Wednesday, 29 February 2012



-The Talmud

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Art of Letters

So I come home and find a letter from Nessa waiting for me. Letters are always nice. At the beginning of this year, I wrote up a storm, a letter a day, and I usually inserted an origami figure that I made.

Since then, I have grown lax about it....but this letter, which must be answered, fills me with delight. There is so much she has to say...and she takes five handwritten pages to say it. I notice that when people first begin writing old fashioned letters, there is a lack of ease and fluidity until they settle in to the rhythms, start an actual conversation, talk deeply about what matters to them.

Virginia Woolf used to write two or three letters every day in the morning. These letters were, more often than not, delightful. This was although she was on the telephone, meaning that she had one installed. It did not replace good old-fashioned letters, where news could be relayed with panache and humour.

This is Nessa's second letter to me and she seems to have relaxed into depth. I feel her emotions as I read it. Of course, that could be because she's a writer. But it could be because we've started a conversation across the miles. I delight in it.

And also pictured above is a book that I stumbled across in Borders. Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight which I can't wait to finish reading.

And there is the Kalahari Typing School for Men, the fourth in the's an addiction, an obsession, pure pleasure.

I've finished my Martha Beck. But you know what? I'm going to go right back and re-read it.

That's how good.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Baby and Dog Duet

Start your week with something cute:

Of all our dogs, only Elliot knows how to sing; he usually duets with Mum when she raises her voice in a particularly strident falsetto. Also he sings when there are sirens in the vicinity. Howl howl howl!

Arnold, of course, knows how to say "no!".

And Maggot, well, he's the strong silent type who likes you rub his butt.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

How Could I Forget?

Talking about things that took my breath away, I am now desperately in love.

With the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I've spoken to at least two people who have tried to read the books and failed. They couldn't make it past the first one. And therein lies the problem.

The first one is kinda heavy and does not give much indication for how the rest of the books are going to be.

I was lucky. While in JB, bumming around, patting my sick dog on the head and making paella (not the seafood type but the kind with chorizo sausages), I stumbled across the sixth book in the series - In The Company of Cheerful Ladies.

Nice title. I could use the company of cheerful ladies. Or cheerful anything. So I took up the book and the first chapter itself had me laughing so hard my gut hurt. I tried reading it out to my Mum. But when I find something funny, I tend to get incoherent. So in between splutters of laughter punctuated with the occasional word.

"He...hahahahaha...left....hahahahaha....his....pants....hahahhaha...under....hahahahaha...her bed."

"She....hahahaha....had been.....slowly crushing him......hahahahahahaha...with her weight."

Oh my God! I gasped and gulped and Mum looked on uncomprehendingly. I guess you got to read it for yourself in context. Or watch the Jill Scott movie (which Addy assures me is excellent).

Anyway, I just love the pace of the books. How it is slow, ponderous; how it has heft and weight; the thought given to problems that detectives in developed countries would neither consider nor bother about. The endless cups of bush tea and slices of fruitcake. Leaving the office early when you want to get home and spend some time alone.

The words that are used in polite Botswana society - the words of greeting, the words of inquiry....the predominance of a "traditionally built person". The little white van she loves so much. Her intelligence in tackling seemingly insurmountable problems. Her intuition. Her secretary (later promoted to assistant detective, Grace Makutsi). How everything seems to be forgivable. People make mistakes and only few of them are truly evil.

I can't get enough.

I came back from JB and while in the throes of a very debilitating cold and rushed to buy the first book before settling down in bed at home, sick and feverish. And then I bought the second. And then I bought the third. All in three days.

And then my Martha Beck arrived in the post, a welcome distraction and I thought...good. I'll have to take a break. Otherwise I'll get through all 12 in 12 days and it will be the end of Lord of the Rings all over again. That vague sort of depression and nothingness (except that I know the 13th book will be out in about 40 days or so, so it's not the same thing).

OK, I have to go now. I just learned that an invitation for lunch was actually an invitation for dinner. Which means that I'll have to go get something for lunch now.

Later for you.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Things That Have Taken My Breath Away In The Past Month Or So

As I was driving to the car wash today to get my cushions steam-cleaned (Arnold threw up all over the backseat yesterday when he realised we were heading for the vet) I thought about what I would be posting today. As you have probably guessed, I am now reading Finding Your Way In A Wild New World by Martha Beck, which is not on sale in Malaysia yet, but which I ordered from book depository. And I thought, wow, it takes my breath away.

I tend to be a little obsessive or haven't you guessed?

When I arrived at the car wash (after negotiating the gridlock Saturday traffic around Bangsar) and handed over my unkey keys to Mr Choong, my trusted car cosmetics person, letting him know in the meantime about the backseat and how it would need to be steam-cleaned, I think about all the things in the past month or so that took my breath away.

Firstly, I would have to give the book pride of place:

Then of course, if you've read more than a few posts here, you will realise that I'm obsessed with the following group. I think they sound like angels, but I'm grateful for the most part, that I'm alone in the car because choir boys singing in Latin is not everyone's cup of tea:

And this artist, Lee Weng Fatt. I stumbled across his work at an exhibition that I had been invited to by another artists. There were four of them there, and unfortunately, this guy had already left by the time I got there. But his work took my breath away. I just stopped and gaped. And then wondered if I'd ever find out who he is as I was pulled away to view the other artist's work.

I walked into Art Accent at Bangsar Village 2 today and asked if they had his contact details. Ended up having a really nice conversation with TJ who works there and who told me how Weng Fatt started out and how he works. Then he said he would pass on my business card to the gallery owners and they would get back to me.

Then I strolled over to the Thomas Kinkade gallery and had a long conversation with the lady who runs it. We ended up talking about the Disney pictures and I told her my favourites were the San Francisco ones. She said those are signature and running out. Everyone seems to want one of those. Well, except for the ones who collect the Disney series. In fact, she said, there were two Disney giclees sold for about RM6,300 a piece and some collectors had come along and offered RM18,000 for the same. When she called to tell the ones who bought the two paintings, they did not jump at the offer. Rather, they decided to insure their own paintings for more.

"Malaysians don't seem to think of art collection as a business. They pay a lot for pieces they love and then are emotionally attached to them."

Not only Malaysians. I remember an artist I interviewed who told me that one of the expats who'd bought two of her pieces refuses to lend them to her for exhibitions because (a) he needs to look at them everyday and (b) what if someone stole them?

She tends to laugh about this. "It's not like I'm Matisse, what? Who would want to steal my paintings?"

So this is my favourite Thomas Kinkade.

And this:

I also loved the movie, The Christmas Cottage (as you can see elsewhere in these pages), especially the character, Glen, his mentor.

I guess I just like mentors. Especially curmudgeonly ones.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Playing Vervets

I'm reading Martha Becks's Finding Your Way in a Wild New World which just arrived in the post (it's not being sold at any of our bookshops yet) and just had to share the following story with you. Go Martha!

I'm on my way from my cottage at Londolozi to the central camp when I catch sight of several vervet monkeys bouncing around in the grass. Closer inspection reveals that the monkeys are juveniles, ranging in age from babies to the size of kittens to half-grown adolescents the size of...bigger kittens.

As I tiptoe nearer to the vervets, I can see they're playing an almost organized game, which might be called something like DUDE, I TOUCHED THE BIG ANIMAL! Proportionally this activity is to them what running up and touching an elephant would be to a human. Some of the little ones are just watching, but the bravest monkeys move hesitantly toward the nyala, dance backward when their courage fails, then nerve themselves to try again, until they can reach out one hand and poke the antelope's leg. At that point, they dash around in exultation for a few minutes, accepting the admiration and envy of their peers. The nyala just keeps munching leaves, sighing occasionally.

The first time I ever heard a rustle in the underbrush and glanced over to see a monkey's face was both joyful and unnerving. I'm used to seeing birds and squirrels and chipmunk, which are delightful but (no offense) not exactly rocket scientists. By contrast, when you meet a monkey's eyes, you can immediately tell it's thinking. You can almost see the mental gears clicking away behind that little humanoid face. Monkeys are so very much like us, sharing about 93 percent of our DNA, that watching the game of DUDE, I TOUCHED THE BIG ANIMAL! I feel as if I've stumbled into a community of Lilliputians.

As I move forward to get a better view, stepping slowly and stopping often so as not to scare them, the little monkeys finally notice me. The bravest, biggest juvenile looks at me for a long moment. Then he looks at the nyala. Then he looks back at me.

Suddenly I sense that DUDE, I TOUCHED THE BIG ANIMAL! is about to be kicked up a level.

Sure enough, the troop leader stops edging up to the antelope and begins moving closer to me. Within seconds the other kids - I mean vervets - realize what's up. They all abandon the nyala, like five-year-olds suddenly riveted on a new screen for a video game. Five or six of the most adventurous begin to approach me, looking scared but determined.

For a minute or two, I'm thrilled. To have wild things walk right up to me is like stepping into a Disney cartoon - and, just like my rhinoceros, it;s real! But when the monkeys get within about three feet of me, it starts to feel a little too real. Sure, they only come up to my knees, but they can jump really high, and they outnumber me. Plus, that almost-human vibe is getting slightly alarming. I suddenly remember a story about an old woman who was attacked and eaten by her own ten miniature poodles. I recall that movie with Dustin Hoffman where one monkey bite kills a human, via an infection that threatens to wipe out humanity. "Whoa!" I say, and do a little jazz-hands thing in the air.

The baby monkeys bounce backward as if yanked by unseen bungee cords. For a moment, they comfort each other, chirping and squealing as they get their heart rates down and their feart under control. But then, goading one another on, they advance again.

"Hah-hah!" I say, trying to sound confident and light-hearted. The monkeys are getting downright brazen. The look in their eyes reminded me of women waiting for the doors to open on Super Sale Saturday day at Walmart. They creep forward slowly but steadily.

"Aaagh!" I blurt, rather too loudly. Bigger jazz-hands this time.

They jump back, but only a foot or so. Almost immediately they resume forward progress. I can feel my heart rate speed up.

"Boo!" I shout, waving my jazz-hands high in the air.

This time the little monkeys don't jump back. Nor do they attack. Instead, as if by arrangement, they stand up, raise their arms, and wave their hands above their heads.

Tiny jazz-hands!

I burst out laughing, my nervousness suddenly drowned out by astonished delight. Something has changed for the monkeys. They've registered the fact that I'm not just a big animal they can use as a dare, like the nyala. Just as I've been keenly aware that they're nearly human, they seemed to have realized I'm nearly simian. I've graduated from being the object of the game to being a full-fledged participant.

For the next ten minutes or so, I mimic the monkeys' moves while they mimic mine, until it's hard to remember who is leading whom. "Humans love playing with other animals," says Diana Ackerman in her wonderful book Deep Play, "and sometimes this leads to a purity of exchange almost magical in its intensity." I can only hope that my playtime with the vervets is as magical for them as it is for me. We have more and more fun until eventually we all get up the nerve to let them them touch the hem of my pants, an event so exciting that I think we all pee a little.

To the people who must maintain Londolozi's elegant ambiance and top-rated cuisine, monkeys are an annoyance - they'd as soon steal your toast as look at you, and their droppings are both copious and malodorous. But I've always loved the vervets: the babies with their tiny faces, the adult males with their impressively bright turquoise testicles (yes, literally blue balls). Playing with the monkey nursery plunges me as deep into Wordlessness as I've ever been; their minds are so very like human children's, but without one syllable of language. By the time we hear an adult vervet piping an alarm and the babies head for the treetops, I've almost forgotten the tense and ordered way I usually think.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Jill Bolte Taylor

My spirit soared free like a great whale gliding through the sea of silent euphoria.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Abide With Me

It's Ash Wednesday and I am observing Lent this year. What better way than to start with a hymn. I love this's sad and solemn and fitting somehow. Help of the helpless, abide with me.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and Earth's vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Arnold Update

OK, since everyone from my friends to my colleagues to my boss (way over in the US) has asked after the little man, I think it's time for an update.

He was very very sick. In fact, Arnold was so sick that I thought I would have to bury him in JB. Yes, I took him back with me for my holiday. During that time his cough grew worse and I stayed up at nights, listening to that hollow hacking, and patting his belly, willing him to go to sleep again.

I put his bed upstairs (a no-no in the JB house) so I could watch over him as he slept. And he was very very weak. He refused most of his food, he slept most of the day, woke up to stagger about for a bit, before collapsing into a heap in a corner, and then, off to sleep.

He was too weak to negotiate the stairs alone, so this meant I had to carry him up and down. He's not exactly light.

Anyway, on my second day there, I closed the large gate outside and let Elliot run free. Arnold was there, and he flopped onto the grass while Elliot ran up and down like an antelope. He was so happy to run. Arnold watched him moist-eyed and whimpered when Elliot poked him playfully, wondering why this silly dog did not come running with him.

Then Arnold staggered home, tired out from simply watching Elliot.

I forgot to say, I packed a whole bag for Arnold before I left and guess what? I left that bag in KL (including his medication). That meant, Monday morning, having spent a night listening to my dog cough like a TB patient, I was frantic. I would need to get to an open vet so I could get a fresh set of pills for him.

See here's the thing. Monday was a combination of festivals - Thaipusam, Chap Go Meh and the Prophet's birthday. What this meant was that Chinese, Indian and Malay vets were all closed. I finally managed to call one office that answered. It was in the middle of the boondocks, far, far away...but what the heck. I found my way there (after one wrong turn and detour), waited for the vet to come from the temple (where he had been celebrating Thaipusam), got a whole heap of pills and came home.

Arnold was sleeping next to Mum who was watching her Bollywood drama serials. I forced some pills down his throat and cleaned his wounds, rubbing the antibiotic cream on them.

He cried a little, tried to bite me a little, hacked a little and then went back to sleep.

But surprisingly, over the week, he got a little better and then a little more. He started eating his food (rather than leaving it there for me to give Elliot later), getting hungry earlier and looking for food...and by the end, when I let Elliot go (after the Chingay procession at past midnight), there was Arnold, running after him uphill.

It was a transformation. On the ride back, I noticed that he sat up and took interest once we were in familiar territory. I opened the door to let him out of the car before coming him and he ran around the neighbourhood, antagonised all the dogs and was happy to be back. He was also happy to see Maggot (although Elliot had been unfailingly gentle and patient with him).

And he's now all better. He wakes up in the morning and wants to go for his walkies. He jumps on me when I get back from work to take him out on the lead. He even picked a fight with that schnauzer he hates last night. (Well, he tried to pick a fight. I pulled him on the lead and when he resisted, smacked his royal bottom).

In short, Arnold's all better now.

Thanks for asking.

Monday, 20 February 2012

It Never Gets Old

It is possible to do the right thing, even when everything inside you is wrong. When you feel like you'd like to crawl into bed, lift the covers over your head and stay there indefinitely, whimpering from time to time.

It's possible.

I remember the story about Wilkie Collins writing the funniest section of The Moonstone while he was laid up in bed, in a lot of pain. Maybe he was whimpering. But he was also creating a rib-ticklingly funny character.

Happy things are not always created by happy people.

For all this time, I've been focussing on that happy feeling, that bolus of epinephrine exploding in your heart.

But for a lot of that time, I've felt anything but.

And today, is especially significant. But today, I wrote out a dozen cards and forced my footsteps to the nearest post office to buy the stamps and send said cards to all sorts of destinations all over the world.

I posted off a bit of joy and my main intention was for the people who receive them, pause awhile in their day, and smile. And maybe that smile would spread to a person close by and then to another and another and another and then eventually, catch on like wildfire.

Or maybe it would be a private smile in the remote fastnesses of their hearts. Something to be savoured alone, not shared, not whispered of.

Either way, it would be a good thing.

It is possible to follow through even when you've fallen off the bandwagon 20 times already. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and tread firmly on the path once again.

New beginnings.

It never gets old.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Brief Chronicle

Wow, five minutes more and I'd have missed it.

And wrecked my perfect record.

My new car is washed and sparkling clean.

Took Chubs out for a birthday lunch.

And that, I guess, is about it for today.

(Sometimes we just have to be brief)

Saturday, 18 February 2012


'Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
and the mome raths outgrabe.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought-
So rested by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He came galumphing back.

'And has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day, Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves
And the mome raths outgrabe.


Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem that parodies epic poetry and medieval Romance, seems to be the most pulled apart and psycho-analysed text of its genre. A string of writers, concerned with what Carroll could have possible meant by the nonsense words sprinkled fairly liberally into a structured, recognisable form, wove a web of interpretations to suit their particular pet theories. To the Freudians, the reclusive Oxford don was hinting at his repressed sexuality. To the linguists, he had invented a new form of art, or at least perfected what was formerly only for children, for the enjoyment of adults as well. Many pointed out that adults, as well as children, read and enjoy Carroll, though possibly for different reasons. To Carroll himself, Jabberwocky was simply a flight of nonsensical fancy and nobody could have been more surprised than himself at the amount of interest it generated. When a reader wrote to him asking him what he had meant, he replied in a letter:

I'm very much afraid I didn't mean anything but nonsense! Still, you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them; so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer meant.

He was being prophetic indeed, suggesting the "death of the author" more than half a century before Roland Barthes wrote his famous book of a similar title.

This essay seeks to suggest that if one writes nonsense in a plausible and artistic enough manner, one will fool the world into thinking there must be a hidden meaning running through the text. The height of nonsense would be when it is presented in the trappings of sense.


Jabberwocky appeared in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass which was published by Macmillan in 1871. The opening stanza first appeared in Misch-Masch, the last of a series of private little "periodicals" that young Carroll wrote, illustrated and hand-lettered for the amusement of his brothers and sisters.

The text is divided into two sections - an identical opening and closing stanza and five middle stanzas which seem to have no relation with each other. It appears to be about a quest where the young hero kills a monster, but apart from that, making out the meaning is a matter of intelligent guesswork. As Alice herself remarked on reading the poem:

Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas - only I don't know exactly what they are! However somebody killed something: that's clear at any rate-

Carroll then introduces Humpty Dumpty (of nursery rhyme fame) as a kind of burlesque professor who decodes the poem for Alice in his own inimitable way. His explanations, however, only serve to confuse her further.

As Patricia Meyers Spacks said in her essay Logic and Language in Through The Looking Glass, his interpretation, reducing the first and last stanzas to an account of animals resembling badgers, lizards and corkscrews, going through various gyrations in the plot of land around a sundial during the part of the afternoon when one begins broiling things for dinner - destroys the poem.

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

David Buchbinder asserted in his book Contemporary Literary Theory and the Reading of Poetry that looking at the poem's structure and design will help readers figure out the meanings of strange words like brillig, by relating it to their experience of language. He pointed out that the word wabe for instance appears in the adverbial phrase of place (in the wabe) suggesting a location. The plural mome raths, combined with the verb-type word outgrabe suggests that these are creatures engaged in activity of some kind.

However, where in other poetic texts, the actual meanings and shades of meaning of words are critical in understanding the text, in a Nonsense poem such as Jabberwocky, their importance tends to recede into the background as the overall emotion evoked by the poem takes centrestage. As Alice said, it fills her head with ideas, though she is not exactly sure what. Therefore, its strength seems to lie in what it suggests rather than what it is.

Buchbinder said the first stanza, which is repeated at the end, may mean a variety of different things. Firstly, they may just provide the frame for real action set out in the middle stanzas. In this case, the stanza is both introductory and closural. Another theory he postulated, is that these stanzas are completely irrelevant to the middle five stanzas. Buchbinder, however, liked his third suggestion best, which was that the two stanzas were ironic commentary on the actions described in the central ones. This is because, if the world continued the same after the quest, there was not really much point to it in the first place. It seems to suggest the futility of this quest in particular and all quests, in general.

The desire to tack on a meaning to the poem, which Carroll himself admitted, had none, seems to stem from the fact that the words were put into a recognisable structure and Carroll used enough sensible words to fool people into thinking that there must be some meaning hidden under the layers of rubbish. Carroll seemed to be following the advice of one of his characters, the Duchess in Alice in a Wonderland to take care of the sounds and let the meanings take care of itself.

A more contemporary version of this would be American cartoonist Gary Larson's cow tools, which some critics have gone so far as to facetiously describe as one of the great mysteries of life. Larson drew a cow standing in front of her tool table with an array of tools spread out in front of her. It would have simply been taken as nonsense if one of the tools had not looked like a crude saw. Readers, seeing that, immediately assumed that the other tools must also be representations of actual tools and proceeded to burst their blood vessels trying to figure out which. Larson, who touched on the cow tools dilemma in The Prehistory of the Far Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibit, said he had never received so many letters for any one cartoon before. He even received letters from some official societies who told him that not even their cleverest members had been able to guess which tools he meant. Like Carroll, he was bewildered by all the fuss. He insisted he had not meant anything by this cartoon and that the tools were not meant to represent any human tools. In retrospect, he admitted that his mistake had been in making at least one of them, resemble something which was recognisable, giving rise to the assumption that they all should be.

What did Carroll contribute to language and literature? Realistically, he can be called the Father of Nonsense, as a genre. Before he came long with his two Alice books, Nonsense was considered quite low-brow. It certainly did not fall under the category of Art. In the Alice books, Carroll remained scrupulously logical in the little things, while playing havoc with concepts we tend to take for granted like time and space. For instance, when Alice tells the Mad Hatter that she cannot have "more tea" because she had none to begin with, he simply replies that she must mean she cannot have less, because it is possible to have "more than nothing". In Wonderland, the Mad Hatter is doomed to an eternal tea-time because he was "murdering time" while reciting a poem. In Through the Looking Glass, the only way to get somewhere is to walk away from it. There too, one remembers what is going to happen two weeks from now, rather than what happened yesterday.

With Carroll's contributions, nonsense as a genre came of age. Elizabeth Sewell, in her essay Lewis Carroll and T.S. Eliot as Nonsense Poets which was published in 1958 pointed out that much of our literature - poetry and criticism - and most of our philosophy, are shaped on Nonsense principles. She said people are slow to recognise the importance of Nonsense, and by extension, that of Carroll.

The ambiguity that he brings forward in his created world seems to run through most forms of art now. They refuse definition and will not be stereotyped into any one category. A good example of this would be Meredith Brook's Bitch, from the aptly titled album Blurring the Edges which despite its title, is not a rude song, but simply a woman's attempt to elude the usual stereotypes.

I'm a little bit of everything
all rolled into one

I'm a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell, I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way.

Sewell pointed out that contrary to popular belief the genre of Nonsense has strict rules.

The aim is to construct with words a logical universe of discourse, meticulously selected and controlled; within this playground the mind can manipulate its material, consisting largely of names of things and members.

But once one has created this logical world, one goes for it with a battering ram, leaving only enough sense for it to retain some semblance of order. Sewell pointed out that all tendencies towards synthesis are taboo - in the mind, imagination and dream; in language, the poetic and metaphorical elements, in subject matters, everything to do with beauty, fertility and all forms of love, sacred or profane. In fact, she said, whatever is unitive, proves to be the great enemy of Nonsense, to be excluded at all costs.


Basically, the discourse of our cultures dislikes chaos and confusion and tends to move towards order. It structures the world presented to it, trying to make out trends where none exist, from discrete events; for everything should mean something. It is this tendency that causes it to reject outright nonsense that is presented as nonsense. If Carroll had simply filled Jabberwocky with words that did not make any sense in a totally unrecognisable form, chances are it would not be around today, fresh and oft-quoted, studied, parsed and decoded to mean a variety of different things. By presenting Jabberwocky as a pseudo-logical parody of a quest, embedded within a dream, he succeeded in immortalising it. More than a century later, he still has numerous writers trying to figure out what he meant. This then, is the power of ambiguity, or of Nonsense disguised as Sense.

Friday, 17 February 2012


I know, I know, but I think it is an extraordinarily beautiful video of one of the most touching episodes of M*A*S*H*.

Still love Hawkeye. And Trapper. And BJ. And Radar. And Henry. And Hot Lips. And Frank. And Father Mulcahey.

All of 'em.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Writing About Rhinos

So I constipated over a story on rhinos. It's not that I didn't want to write it. It's that I didn't know how to. I kept sending off more questions, gleaning more information (look, I had to, we were running the story about three weeks after everybody else) and then going off on research tangents and uncovering interesting facts. Between that and everything I'd transcribed, let's just say I had a few truckloads of information. Which is not a good thing.

Because it leads to that dreaded wall known as overwhelm.

So yeah, there I was, staring stupidly at the computer screen. One deadline had passed. And the second. And then the third.

I wrote a letter to God. I said, please help me. I don't know how to write this story.

The editor who came strolling up to see how far I was along, saw the letter I had failed to cover.

Editor: Why are you writing letters to God?

Me: Because I have no idea how to write this.

So the next day, the very very last day I had...I went for an assignment, came home for lunch, sat cross-legged on my meditation mat with my computer on my lap. And just wrote.

And wrote.

And wrote.

And suddenly the story poured out of me.

Hot damn!

The editor, in the meantime was looking for me frantically. I owed her story. Where in the heck was I?

First story sent.

Ahh, so there was I.

Second story sent.

Dadda made tea and I had a cup. With chocolate cookies. Arnold curled up nearby. Made me miss freelancing just a little.

And then, third story, in fact, the main one that I had been struggling with for so long, sent.

And then I logged off the computer, leaned back and smiled. It was over. It wasn't the stuff of literature, but I was happy enough. (which is saying something, since I'm never happy with my work and if I allowed myself to, I'd fall down the sucky spiral)...

The next day, checking pages...Options had to close what I had written - all 6,000 words of it. The pages were laid out beautifully. The pictures. The pull-out quotes.

Everything, in fact.

Saturday, our annual dinner (we dressed up as people from different cities and it was a lot of fun).

Sunday, I drove back to JB with Arnold in the car.

As I sat around with Mum, shooting the breeze and feeling tired, my phone beeped to tell me that an email had come through. Office email only.

It was this.

Dear Jennifer,

Many thanks for a splendid piece in The Edge, easily the best media
piece I have seen so far after the spate since December 2011. If it
attracts interest from more than just the usual suspects, it will be a
significant contribution to saving the rhino.


And if I stepped out of my body I would burst into blossom...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Golden Bubble Technique

Yes, I know I'm supposed to talk about love. Instead, I'm going to share with you how to wrap yourself up in a golden bubble to repel negativity. More useful, no? I took this from Soul Psychology by Joshua David Stone:

The Golden Bubble

This is an excellent visualization for when you are feeling overwhelmed with life and assailed by negative thoughts. In times of high stress, you may want to start every morning with this protective, strengthening visualization for your mind and spirit.

Sit quietly and focus on your breath for a few minutes. Allow the negative energies from other people and the outer world to drop away from your consciousness as you tune into the love and guidance radiating from God.

Visualize yourself sitting inside a beautiful protective bubble of golden light. It is exactly the right size, neither cramped and restricting nor vast and lonely. Feel the skin of the protective golden bubble, its tensile strength and its permeability - keeping out all negative energy but allowing in love and positive thoughts and feelings.

The next step is to clear away all the negativity you were carrying when you spun the protective golden bubble around you. Very gently, open a small hole in the skin on the bubble, as though you were dilating the iris of a camera lens. Feel all the negative energy, thoughts, and feelings that may still be inside the bubble rushing out as though being pulled by a vacuum. Breathe out all the darkness and heaviness within you. When this energy has completely cleared, visualize the skin of the golden bubble resealing itself.

Now you're going to breathe in golden white light from the depths of your soul. Feel God's love pouring in, filling the inside of the protective golden bubble with positive energy and positive loving feelings and emotions. Feel yourself becoming balanced, even-minded, peaceful, and joyous. And when you're ready, step out into your day, knowing that the protective golden bubble will surround and support you wherever you go and whatever you do.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine' Day

Valentine's Day is one of my favourite of the year, and not for the obvious reasons. In fact, within the context of a relationship I often found it stuffy and unbearable, weighed down by the burden of expectation. But when I had decided to appropriate it for my own use, and send out Valentines I had made to all the people who meant something to me, the day transformed. Last year, I made heart-shaped red velvet cupcakes and gave them to a variety of people, including Arnold's vets. I did it because they were all kind to my scruffy little fellow and I wanted to say thank you. And I wanted the thank you to come from him. So red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese topping.

It being an important day, I wondered and wondered what to put here. A love poem (and I have a thousand of those) would not really suffice. It would not capture what Valentine's means to me.

Then I remembered this story from an old copy of my Chicken Soup books. It encapsulated, I thought, the spirit of the day. So here it is. And to my faithful readers, and to all who come here for the brownie recipe, Happy Valentine's. Enjoy!

Little Chad was a shy, quiet young man. One day he came home and told his mother that he'd like to make a valentine for everyone in his class. Her heart sank. She thought, 'I wish he wouldn't do that!' because she had watched the children when they walked home from school. Her Chad was always behind them. They laughed and hung on to each other and talked to each other. But Chad was never included. Nevertheless, she decided that she would go along with her son. So she purchased the paper and glue and crayons. For three weeks, night after night, Chad painstakingly made 35 valentines.

Valentine's Day dawned, and Chad was beside himself with excitement. He carefully stacked them up, put them in a bag, and bolted out the door. His mother decided to bake him his favourite cookies and serve them nice and warm with a cool glass of milk when he came home from school. She just knew he would be disappointed and maybe that would ease the pain a little. It hurt her to think he wouldn't get many valentines - maybe none at all.

That afternoon, she had the cookies and milk on the table. When she heard the children outside, she looked out the window. Sure enough, there they came, laughing and having the best time. And, as always, there was Chad in the rear. He walked a little faster than usual. She fully expected him to burst into tears as soon as he got inside. His arms were empty, she noticed, and when the door opened, she choked back the tears.

"Mommy has some milk and cookies for you," she said. But he hardly heard her words. He just marched right on by, his face aglow, and all he could say was: "Not a one. Not a one."

Her heart sank.

And then he added: "I didn't forget a one. Not a single one."

Monday, 13 February 2012

I'll Miss You When You Go

The days draw in
the rains come
and somehow we wrap up
and snuggle
put up the twinkle lights
and celebrate

the warmth of the season
the smells, the colours
and everywhere
the evergreens abound
we talk, we smile
we burst into laughter
these are the days
we remember ever after

and I'll miss you when you go
I'll miss you when you go

One glass of wine
then two, maybe three

Squiffy now
falling of the chair
everything's amusing
the lights are upside down
and the fake fireplace's a scream

and there's fondant melting in the car
be sure to put it in the freezer
and then the fridge

And this weekend you'll make cupcakes
and decorate them

And I'll miss you when you go
I'll miss you when you go

He said you would
You probably will
But I'll stay, see?

I'll stay here
and miss you
when you go.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Where The Heart Is

I saw you today.

Hiding at the bottom of my brandy glass. I swirled you around and drank you up.

You burned my throat.

Brandy, brimstone, brandy, brimstone...

There'll come a day when you're losing your way
and you won't know where you belong
they say that home is where the heart is
so follow your heart
and know that you can't go wrong...

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Love After Love

Sometimes, the one you need to learn to love is you...

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other's welcome

And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger, who has loved you

All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

(By Derek Walcott)

Friday, 10 February 2012


Days stretch into weeks,
stretch into months,
stretch into years,
And you're here,
you're always here.

You frighten me
with your inability
to just disappear
and resolve yourself
into the dust
of old Memory.

No, you just live on and on
tough as a scar
buried under layers
of fragile new skin.

I want to rip these scabs
and the scabs under the scabs
and every individual scar
that shields your memory.

But it's an endless onion
and every layer gives way to
fresh bleeding, new pain
And somehow,
I don't have the art
to get to the heart
of it.

However much I want to be free
I cannot.
I think I am
and then...

Days stretch into weeks
stretch into months
stretch into years
And you're still here.

And somehow I know
that as the days stretch into years
stretch into decades
stretch into centuries
that you always will be.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

To A Lost Love

This silence lies between us like a cold, dead thing. It's been years and yet there are still days when I wake up and can't believe you're gone. It's been so long. And it's been no time at all.

I go through all these spectacular highs and lows and they mean nothing, because nothing I do means anything at all. Everything in the intervening years has been a blur.

Watching myself from the outside.

Standing three feet from my body.

Once I was real. Now, I am a shadow pretending to be real. I hate to think that I need to be completed. I hate to think of myself as a half that's lost its whole.

So I take refuge in biting sarcasm. The tough guy, that's me. I try not to let them see me cry. I try not to let them see how much I still long for you. I now think I always will. You will always be the part that's missing. And there is nothing I can do to fight it.

Believe me, I've tried.

I look for you but the road is dark. I listen for you but the phone is silent. I reach for you but my arms are empty.

I know you can never come back. I know that if you were to, I would find you strange and you would find me stranger.

The things we can know with our minds are endless. We try to rationalise our misery. Of what use is that? Misery remains misery. I remain empty.

I close my eyes and you will be here, if I wish hard enough.

Please, please, please, please, please.

But you're not. You never will be.

I thought age was supposed to bring wisdom, acceptance, a cooling of the blood. But the wounds grow deeper and I miss you so much it's hard to breathe.

I love you.

I always will.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

You're Everything

I love you, I love you, I love you, when I sit on orange plastic chairs in depressing little cafes, sipping chicken soup, after everyone else is gone, I think of you, I think of what I will be saying to you, through you.

And as I watch handsome Pakistani men cavort around heavy wooden furniture tossing off ghazals in Urdu, I take note of the hilly-shaped spikes in their hair so I can come back to tell you about it.

When I taste the ginseng chicken soup, I close my eyes and try to come up with words to describe that strong herbal taste so I describe it to you, how it flowed down my throat - comfort, and maybe something stronger?

And when I visit the doctor's - a nice specky Chinese man with a kind smile who, contrary to (my) popular belief, did not dish me out a load of disgusting antibiotics, my eyes roam over his kind, lined face, his office, while my mind skips merrily over his words, noting each one, so I can come back to tell you about it.

Nice guy. I take note of his name, so I can come back here if I'm sick again. And I can't wait to get back and tell you I've found a doctor.

And since I'm reading More, Now, Again, I decide you're my ritalin.

And since, I'm listening to Michael Buble, I think:

It's you, it's you,
You make me sing
Your every line
Your every word
You're everything...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Razor Sadness

She has that razor sadness that only gets worse
With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by
And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet
till you're full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin
And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen...

9th and Hennepin (Tom Waits)

So I started out with bad directions, driving everywhere at once. I put through one call and she couldn't tell me where to go. She said, you're too far away, I don't know how to direct you.

She spoke in Malay. Her voice, a gentle tragedy. But I didn't know then. I hadn't seen.

So with rising irritation, I pushed on, eyeing the petrol gauge with slight consternation...great, it had to be today I be given bad directions, when there was less than a quarter tank left. Anyway, I went round PJ which is made up of roads that go everywhere, edge back on themselves, spread out, full of drivers who swear and swing into your lane, full of people needing to get somewhere, people who know where they're going.

And there was I, tentative, hesitant, inching my way forward, peering at the signs, praying for a miracle. A second phone call and I figured it out.

I was half an hour late. By Malaysian standards this was still OK. But I had spent three years in Australia. By Aussie standards it was unacceptable. How rude, how rude, how unaccountably rude. She would think I was taking this lightly. She would think...I didn't know what she would think. You see, I didn't know what to expect.

I parked across the road and made my way to the gate where an elderly looking Indian woman with a kind face let me in. I thought she was the one I had come to meet so I apologised profusely in Malay (or rather as profusely as I could in a language that after a lifetime of learning, I still speak badly). She smiled and gently steered me towards an office.

Some of the kids came up and smiled at me. Severely handicapped. But they looked happy. They wanted to shake my hand. They wanted to touch me. And the lady steered me away.

There she was in that little office. Little more than a girl. In reality, a year older than me, but still, so young, so lost, so tragic.

Her face pale and shadowed, she tried to smile. But her eyes kept tearing over. It had only been two months, you see. Two months since her much beloved husband had been snatched away in a freak car accident. All this was his. His dream. A home for handicapped children run with love.

They had been together since she was 14. He had a video shop, she used to go over to borrow tapes. They fell in love. She got married at 17. She was now 36. And he had only been 44.

"We were never apart, never, not until now. When he first started this, I was afraid of the children, and he said, if they were ours, you would love them anyway. They are ours. Love them."

It took her all of a week to adjust.

I asked how she coped. What with her grief, and the sudden burden of running the whole show herself. Again that smile: "You do what you have to do. You find the strength somehow. These kids, they have no one else."

The centre had been running for 15 years. He had big plans; physiotherapy, massage therapy, voice therapy, a bigger premise (he insisted that the kids should have a pleasant place to live, rather than be heaped together like sardines, as in most government-funded welfare homes); he had wanted it all.

Love, he said, it's always the love that is missing. That is what they need. That is what we can give them.

When they first started out he bathed the kids himself, fed them, looked after them. Slowly word got out and volunteers appeared to help out. He was a tireless fund raiser, a good speaker and he believed so deeply in what he was doing.

She worked alongside, a helpmeet who loved him and looked up to him and would have done anything because he asked her to. She just hadn't known he would ask her to do it alone.

"My husband was educated. Right up to college. I didn't even finish Standard Six which is why I can't really speak English. It never seemed to matter before. Now, I suppose I will have to learn. I can run this place. I know how to handle the children or manage the staff...but raising funds, talking to these big people..." she trails off.

Tears again. She reaches out to touch the leg brace in the chair next to hers.

His chair.

His leg brace.

His presence.

How could someone like me possibly hope to understand?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Gate C22

Love is a cliché . Except when it's not.

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like she'd just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she'd just been released from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavihs
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching -
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn't look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face, When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after - if she beat you or left you or
you're lonely now - you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman's middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

By Ellen Bass

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A Cry In The Dark

Sometimes the one you love is no longer here...and you keep loving, because that's all you know how to do.

They say I've lost it, and I tell them, I know, I have. But we're talking about different things. I shuffle along the street, head bowed, as if in deep conversation, and people pass me on either side, stepping away because they think I lips move, I'm forming words and I know you're walking beside me.

Sometimes the pain is quiet, and I just talk to you, tell you about my day and how it tasted when they put the pickles in my sandwich, and what the floor feels like under my bare feet and why the dog looks at me and turns away.

I walk at night because there are less eyes. And I can talk to you without them staring, except that sometimes I forget, I'm too loud and they peep over their gates to listen.

I can't help it. I miss you. There is still so much I have to say.

Sometimes I feel you brush past and I reach out. But my hand closes over nothing.

It's these times that are the hardest. Just when I got used to not having you here, your shadow fell across my face and I reached out.

It's then, my darling, that my body screams. It pushes this broken voice through my throat, an animal pain, and it screams and screams until my throat is left in bloody tatters.

They come for me then. Closing in from all sides. I don't bother to run. I don't feel them shove me, hold me down, hold me to the ground.

The mad woman, they say. Can't we do something about her, they say.

And my body keeps screaming.

So I keep moving. Never stay in one place for long. And I reach out for you to hold my hand to pull me forward.

I reach out my hand but it closes over nothing.

You're still not there.

The other day, I saw something that reminded me of you. It was a puddle of water, floating over mud and I saw the moon's bright face reflected in it.

I couldn't help it. I knelt down and drank. I drank. I drank. Mud. Salt. Blood. I drank.

And they surrounded me again.

And a little child said, poor thing Mummy, the mad woman must be thirsty. Can we give her some water?

But then I didn't hear anything more, because my body started to scream.

Nobody can make out what I scream.

But it's your name, it's always your name.

It tears through my me like a siren and it keeps tearing through me until there's nothing left.

Death should not happen so slowly.

I keep waiting for you to take my hand. But you're still not there.

And so I keep walking, hoping that someday, I will reach out, my hand will close over something, and then I won't be here anymore.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Steve Jobs

I had difficulty getting through the book on Steve Jobs because maybe sometimes I think geniuses are not very nice people. But this note, that Jobs wrote to his wife Laurene was surprisingly sweet, and deserves a mention here, on this blog, in this month, dedicated to love....

We didn't know much about each other twenty years ago. We were guided by our intuition; you swept me off my feet. It was snowing when we got married at the Ahwahnee. Years passed, kids came, good times, hard times, but never bad times. Our love and respect has endured and grown. We've been through so much together and here we are right back where we started 20 years ago - older, wiser - with wrinkles on our faces and hearts. We now know many of life's joys, sufferings, secrets and wonders and we're still here together. My feet have never returned to the ground.

Friday, 3 February 2012

For Love Is Sufficient Unto Love

Valentine's wouldn't be Valentine's without Gibran's wise words of love. At one point in my life, I remember reading this particular chapter every day, every day so that each word fell into my wounds and poured out sunlight. Words, the right words, can heal your soul.

I believe it, anyway.

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you
so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth
so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God."
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

She Dances In My Life

I dedicate this month to love. I don't know why I love Valentine's so much; I just do. So to kick off my Valentine month offerings, here's a poem Harold Pinter wrote for Antonia Fraser in the breathless, early days of their relationship. It's called "Paris".

The curtain white in folds,
She walks two steps and turns,
The curtain still, the light
Staggers in her eyes.

The lamps are golden.
Afternoon leans, silently.
She dances in my life.
The white day burns.