Sunday, 31 May 2015

Follow Through

I don't remember which year it was, but it was some years ago, when I decided I would try Christine Kane's "word" exercise for the year. You choose a word and it is supposed to be something you remember and work towards for the whole year. Not being very good at following rules, I chose two words: follow through.

Because following through on anything had always been my Achilles Heel. I would get into something so enthusiastically, all that energy, all that fizz, all those dreams, fully intending that I would end with a bang, that I would have something to show for it, and it would develop and grow into something beautiful.

About the only things I ever managed to complete were needlework projects. Because even if I got bored and let them lie a couple of days, a couple of months, I could always pick up where I had left off. These projects didn't judge me. They were happy to see me again. And yes, I had a sense of progress as I moved through them. And I completed quite a few major ones.

And the people I gave them to, well, they loved them.

But as for the rest of my life:

This year I fully intended to complete my first novel.

Well I did.

A first draft.

And there it sits, gathering dust because the longer I leave it, the more reluctant I am to take it up again, to grapple with it, to massage or chisel it into some kind of shape. I know I should. And I make plans as to how I can.

Like if I go to work early every day, I can leave at a decent time, which means the night would be all mine, to do all these other projects. Maybe spend half an hour a day on the tapestry I intend to give Katherine. An hour on a letter I would write, giving it due attention rather than being some rush job at the end of the week so I send out the required number.

And maybe, an hour on the book...just an hour a day. Surely even I could manage that. I would type of the chapters...then get to work. Maybe yes, maybe at first I should just type out the chapters as is. Just leaving it in all their unedited glory.

And then, I should spend the one hour a day, working on them.

Does this mean no more nights out? No more Marking on a Monday night, going out for dinner with my friends, etc etc etc?

I don't know. Everything is up in the air, a work in progress.

But I get a sense of urgency creeping in these days. So much of my life has been put on hold, something I would get back to later when I was more in the mood.

Guess what. It's later now. Later than I ever thought it would be, with so little to show for it.

And so today, I commit to follow through. I know it's not the beginning of the year. But it's not the end either. At the end of the year, I will reckon up my accounts to see just what 2015 has brought me. I know what I hope. Now let's see how it plays out.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Leaning into the Light

How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only within one's culture but within oneself? If there is a stage in which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the greatest pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expressing of leaning into the light.

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Doing the needful

On Saturday I took the girl dog whom I have since named Sylvie to the vet. I had confined her in the compound at first, because she was driving the males crazy and I could see from all the spunk on her coat that she had been raped repeatedly. Her own brother wouldn't leave her alone and was going crazy trying to hump her.

Saturday morning I bathed her. Then I took her into the car. She didn't know what to make of it but she settled into the car pretty well. So well, in fact, that after the visit to the vet, when I brought her home, she jumped right back in and settled herself at the driver's seat, only coming out when I brought out her lunch. Yes, she jumped out of the car eagerly for that.

The vet visit went fine. Many people admired her fine black coat and smiled at her. I told them her story, that she was a stray who had been dumped with her brother as puppies in our area. Because of her markings, everyone agreed that she had Rottweiler blood. That would account for how fierce she is to threatening strangers, rats, cats, squirrels. But if you're kind to her, she's so sweet. She licked Dr Adah's hand.

Dr. said we couldn't do the operation while she was on heat but would have to wait for a month. She scheduled the spaying for June 20. In the meantime, she said, she could give Sylvie her first vaccination. As for that randy brother of hers, she asked me to bring him in on Thursday (that is today). And he would undergo the big cut as well as a scrotal ablation.

He is going crazy right now trying to get to his sister. I have taken to throwing water on him whenever he starts shaking the gate. What can I do? It's not that he's heartbroken about being separated from her. He just wants to hump. Dr Adah told me that it would take a month before the hormones finally leave his system and after he recovers from the castration and ablation, he would still want to hump. And would still probably have some sperm left to do it with.

Dadda is naturally, not happy. He is wondering how long I am going to keep the female one here. He is afraid she will start to regard it as her home. It has become really difficult to take her out because her brother comes bounding along trying to hump her every step of the way. She growls, snaps and bites him, to no avail. She licks Elliott's face because he is the only male dog not interested in participating in these randy kiddy games. Well, he was castrated a long time ago. No more sperm or hormones there to do any damage.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Museum of Four in the Morning

The hour from night to day.
The hour from side to side.
The hour for those past thirty.

The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks.
The hour when earth betrays us.
The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars.
The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us.

The hollow hour.
Blank, empty.
The very pit of all other hours.

No one feels good at four in the morning.
If ants feel good at four in the morning
--three cheers for the ants. And let five o'clock come
if we're to go on living.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Monday, 25 May 2015

Week 21: Respond to a Situation Peacefully

This exercise is designed to have you consciously bring more peace into the world through a shift in your awareness. Try to transform a specific moment of anger, frustration, or dissatisfaction you have this week into a peaceful response.

Some examples of this concept in practice include:
- Instead of cursing the driver who cuts you off, smile.
- Instead of yelling at your children, hug them.
- Instead of speaking poorly of someone behind his/her back, say something nice.

Please note, this is not to say you should repress any of your emotions. To do so would be doing just the opposite of this theme's intent. If you want to scream, curse or rant, please do so. One way to interpret the theme is to forgive yourself if you behave in such a way, assuming that way is about to upset you.

The lesson here is to recognize how often we are contributing to the existence of negative energy and then to consider and act on how to transform that energy into something positive, thus bringing more peace, love and kindness into the world.

Summarize your experience in your journal in a way that honors the exercise.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Original Thinking foreword by James O'Dea

For the last 30 years the Kogi people have been sending urgent messages to the world from a top Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world's highest coastal mountain range. They view themselves as elder brothers and sisters whose younger siblings across the planet have fallen out of rhythm with the matrix that nourishes all life: we have stopped listening to the heartbeat of Mother Earth. We are no longer pulsed by Earth's abundant generosity towards all life. Instead we are fuelling a hyper-acceleration we call progress, racing beyond the laws of ecology and sustainability to a paradise defined by the acquisition of stuff. Ignoring Nature's principles for sustaining biodiversity and replacing them with manufactured goods and technowizardry is leading to a world where everything begins to look monochromatic and is dangerously out of balance. The Kogi do not see this outright assault on Nature in support of materialist progress as representing a final Armageddon. Even as they predict the possibility for catastrophic loss of life resulting from ignoring Nature's warnings about the real cost of our lifestyles, they defer to the original intelligence of Nature as the guardian of all life. Kogi elders personally told me, "Mother Nature knows how to clean herself and how to heal herself. Humanity must understand that Nature has infinite patience to teach us how to live in harmony with her laws."

The Kogi people have a commitment to the whole planet and daily pray for the world's people, its mountains, its rivers, its forests, and oceans. Their elders are in constant telepathic communion with life on Earth. They are a deeply wisdom-sourced culture. Yet they are not immune to the disruptions to their way of living brought about by climate change, aggressive commercialism, political turmoil, and the seductions of consumerist society. Their culture has remained relatively intact compared to some other Native communities, but the velocity of social and cultural destruction that comes with "progress" has already begun to affect them.

The wise Bushmen of the Kalahari have a story deeply relevant to this era. They speak of the time of All Devourer. This seems a particularly apt archetype to represent the current rapacious destruction of ecosystems and natural resources. All Devourer eats up everything, including rivers and trees. But like the Kogi, the original people of the Kalahari do not interpret these calamities as foreshadowing an end to the world rather they provide a basis for understanding cycles and processes. Since what it has swallowed is living, it only makes sense to the Bushmen that Life itself will eventually emerge from the belly of All Devourer. A time of renewal will follow a time of destruction and the wise are the ones who know what their roles and responsibilities are in each phase.

We are indeed in the time of All Devourer. For this reason it is particularly opportune that Glenn Aparicio Parry offers us the exceptional creativity and wisdom contained in Original Thinking. Rather than fixate on the breakdown we see everywhere, Parry chooses to go beyond symptoms to root causes. He enters into the prevailing maps of the mind with enormous precision. He shows us the trajectory of the predominant western worldview as it hurtles towards alienation and fragmentation. He unravels our predicament of creating a world where we serve accelerating time rather than the rhythms of a deeper remembrance of who it is we really are.

A spirit of resurrection and renewal pervades the book as Parry revisions a world that does not jettison the past but fully integrates its learning into a richly sensorial experience of harmony and wholeness. He achieves what so many others fail to do in honouring the past - he does not get stuck in looking back but gives us a template of meaning for living human values that are integral to the natural order rather than being in rebellion against it. Original Thinking is a hymn to the recovery of being in a mechanised world and to our liberation form paradigms that severely inhibit our innate wisdom.

The bedrock of experience for Parry's own fertile imagination and remarkable insightfulness emerges from years of dialogic practice. Dialogue has also been a path for me in my own journey to explore our capacities for collective social healing. I have facilitated and witnessed the healing power of dialogue between protagonists in major conflicts around the world, between victims and perpetrators, with survivors of torture, with human rights activists, peace builders, psychologists, and academics. Dialogue can create a field of openness to listening and being with another that can be profoundly healing. In dialogue we can move beyond linear narratives and constant disagreements over facts and history. We can move into an exploration of the truth of experience. Invariably the field of connectivity between people becomes significantly deeper when subjective truth is honoured and the wisdom of the heart is not suppressed.

As you will read in the pages ahead Parry has a great deal to share on the kind of integral dialogue that gives full play to both head and heart; to feeling with the mind and thinking inside the heart. But our contemporary systems are not organised around dialogic process. Our political processes are polarised. Our educational systems are compartmentalised and structured around information transmission, largely discounting the relevance of subjective experience. Dialogue is not seen as having the muscle needed to generate breakthroughs, originality, creativity, or real momentum in the social order. From this perspective, dialogue is a kind of tea-time affair that may be emotionally satisfying but not impactful on civilisation as a whole.

You are about to discover an approach to dialogue that is transformational for our collective engagement with nature and with a thriving planetary civilisation. Our deepest thinking is relational and it communes with all life rather than dissecting it into separate units. Original Thinking invites you to re-experience your own ground of being and your relationship to Cosmos, not as an information retrieval process but as a profound journey of discovery sourced by an open and dialogic inquiry into the connection between you and all that is. What a quest!

Finally a map that drops you into a territory of meaning where once more you have to trust your instincts, hone your intuition, and let your inner compass guide you to those wisdom keepers who will have the perfect question to set you on your way. I assure you some paradigm shifting, and even life-changing, questions await you in this important book.

Friday, 22 May 2015

And the final...Normism

Well, ta-dah, the end of my Normisms. So I won't even feature the now-familiar picture.

Woody: What's going on Mr. Peterson?

Norm: The question is, 'what's going IN Mr. Peterson?' A beer, please.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Magical Thinking

And now I'll take time out from excerpting to tell you about my own sort of magical experience.

When I went to the Cellar bookshop in Chicago, I bought just one book; A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and I really, really wanted to read it after thumbing through it although I had seen it so many times in KL without it raising a single twitch of desire in me. I guess when it's time to read a book, it starts to call to you. Yes, I believe that books have a spirit.

Anyway, after Cellar, Alberto and I went back to the hotel to pick Alecksei, the Russian member of our team, up and from there to Buddy Guy's Legends bar to enjoy another drink and a little music. By the time I got back to the hotel it was late. And I was tired and tipsy on two wines but still, I tried to read some more Magical Thinking. Naturally I didn't succeed. I fell into an asleep, aware that I hadn't packed and we were due to check out of the hotel the next morning to head to San Francisco, our last stop on this roller coaster ride.

But what do you know? I left my book on my bed in the hotel room. This made me very very sad. I would have ditched the book I was reading at that time to read this one.

I had vague ideas of buying the book on Kindle or getting another copy when I got back to KL but I didn't do anything about it.

Then someone I had met in New York, whom I had given a present from Malaysia to emailed me. He was sorting through his sister's books (the two of them had been very close and she had died only six months ago after a one-year struggle with cancer) and he found a Joan Didion among them. He remembered that I liked the author (we had exchanged a few emails when he wrote to thank me for the present) and would I like it.

I asked which book it was.

He said: "A Year of Magical Thinking."

And I was like: "What? This is incredible."

And proceeded to tell him the story. That the book should find its way back to in this, it can't be a coincidence.

And the name. I mean, come on, the name.

There is magic out there. Now if I can just squeeze out enough of it to find these two darlings (pups) a home of their own.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Jane Kenyon's Instructions For A Writer

* Protect your time;

* Feed your inner life;

* Avoid too much noise; (!)

* Read good books, have good sentences in your ear;

* Be by yourself often as often as you can;

* Walk;

* Take the phone off the hook;

* Work regular hours;

* No to lunch with friends, to the overflowing inbox;

* Quiet contemplation will lead you to riches, so keep good literature on tour bedside table and read for a few minutes before you go to sleep;

* Cultivate solitude in your writing space, in the car, at the kitchen table, when the house is empty;

* Get your blood moving;

* Feel your feet on the earth;

* Your mind is not floating in space but connected to a body;

* Disable the internet;

* Find a rhythm.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


The very same magic, the very same, Jennifer, that you used to get your first job, to find a best friend, and to heal what hurt, that even now finishes your sentences, beats your heart, and inspires your dreams, is the exact same "grade" of stuff that can make what you most want today come to pass.

Point being: You've already engaged it. You've already commanded it. You've already done the impossible... So what's the big deal about doing it again?

Oh go on...
The Universe

Jennifer, you and the magic are one.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Week 20: Be Awed By Life

This week's exercise is intended to be fairly simple but you may find it hard to do. It begins by taking time to consider the miraculous in everyday things.

If you get a cut, how is that it can heal? In biting into a fresh apple, how is it that it was grown? In smelling a flower, how did it get its fragrance?

Be filled with awe and wonder this week, even at the simplest of things. In fact, be filled with awe and wonder at the MOST simplest of things.

Having practiced this for a few days, take time to write about one of your awe-inspired moments. If you are keeping a kindness journal, make this your writing prompt for the week.

Next, before the week has ended, share this story, either in writing or in person, with someone else. In doing so, be filled with awe and wonder that someone is able to read or listen to your story, and that you are able to tell it.

It's incredible, isn't it?

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Clouds in Paper

If you are a poet, you will see clearly
that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper.
Without a cloud, there will be no rain;
without rain, the trees cannot grow
and without trees, we cannot make paper.
The cloud is essential for the paper to exist.
If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot
be here either.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Saturday, 16 May 2015


Tired of this yet? This is what you get when I go to Boston and visit the actual pub...

Woody: How's it going Mr. Peterson?

Norm: It's a dog eat dog world, Woody and I'm wearing Milk Bone underwear.

Friday, 15 May 2015


Where then is my pain?
I have no more pain.
It's only a murmur
at the edge of the sun.

Paul Fort, Song To The Dawn

Thursday, 14 May 2015

San Francisco

The last leg of our trip. Here's the thing. If you're going to take a five-hour flight, be sure to eat on the plane (either pack food or buy their overpriced offerings)...eating before just doesn't do the trick. We ate (and not very much at that) at the Chicago airport, and by the time we got to San Francisco, I was famished. One of our liaisons, Lynda, was from San Francisco, so she kept up a patter all the way from the airport to the hotel, which is apparently a historic one, with a lot of arty furniture in the lobby.

This is a real big chair. You can't see how big because it looks like any old chair. Here's how big...

The others were full of beans when we arrived at San Fran, and full of plans as to what they were going to do. I thought I might join them but I got to my room and started to feel sick. I couldn't even face going down and foraging for food at the cafes nearby. We had a Starbucks and Mackers just across the street. So instead, I forked out a fortune (plus tip, plus tax) to have sandwiches in the room. Alberto whatsapped to tell me which restaurant they found themselves at, but I begged off. Headache. No, freaking migraine.

After a good night's sleep, I was ready to go in search of Starbucks the next day. Huh! They didn't have my favourite chocolate caramel muffin and I wasn't going to waste time getting another pastry. By the way, I eventually found the chocolate caramel muffin there (it's a best seller and gets finished real fast if you don't get in early enough) but it was nothing like the one in Boston. Nothing!

Anyway, our first meeting was not till well after lunch so I had time to wander around and look at the place. I wanted to post somethings so I went in search of a post office. Note to anyone who wanders around in search of a post office. It's best to ask someone...the one I eventually found was located at one corner of the basement of Macy's. It was not signposted so you would not have known it was there, otherwise. Anyway I posted my parcels and letters and cards and decided to stroll about taking in the scenery. The scenery being shops. I was pretty confident I would be able to find my way back to the hotel (it was one street away from Post Street. But I hadn't taken down the name. Which was a mistake).

One thing that surprised me was the number of old men with broken teeth who came up to me and asked for spare change. I kept my change in a little native American purse that I had bought from the Smithsonian in Washington. So one guy got a couple of dollars, another got all my spare change...I hadn't learned yet to look ahead and not make eye contact. I would before very long in San Fran.

Some interesting store fronts.

I stumbled on a Peet's Coffee which Lynda had told us to go to (it was supposed to be better than Starbucks and when in San Francisco, drink the coffee that San Franciscans drink).

I asked the nice lady that you can see in this picture...who is a sort of relationship officer for Capital One 360 if this was the Peet's that everyone was talking about...and she started chatting with me about what 360 does. It sounded interesting...a bank exclusively for online transactions...and then she said she would buy me a cup of coffee. I did tell her that I was Malaysian and as such couldn't open a bank account (though I might be interested in writing about the 360 concept) and she shrugged it off saying we had had a good conversation. So I scored a medium sized cappuccino (OK Peet's was a little too strong for my taste) and tried to sit there and surf the internet or update Facebook. But had absolutely no connection. Besides, it was getting late. Time to go.

I walked back to Post Street and realised that I was lost. I had no idea what road my hotel was supposed to be on. I had completely lost my bearings. Feeling a little desperate (we were supposed to be back at the hotel and ready to go by one), I flagged down a taxi and told him my hotel name. He was a nice guy and chatted with me, alleviating my panic and he took me there in no time at all...I flew out of the cab, but not before giving him a sizeable tip.

I don't remember much about the appointments that day. Oh wait, I do. Our first meeting was with the Electronic Frontier Foundation which fights for freedom of access to the internet and the right to anonymity and not be messed about by the NSA. I was in for a shock here because one of the guys there mentioned an ex-boyfriend of mine. He did it casually, tossed off his name like it was nothing at all. But I sort of know that he probably did it on purpose. So what this meant was that Jeremy was no longer in Malaysia. He was now in San Francisco fighting for freedom on the internet. I would never have pegged him for an activist, being too superior for anything that would link him to the masses. But when later that day I looked him up in their list of staff/people/whatchamacallits, I saw that all of them had eccentric profiles. So not really "of the people" as far as that went. One of them, in fact, the guy who spoke to us that day, claimed to have invented the term "life hack".

Our next meeting was with the San Francisco Bay Area Council. They served cookies and coffee (something we found we could not take for granted here). He was a nice guy and he explained to us why so many people wanted to come to Silicon Valley. That's the dream isn't it? Anyway, that was our last meeting for the day and our driver deposited us back at the hotel. The others were going to the port or something but what I really, really wanted to do was go to City Lights bookshop. I looked up how to get there and it seemed pretty simple on Google maps. I set off in the right direction. Or it may have been the wrong one. From this distance I can't remember. But if I did, I corrected myself and was jogging along in the right general direction when a particularly aggressive homeless man stopped me. First he wanted to sell me a newspaper, pointing out that unlike other homeless people who just begged, he was doing a proper business by selling that paper. Then he decided that I was too soft a touch to just buy a newspaper for which he would get 50 cents out of the $2 I forked out and took me to a hotdog stand to buy his three children (he swore he had them) three hot dogs. These hotdogs were frigging $5 a piece. The problem was I only had $100 notes and the guy at the hotdog stand didn't have change. I shouldn't have opened my wallet because once he got an eyeful of that, obviously three overpriced hotdogs and sodas was not going to be enough. A girl standing by pointed out that the hotdog stand accepted debit cards. So I bought the hotdogs and gave him $5 for three sodas (he stank of alcohol and I wondered). Then he said he could really, really use money to rent a hotel room that night and at that, I snapped...I said, you keep upping the ante - first it was just a newspaper, then it was hotdogs and sodas and now a hotel room? At that, he backed off, bought the sodas and I went on my way, avoiding the eyes of all I passed because I had just spent $20 on this man I didn't know who acted like he was entitled to it. The secret: Don't meet their eyes; don't turn around when they try to engage you in conversation...I am sure your hard luck story is as hard as you make it out to be. But since when are you my responsibility? If you're a deadbeat dad who can't provide for his kids, maybe you should have fucking used a condom!

So I kept walking along Geary Street until I hit Grant Avenue where I turned left. Now here is where it got tricky. From Grant Avenue I was supposed to turn right to Jack Kerouac Alley...but I walked and walked right through Chinatown without seeing the damn thing. I kept wondering if I had missed it and whether I should turn back. But I kept pushing gamely on...and there it was. As I was later to learn, the famed Jack Kerouac Alley.

And then I saw it...the famous City Lights. I arrived just in time for a reading. City Lights was relaunching David Meltzer's poetry primer Two-Way Mirror.

Here is the wikipedia entry on him:

David Meltzer (born February 17, 1937) is an American poet and musician of the Beat Generation and San Francisco Renaissance. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has described him as "one of the greats of post-World-War-Two San Francisco poets and musicians.

So he was a Beat? Wow. I just found that our right now when I googled him. Whadya know. He tottered to the stage, being a trifle old, I think 78. First he felt up his book like a lover. Then he started talking about how lovely the new font was, and the design, and then he started reading excerpts from the book in his shaky old man voice. It was kind of pleasant. He had a dry sense of humour. At one point he started talking about the creative writing classes he used to give in prison. At that point he mentioned Ronald Reagan who had pulled the funding from this programme. At this point he grimaced. He said it made him tense in the stomach to think of Reagan...and that the man was a putz. We all laughed.

I liked him, but the reading seemed to go on forever. I was itching to get out of my seat but it would have been rude. So I stayed as he read more bits from the book and riffed through it. Nothing was all improvisation, kind of like jazz. He didn't know what he was going to say about anything...until he had said it. I loved that kind of energy, that kind of confidence. He didn't agree with computers being placed over books in terms of importance. Computers above, books below, as relics in libraries...a sad state of affairs. Publishers no longer publishing poetry because it didn't "sell". He lamented the losses that people had suffered because of this slow deprivation.

He ended and people asked a whole bunch of questions. I was hungry and irritable and wished that they would all just shut up and let the poor old man get off the stage so he could get down to signing books. I decided not to buy it. Flipping through it, I realised that it was really not my kind of thing. Instead, I bought a whole bunch of other books including Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez and Howl by Allen Ginsberg. If there was a place to buy Howl I figured it was here.

I paid for my purchases and decided that I wanted to eat something. I had a choice, of Chinese or Italian. I opted for Italian and then walked up the length of Columbus Avenue looking for a likely place to eat. I found one but it would not do because there was a slightly retarded looking guy who stared and smiled at me. It shouldn't have mattered but he made me uncomfortable. So I got up and walked further down. I found a simple restaurant and ordered spaghetti and meatballs and a glass of red wine. Naturally I couldn't finish my spaghetti...actually no, it was half and half - half spaghetti and half something else. So I doggie bagged it with some idea of giving it away to some homeless person.

I set off for home, deciding not to go the way I came which was a huge mistake. I got lost. I walked and walked and walked, lost in a tangle of streets, tried to flag down a cab who said yes and then no, and I kept walking up the cold, cold street until finally one stopped for me. It took a while to get back to the hotel. Lesson: Always go back the way you came. Unless you know San Francisco, don't take alternate streets. It's not New York. The streets don't join up in a well-ordered way.

Anyway, I got back to the hotel. I saw a homeless man in the street but I hesitated about going to offer him food. He was hanging around outside the liquor store. I learned later that the hotel was very close to Tenderloin. I entered the hotel and saw some girls passing...they were very young and one of them actually forgot her pants. She was wandering out with her friends, giggling in nothing but her panties and a top. I stared at her not quite believing what I saw. What kind of hotel was this anyway? I spoke to one of the security guys who had been trained to recognise the guests and only allow those upstairs. I asked him about finding a homeless person to give my food to and he told me he wouldn't bother if he was me. Being security, his encounters with them had been less than pleasant. And he didn't really feel sorry for them. We chatted a bit and then I went to bed. (To sleep perchance to dream).

We were to be in San Fran for five days. Two of them had already passed irretrievably. My time on the IVLP was coming to an end.

Day Three we had a bunch of meetings (sorry I can't really remember them) and at night I was going to meet my friend Adelina at the 2 Sisters Bar and Books. We were both intrigued by the drinks and books options (when we got there we found a threadbare selection - it wasn't really what we thought, more of a book exchange really. There were some people sitting at tables alone who had picked a book and were reading away. It was small and cramped but obviously hip and cool. There were people there young enough to be university students but we didn't really take in any of that. We ordered our really cool cocktails and gabbed up a fest. Adelina's latest obsession was syphilis and she had read up a storm about it. So many of the artists were infected and she wondered how much of their art came from syphilitic madness. We talked and talked and caught up. Then she sent me back to the hotel.

Tonight the hotel wasn't jumping the way it had been the day before. And so, to bed.

The fourth day dawned...our last day in San Francisco. We would be flying out the next day, some of us really early. I started feeling really sad. Despite my tendency to go off on my own, I had bonded with this group and I would miss them. It was unlikely that we would ever meet again. None of the other groups I had been with had ever bothered to keep in touch. Why would it be different with them?

As with the day before, we started out at Starbucks. Rowland (from Namibia) and Bashar (from Jordan) were busy filling their feedback forms. They had decided not to be too critical. During the meeting, most people spoke in appreciation of the programme and thanked the US Department of State for bringing us here and spending money on us. There was some critical feedback which was interesting. And then there was a sort of graduation ceremony. And we were free to go.

Alberto, Shyam and I decided to go to City Lights...Shyam didn't want to go to the bookshop. He didn't really like them despite being a journalist. He would come with us as far as Chinatown to buy some souvenirs. And then go back on his own. Alberto agreed to come to City Lights. He pointed out later that this was the fourth bookshop I had dragged him to since coming here. (The only bookshop he had gone to on his own was the one in Washington).

We meandered, had lunch at a nice place in between on Geary Street (I think at Neiman Marcus, which meant that it was posh) and then strolled over to Chinatown. Here we stopped and went into many tacky shops to look at souvenirs. Shyam picked at this and that. Alberto bought a few things for his kids. And I, well I bought some cards and postcards from a stationery shop just before Chinatown and was saving the rest of my shopping for City Lights. Yes. Again.

I had distributed all the gifts I had faithfully carried over the five states (Norman said it was no wonder my bag had been so heavy and asked why I hadn't distributed the gifts in Washington - I told him I hadn't known anyone yet, so it would have been insincere). I had the presents delivered to the rooms of the people who got them accompanied with a handwritten Kuen Stephanie card. (yes, if you are going to do the thing, you might as well do it well). I wanted to give a lot more gifts than I had on hand...I had given some away during the trip to my friends, one bus driver, one US Department of State guy...well...I wished I had kept more on hand.

The others had come up to me during our debriefing session to hug me and thank me for the gifts - one Lat book (I had brought four), One Day Three Autumns by Liew Suet-Fun, and about five copies of Kenny Loh's Born in Malaysia. I had five signed copies and one unsigned copy to give away.

Anyway, Alberto and I got to the bookstore but we had to stop at the Jack Kerouac Alley to admire a group playing bluegrass music with improvised instruments (like a suitcase and a washboard)...I wish I had a picture...Alberto actually recorded them on his super duper phone but he didn't send me the video. Naturally since he was one of my best friends on the trip, he was on the receiving end of a book and a card (in which I asked him to send me pictures) and he did that almost at once..while I was out with Adelina, my phone kept buzzing and suddenly there were all these wonderful pictures there, complete with the funniest captions.

Here they are:

Alberto's caption: We were tough with the guy.

Backstory: The Food and Water Watch people actually had a good case, but they didn't make it very well. And one of their examples was about sweatshops in Malaysia. I told the guy we had a labour shortage and it was not a good place for sweatshops. The others jumped in asking about where they got their data from and arguing with everything the guy said. The meeting did not go very well.

Alberto's caption: The excesses of libertarianism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Backstory: He thought the EFF had rather a too cavalier attitude to IP rights and protection.

Alberto's caption: Breakfast on the 20th day.

Backstory. And we all met at Starbucks, regularly in San Fran, to start our day.

His caption: The are to the bottom: trade leads to dumping, at least in Chinatown gutters.

Backstory: Nearly all the labour movements and environmentally-related groups used this phrase: the race to the bottom. Alberto and gang were getting kinda sick of it.

His caption: Wouldn't it be nice not to be able to concentrate here?

Backstory: I think this was in Berkeley. And I have no idea.

His caption: SF as it once was.

Backstory: Alberto took a long long walk on our second day there to meet the mother of a host family he had stayed with 30 years ago. He loves architecture and along the way he took lots of photos. This is one of them.

His caption: Crossroads.

Backstory: Taken during that same walk.

His caption: A corner where to take the same picture everyday.

Backstory: Alberto loves the movie "Smoke". And in that movie, one of the main characters is a guy who sells cigars. And he used to take a picture at the same corner at the same time every day for 20 years. Or it may have been more. And in those pictures you could recognise some faces and actually see a progression, how people's lives turned out. He was in love with the he just needed to find the right corner.

His caption: Back to routine on the 20th day.

Backstory: Us milling around at Berkeley.

His caption: Wish the people could talk like in comics. What would they be saying?

A chair without any further references.

Backstory: Ahem, the chair I was talking about before. At our hotel lobby.

Caption: Further references without any chair at Lombard Street.

Caption: Unaffordable gutters.

Backstory: Hmmm...I have no idea.

Caption: Two seconds before avoiding the great fall at Sears tower.

Backstory: Alberto has a lot more guts than I do. He went to the Tilt.

Caption: Less is more. Mies [van der Rohe]'s mantra taken to the extreme. Chicago's central post office only a post box.

Backstory: I am not sure this is true. When I asked around there was a 24-hour post office operating there.

Caption: Frank Gehry's skyline.

Backstory: Frank Gehry is the Canadian-born architect who designed Millennium Park in Chicago.

Caption: The architect was a woman.

Backstory: I don't know.

Caption: Mirror watching Chicago.

Backstory: Drop of Mercury in Millennium Park in Chicago.

Less is more once more.

Backstory: I am pretty sure this is Boston. But I might be wrong.

Less is more.

Backstory. I think this was in San Francisco. Alberto had a knack for liking things that no one else looked at and finding them fascinating.

Well, OK, maybe that's enough for now.

I was supposed to go out with Adelina but I decided that I wanted to spend my last night with these guys. After we got back from our outing at City Lights (where I picked a book for Alberto's wife; Jamaica Kincaid's "My Brother") by accident. Actually Alberto had rejected all my suggestions (Shantaram, A Tale for the Time Being) then he saw me sitting downstairs reading this book, which I handed to him, explaining Kincaid's very slow, deliberate prose. "Perfect," he said. And bought it.

Anyway, we walked back to the hotel, taking detours (but this was with Alberto and he knew his way and didn't get hopelessly lost the way I did, his detours were deliberate) and we ended up going into a toy shop as he wanted to buy a baseball mitt for his son. The shop didn't have a baseball mitt and I decided that we were not going to wander around aimlessly looking for one. So I asked someone in the shop and she directed us to a shopping centre nearby. She said there were sports shops in that shopping centre (I can't remember the name) and we might just find what we were looking for.

And we did. A nice baseball mitt that was a tad big but which Alberto Junior would grow into. And Alberto also bought a ball. He would play catch with his three children in the park.

We strolled back from there and went to Macy's so I could pick a new handbag. Now, I don't like shopping for handbags so I was taking my time, feeling increasingly desperate. Finally Alberto picked one that he liked and I bought it. And I love it.

When we got back to the hotel it was pretty late and I needed to call Dadda and wish him because it was his birthday. Rowland sent out an email to say that a bunch of them were meeting at the lobby at 7.30 and everyone was welcome to join. I knew I wouldn't be done by 7.30...what with the phone call and a I emailed to say that I did want to join them, and to let me know where they were going as I wouldn't be down in time. So I had both Rowland and Alberto, emailing and texting to tell me that they had ended up at Cupola, an Italian restaurant on the 4th floor of the shopping centre we had been at earlier to buy the baseball glove.

I hurried there to find five of them - Oranuch (the girl from Thailand), Bashar (the guy from Jordan), Johan (the guy from Sweden) and of course, Rowland and Alberto. They had already ordered their pizzas and drinks, so I ordered mine (I think the waitress was flirting with me, but then, she flirted with everyone). We drank a little, ate a little, talked a little rubbish and then it was time to walk back to the hotel.

The others had decided to meet at the lobby at 10pm to say goodbye and so we did.

We started with a drink at the lobby and then went for a walk outside and finally, I went with Alessandro and Shyam to a Japanese restaurant where Alessandra and I had ramen. (Not a good idea). Having had too much to drink and a really spicy meal, I slept the sleep of the uneasy (not having packed, again), and woke up with a massive stomach ache...which I took care of precipitately. And then I packed slowly (it was five in the morning), stumbled downstairs to see if I could get someone to help me move my voluminous luggage down. Checked out and did the needful. Then proceeded to wait beside the arty chairs and the fake log fire for the rest to emerge. I didn't even have the energy to go across to the Starbucks and buy a coffee.

Bashar smiled at me and told me I looked terrible and this is why he hadn't drunk anything the night before (and also why he repaired early to bed, smart fellow).

We climbed onto the bus; Bashar, Abdallah, Shyam, Norman and I and took off for the airport. They were dropping me off first and they all came around to hug me. I was touched. I hugged Norman real tight because he had been the one to take care of us in Boston and he had been so nice. He told me what to tip the guy for checking in my bags at the door of the terminal...and then I was in the airport and we were off.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Mark Vonnegut's Introduction to Armageddon in Retrospect

Mark Vonnegut

His dad

Writing was a spiritual exercise for my father, the only thing he really believed in. He wanted to get things right but never thought that his writing was going to have much effect on the course of things. His models were Jonah, Lincoln, Melville, and Twain.

He rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, muttering whatever he had just written over and over, tilting his head back and forth, gesturing with his hands, changing the pitch and rhythm of the words. Then he would pause, thoughtfully rip the barely written-on sheet of typing paper from the typewriter, crumple it up, throw it away, and start over again. It seemed like an odd way for a grown-up to spend his time, but I was just a child who didn't know much.

He had an extra gear language-wise. At eighty-plus he was still doing the New York Times crossword puzzles quickly and in ink and never asking for help. As soon as I told him the verb came last, he could translate my Latin homework at sight, without having ever taken Latin. His novels, speeches, short stories and even dust-jacket comments are very carefully crafted. Anyone who thinks that Kurt's jokes or essays came easily or were written off the cuff hasn't tried to write.

One of his favourite jokes was about a guy who was smuggling wheelbarrows. Every day for years and years a customs agent carefully searched through this guy's wheelbarrow.

Finally, when he was about to retire, the customs agent asked the guy, "We've become friends. I've searched your wheelbarrow every day for many years. What is it you're smuggling?"

"My friend, I am smuggling wheelbarrows."

Kurt would often laugh so hard at his own jokes that he would end up bent in half, looking up with his head in his lap. If it started a coughing fit, it could get a little scary.

When I complained about being paid fifty dollars for an article that had taken me a week to write, he said I should take into account what it would have cost me to take out a two-page ad announcing that I could write.

Anyone who wrote or tried to write was special to Kurt. And he wanted to help. More than once I heard him talking slowly and carefully to drunks who managed to get him on the phone about how to make a story or a joke, the wheelbarrow, work.

"Who was that?"

"I don't know."

When Kurt wrote, he was setting out on a quest. He knew, because it had happened before, that if he could keep the feet moving, he might stumble over something good and work it and work it and make it his own. But as many times as it happened, Kurt didn't have much self-confidence. He worried that every good idea he got might be his last and that any apparent success he had had would dry up and blow away.

He worried that he had skinny legs and wasn't a good tennis player.

He had a hard time letting himself be happy, but couldn't quite hide the glee he got from writing well.

The unhappiest times in his life were those months and sometimes a whole year when he couldn't write, when he was "blocked." He'd try just about anything to get unblocked, but he was very nervous and suspicious about psychiatry.

In my early to mid-twenties he let it slip that he was afraid that therapy might make him normal and well adjusted, and that would be the end of his writing. I tried to reassure him that psychiatrists weren't nearly that good.

"If you can't write clearly, you probably don't think nearly as well as you think you do," he told me. If you ever think something he wrote was sloppy, you might be right, but just to be sure, read it again.

A little kid coming of age in Indiana in the Depression decides he wants to be a writer, a famous writer, and that's what ends up happening. What are the odds? He threw a lot of spaghetti against the wall and developed a keen sense of what was going to stick.

When I was 16, he couldn't get a job teaching English at Cape Cod Community College. My mother claimed that she went into bookstores and ordered his books under a false name so the books would at least be in the stores and maybe someone would buy them. Five years later he published Slaughterhouse Five and had a million-dollar multi-book contract. It took some getting used to. Now, for most people looking back, Kurt's being a successful, even famous writer is an "of course" kind of thing. For me it looks like something that very easily might not have happened.

He often said he had to be a writer because he wasn't good at anything else. He was not good at being an employee. Back in the mid-1950s, he was employed by Sports Illustrated, briefly. He reported to work, was asked to write a short piece on a racehorse that had jumped over a fence and tried to run away. Kurt stared at the blank piece of paper all morning and then typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence," and walked out, self-employed again.

I've never known a person less interested in food. The chain-smoking had something to do with it. When he complained about living so long, I told him that God was curious about how many cigarettes a human could smoke and He couldn't help wondering what was going to come out of Kurt's mouth next. The thing that made it hard to take him seriously when he was all done and had nothing more to say was that he started saying he was done in his mid-forties and he was still surprising people and coming up with good stuff in his mid-eighties.

The most radical, audacious thing to think is that there might be some point to working hard and thinking hard and reading hard and writing hard and tying to be of service.

He was a writer who belied in the magic of the process -- both what it did for him and what it could do for readers. The reader's time and attention were sacred to him. He connected with people on a visceral level because he realised that content was not the whole story. Kurt was and is like a gateway drug or a shoehorn. Once the reader is over the threshold, other writers become accessible.

"Does anyone out of high school still read me?"

He taught how stories were told and taught readers how to read. His writings will continue to do that for a long time. He was and is subversive, but not the way people thought he was. He was the least wild-and-crazy guy I ever knew. No drugs. No fast cars.

He tried always to be on the side of the angels. He didn't think the war in Iraq was going to happen, right up until it did. It broke his heart not because he gave a damn about Iraq but because he loved America and believed that the land and people of Lincoln and Twain would find a way to be right. He believed, like his immigrant forefathers, that America could be a beacon and a paradise.

He couldn't help thinking that all that money we were spending blowing up things and killing people so far way, making people the world over hate and fear us, would have been better spent on public education and libraries. It's hard to imagine that history won't prove him right, if it hasn't already.

Reading and writing are in themselves subversive acts. What they subvert is the notion that things have to be the way they are, that you are alone, that no one has ever felt the way you have. What occurs to people when they read Kurt is that things are much more up or grabs than they thought they were. The world is a slightly different place just because they read a damn book. Imagine that.

It's common knowledge that Kurt was depressed, but as with a lot of things that are common knowledge, there are good reasons to doubt it. He didn't want to be happy an he said a lot of depressing things, but I honestly don't think he was ever depressed.

He was like an extrovert who wanted to be an introvert, a very social guy who wanted to be a loner, a lucky person who would have preferred to be unlucky. An optimist posing asa pessimist, hoping people will take heed. It wasn't until the Iraq War and the end of his life that he became sincerely gloomy.

There was a bizarre, surreal incident when he took too many pills and ended up in a psych hospital, but it never felt like he was in any danger. Within a day he was bouncing around the dayroom playing Ping-Pong and making friends. It seemed like he was doing a not very convincing imitation of someone with mental illness.

The psychiatrist at the hospital told me, "Your dad's depressed. We're going to put him on an antidepressant."

"Okay, but he doesn't seem to have any of the symptoms I'm used to seeing in depression. He's not slowed down, he doesn't look sad, he's still quick on the uptake."

"He did try to kill himself," the psychiatrist said.

"Well, sort of." Of all the medications he took, there wasn't a toxic level of anything. He had a barely therapeutic level of Tylenol.

"Do you not think we should put him on antidepressants? We have to do something."

"I just thought I should mention that he doesn't seem depressed. It's very hard to say what Kurt is. I'm not saying he's well."

The difference between my fans and Kurt's is that my fans know they're mentally ill.

Kurt could pitch better than he could catch. It was routine for him to write and say provocative, not always kind things about people in the family. We learned to get over it. It was just Kurt. But when I mentioned in the article that Kurt, wanting to be a famous pessimist, might have envied Twain and Lincoln their dead children, he went ballistic.

"I was just trying to pull readers in. No one but you is going to take it even a little seriously."

"I know how jokes work."

"So do I."

Click and click, we hung up.

"If I should die, God forbid."

Every few years he sent me a letter telling me what to do in the event of his death. Every time, except the last, the letter would be followed by a phone call, reassuring me that it wasn't a suicide note. The day before he sent me his last "If I should die" letter, he finished the speech he was to deliver in Indiana to kick off the year of Kurt Vonnegut. Two weeks later he fell, hit his head, and irreversibly scrambled his precious egg.

I got to study that last speech much closer than most since I was asked to deliver it. I couldn't help wondering, "How on earth does he get away with some of this crap?" His audience made it work. I quickly realised that I was reading his words to an auditorium and a world utterly in love with my father who would have followed him anywhere.

"[I'm] as celibate as fifty percent of the heterosexual Roman Catholic clergy" is a sentence with no meaning. "A twerp [is] a guy who put a set of false teeth up his rear end and bit the buttons off the back seats of taxicabs." "A snarf is someone who sniffs girl's bicycle seats." Where oh where is my dear father going? And then he would say something that cut to the heart of the matter and was outrageous and true, and you believed it partly because he had just been talking about celibacy and twerps and snarfs.

"I wouldn't be a doctor for anything. That's got to be the worst job in the world."

One of our last conversations:

"How old are you, Mark?"

"I'm fifty-nine, Dad."

"That's old."

"Yes it is, Dad."

I loved him dearly.

These writings, mostly undated and all unpublished, hold up very nicely by themselves. They don't need any commentary by me. Even if the content of any given piece isn't interesting to you, look at the structure and rhythm and choices of words. If you can't learn about reading and writing from Kurt, maybe you should be doing something else.

His last words in the last speech he wrote are as good a way as any for him to say good-bye.

And I thank you for your attention, and I'm out of here.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

When I dance, I dance

When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep; yes, and when I walk alone in a fine orchard, if my thoughts have been occupied with extraneous matters for some part of the time, at another moment I bring them back to the walk, the orchard, the sweetness of this solitude and to myself.

Montaigne, Essays.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Week 19: Do Something Kind Anonymously

See yourself as part of a universe of beings all embedded with the desire to be kind. But rather than risk appearing to be doing something kind for show or reward, this week please complete your kind act in a way in which you cannot be seen doing it. Actions of this kind provide us additional practice in both humility and modesty, while providing service.

You may have chosen to complete a prior assignment anonymously, which is just fine. This week, the intention is to make anonymity the focal point of your action. As you complete your act, even as you contemplate it, consider what it means to be a humble agent of kindness. See your act as not coming from you, but through you.

If it helps, imagine yourself as being an invisible kindness superhero who cannot be seen but whose kind acts can be felt. And to get the most from this exercise, try completing multiple anonymous acts of kindness, both those that appear to you in the moment and at least one that requires some advance planning.

In the spirit of this week's exercise, don't summarize it in your journal. Instead, write about your experience. Include your feelings or how you encountered your kind act(s) or anything else that summarizes your experience without divulging what you did.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Pollution of the Mind

I notice that I get more and more scattered as time goes on. The moment I get back to KL I fall into a restless, urgent treading of water, unable to move forward, unable to stand still. I know what the infection is and I know that to deal with it, I have to slow down and shut out the pollutants.

As I write this, my phone is switched off or rather, it has run out of battery because I have left my charger in Bali. I am supposed to run out and get a new charger but I have been delaying because once I go out I would have to tackle a whole bunch of other groceries etc (which would mean getting a list from my father. Elliott is sleeping semi peacefully in his room. There is work going on that has been going since I got back which means I can no longer rest at ease at home. (Well, I could...I could go into the third room, turn on the aircon and rest on the rock hard bed that Ivan bought). I have three books, no make that four, scattered around me. I yearn for the times when I used to read only one book at at time.

If I didn't need my phone to do various banking transactions, I wouldn't bother.

But I do. And so, out I will go, in search of the needful. But before I leave, I leave you with this excerpt from Art and Mindfulness by Christophe Andre which I took to Bali with me but I had difficulty concentrating on. A sort of testament to just how scattered my mind is. I would read a passage without registering a word. Or, fall asleep.

Here goes:

There are chemical pollutants that contaminate our food, air and water. ad there are also psychic pollutants that contaminate our mind, violate our inner being and disturb our inner stability. These include slogans, advertising and other commercial manipulations. Many studies have been conducted into this psychotoxic materialism, and they tell us that it causes many different types of damage -- for example, stealing our attention, awareness and internality. What state is our mind in when its attention is constantly drawn, segmented and fragmented. It becomes addicted to all that is noisy, flashy, easy, pre-digested and rethought. What state is our mind in when its awareness is constantly stolen? It is cluttered with pointless thoughts, actions and content -- reading the advertisements that surround us, exercising consumer choice between the "cheap" and "cheaper," expending large amounts of energy looking for a "bargain," being crammed full of information that loops and repeats from one day to the next. what state is our mind in when its internality is constantly stolen? We are submerged by more and more external attractions and distractions. Our mind and body are tied up in empty activities. Yet, just as words need silence to be heard in, so awareness and internality need mental space to emerge in. The hard disk of our awareness is crammed with too many useless things.

For awareness is internality. The more we run after external things, the less awareness there is. So thefts of attention and awareness lead to an internality deficit. They also lead to the curtailment of our thoughts. As Tiziano Terzani says, "Today we are constantly being solicited, so our mental world is never at peace. There is always noise from the television, the sound of the car radio, the ringing telephone or the advertisement on a passing bus. We are unable to have long thoughts. Our thoughts are short. Our thoughts are short because we are very often interrupted." Our thoughts are short and seldom turned inward. Instead they seem to be held captive by the tumult and shimmer of the artificial world. They are outside us. In the end our thoughts cease to be our own; they are no more than stereotypical mental content coming to us from outside, echoes of a soulless world. In the words of writer Louis-Rene de Forets, "Superabundance has nothing to do with fertility." Our minds lose their fertility by allowing themselves to be too often filled by the emptiness of this external racket.

So of course, when we try to think and practice introspection, in other words to think in a sustained way by ourselves, in peace and silence, we can't, or have forgotten how. Worse, as we have lost (or never acquired) the habit, we fall prey to anxiety, boredom or circular ruminations. So we quickly leave the world inside us to return to the outside, with its reassuring, space-filling tumult. Consequently, we suffer from a generalised internality deficit. For our society is lacking in everything that enables introspection, rendering us deficient.

Sickness due to a deficiency is insidious. If wee are deficient in Vitamin C or D, omega 3 or selenium, at first nothing happens. We aren't in pain. we don't have breathing difficulties, we don't fall over backward. There's no immediate effect. But gradually the deficiency causes symptoms to appear. Often we don't understand why they are there or what is causing them. Deficiencies always manifest themselves gently, slowly and insidiously. Never noisily.

Our society of multiple forms of abundance also creates multiple deficiencies within us, and the two are linked. Think of diseases of excess, for example, those modern maladies of too much -- too much food that makes us obese, too many possessions that make us morose. Too much of something is always a lack of something else, and excess always generates deficiency. We know, for example, that industrially produced. refined, aseptic food, are not only unhealthy because they are "too much" -- too present, too accessible, too sweet, too stimulating to our appetites, leading to diabetes and obesity -- but also because they have "not enough" of many vitamins and minerals. Contemporary deficiencies also apply to our psychic needs, such as the need for calm, slowness and continuity. We must strive to ensure that we obtain these in order to stop ourselves falling ill (from stress, emotional instability and mental fragmentation).

Combating a lack of slowness means taking our time, not flitting from one activity to the next, not doing several things at once. Instead we must act calmly and gently whenever possible, restoring ourselves with a dose of doing nothing, drawing on the healing powers of simplicity, calm and one activity at a time. We must learn to identify timetable fillers --- the packed activity schedules we sometimes adopt at weekends or on holiday -- and avoid them wherever possible. We must combat tranquility deficiencies and flee assaults and requests, desensitising ourselves to all the "too much" in our lives -- the constant music, images and screens. We must unplug. As an act of freedom, we can just close our eyes and stop watching the screens that steal our attention, constantly eating into our brain time and moments of rest. Combating deficiencies of continuity means identifying and becoming more aware of the endless interruptions that punctuate our days, so that we resist the temptation to look at our emails and texts, make a phone call or go on the Internet.

Mindfulness helps us to become aware of all this hidden pollution of our minds, and protect ourselves against it. It enables us to restore our capacity for introspection and reconnect with ourselves, rather than sustaining ourselves with a constant drip-feed of external orders, distractions and activations.

Mindfulness suggests we do nothing but just be here, at our observation post, alert to introspection. Practising mindfulness helps us disengage -- we're not seeking anything; there is no goal. We take time, we freely decide to do things slowly. We take the time to sit down, observe and feel.

Even if we do this for just a very short time, a few moments, we are in mindfulness as soon as we close our eyes and stop being active. We are already free.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Most Peculiar Midsummer's Night Dream

Professor Ram is a professor at the Chennai University in Madras. He has decided to stage "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with some changes. Here, we describe the changes in the words of the author:

So, instead of putting the Swan on as per usual in the soup and fish, this year he took a blue pencil to the Dream and put in his own plot and his own dialogue, and generally took such obscene liberties with Swan's intellectual property rights that Sundar and his friends wished with all their hearts to speak to the Swan's lawyer.

If Amandeep, Murugesh, Rufus and Sundar were scandalised to find that Ram had excised Hyppolyta, Helena and Hermia from A Midsummer Night's Dream, it was nothing to how scandalised they were when they found out how they themselves were cast in this play. They tried to resign from the cast, but were informed that they couldn't do such a thing. Ever since, they wore the look of those who were about to die as cattle, especially, when they thought how, after play night, they would be marked men, and how, in the university corridors, in the library, in the canteen, in the bus stop and in the toilets, it would follow them, the cry:


And here is the play and what took place there:

At 40 minutes past opening time, the audience was still waiting for the Chief Guest to arrive. The Chief Guest was the man who had cough up the Rs 25,000 that had made this play feasible, and the play could not start without him. This Chief Guest was Mr Seshadri, and he was late because he was fortifying himself at the Gymkhana Club with many full pegs of Johnny Walker. The notables were growing restless in the front rows. In the back rows and in the balcony, the thugs and hooligans from the university were working with vegetables, with the brochures they had collected at the door, and with a wisdom beyond their years about the principles of aerodynamics, to create missiles that accurately expressed their unrest at this delay. One conclave of oafs was unwrapping the packages on which the government advised couples like this: "We Two, Ours One." They were inflating the contents of these packages as much as they could without flattening the nipple at the end of that distinguished prophylactic from a mere balloon. Another section of the mob was polishing up the groans, howls and flatulence which it had developed especially for this occasion.

When the Chief Guest finally arrived, the glamorous socialite lady from the Chennai Cultural Club, made her welcome speech, causing the microphone to emit demented yips and squeals.

"We are happy to present to you two alternative plays this evening," she chirped. Her diamonds sparkled and flashed under the single spot that lit her, and her silk sari unravelled like toilet paper over one arm. "The first and foremost play." she cooed, "is directed by none other than a great doyen of the limelight who needs no introduction to the audiences of Madras. He has done yeoman service behind the footlights, for which the government has conferred many titles on him. Today, we will see him expanding his horizons, for he has taken pen in hand to improve upon the work of the great William Shakespeare himself. Ladies and Gentlemen, please bring your hands together and give a hearty welcome to: Pro-fe-ssor Ram! And helping him make this evening's play a grand success is our wonderful Child Prodigy, little Ranga, none other than the one and only grandson of Chennai University's own respected vice-chancellor Doc-tor Mohan!"

There were ripples of applause from the notables and heavy groans and howls from the dickey area of the theatre. Then the glamorous lady went off, and music began playing and a saffron light came on. Professor Ram had asked for such a light to symbolise the hidden Hindu message of the play, even though it made the actors look like a hepatitis epidemic. It was clear that the play was beginning at last. for Professor Ram's voice oozed out of the speakers like this:

"Over hill and dale, thorough bush, thorough brier..."

A long gibbering cry, not part of the script, issued from halfway between the balcony and the back benches downstairs.

"Sh-sh-shit, machaan," the voice wailed, "my rope is tut-tut-too short!"

This was the voice of Murugesh, who as Cobweb, was to astonish the audience by bungee-jumping from the balcony railings like Lord Greystroke travelling among the apes. Murugesh was sobbing thus because the ungodly had taken his jungle trapeze and looped it around the chairs, and now the end of it was too short to let him reach the downstairs aisle. Murugesh was corkscrewing (this-way -- that-way, this-way -- that-way, as he himself put it later), about eight feet above the spot where his presence was required before the curtain went up. Small pieces of Madras's colonial heritage, chafed by the rope, crumbled slowly and fell like dandruff upon the citizens below.

"Look, machaan, Murugesh is doing a circus up on the balcony!"

"Jump, da, jump!" the ungodly chortled heartlessly. "We will inform your family!" They pelted him with paper rockets and the odd tomato. Some helpful parties leapt up to catch him, but as they caught his tights instead, they merely left him a more embarrassing plight than before.

"Sundar! Get me d-down, machaan!"

Sundar, in the character of Mustard Seed, was tripping along the downstairs aisle, while Ram resumed the voice-over: "O'er park o'er pale, thorough flood thorough fire, I do wander everywhere." Shakespeare did not mention it, but Sundar was also wandering thorough the audience, and this was what caused his troubles.

"Look machaan, it's Sundar! Oi! Catch him! Sit down with us, Sundar!"

"Ey, I'm telling you, let me go. I have to get on the stage, man. Ey, you cheap wankers, come on, man, please."

"Ssshhhhh!" said a big noise in the front row, trying to glare the offenders down. But as anyone could have told you, this was very hard to do in a darkened theatre.

"Okay Sundar, if you're in the play, you should be on the stage, no? So what are you doing here, man?"

"See, machaan," Sundar said, "we are using alternative space and destroying the conventions of the fourth wall."

This explanation was greeted with catcalls and whistles.

"Which wall is it, man? Oi! Oi! Thro-ow him over the fourth wall!"

Now the hoi polloi stopped sitting on Sundar. They hoisted him up in the air and began to swing him about.

"Sssh, sit down, you mayiru, I can't see anything!"

"Let me go da, bastards, the curtains are opening! I'm supposed to be on stage!"

As the curtains opened, Moth and Pease Blossom were discovered stage left on either side of the Tree of Life looking like a brace of bright pink popsicles melting in the footlights. They were aware that they had to break into choreographed moves with the two other fairies. The other two fairies had not shown up, and Moth and Pease Blossom were in a state of radical indecision. Should they come out of their freeze or not? Now and then one of them thought the other was starting to move and twitched spasmodically.

Behind the curtains, Professor Ram sensed that something had gone wrong among the fairies. His fruity voice wobbled as he set off again.

"And I serve the Fairy Queen,
Dew her orbs upon the green..."

Now his voice stopped altogether. Then it floated up into the hall in a tense whisper.

"Fairies? Fairies? Please get set! Fairies? FAI-RIES?"

The rabble in the rump area, who never paid much attention to the dialogue, were all along under the impression that Murugesh, Sundar and the other riffraff were just stage properties of one sort or another, or some low-grade comic turn. Now they were suddenly filled with wild surmise. "Fairies?" they sang out in several different keys, "Fairi-fairi-fairi-ries! Fa-a-a-a-iries!" they ululated. "Dai, FAIRIES!"

They got up and began to dance in the aisle, making up a song to the tune of Ennuyir Thozhiyay which was a great hit of the moment. "Ennuyir Fairy-yay!" they yodelled, flatter than a tyre outside a vulcanising shop.

Under normal circumstances, Professor Ram would have saved his own person for an electrifying entry some minutes into the play. But this was an emergency. He felt that nothing would quell this anarchy but a personal appearance.

"I must go on now!" he said to Mr Kannan, who was still fixing his accoutrements. "Oo-argh!"

Professor Ram exclaimed like this because Mr Kannan, who was trying to snap the clasp of his saffron cloak, had just skewered his jowls for the sixth time. The professor was a small-sized but portly man with a face like a star of the silver screen. Like all these stars after their expiry date, he had run plentifully to jowl, and Mr Kannan was having trouble locating the crease of his neck.

"Maybe you should leave the cloak, sar!" Mr Kannan said desperately, groping among his dewlaps.

"No -- arghurgh!" Professor Ram hissed. "I must have it, for it symbolises the traditional Hindu order!"

You probably want to know how the Hindu order came into The Midsummer Night's Dream.The brochure that went with Professor Ram's version explained it like this: it seems Oberon (Professor Ram) quarrelled with his wife Titania (played by Kalpana Kamath, Always Already to you and me) over a changeling (the Prodigy) that Titania had imported from India. Oberon did not specify why he wished it for the same reasons the author of I Believe in Fairies wished to explicate the ways of Peter the Pixie to little boys. The quarrel resulted in a terrible disintegration of public facilities all over the universe, including the facilities that kept the lower orders in their place, and as a result, Titania fell in love with a working-class bozo, called Bottom, who was hanging around the forest. I have read the Bard's version of the play, and I can say that from here onwards, the Ram interpolations came thickly, one upon the back of another, especially when Oberon began to say acid things about the role of woman in Hindu society.

Back on the stage at the Pantheon Theatre, Bottom asked for a side order of dried pease. As Amandeep bumbled into the wings to fetch it, he stepped on the end of Professor Ram's cloak. Professor Ram heard the dull roar of tearing fabric.

"Adda-da-da!" Mr Kannan sobbed. "The cloak! It is completely broken!"

"Mend it!" Professor Ram snapped. "Quick!"

It took Mr Kannan less than a second to fix the cloak up with Sellotape. Professor Ram came forth from the wings like a politician greeting his constituency, arms up, palms outwards, at once demanding peace and conferring a blessing.

Well, you know how it is with Sellotape. About 10 minutes after his entrance, as Professor Ram strode about saying nasty things about the role of woman and swinging his cloak, the Sellotape that had mended the rip at its end found itself irresistibly attracted to the Sellotape that had healed the hole in the backdrop. There was a moment of adhesion. Suddenly, with a dismal ripping, the backdrop gaped open. At last the actors could account fore the funny smell all around the stage. Mr Kannan's two chokra nephews were revealed just behind the curtain, wreathed in clouds of cannabis.

Professor Ram soldiered on. About four yards of Sellotape, along with one or two cut-outs of Elvira the Elf, were now trailing form the end of his saffron cloak.

"Psst, Ram!" Mrs Ram hissed from the wings, "look behind you!"

The Four Vedas are covered with mud!" roared Professor Ram, swishing his cloak around the stage some more. His Sellotape tail gathered all sorts of odds and ends, here a few leaves from the Tree of Life, there a scarf that had fallen off one of the fairies, and here again an ear that had fallen off the so-called donkey mask. He was in high gear, declaiming about the sanctity of traditional marriage, and he did not hear Mrs Ram's sibilant warnings. The philistines in the balcony were bouncing off their chairs and rolling down the aisles. As the tail became more conspicuous, the mirth of the mob infected the stern front rows.

At last Professor Ram realised that he had unintentionally become a comet. Since the Hindu-order-cloak was a cloak that Ram did not wish to desecrate in any way, and since he wanted the show to go on without further interruptions, he tried to get the Sellotape off with many sly jerks and twitches.

"Ram!" hollered a wit from the balcony section. "Ei Rambo! Okay, man, you can scrape the dog-dung off your foot now. Everyone can see you stepped in it!"

But no matter what Professor Ram did, he could not dislodge the Sellotape. Not, that is, until he hit upon the idea of attaching it to a fellow thespian. He passed it adroitly to Bottom. Ten minutes later, Bottom pressed it emotionally against Always Already. Towards the end of the play, as Always Already clung defiantly to the changeling, she attached the tail to the Prodigy's elbow.

And now the Prodigy's big scene began. In the Swan's version, the changeling child went about minding his own juvenile business. In Ram's version, he was a very significant character, and I hope you don't think this had anything to do with the fact that he was played by the vice-chancellor's grandson. What Professor Ram called the dee-nooma of the play occurred when the Prodigy stood under the Tree of Life and lectured the quarrelsome fairy couple for a full 10 minutes about Maya, Dharma, Yoga, Karma, Right Living, Harmony and other cosmic matters. At the end of the speech, there was a tableau, for all the characters, including the four fairies seemed to be irresistibly drawn towards the Prodigy. They gathered around to hear him pontificate. The Prodigy, lifting his right arm in blessing, spoke thus:

As and when I do perceive perversion
Of the Natural Order of Dharma
And a proliferation of egregious Adharma,
To offer protection to the righteous
And to eliminate the unrighteous
From time to time I descend myself...

When the Prodigy finished speaking the lines, the notables in the first 10 rows rose to their feet and roared their approval realising that the child stood revealed as Lord Krishna himself, no less, and they were pleased with themselves for recognising this. It was a very powerful and moving moment. Many people in the audience were weeping buckets, even those who came to scoff. Some people said it was because they laughed themselves into stitches when the Sellotape from the Prodigy's outflung arm gripped the Sellotape that held the Tree of Life together, and this caused the Tree to fall apart neatly as if cloven by lightning.

But those people were not to be trusted because most of them were busy releasing large flotillas of inflated condoms that had been saved for the end of the play. As these objects writhed downwards with high-pitched howls, the theatre reverberated with the thunder of prolonged and insane flatulence. All the actors stood hand-in-hand just behind the debris of The Tree of Life and bowed unevenly. Professor Ram went to the microphone and offered abject thanks to this and that dignitary and, of course, to Mr Seshadri. Then he said that he could not have achieved anything without his better half. This was the moment Mrs Ram had been waiting for since the curtain came down on last year's play. She joined the cast and looked around complacently, daring anyone in the audience to take her glory away from her.

Then Professor Ram invited the Chief Guest to say a few words. Mr Seshadri wove up onto the stage. He had tears in his eyes, or at least in the one eye which he devoted to the present moment -- for if there was one thing that marred Mr Seshadri's beauty, it was the fact that his eyes did not look in the same direction, one of them being fixed at all times on the main chance. He rocked gently from side to side as he hiccupped:

"I am sohic. Mooved byhic this evening's message! I wish -- I wish to ---" here he lost his place in the sweaty piece of paper typed by Mr Rami Reddy, which he had palmed all evening. He searched for it with his forehead creased, the prongs of his Brahmin caste-mark rippling with concentration. "To prevent -- to present the revhic -- reveeeered Professor Ram with this humble hicgrain of rice. On which an artist has enhic -- engraved Chaper Six Vershes. Fourhic and five of this Bhada - Bhava - Habhagad Vita."

Mr Seshadri put his hand into his pocket and whipped out the enamelled box in which the grain rested. He held it out and Professor Ram took it, but instead of letting it go, Mr Seshadri leaned on Professor Ram slightly and carried on talking.

"Profeshor Ram openedhic my eyes to religion!" he said, "Glories of hic-hic-Hinduism! Relijush men like myself --hic-- should participate in Legislative Ashembly elections!"

Professor Ram looked very silly indeed, hanging on to the box. After a very long time Mr Seshadri let go of it, released Professor Ram, and tumbled down the steps. He took with him, on his shoe, six yards of Sellotape, several pictures of Elvira the Elf, a loincloth, some scraps of backdrop and half the Tree of Life.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Week 18: Employ the Rest Step

The concept of the "rest step" as a metaphor is this week's theme.

A "rest step," according to Wikipedia, is "a pause of motion with the rear leg vertical and fully extended, while the front leg is relaxed except as needed to adjust the balancing of the climber's body and burden on the rear leg." The idea is to provide the climber a very brief movement of relaxation in each step, something that greatly increases endurance. People can use the "rest step" both literally when climbing and as a metaphor in life.

I invite you to metaphorically put a "rest step" into practice this week in a way that offers you the opportunity to be kind to another person.

One way to interpret this idea is to very consciously pause or slow down when engaging with another person. This might manifest as increased eye contact or slowing your inner dialogue to more fully listen to the other. Of course, there are multiple ways to interpret this. Use your intuition to guide you.

Pay attention to your inner dialogue as you contemplate this theme and include any confusion you may find you have with it in your journal summary.

Thursday, 7 May 2015


Sam: How's life treating you Norm?

Norm: Like it caught me sleeping with its wife.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

I Celebrate Myself

I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease...observing a spear
of summer grass.

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes...the
shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and
like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I
shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a has no
taste of the is doorless,
It is for my mouth forever....I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become
undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

The smoke of my own breath,
Echos, ripples, and buzzed whispers...loveroot,
silkthread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration...the beating of
my heart...the passing of blood and air
through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the
shore and darkcolored sea-rocks, and of hay in
the barn,
The sound of the belched words of my voice...
words loosed to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses...a few embraces...a
reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the
supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or
along the field and the hillsides,
The feeling of health...the full-noon trill...
the song of me rising from bed and meeting the