Friday, April 30, 2010

cOMing OuT

The windows of the apartment unit opposite mine are always closed. It must be quite gloomy and stuffy inside. Placed near one of the windows is a scratching pole. At times, if I am lucky, I can catch glimpses of the cat lounging atop the platform of the scratching pole behind the window. And I have always wondered, if the cat would one day like to come out to play.

Couple of days ago, I saw the cat sitting outside the window. There was a little gap between the two panes of sliding windows. I am not sure if the cat nudged them open, or if the owner had accidentally left them opened after cleaning the windows. I was freaked because the cat was perched on the ledge 11 floors above ground. It would not be good if she lost her footing.

My worries were unfounded though – she went back in after sitting outside for a spell. Cats are very agile. And someone was telling me that if they fall from a high floor, their chances of survival are actually better because they then have the time to adjust their position for a safe landing. How cool is that?!

I guess sometimes, the cat just needs to come out for a breath of fresh air.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

mY LifE

Very often, I would sit and wonder, if my life is made up of missed opportunities. It feels as if I am always just a step away from reaching something. I don’t exactly know what that something is, nor even if that something really exists.

Very often, I would sit and reflect, if my life is like playing a game of catch. It feels as if I am always turning the corner too slowly. Playing catch with something that is elusive is tiring. Especially when you don’t know what it is you are trying to find.

Very often, I would sit and imagine, my life is filled with moments. It feels as if I am stitched together with snatches of time. A work-in-progress, never really completed, a patchwork quilt of moments.

The moment has passed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I was having a weird attack of sinusitis some nights back. Both my nostrils were blocked and I couldn’t breathe properly. It was like having a really bad bout of flu, or after a session of intense crying. Neither of which I had nor did.

I have always thought that our sense of smell is a particularly unique and important sense. Because it is tied up so closely with breathing, with keeping our life going. In fact, I have written a whole story about smells and smelling. I quote a paragraph:

“It’s interesting how smells are woven so intricately into a part of our existence. More so than the other senses put together. For smells are tied up with our breathing, tied up with that which sustains life. You can shut your eyes, cover your ears but you can’t stop your breathing, can’t stop yourself smelling the life that is going on around you. We need to breathe to keep alive, and the sense of smell comes as a necessary part of each breath we draw. There lies a tenuous connection, between living and sniffing.”

That was many years ago. At a time when I was still naïve. At a time when I still believed in fairy tales and happy endings. And I suppose, that was what I needed at that time. Some kind of hope to hang onto. Some kind of smell to lead me home.

For no matter how difficult it gets, the trick is, keep breathing.

Monday, April 26, 2010


I wonder how the world looks,
For someone born blind?
In their world,
How do the trees and flowers look?
How do the animals look?
How is life like in their world?

I wonder how I will survive,
In that formless world?
In that empty space,
Is it just void black?
Or will there be shafts of white?

Would colour make sense,
In the world of the blind?
Do they have colours in their dreams?
How would they recognize,
The people and places and animals?
Matching each name one for the other.

For the names they learn are abstract.
Without imagery,
Without context,
Without juxtaposition.

How tall is the giraffe?
How big is the elephant?
How pretty is the flower?
How sturdy is the tree?
How blue is the sky?

They don’t know.
Neither do I.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

iN ThoSe EyeS

I dreamt of owls. When, I can’t tell. I only know I dreamt of owls. Much of the dreaming has left me since I woke, but I remember being mesmerized by big glassy eyes looking at me. I could see the reflection of the moon in them so clearly it is almost as if I am flying in the sky.

Eyes have always scared me, to be honest. Whatever they say about your eyes being the window to your soul, I think it’s true. I feel threatened, vulnerable even, when someone looks me in the eye. I actually find it difficult to maintain eye-contact over a full conversation with someone. My gaze often falters. Which may explain why I am slightly better at giving presentations to a large crowd. The number of audience doesn’t scare me, I much prefer being able to cast my eyes over everyone and no one in particular.

Animal eyes though, are another matter. Well, mammalian eyes at least, are fine with me. I love looking into those pools of darkness, and feeling their love in return. When I look into the eyes of a cat or a dog, I just know that everything is going to be alright.

Oh, and I know I dream in colour because there was something red in my dream that the owls were carrying.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

MemoRY reVisiTEd

Last week, us Inner Circle ladies met for dinner (we had crabs, it was yummy). Been a while since all of us could come together, what with family and work and church commitments. So it was really nice to catch up on the latest. And of course, a good dose of reminiscing about the past.

We were trying to establish how far back our memories went – when we were 3? Or 4? Or later? I think I must have been about 7 when I started to have memories that are more coherent and continuous. Before 7, my memories remain patchy, based only on certain key events. And even these, we don’t know if we reconstructed what happened from looking at photos and hearing accounts from our parents. Or if they really left an indelible mark on our consciousness.

Memory is strange in this way. It cannot be replicated, each memory is unique. Yet memories are always changing, affected by time and space and experiences and encounters. There is no right or wrong to memories, no good or bad. Although perhaps, memories can be real or invented.

Memory, if it is not refreshed, starts to detract from reality.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

GoOD dEedS

Some time back, on this blog actually, I made a resolution to do at least one good deed a day. I must confess I embraced the spirit of this resolution much more heartily than I could execute it. Because it is so much easier to walk past the blind man singing his heart out, so much easier to feign ignorance when people ask you for help, so much easier to just turn and go on your merry way. So no, I have not managed to do at least one good deed a day.

Helping people, I think, involves putting yourself out on the line. And maybe, that’s what makes the whole deal awkward. Perhaps because I have not integrated a helping mindset into my daily living, it feels like I have to step out of my comfort zone in order to help people. Sometimes that can prove embarrassing, like when an elderly man vehemently refuses the seat you offer him. Sometimes that can prove time-consuming, like helping the old lady inch her way from the bus stop to the train station. Sometimes that can be frustrating, like trying to give directions or explain the train network system to someone who does not have a good grasp of English.

It’s not about repayment. It’s about making good with your life.

Monday, April 19, 2010


If there’s one thing I both love and hate about myself, it is my emotionality.

I haven’t cried so hard in a long time. I was literally bawling. It was during my usual weekly fix of CSI, when Warrick Brown was shot, that I started to cry. For so many years, I have been following the show. I was with them from the time they solved their first case, to watching their characters grow and thrive. I have learnt to recognize the techniques they use to pick up fingerprints and test DNA and check for gunpowder residue. It is almost as if I grew up with the team. I’m practically part of them. So when Warrick died, I was crying with Grissom and Catherine and Nick and Sara and Greg and Brass. For we had lost one of our colleague, our friend, our family.

It happens when I am reading too, whether it’s about real people or made-up people. When Uncle Tom died in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, I cried. And I cry every time I read that, no matter how many times I have read it. The same happens when I get to the part where George pulls the trigger on Lennie in “Of Mice and Men”, the tears just come rolling down.

Empathy comes to me naturally, like breathing or blinking my eyes.

Friday, April 16, 2010


"We do what we must, Lucien. Sometimes we can choose the path we follow. Sometimes our choices are made for us. And sometimes we have no choice at all."

(The Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

sEcrETs ReViSitEd

I have secrets. I have my own secrets, and I keep others’ secrets.

I don’t like secrets. They are hard to own, even harder to keep.

The secrets that I own are like shadows that won’t let me go. The secrets that I keep cling like backpacks on my soul.

I have a secret that makes me very happy and also makes me very sad. This secret is so big I don’t dare to own it. This secret is so fragile I don’t know how to keep it.

This secret, goes with me to my grave.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

ThoUgHt eXPeRiMenTs

I remember having wacky conversations with some of my friends. We would usually lounge around and chat a little after lunch before going back to work. Being infinitely curious as we always are, we wanted to come up with some predictive measure of reading people’s psyche. So we constructed some thought experiments. I am not sure we had any form of theory to posit or results to quantify, but the thought experiments were interesting, if not enlightening in some way.

We started with the basic question of whether you would rather starve to death or eat yourself to death (courtesy of my father – but that’s another story in itself). Our opinions differed, of course. Most of us were concerned about the physical aspect of it – weighing the suffering that comes with being hungry vs. being too full. Some of us wanted to starve to death for vanity reasons – unwilling to succumb to being fat even unto death. I actually think this is reminiscent of the “live to eat” or “eat to live” debate, and your choice probably reflects a little of your personality.

We had a variation of the starving/ stuffing question, and that was whether you would rather die from heat or from the cold. I haven’t figured out the psychological relevance of this question, but I’ll get there eventually.

The other great big thought experiment we had was to try to place a value on your personal beliefs and habits. I am actually very proud that we came up with this one. The idea is for you to think of something you normally would not do, and I will start by offering you a certain amount of money to try to change your mind. I will keep bidding higher and higher, until I reach a point when you will relent. It is a great way to discover the importance of the different beliefs you hold relative to one another.

An example. For me to eat mushrooms, I probably wouldn’t mind doing that if you gave me, say, $100. But if you want me to drink my own urine, I wouldn’t do that even if you give me, say, $10,000. So although I hate mushrooms with a vengeance, I actually place more value on maintaining my human dignity.

If I really had to choose, I would die a skinny Ice Queen.

Friday, April 9, 2010

i Am...

I used to have crushes. I used to write love-notes. I used to shower people whom I have a crush on with my love-notes. I was relentless yet coy in my pursuit of them. I am smart in that way.

The crushes were harmless enough. There were only three categories of people I had crushes on. They were either youth leaders in church, or teachers in school, or seniors in school. They became substitutes for the elder brother or sister I do not have. I am needy in that way.

The love-notes were different enough. There were the straightforward letters and cards expressing my gratitude for their friendship. There were the handmade gifts like bookmarks for their birthdays. And when it was someone who really meant a lot to me, I would compose poems using their names. I am creative in that way.

Some of these people I have completely lost touch with. Some of them have become good friends now. Some of them were friends for a little while but life took us in different directions. But I still remember every single one of them, as if we had just met yesterday. I am sentimental in that way.

I no longer have crushes. I no longer write love-notes. Crushes are over-rated. So are love-notes. Now I can stalk people on facebook, I can email and MSN, I can call and SMS. No point killing the earth with my precious and pretty note-paper.

I am realistic in that way.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Writing comes to me in waves. Against the backdrop of constant chattering inside my head, there are better days and there are worse days. There are days when the writing just flows, running from little streams into rivers into seas into the big wide ocean. Ideas come from everywhere, stories wait to be told, words magically weave themselves into beautiful prose. There are days when the writing is trapped, an invisible entity caught in an invisible world. Words trip over themselves, sentences stumble, paragraphs don’t make sense. The mind echoes with emptiness and the world looks bland. Neither pretty flowers nor blue skies inspire.

Lately, I have noticed a subtle change in my writing. More accurately, I feel something different when I write. There is no longer the heaviness. There is a clarity that wasn’t there before. There is coherence where it was once wanting. It’s hard to describe but I think I might have hit something of a “Eureka!” moment in my writing.

I had always assumed that these moments were unruly, unpredictable, uncontrollable. Most of the time, I only recognized that I have these moments when I don’t have one of these moments. And in the last few months, I have had little reason to shout “Eureka!” at all. In fact, this most recent dearth of inspiration had me worried. I thought the time had come for me to admit that I just don’t have what it takes to be a writer, that I have been caught out, that I am a fraud.

Until I made this remarkable discovery: my creative output is in direct proportion to my creative input. The more I read, the more I could write. The more I fed myself ideas, the more the stories came. That my gift with words can be reduced to simple math and supply chain management is sobering. That inspiration need not be random is liberating.

I visited the Dream King again, and he left me clues that led me to my muse.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

tHE riPe YoUNg AgE

I will be turning 33 this year. Supposedly falling within range of the prime years of my life, whatever that means. And in 3 short years, at 36, I will be disqualified from attending the World Youth Day. As I prepare to go back to school, I have been reflecting a lot about me and my life so far.

At 33 I have never bungee jumped. Never cheated in my exams. Never travelled to Europe. And the only time I tried scuba diving, I was so seasick it was all I could do to not puke into the water. But there are many things that I have done too. Like travelling in the US for 2 months. Like working and getting my own paychecks. Like not working and enjoying the dividends from my previous paychecks. Like trying to climb a mountain, albeit unsuccessfully.

There are people who draw up life-lists, bucket-lists, of things they want to do or achieve before they die. I have a friend who does that, systematically setting up goals and resolutions, and systematically following through on them. I lack that kind of discipline and mental fortitude. But I think the real problem is, I don’t really know what I want.

Or perhaps, it is not so much me not knowing what I want, but more that what I want keeps changing. Because my dreams and desires evolve through time, a natural consequence of my different life situations. When I was young I wanted to grow up. When I was in school I wanted to be a ballerina. When I went to university I wanted to be a writer. When I started earning I was greedy for more money. When I got too tired I decided to stop working. When being stuck in the rut proved no fun, I now want to study to be a speech therapist.

I will be turning 33 this year. I will be returning to a full-time student status in June. I may not have a life-list. I may not be able to define what I want clearly or articulately. But I have promised my self, to give nothing less than 200% of myself in whatever I’m doing.

And I am going to kick some ass along the way!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

a SicKNeSs

I am sick. I suffer from the Grass-is-always-greener-elsewhere Syndrome, otherwise known as the Disease-of-perpetual-discontent. It leaves me exhausted, with its attendant symptoms of self-doubt and second-guessing. It robs me of joy in my life, for I am unable to feel happy or satisfied with whatever situation I am in. It messes with my head, compelled to calculate the hundred permutations of “what if”.

The way I see it, there might very well be both physical as well as psychological causes. I suspect I must have been born with a defective gene that is extremely susceptible to random jealousy and greed. Despite years of patient nurturing, contentment is a concept that seems difficult to integrate into my system. It doesn’t help either, that I have an overactive imagination. My mind needs to explore all the different possibilities, unable to focus on following through with the choice that is just made.

I don’t think there is a cure-all. But I suspect it’s one of those ailments that given enough time, one will just learn to cope with it. So we take it day by day.

For self-awareness is the first step towards self-improvement.

Friday, April 2, 2010


I have, through the years, amassed quite a large collection of my writings, in various forms. It’s funny given how much I love writing, that I have never been disciplined enough to write in any organized manner. I don’t really keep diaries or journals, not in any systematic way anyway. Unlike Anne Frank, I find it awkward to do the “Dear Diary” thing. It seems wrong to burden any one (or any thing) with my perfectly boring life, day in and day out.

Many years back, when having a personal computer was not the norm, I would write what I needed to write in longhand. Buying good pens became a matter of great importance. I believe the structure and build of the pen affects your handwriting, and how well you can write. There was this particular brand of pens I had to use – Red Leaf – because the ink flow gushed and left beautiful blots when I wrote, and I love blots. I haven’t seen Red Leaf pens around for a long time now. But I haven’t really been writing in longhand for a long time now either.

Yet I wasn’t as picky when it came to writing surfaces. In fact, I could write on any scrap of paper (sometimes even on my arms and knees), which caused a lot of problems when I am trying to establish some form of chronology to events. There were some half-hearted attempts at trying to give more order to my writings. I bought a stack of small pocket-sized notebooks which I carried around with me everywhere I went, to capture those random thoughts that flitted in and out of my mind. I took my unused school exercise books and filled them with quotations that touched or inspired me. I also invested in several larger hardcover journals to record some of the more significant events of my life. Finally I introduced a dating system which I still use today, to keep track of my writings over time.

The greatest revolution, though, has to be the advent of the internet, and more pertinently, the inception of this blog, that gave real structure to my writing. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that this blog has provided an avenue for my formless thoughts to form. This blog has given me a platform on which to rant and rave about the things inside my head. This blog has forced me to be more disciplined in writing, as much as being disciplined about what I do write.

Leather. They say the 3rd year means leather. I am surprised the 3rd anniversary of this blog came and left so silently, that I didn’t even realise it myself. I would have very much liked to celebrate it with you. You are, after all, a big part of the reason why this blog has gone on as long as it has.

To you, my readers, Thank You.

A quESTioN oF eQuaLitY

The first time I was acutely aware that our lives could be very different one from another was in junior college. Up until then, the high school friends I’d hung out with were all “middle-class” like me – a roof over our head and three square meals a day meant we weren’t lacking in any material sense, but we definitely weren’t rich enough to splurge on things like branded clothes or eat in expensive restaurants. So it was a rude shock to me when I discovered that my then 17 year old classmate had never taken a (public) bus before. Never. She had no need to. In her entire pristine life, she had always been chauffeured everywhere by her mother. I was horrified!

It took me a pretty long time to come to terms with that. I don’t know whether to describe my feeling as envy or jealousy, or perhaps a bit of both. But that incident jolted me awake, and that was my first experience with social stratification. Of course, I started to be painfully conscious of all the things I did not have in comparison to my classmates. More importantly, though, it forced me to think about those who have less than I do.

This profound revelation coincided with that phase of my life when I was all gung-ho about saving the poor and marginalized of the world. I wanted to be the Nelson Mandela who led his country out of apartheid. I wanted to be the Mother Teresa who cared for the sick and dying. I wanted to sweep all the beggars and buskers off the streets and give them shelter and food.

I also started pondering the meaning of the phrase “All men are created equal”. Because obviously, not all men are created equal. Some are born into rich families, some are not. Some are born whole, some are not. While a billionaire can decide on a whim that she wants to go to the Swiss Alps for a walking trip tomorrow, the blind man sitting there peddling pens and tissue packs wonders when his next meal will be.

Every artist who respects his craft knows, not all are created equal.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I don’t like mushrooms. Anyone who has known me long enough would have heard of my close-encounter-of-the-third-kind with mushrooms, and how scarred I was from that experience. I have sworn off mushrooms since I was 12, no offence to the Smurfs and Smurfettes who reside in them.

Mushrooms are a strange breed of “vegetables”, if you want to call them that. They are actually fungi, and honestly, I do not understand people who can ingest fungus. The other gripe I have with mushrooms is, they either have no taste (like Enoki or Portobello) to value-add to the overall dish, or they have an extremely pungent smell (like Chinese Black mushrooms) which can be overwhelming.

There are always exceptions to the rule though. I am particularly interested in one type of mushroom – psychoactive mushrooms, also fondly known as “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms”. Apparently, people who have taken these “shrooms” can experience profound and life-changing insights that they describe as mystical experiences. In fact, Johns Hopkins Hospital has conducted studies that show that these psychoactive mushrooms gave people an experience with substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance. In a particular study, a third of the subjects reported that taking “shrooms” was the single most spiritually significant event of their lives.

How can I, a seeker of meaning, miss out on this?