Thursday, April 28, 2011

Betraying Blyton

I was reading about how people decide to become writers when they read really good writers. Writers who resonate. Names are tossed. Isabel Allende. Wendell Berry (?). Anne Beattie.

Me too. Except that the writer I read is not one we mentioned in circles of more than one. We pretend we never read her and loved her as a kid. It is not fashionable to say you simply LOVED Enid Blyton. But I did. Enid Blyton. Not CS Lewis. Not J.R.R. Tolkien. Not Kenneth Grahame.

The first "long" book I ever read was Hurrah for the Circus. I had picked it out at a secondhand bookstore after I followed Mum shopping. I think I was seven. I may have been six.

Anyway, we got home and I curled up in my bed and started reading. And reading. And reading some more. It was my first non-picture book. And I couldn't put it down. I read, read, read, read, fantasised about running away and joining a circus, practised the "low gentle voice" that Jimmy was famous for with animals. And after I finished reading it, why, I read it all over again.

And again.

And again.

I don't know if you've noticed but I can be kinda obsessive.

And as Hurrah for the Circus was the second book in the series, I managed to get Mum me the first, which was Mr Galliano's Circus. Same thing. Read until the end. Start over. And over.

I have memories of peanut butter and butter sandwiches and Mr Galliano's Circus propped up at the table.

Peanut butter is my petit madeleine.

And that's why I wanted to be a writer.

I used to regale the younger siblings or cousins with stories. And then I turned 12 and it was probably the most productive literary year of my life. I churned out story after story. Utter tripe, of course, but you don't think that when you're 12 and have an audience of one who simply loves your stories and asks you to tell them over and over again. My sister Jackie.

Only now do I appreciate the value of a captive audience who simply loves what you have to say, even when you don't really have to say anything at all.

Skip one year to Form 2 and this was a productive year for poems. Only two survive from that time, mere nursery rhymes, quests a la Jabberwocky, but funny quests. One had a ghost as a villain. The other, an angry purple Plum. One had a brave young man as a hero. The other, a big brave banana.

Mum used to say, where do you come up with all these things?

I used to reply: off the top of my head.

A few years ago, I unearthed the black diary from when I was in Standard Six that contained my stories from the year. And copied them, bad spelling, poor grammar and all into the computer. And I made Jackie a book. A compilation from way back when. Along with the two poems she loved to listen to every night at bedtime.

I said, to my sister Jackie, the one who believed in me all those years ago.

It makes me sad to write this as I haven't really made anything of myself. I stopped writing. Lost that sublime confidence that I had words to write that other people would like to read.

Betrayed Enid Blyton.

The thing about failing is that you can always pick yourself up, turn the corner, start again. Kinda like what this dude was talking about.

Above me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off
the aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind. All you succeed
in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.

(Bill Holm)

That's all for now folks. See ya in the funny papers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dancing With A Limp

"You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp."

Anne Lamott

Monday, April 25, 2011


I'm 540 pages into Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. Sometimes the discussions go over my head. Especially when Settembrini (the Freemason) and Naphta (the Jew-turned-Jesuit) go at it. You've got to read the arguments slowly, only I never do. I skim. And I don't like either although I get the idea that we're supposed to like Settembrini.

Good Friday we get a call to say an uncle has died. He was just turned 60. Young, in fact. But he had a heart attack and his children kept him at home instead of taking him to hospital and he gradually expired. Kill or cure. We tried to call his sister but couldn't get through (she wasn't answering her phone) so I sent her a text and she responded to that. Said she didn't feel like talking to anyone just yet. This is her second sibling to die. And she's the oldest. She hasn't gotten over her sister. Wonder how long it will take for her to get over her brother.

And then on Easter Sunday, with Mum watching the previews leading up to the Arsenal match (Arsene Wenger was in fine form, caustic, spitting fire) there was a newsflash that Sai Baba had just passed. Good day to choose, I thought. So I sent a text to another friend, one whom I knew would probably be sobbing her eyes out, because to her it would be like losing a father and a spiritual guide. She didn't respond.

I drove Ivan back to KL early Saturday morning for his first check up since the operation. Doc said, all good, healing nicely, just lose the fat. We went shopping to stock his fridge with healthy alternatives. He said he's been slowly chowing down on said healthy alternatives.

Early Easter morning, Chubs drove me to the newly renovated Pudu bus station only to discover that the buses from there no longer go south. In fact, there was a new bus station for all south-bound passengers at Tasik Bandar Selatan. Now, neither of us know where that is, so I called a few friends, woke up a few friends early Easter, and got a general direction, but nothing specific. Then Chubs called a friend and we found the place, a beautiful building in the middle of nowhere. And I mean nowhere. We circled it for a while as he tried to figure out where to drop me. When we finally found the entrance...I got up it...and the building was splendid. It was clean and everything seemed to be above board. No touts trying to get you to board illegal buses, because, guess what? No illegal buses allowed here. And in fact, even the legal ones were subject to massive scrutiny - our bus driver had to go for an interview with the officials about the bus's state of repair and the presence of unsettled summonses.

When he finally took off, he drove carefully within the speed limit and made only one stop for people to debus and pee. I slept the first half of the journey and read my Magic Mountain for the second half. My phone was running out of battery but my Mum did manage to get through to me, to find out what time I was arriving so she could come pick me up. When I said I could just get a cab home, she bristled:

"Do you know how EXPENSIVE that would be?"

Yeah, the JB cabbies are all conmen who refuse to use the taxi meter and charge whatever they want to. Especially difficult if they can see you're from out of town. I spotted her as soon as the bus turned into the Larkin bus stand, so it was all easy peasy.

Back home for an Easter meal of kueh teow soup and a long, long nap (right until nine in the evening). In fact would have probably slept longer if an itinerant aunt (we call her the mad one) hadn't called (not once but twice) and woken us up. Now when the phone rings persistently, we usually think it's urgent (read: bad) news, meaning someone else has popped his or her clogs. Turned out to be mad aunt wanting to wish my Mum for Easter.

I want to finish Magic Mountain so I can concentrate on Lamott. Also, I want to finish story of educationist so I can get on with rest of my life without that hanging over me. (I promised and deadline is today). Only I don't even feel like calling up the file.

Dear me. I'm going to have to get over that because the editor did give me a deadline after all. Not in the mood just doesn't cut it.

After watching Tangled, which Disney claims is their 50th feature length cartoon, I took out a notebook and tried to list down all the Disney feature length cartoons I could remember and I only made it to 21.

How many can you remember?

Oh and the Zachary Levi character is going to be one of my favourite characters of all time. Right up there with Baloo the bear and Thumper, what did your father say?

Sunday, April 17, 2011


These days I'm mostly tired. I fall asleep at odd places. The comfortable chair in Chubby's freezing hospital room. The comfortable chair at the Smokehouse cafe in Bangsar, while reading a book and sipping a watermelon juice. My eyes close of their own accord and I just black out for a while. At first I thought it was the juice fast. But that's over. And I'm still tired.

I'm trying to see clearly the road in front of me. I'm trying not to fall into old patterns and repeat the same mistakes. I do whatever I can to avoid them, but they're like a gaping wound in the ground right in front of me. Move but a little, and I'm plunging all over again.

Arnold is gone.

And when I left him there, I saw that it was only better than a pound in that the dogs were fed and not abused. I have to get him back. But when I think of how, I get tired all over again and fall deeply asleep.

He howled as I left.

And my body went numb. My heart went numb. It does that when faced with something I know is going to be overwhelming.

Don't cry, said Sabrina as I was leaving. It helps if you don't get emotional. Just leave him here. He'll adjust. But come back and get him as soon as you can.

As soon as I can.

From now on, that is the one motive in life. To get him back. And all other motives are submerged in that one.

I keep feeling that life has been deferred indefinitely. And I know that it's my fault. I deferred it.

And now I'm picking my way through the debris trying to figure out how to repair some of this damage.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Words After A Drought

So yeah, it's back to being password-protected. Go figure. At first I was OK with knowing that certain people were reading this blog. And then I was not. I let it simmer for a while, but decided that I could only continue to be open, if I could control who reads my words.

Chubs had an operation a couple of days ago. They removed his gall bladder. Seems to be doing better now. He's sleeping in my father's room. At seven in the morning I'll give him a lift to his apartment where his girlfriend is crashing at the moment. She'll drive him back to JB.

Then on Sunday I give Arnold up. He seems to know something's in the air as he hasn't eating a thing the whole day and keeps coming up to me for a reassuring pat. Poor baby. Now he's curled up in a corner next to me. Asleep. Or faking it. Whatever.

Yesterday I played host to the friends of friends, or the cousin of a friend and her daughter. She told me my friend (who is 88 in May) is poorly. Kidneys failing. Eyes failing. Age, that didn't really seem to figure in his life, finally catching up with him.


There was a point when Chubs was still in the operating theatre and it had been three and a half hours and my mother and father were on the verge of a nervous breakdown convinced that there had been complications and they were going to lose their only son, when I wondered why I was not experiencing a similar drama. Somehow, I knew he was OK. Even if my father kept pushing me to go ask the nurse (and after the op, go talk to the doctor).

Life has become a little surreal. I'm reading the Second Journey. And I go back to JB on Monday.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


I watch the minutes creep forward and I haven't done any work. NOT ANY. I promised to make ayam masak merah for Chubs today (invited him over) and maybe I'd better get that over and done with, after which I can go work someplace else.

I don't feel like being here, I don't feel like working here.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Much of a Muchness

I've got a few minutes as I wait for the water to rise in the avial now boiling. I'm making it for tomorrow's lunch, going to store it in nice plastic containers so I can give it out...good avial, at least, I think it's good.

Today seems like it was a waste of space but when I look around, I actually managed to do quite a bit. I've made tomorrow's lunch (well one dish anyway, the Kerala fish curry) which Dadda can eat for both lunch and dinner (I won't be around, he can just heat it up), and the avial is boiling. That took a little grocery shopping.

I took Arnold to Sri Hartamas for a long walk. I didn't intend to, but as I was leaving, he testified such distress and scrambled into the car, that I went back for his lead, and took my doggie to a new place where we kept to a path hemmed in by foliage.

After my customary fruit juice at this new stall in Bangsar that I absolutely love, I returned to make his mutton chops...he ate the mutton but not the rice and now he's looking at me sadly, like he's still hungry, ignoring the food that's left.

My room has had a quick clean (for which I'm grateful, now looking around) and I've done various bits and bobs. So in spite of sleeping for hours in the afternoon when I couldn't take it anymore and just dropped off, I seem to have achieved quite a lot today. I think it has to do with making out a to-do list and sort of sticking to it.

Some things I couldn't do. Like apply for my road tax. I think MyEG sort of shuts down on the weekend. And even if it doesn't, the payment gateways seem to. Or at least Maybank did. I'll try again on Monday.

I set up an interview today for Tuesday (should be interesting but I need to make a visit to the National Art Gallery to see an exhibit before I do the interview which can also double as my Artist Date) and I have a couple of interviews on Monday.

Busy busy busy or so it seems.

Climbing Mountains

To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that's out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He's likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he's tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up at the trail trying to see what's ahead even when he knows what's ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He's here but he's not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be further up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be "here". What he's looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn't want that because it is all around him. Every step's an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig

Friday, April 01, 2011

Strange and Stranger

There's nothing more surreal than sitting in the middle of a crowded sports bar by myself, sipping on a glass of mineral water, listening to Mark belting out numbers, his smile pained because despite having been a musician for all these years, he hates unfamiliar environments and unfamiliar crowds. Well maybe there is something more surreal. And that's me, taking my eyes off the cute musician trying really hard up there (the crowd's responding - half of them are stomping on the dance floor, for crying out loud) to read some more Pirsig. Somehow, the environment seems to suit the book to a t.

The weird thing is that although I know how weird it is (a woman who looks familiar saunters in with a friend. I keep catching her eye wondering where I know her from until I realise that she's the living image of Stiffler's Mum, bee-stung lips and all) but what's even weirder is how comfortable I feel.

Like it's not out of place.

Must be the water talking.

After one set (he keeps his sets short here) Mark comes off stage and I go over to him to poke him in the back and say, hey, I'm leaving. And he says, OK, see ya. And when I ask the waiter for the bill, I find my mineral water was on Mark (he would rather I had something more interesting, like tea).

It's nice slow ride home, my iPod playing the mellow numbers I love as I relax into the night, my favourite time of the day.

Back home to my sad little doggie who's been waiting for me. Arnold jumps up and down, and I nod. Yes, yes, I know.

It's time for a walk.

Except for one incident where a tiny Spitz comes yapping forward to attack, we complete our circuit unmolested. Now he's lying on the floor next to me and I'm trying to figure out whether I want to have a shower first, or shift some of the laundry off my bed.

And then I'll read myself to sleep.

My days are strange.

My nights are stranger.