more intriguing realm where nothing is talked about, because it's known.

I have just finished a small book on the XIVth Dalai Lama and the vision of a larger self he's taking around the world. And as I wrote it, I began to realize that, without intending to, I was describing something essential about my new home, something I could never have guessed at in my "definitive" work of many years ago. Its love of autumn, the dazzling blue skies that play off the turning leaves, the coming of the dark. Its people's habit of looking at what's not there. Its skill at attention and not making very much at all of the dramas and losses that course through our lives.

Then I noticed something else: I was describing, at least a little, the person I was becoming, the person the country was fashioning out of me. No names of soft drinks or quotes about Springsteen, just an attentive silence where I thought my self ought to be, and a reflection of my adopted home. Writing tells you everything you need to know about yourself and the world you live in, in part by making you immaterial or even mute. You think you're describing something outside yourself, but -- as every photographer knows -- every portrait you make is, in some way, a self-portrait. I didn't have to write about Japan now; it was streaming into every sentence, the polite ghost in the corner who says very little but asks what you want and then disappears again into the dark.

My First Foreign Assignment

My thoughts have been with Japan this last week, the first foreign land I ever visited (cos if you're Malaysian, Singapore doesn't count) and the surprise it turned out to be for someone brought up on stories of WW2 atrocities. The year was 1993 and I remember having to transit through Hong Kong and how rude and unbearable I found everyone in the airport there. I reasoned that since Japan is even more developed, they would be, proportionately ruder, more boorish and supercilious.

I couldn't have been more wrong. (Yes Sheldon, there can be degrees in wrongness as Stewart the comic book shop guy kindly pointed out) Everyone was courteous to the nth degree (it helped that we were a bunch of South-East Asian journalists on an economic tour sponsored by the Japanese government) Our host, the one who took us around and saw to it that we were properly looked after was actually a very senior official in a Japanese corporate. A few years later he came to Malaysia as CEO of the Malaysian office. As I was the only girl in the group (and the youngest, being 21 at the time) the guys tended to ignore me and go off together.

So Mr Ota would sit next to me in the trains (we went on an awful lot of trains, whether intra-city or between cities) and regale me with all the things he loved about Malaysia. He said he had been to KL 14 times in his life. He had only been to Osaka 4 times.

When he took us to Mitsukoshi, the poshest Japanese departmental store, where I wouldn't have been able to afford a napkin, let alone a napkin ring, I braced myself for Hong Kong-style rudeness (where if you ask the price of something, a snooty salesgirl buffing her nails would tell you that if you have to ask, you probably couldn't afford it). Instead, the saleswoman smiled, told me how many yen, and then bowed. She even bowed and smiled when I decided not to purchase (like real oni) said item.

My last night in Osaka, I drank copious amounts of warm sake (a misleadingly harmless seeming drink that tasted like Japanese tea or so I thought) on a relatively empty stomach (I hadn't quite appreciated the food) and ended up passing out in the toilet. And then having to be hauled to the hotel (which was more than walking distance from the pub). There are vague images from the night, but I do remember that I threw up on everybody and everything.

Not my finest moment.

Have you ever had to board a plane the night after a sake episode? It's not pretty. Especially as I was still feeling sick and the first thing the plane did was to go into massive turbulence, buffeted by the strong winter winds. The overhead luggage compartments flew open and all the nuns onboard (to my alcohol-fevered brain the plane seemed to be full of women with shaved heads dressed in saffron robes) giggled as it dipped. I fumbled for my throw-up bag, couldn't find it in time, tore open the bag that contained the earphones and threw up into that instead.

Not my finest moment.

I remember how I would observe the Japanese on the trains and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was reading. Some young guys were reading comic books (it might have been anime). But still. Reading. The bookshops were huge. I went to the English-section of one and found all the old Richard Bach books (the ones he wrote about flying - like Biplane, Nothing By Chance and another one whose name I can't remember now) before he wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

One girl on the train was reading an English book. She was standing, feet firmly planted, holding on to nothing, with her English book in one hand and a huge dictionary in the other. Every so often she would refer to the dictionary to check up on a word.

Wow, I thought. Just wow! This is why they're so far ahead of us. I can't imagine a Malaysian doing that, even if they were sitting down on the swaying train and didn't have their balance to worry about.

(I am being unfair here...since then Malaysia has introduced the Light Rail Transit in KL and I did observe a girl reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, wholly absorbed. In fact, she was so absorbed that at her stop, she got up, still reading, and made her way out by feel, in a kind of trance)

I wrote about six stories from my trip. Mr Ota, whom I met later (he gave me a call when he came to KL for his next visit) told me that they had been "very pleased" with my coverage. The two editors who came on the trip hadn't written a single story and the journalist from the Philippines had done all of one.

On our last day there we visited Kyoto and I was so glad that we did. I loved it. Temples, golden temples, 1,000 Buddhas, Zen rock gardens and all.

I wish I had kept a travel journal of the trip. (I had loads of time after we retired to our respective hotel rooms after a full day of activity).

But I didn't.

And blogs weren't invented way back then.

So what I have now are vague memories of people I never kept in touch with and images of a place where everything was clean, everything worked and everyone was unfailingly polite.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Little Panic

If you ask me, I prefer the days when potassium iodide was just some salt, something I didn't know anything about. If you ask me, I prefer the days when I didn't receive doomsday emails and read every word, click on every link, becoming more and more alarmed. If you ask me, I prefer the days before I was too terrified to buy something I wanted on eBay, because, let's face it, what's the use when we're hours away from Apocalypse?

Ever since 1987 I've walked around with a feeling of impending doom. Something terrible was set to happen. And terrible things did. Each one worse than the last, like some sort of cascading ill fortune.

But this?

Arnold lies curled up beside me. He has seen it all, I mean almost dying at our doorstep, huge smelly maggot wound opening up the side of his head. His main concern is his next meal. I've passed up an opportunity to go out to Kavitha's with Jackie, Simon, Julie and Shan, for banana leaf, because I'm sitting here feeling too alarmed.

Part of me observes me falling to pieces and laughs.

The other part, the lizard brain part, is heaving, stomach roiling, eyes darting, scared to death, wondering when? when? when? when? when?

This is NOT how I would choose to die.

When Soft Voices Die

Hey Mr.Tambourine Man play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there ain't no place I'm going to,
Hey Mr.Tambourine Man play a song for me
in the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you

Take me for a trip upon your magic swirling ship
All my senses have been stripped,
and my hands can’t feel to grip
and my toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
on to my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just Hold It

Arnold is lying next to me on his extremely torn and tattered meditation mat (the tears and tatters are directly attributable to my young black hero who is scratching his ear at the moment). He has spent the day under my car, refusing all invitations to come inside and have his lunch. Jackie finally said if she could reach him, she would smack him for being so rude. Simon simply gave him one of the chicken bones in his bowl that he chewed in a desultory manner. Finally when they took off for the Curve, I got down on my haunches and called him with increasing sternness after which I reached under the car, grabbed his collar and hauled him out. He is a naughty doggie but on being hauled out, he accepted it with equanimity and calmly trotted beside me into the house, straight for his bowl where he ate to his heart's content with every appearance of enjoyment. He has since gone to the hall to position himself far enough from me so as not to feel crowded, but still where he can get a direct view if he chooses to look this way. I think the dog is like me in many ways, especially when we go through our moody or antisocial bouts and just want to be left alone. (Except in his case, I generally do not countenance it).

Yesterday we drove to the foothills of Fraser's and played around in a beautiful waterfall that was directly opposite the entrance to the fish sanctuary. Now, the fish sanctuary which leads into the Chilling waterfall is closed from Monday to Thursday, but we had no way of knowing that. Anyways, a university lecturer who had arrived with his troupe of students to recce the place for group dynamics on Saturday told me that to get to this waterfall, we would have to trek for 30 to 40 minutes and ford five rivers. I don't know about you but I'm generally not the fording river type. Also, I was in my sneakers. So we found the other waterfall which was beautiful with cold heavenly water, and splashed around to our heart's content.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife and updates about tsunamis and earthquakes and nuclear meltdowns and if you're that way inclined, prophecies about the Mayan calendar and messages about how the quakershaker news is going to intensify over the next few months and how we have to hold the energy.

How to hold the energy?

Ah, but you should have learned that by now. And you would have if you hadn't spent the past few years in mundane pursuits rather than were told to prepare; you thought you had all the time in the didn't. Time is pliable but only to a certain extent...and now, and has started to speed up. Damage control. Do what you can. Hold the energy.

But I don't know how.

Hold the energy.

But I don't know how....

Hold the energy.

Tell me how.

Hold the energy.




Sunday, March 13, 2011


have you ever hoarded
your dreams? fearful that
if you shared them someone
might steal them? even worse
we sometimes fear we're
not worthy of our own dreams
so we quitclaim them
to others saying here take
my magic i won't be
needing it and i'll even throw in the wand

we fill our days writing to
do lists and thinking up goals
but dreams don't like to be
analyzed they're not comfortable
on the couch they prefer to
take up residence in the heart
where they can use ancient keys
to unlock doors spilling
liquid light of recognition into
our sighs of relief when we
realize we're home

-Marilyn Maciel-

Friday, March 11, 2011

Warm Rain

It rains. It continues to rain. I am cold. I am curled up under two blankets, one a mere thin sheet, and another, a thicker scratchier one. The thin sheet serves as a buffer for the thicker one.

Simon referred to our rain as "warm" when we were taking the dogs for a walk and the rain continued to mizzle down relentlessly despite a few faux retreats, but I find it cold.

Sure, it's not as cold as the rain in England (or even Australia for that matter) but it's still cold enough.

I realise that part of the reason I continue to write this after so many years (OK with one significant break) is that when I look back, I want to capture what I was thinking about or feeling at any one point in time.

But that's not right. I mean I don't say everything I am/was feeling here. It's about 10%. Besides, that's like wrapping experiences in a sort of skin, forcing it into a particular shape, instead of letting it all hang loose, all potential rather than firm experience, codified as such.

If everything is a matter of perspective, then, aren't I limiting my perspective? Would I come back to these same memories like an anthropologist or a Sheldonian Spock and go, "fascinating" as I re-read entries and think, wow, where was my mind at, to write that?

Would I feel a nostalgia for days past, for a feeling, a turn of phrase, a state of mind, an Anne Sexton ballad, you know, that sort of thing? Why do I feel compelled to sit, swaddled in my blankets, at 1.49am, typing out these words that mean nothing?

Am I recounting an experience?


Am I sharing an insight?


Am I amusing you?


Am I amusing me?


Sometimes I wonder about things. Like who's on the other side of the Matrix pulling my strings. If there were someone, would they be ordering me to continue to write this in the face of all that's lost?

So much lost.

So much.

Dunno what's there anymore.

You take it day to day. No continuity. Sweep up the broken glass so no one (especially you) steps on it.

Make it to tomorrow.

Sometimes you mess around with to do lists but since nothing you do makes a difference, has an impact on anyone around you, maybe sometimes you just sleep.

The body aches, the bones creak, the heart is tired the soul is weary and all around you there is the death and the promise of death and the fight to stave away death until you have carved out prettier words for a gravestone, until you have more to add to the eulogy.

Don't spring the eulogy on my Mummy last minute, OK, she has already said she won't be doing any more.

In moments like these I wish I could disappear into a Bacchic haze. But I promised myself that no liquor for Lent, so you know, there's a challenge there.

After a great rain a formal feeling comes
The blankets wrap around me like a womb...

First chill

Then stupor

and then, the letting go.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

JB Food

So I arrived bright and early (50 minutes too early) to pick up the Big M, Jackie and Simon from the airport. Lazed around the bookshop (but of course) and finally seated myself just outside the arrival hall, facing Lavender, reading my newly purchased book, and waiting.

They arrived, Mum being wheeled in a chair looking substantially more substantial, Jackie and Simon, looking no different (just a little more tanned) as there was a day at the beach in all that eating. Speaking of eating. It seems our relatives in Sabah force fed them to the point where everyone (even Simon, which is saying something) lost their appetites.

A case of being killed by kindness.

However, things started to pick up the moment they arrived on JB soil. Jackie asked me how tired I was. Well, pretty tired considering that I only dropped off at about four in the morning, watching Christmas movies on Youtube. (I know, I know)

She wanted to go the famous JB bread shop to see if there were any buns left. Two previous expeditions there had proven fruitless.

So we went.

This time, struck gold with the kaya, an-pan (red bean) and otak-otak buns. Also, banana cake. (Jackie likes to sniff her banana cake before eating it) She was so elated she started jumping up and down. The Chinese man there smiled benevolently. Although he is used to people loving his cakes and buns to the point of distraction, he still likes demonstrations of it.

We arrived home (the dogs, as can be expected, were overjoyed to see them) and had our tea. With the buns. I made chicken vindaloo and a spicy cauliflower fry the day before so we heated that up for dinner and Simon and Jackie (whose appetites had come back with a vengeance) managed to polish off most of it.

I would have too, except that suddenly realised yesterday was Ash Wednesday, as in the start of Lent, so am giving up meat, alcohol and sweets. (One day done and 39 to go).

Addy sent me a text to ask me if I was giving up Mark's performances for Lent (I didn't think if it before) and even if I do, I still have to go next Monday as I made a date with Omar. Since I already cancelled once, it wouldn't be nice to cancel again.

Now we are off to the market with a list of stuff to stock Mum's fridge and we are going to see Auntie Baby as well.

Mum doesn't mind the loss in our company as her hectic social schedule has kicked in. She has an outing with the "girls" today, and a dinner with the Sultan on Saturday. Dunno what she has planned for Friday, but we tend to have to work around her schedule.

Good for her, I say.

OK, gotta go bathe now.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Most

My life is pieces of paper that I’ll get back to later
I’ll write you a story, how I ended up here
Why the little things make us and how long it takes us
To figure out what matters the most.
(The Most, Lori Mckenna)

Sheldon (in Mandarin): Show me your mucus. Your mucus!

Chinese restaurant manager: Blow your own nose and go away!

Sheldon: This is not a tangerine bicycle.

Restaurant Manager (relapsing into English): Crazy man! Call the police!

Sheldon: No! Don't call the library. Show me your mucus! Oxen are in my bed. Many many oxen.

Restaurant Manager waves Sheldon away with gesture of exasperation.

Sheldon: Aiya!

Panis Angelicus

Sometimes I get on a good full-scale rant. Something else takes over and types out hateful words before I quite know where I am. The worst thing about this is not the words I write, but how unconscious the process is. Everything I've read about Zen or any of the "Be Here Now" philosophies seem to extol the evils of unconsciousness. Because when you wake up and survey the damage, well, it's usually too late isn't it? You move the broom, sweeping up the debris, wondering how you ended up here again.


Except that of late, a voice has started to pop into my head. A good voice. It says, is that really what you want to say? So I re-read and think, dang, that's so not what I started off wanting to say. How did I get so derailed?

Something, somewhere triggered a neurosis. And I had to worry it like a pimple. Couldn't let it rest until it became a full-blown, OK, full-blown whatever this is.

How does one become conscious?

All the Roshis say to sit and observe your breathing.

My breathing is shallow. Then my heart starts to pound and then anger builds up like cement pushing through my veins. My fingers start to tingle. The rage builds up until it has no place to go.

So I explode. Onto the page, onto the stage, who knows?

Or I freeze the fire and store it someplace; someplace else that I do not have to revisit anytime soon. That's the way hate goes. We're talking about massive amounts of energy used to support my denial. Is it any wonder that I find myself sleeping most of the time and tearing up at the most inconvenient places for the dumbest of reasons?

So, sit, watch your breath, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

What is the elephant in the room?

What is it I'm trying so hard not to see?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Hanging With The Dogs

My body has gone into hibernation. I wake up and go through the motions. I am able to stay awake for the things I absolutely HAVE to do. Like right now, it's feed the dogs, take them on their walkies and then pour out a modicum of milk as an evening, after-walkie treat.

That's it, as now I'm the full-time dog carer until the Big M returns.

The Big M, I might add, is on her very first trip to Sabah, compliments of Jackie and Simon, who are there with her. From Jackie's first phone call to update me, it sounds like she's having a blast with Uncle Babu and Auntie Theresa.

It being Sabah (and Uncle Babu and Auntie Theresa) meals figure into the equation in a big way. Huge meals. Auntie Theresa being a famous cook.

This morning I had to stay awake long enough to cart them all to the Senai Airport with a nervous Mummy sitting next to me, chirruping worriedly as there was no turning into Senai airport, where there was supposed to be a turning to Senai airport and the signs announcing Kuala Lumpur-Tuas took over, obliterating airport signs (which had vanished mysteriously).

"Jenny, you must have missed the turning. We're going too far, turn back, turn back."

I continued to drive, keeping my eyes peeled for airport signs. Eagle-eyed Simon at the back, had also not seen any airport signs. There must be some mistake. But there was that awful Senai-Desaru highway construction going on (working on that highway book told me at least that much) which may have blocked the necessary road.

If so...

Then there it was. A little sign, with a U-turn symbol on it, saying airport. So all I needed to do was make the U-turn and I would be on the right road, heading in the right direction.

Until we finally made the turn into the Senai airport road, my Big M's nervousness did not abate.

"Are you supposed to turn here? Here? Here?"

Even with this slight detour, we were about two hours early. I had chivvied everyone out into the car by 11.30am. Jackie was a little pissed because she had left her Agatha Christie back in the room, in the rush. But I told her if we hadn't been so early, I would have started to panic the moment we didn't see the airport sign. So all in all, it was a good trade-off.

They checked in their luggage and we decided to see what the newly-renovated airport had to offer by way of lunch. KFC was too far for Mum to walk, Secret Recipe was "too expensive" so we settled for Marrybrown Chicken. (You can tell from the spelling that it's a local chain). Mum and Jackie had ice cream floats (strawberry and root beer), Simon and I had iced milos, Simon and Mum had chicken burgers and I had a Hot Touch (or spicy chicken burger). Jackie was saving herself for Auntie Theresa's dinner.

We finished, chatted a bit (the nice thing about being early is how leisurely everything is and how you don't have to rush, heart racing, for the plane), the guy came and wheeled Mum off to the gate in a wheelchair, with Simon and Jackie trotting alongside, and I made my way back to the carpark, paid for my parking ticket, and took off, listening to a show on Lite FM which extolled the virtues of a particular Mazda model on sale in Malaysia now, how they were selling it below cost at RM175,000 and how everyone should rush out then and there to get it.

The host started salivating and the guest promised to drive the car out of the showroom to his (Ross's) house next Saturday to try.

Then the guest (I think he was called Daniel) said: "You say you are going to buy this car, but Ross, can you afford it?"

Ross: No, but I'll sell my house, I'll sell all my other stuff...

Daniel: What about your pets? You have way too many pets.

Ross: No! Those are my babies. (And he skillfully changed the subject and introduced the next songs)

And even though I thought the two of them had been doing the hard sell for that Mazda (OK come on, it was a manual not even an auto and on which planet is RM175,000 cheap?) I felt myself warming up to Ross because I could imagine saying something like that if anyone suggested I swap in my pets for anything.


I got back, put the dogs's food on the boil, settled down to read a book, didn't have time to turn many pages as the food was quickly done, waited for it to cool, dished it out to both (remembering to squish Elliot's pink vitamin pill into his rice), filled up their water bowls and then made my way upstairs. To read perchance to sleep.

I slept.

I think it rained (things looked a little soaked outside) but I was too fast asleep to care. JB has exercised its soporific effect on me and I can't believe how tired I am. My body aches and as I settle myself below the covers, I drift off. I fall asleep so deeply that it feels like I'm swimming underwater. Sometimes I make a few ineffectual stabs at the surface but the water is warm and comforting and I want to stay under.

Then up because its getting dark and the doggies (who are very quiet as the centre of their existence - the Big M - and the reason for their recent delight - Simon - failed to emerge from the car when I got back) need to be walked. I take them (Elliot first today) and then Maggot, and both behave admirably. Then (as we have run out of milk) I walk down first to one petrol station, and then another, looking for the full cream (these dogs don't waste their time on skim) version. I find it.

When I come back up, Elliot, who is keeping an anxious watch for me (he is a lot less nervous than he used to be about being abandoned, but still...) heaves a sigh of relief. I tear open the aluminum foil at the top and pour out some in his bowl. He starts lapping as happily as any cat. Then I go to Maggot's bowl. Maggot starts lapping at the milk even before I've finished pouring. I give them a pat each and go back in, my "care of the dogs" done for the day.

One nutella sandwich, some tea, a phone call from Jackie, and I'm ready for bed.

Jackie brought me Expecting Adam and Long Quiet Highway - I've finished Long Quiet Highway and now I know I'll do a Natalie Goldberg bookathon when I get back to KL - I now want to read about her painting, and all her other books on writing. I'm now reading, and reveling in Expecting Adam, my first Martha Beck book.

It fills me with delight.

And JB fills me with sleep.



Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Aspen Tree

Aspen Tree your leaves glance white into the dark.
My mother's hair was never white.

Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine.
My yellow-haired mother did not come home.

Rain cloud, above the well do you hover?
My quiet mother weeps for everyone.

Round star, you wind the golden loop.
My mother's heart was ripped by lead.

Oaken door, who lifted you off your hinges?
My gentle mother cannot return.

(By Paul Celan)