Monthly Archives: October 2014

Better Medicine

 Perhaps a train ride

Would make for better medicine

This sleeplessness

Is of a relentless kind.

 

Question: Do cracks speak?

At the yellow line you pause

Perhaps you were born in a hushed hour

In your bones the land throbs with loss

 

Outside, everything recedes

Inside, it’s fuzzy and royal blue

Mind the gap, they say

Or your thoughts will kill you

 

You see double in the window

It’s you, your eyes like stars

In this running black sky

Ink with which to write your scars

 

Maybe there’ll be roses

Dream pink, without thorns

Even as the light within you

swallows you

And you enter into the morn

 

Perhaps, perhaps these tracks

Will run faster than the words on your skin

If so,

It would make for far better medicine

Better medicine than this

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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So I finished reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves yesterday, and I’m still reeling from the surges of emotion than hit me as I tore through the last few chapters. I hardly dare to open the book again, because I’m afraid I cannot bear to let it wreck me a second time. Yet somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to give this book away to anyone until it stops whispering to me.

The story was strangely apt, somehow. I dare not say anything about its content because this story is one that is crafted true to its medium, meant to be opened page by page. But this is a book with a lot of psychology in it. I recognised many familiar terms and familiar experiments, given a spirit which they don’t have in textbooks. When the author mentioned Harry Harlow my stomach lurched. I always found that photograph of a baby monkey clinging to a fake, wire “mother” in my psychology textbooks extremely harrowing. The story is also resonant because it’s as story about every ordinary family, they ways we wound each other, the way “well-intentioned actions lead to heart-breaking consequences”. It’s a book about humanity and animality, about trying to tear through the veil that separates the conscious from the unconscious, to go back to the beginning of things, to find things lost and learning how to handle the broken pieces of things fallen apart. That last scene – Rosemary and Fern, their foreheads pressed together separated by a pane of glass, is just burned into my memory.

It’s a story that wrecked me and yet also dearly soothed me. Walking with Rosemary made me wonder if perhaps the stars will soon align for me too. If I also can begin to walk into memory – not as playing a video tape, but as trying to peel back those layers and layers of transparency that have coated each other over the years. I wonder if I can raise up the ghosts of those who I have lost, and put aside memories of those I cannot forget.

Rosemary never really has a real friend until she meets crazy Harlow, and I felt Harlow’s loss painfully when she disappeared from the story. Perhaps it is because I miss my Harlows too. There are some friends whose presence in your life is less that of a confidante and more that of a sort of trigger. Not exactly people you can pour your heart out to, but rather the ones who make things happen just by virtue of their craziness, and the way their very being challenges something deep and fundamental about you.

To put a stop to my rambling, here’s 10 of my favourite excerpts from the book:

  1. “There are moments when history and memory seem like a mist, as if what really happened matters less than what should have happened. The mist lifts and suddenly there we are, my good parents and their good children, their grateful children who pone for no reason to talk, say their good-nights with a kiss, and look forward to home on the holidays… Just for a moment, I see us that way; I see us all. Restored and repaired. Reunited. Refulgent”
  2. “In most families, there is a favourite child. Parents deny it and maybe they truly don’t see it, but it’s obvious to the children. Unfairness bothers children greatly. It’s hard to always come in second. It’s also hard to be the favourite.”
  3. “Start in the middle then, he’d answer, a shadow with the hall light behind him, and tired in the evenings the way grown-ups are. The light would reflect in my bedroom window like a star you could wish on. Skip the beginning. Start in the middle.”
  4. “And here we are, finally back in the middle where we left me, a bright-eyed undergraduate saddled with her very own arrest record and someone else’s powder-blue suitcase. The prophetic stars are hopping about the sky like fleas. One: the appearance and immediate disappearance of my mothers journals. Two: A muffled message from Lowell, the knock in the dungeon wall from an adjacent cell. Three: Harlow”
  1. “I once thought of the monkey girl as a threat only to myself. Now I see how she could blow the whole caper. So, added to the old fear of exposure, is this other fear that I’ll mess up, miscalculate just how much monkey girl to let out. There’s no data to suggest that I can make you love me whatever I do. I could be headed back to middle school, no hallways and classrooms this time, but the tabloids and the blogs instead”
  2. “Next time, I’ll put things right between my father and me. Next time, I’ll give Mom the fair share of blame for Fern… Next time, I’ll take the share that’s mine, no more, no less. Next time I’ll shut my mouth about Fern and open it about Lowell… I’d always planned to forgive Dad someday.”
  3. “No one is easier to delude than a parent; they see only what they wish to see.”
  4. [About Harry Harlow] “The baby monkeys clung pathetically o the fake, uncaring mothers, until they all turned psychotic or died. “I don’t know what he thought he’d learned about them,” Lowell said, ‘But in their short, sad little lives, they sure learned a hell a lot about him'”
  5. “It’s true that, as my brother grew larger, he also grew dangerous, same as my sister. But they’re still ours and we want them back. They’re needed here at home”
  6. “The wine was red. Mom took another sip and turned her softly sagging face away from mine. ‘I wanted you to have an extraordinary life,’ she said.”

Hello Hong Kong

 Took a short getaway to Hong Kong during recess week. It’s so strange to think that this big, bright, colourful place is just at the back door of our tiny island, which seems almost sleepy in comparison. (5 photos)

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Hong Kong is a really brightly lit place.

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The city skyline (part of), backed by mountains dotted with light. Twas quite a sight. 

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Always found it amazing to see tall mountains and tall buildings standing side by side. I suppose I’ve lived too much of my life on flat land. 

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Saikung, Hong Kong’s back garden.

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Just look at all those fish and stripy lobsters! The men will lift them up to you in a net if you buy some.

“Let’s leave for somewhere, journey somewhere. This world – it’s full of lies”

Other Things by Alvin Pang

Other Things

To buy a potted plant is to admit both faithlessness and need. To water the plant, perhaps daily, perhaps once in a while when you remember and the leaves start to droop, is as close to love as it gets.

Other things mean other things.

To light a lamp is to hide darkness in the same closet as sleep, along with silence, desire, and yesterday’s obsessions. To read a book is to marry two solitudes, the way a conversation erases and erects, words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence, and snow undresses for spring.

The bedroom is where you left it, although the creases and humps on the sheets no longer share your outline and worldview. In that way, they are like the children you never had time for.

A cooking pot asks the difficult questions: what will burn and for how long and to what end.

TV comes from the devil who comes from god who comes and goes as he pleases. To hide the remote control in someone’s house is clearly a sin, but to take the wrong umbrella home is merely human.

The phone is too white to be taunting you. The door you shut stays shut. The night is reason enough for tomorrow, whatever you believe.

Remember, the car keys will be there after the dance. Walls hold peace as much as distance. A kettle is not reason enough for tears.

The correct answer to a mirror is always, yes.

– Alvin Pang

(This poem balances whimsy and lonely so nicely, I feel like I can read it over and over again for a long time.)

Quiet nights in the living room. I’ve been kicked out of the bedroom. The dog blinks from under the sofa, disturbed by my presence but too polite to do anything about it. I can feel time passing around me, time stored in all these familiar shadows, familiar paraphernalia. Only the dog has full access to all our scent traces – the places where our baby hands marked these same objects. Your things remain where you leave them, although like the sheets in the bedroom, they no longer share your outline and worldview. Like the children you never had time for. 

The dog himself has matts near his collar, his toe-nails are always tapping the vinyl floor until once in a while we remember to trim them. On the table a terrarium that never gets sprayed until we recall it is there, as close to love as it gets. 

I often think it would be nice to pick up the phone and be able to call someone, to ask: how am I supposed to sleep, where am I meant to go, and who will love me now? The phone is too white to be taunting you. Instead I wonder around the kitchen, staring into cupboards looking for satiety. Left on the stove for the people who didn’t eat dinner, a cooking pot asks the difficult questions: what will burn and for how long and to what end. Of course my questions won’t actually be said, they will only linger, the only question is with whom? Words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence. 

Unable to accept rest, I linger on the couch with a book, bookmarking its pages with tears. To read a book is to marry two solitudes. Perhaps my author also wrote in tears. I have to stop crying and being so terribly small and seeing hurt everywhere if not I’ll never be able to sleep. The night is reason enough for tomorrow, whatever you believe. I wash my face, say a prayer, look in the mirror. Mirrors always ask too many questions, but the correct answer… is always, yes.

Good night.

Rewind to June

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Inhabiting a new place is like slipping into a fresh mould. When you leave, it is not just a place you leave behind, but a state of mind, a state of self. At the point you realise this, how different and at the same time how familiar the skin you are wearing feels – that is the point where you are first displaced from yourself. It is in this way that the more places we inhabit, the more we feel how little we have in common with ourselves.

***

It was a common thing to hear from my friends who had returned with me from the UK for summer, how different they felt, being home. There’s a feeling which we don’t really have a word for – the feeling of being transplanted from one place to another. It’s not just about traveling, for in this case both places are each in their own way, home. We spoke of the feeling of “wearing a different skin”, the surreality of it, and the initial frustration of it.

Now looking back, the month of June is all a blank to me. It’s almost as though the brain tries its best to wipe out that which makes you uncomfortable. I only remember feeling suffocated and awkward at home, and disconcerted by certain current events at the time – a sickening pull back to reality.

October, and I’ve had half a term in a new school, and been sufficiently sucked into the black hole of endless work that it’s difficult for me to retrieve the feels that floated around in my mind in London.  My friends have returned to the UK, and after the initial shock of another teleport, they have settled in and are busily going about their daily affairs. I suppose at this point it is appropriate to put a stop to further reminiscence, and that is fine with me. I do wish though, like I wished when I came back, weak and frustrated, that I could find some source of inner strength – a way to go through the day with a smile, and be a support to others as well as myself.

Are there words that can do that for you?