Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I love it when they make fun of my profession

Why? Because we all take ourselves too damn seriously, that's why.

Delicious Lines

This just in. Three delicious lines from the poetry section of, what else, the New Yorker. What can I say ? I'm a creature of habit. Franz Wright calls this The World of the Senses. Here are the lines that grabbed me and set my neurons on a happy spin. Click link for the whole poem, don't be lazy. You need to work for poetry. Such lucky things we are, really, to have all these luxuries unfold at the click of a mouse.

"What a day: I had some trouble
following the plotline; however,
the special effects were incredible"

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Scale of Human Trafficking

William Finnegan investigates the trafficking of women from Moldova to Dubai and the rest of the world in this New Yorker article. He profiles Stella Rotaru, a young woman who works with the International Office of Migration to rescue women who are stuck in brothels, who are looking for a way out or a way back home.
When I started off as a crime reporter in Bangalore, I had to do one story on the trafficking of adolescent girls within India, and even that was one story too much. I don't think I had the maturity or the distance needed to write that effectively. I still remember the faces of the three girls rescued from some 60-year-old man's hotel room. One of them was 14 and schizophrenic. I don't know what happened to her after that, except that she was sent to some sort of a home.
I recommend sticking with this 13-page-long story, because unlike me, Finnegan finds out what happens to women after they've been trafficked and rescued. If you don't or can't stick with the story, here's a paragraph that tells you a little bit about Stella Rotaru, the woman behind some of the rescues, and why she never switches her cell phone off:
"Brothel raids in other countries yield many of Rotaru’s beneficiaries, as her clients are known. After a raid, she’ll get calls from the detainees, or from cops, consulates, families, or friends—even, sometimes, from prostitution customers. “Rescue calls” tend to be more urgent. Women phone clandestinely, from captivity, and Rotaru may have only moments to get the information she needs. The women don’t always have the information themselves; in extreme cases, they may not be sure what country they’re in. Look out the window, Rotaru will say. Any sign you can see. Exact spellings. Look for an address on matchbooks, or McDonald’s bags. What languages do the johns speak? If she can capture a number on caller I.D., it can be useful, although simply calling back without an all-clear is generally too dangerous."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Do I dare?

Do I dare publish a random act of my own poetry? Yes, I do. Here then, is my maudlin offering for Monday.


Getting there is easy.
All you have to do, they said,
Is take the train out to the bay,
transfer onto a yellowline bus
and then,
walk ten minutes.
You’ll see.
Beyond the red flowers,
the blue house on a green hill.
It’s easy.
Except, the train wasn’t on time
And the bus did not wait for me
So I walked all the way
And when I got there
an hour later than they said,
it was too dark
to see the colours.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rescuing Madam Butterfly

I helped rescue a day-old butterfly today. A chap at work brought this beauty called the Common Rose into the office because he was doing a story on Rosalind Tay. She's an occupational therapist turned senior operations executive, who started a butterfly garden at Alexandra Hospital.
Her rationale was simple: Watching the butterflies, with their colourful and magical symmetries is an oddly soothing and affirming experience for those in recovery.
Anyway, the Common Rose rode into work in a box, to be photographed. Knowing nothing about the species, I resorted to google. It gets its name probably because it is abundantly found in South India and Sri Lanka, especially after the monsoons. Botanists call it an "excellent generalist" meaning it has adapted to a range of habitats from up to 8,000 feet in the Western Ghats and South Indian Hills and up to 5000 feet in the Himalayas. And somehow, our youngling of a Common Rose managed to fly out of her box in Singapore and made her way up onto one of the light fixtures in this gigantic office. Luckily, that particular light wasn't on.
The only reason I even knew was because I sit next to butterfly boy and some girls were shrieking, being girls and all. If we had just left her there, Madam Butterfly would have died. Maybe its a mister butterfly, but I just like the sound of madam. And I didn't want her to die in some cold air-conditioned office among journalists. If I were to die, I'd want to be in the flower garden hanging with my friends, talking. And then, mid-discussion, I would die happy, just after I'd made my point.
So, I found one of the cleaner ladies who suggested calling the cleaning department. The good folks at the cleaning department sent a man with a long stick and he also went and found a net. Then I went and found wildlife woman from our office. I knew she could help. We all watched as he very carefully coaxed Madam Butterfly into the net and brought her down from her high perch. We helped her back into her box and she seemed to sit still in there. She's on her way back to the Alexandra Hospital garden now, where they have the kind of flowers she likes to sit on and where some 101 other species of tropical butterflies gather.
Even if her life span is only a few days, I'm so happy that it will be spent among flowers and friends and not in an office. My day is so much better for having encountered the spectacular symmetry of her black, pink, red and grey hues. It also made me think of our general attitude to small insects and animals ...do we value their lives at all?
JM Coetzee is perhaps one of the few authors who discusses our cruelty and indifference to the animal world. In an interview after he received the Nobel prize, Coetzee said of animals: "There is a temptation to project upon them feelings and thoughts that may belong only to our own human mind and heart. (You'll notice its exactly what I've done in my post)
There is also a temptation to seek in animals what is easiest for human beings to sympathise or empathise with, and consequently to favour those animal species which for one reason or another seem to us to be “almost human” in their mental and emotional processes. So dogs (for example) are treated as “almost human” whereas reptiles are treated as entirely alien." Coetzee says that the lives of animals remain unimportant existences of which people take notice only when their lives cross ours. And while he agrees that we may never know the inner lives of animals, the one thing we can do, he says, is respect their right to life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Curse of Officialese

Further to our tele-conversation, I am pleased to append herewith our 2nd Revised Quotation for your kind perusal.
Yes, that's right. Read it again puppies. That's the sort of communication I'm dealing with every day and will keep dealing with until all our wordly posessions have been enveloped by cardboard and bubble wrap and set sail for Nuova Zealandia. Joy is my name, moving is my game.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The genius of Jack Kerouac

After an intense spell of work, I treated myself to an old Paris Review interview of Jack Kerouac. It's so delicious, it's like reading a chocolate gelato. I love this paragraph:
"Well, look, did you ever hear a guy telling a long, wild tale to a bunch of men in a bar and all are listening and smiling, did you ever hear that guy stop to revise himself, go back to a previous sentence to improve it, to defray its rythmic thought impact. If he pauses to blow his nose, isn't he planning his next sentence? And when he lets that next sentence loose, isn't it once and for all the way he wanted to say it? Doesn't he depart from the thought of that sentence and, as Shakespeare says, "forever holds his tongue," on the subject since he's passed over it like a part of a river that flows over a rock once and for all and never returns and can never flow any other way in time? Incidentally, as for my bug against periods, that was the prose in October In The Railroad Earth, very experimental, intended to clack along all the way like a steam engine pulling a one-hundred-car freight with a talky caboose at the end, that was my way at the time and it still can be done if the thinking during the swift writing is confessional and pure and all excited with the life of it. And be sure of this, I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and hiding of feelings."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Overcompensation is a wonderful thing

See, immediately after promoting wrist-slashing links, I came across this mister on the left. What a cool, tubular and frickin smart dude is he?
What? What? It's Friday and I'm happy. Happy like him, happy like a girl in a flowing silk skirt and bitey shoes that hurt her feet but look good and I'm happy like somebody who has newly-hatched boundaries. And cruising like somebody who has drunk just the right amount of Daiginjo Sake--you know the rice wine that is so mellow and smooth that it won't give up even one secret easily. So yeah, that's the kind of smile it produces and that's what I'm wearing along with Mister Snoopy on the left. And yes, that's a disco tune in my head. But I'm not telling you its name, because I'm so happy that I'm silly like that.

Pure and Unfamiliar Silence

Jane Hirshfield is an American poet whose work I stumbled across quite by accident on this website. She has titled this strangely hypnotic arrangement of words, 'This Was Once A Love Poem.' I will now look out for her work because it moves me (like this photograph my husband took) and plays strings in my head that sound like Gustavo Santaolalla's Iguazu.
To maximise this opiate feeling, I'd recommend reading the poem first and then listening to the music.
Warning: If you're not into enjoying a little bit of wistful sadness, then this is a mighty good wrist-slashing combo. And you won't want fries with it or a large Coke. Har, I'm so funny, especially when I try, eh?
This Was Once A Love Poem
This was once a love poem, before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short, before it found itself sitting, perplexed and a little embarrassed, on the fender of a parked car, while many people passed by without turning their heads. It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement. It remembers choosing these shoes, this scarf or tie. Once, it drank beer for breakfast, drifted its feet in a river side by side with the feet of another. Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy, dropping its head so the hair would fall forward, so the eyes would not be seen. It spoke with passion of history, of art. It was lovely then, this poem. Under its chin, no fold of skin softened. Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat. What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall. An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks. The longing has not diminished. Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat, the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus. Yes, it decides: Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots. When it finds itself disquieted by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life, it will touch them—one, then another— with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Profiling George Clooney

A New Yorker profile never fails to fill me with awe at the amount of work put in by the reporter, the variety of sources he or she interviews, the number of times and situations in which they meet the subject of the profile --it's just incredible. Ian Parker's profile of George Clooney is fascinating in the details that he has managed to elicit from friends--not gossipy bits but just observations that build a complete picture of what makes him vital, or as the headline explains, the effort behind his effortless charm. I particularly liked this part where Richard Kind, a long-time friend of Clooney's talks about him, because it underlines that peculiar need or compulsion that some great peformers have, well, that need to perform all the time:
"Kind told me, “I’m very protective of him. When I’m staying with him, I will never bring anyone to the house while he’s there. The reason? This is almost pathological: he has to entertain that new person. Even if he doesn’t want to, he will draw that person in with stories, and will entertain him. He could have been working all day, he could have a headache, it doesn’t matter, when he’s at that dinner, he’s got to talk to that person, and make that person . . . I don’t know whether it’s make that person like him, but he wants to make him feel at home.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Faulty Plumbing of Your Flaky Mind

My new TV-free life gives me a lot more time to read. Last night, I read a New Scientist review of Gary Marcus' new book, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, which was so damn mindbending, it made me want to buy the book. He shows how the mind is held together by gum and duct tape -- meaning it is of a clumsy design. Apparently, brain modules that evolved for one purpose often take on roles that they weren't really designed for. "So our mental functions, while adequate individually, can harm us when working together-such as when our reasoning skills and healthy sex drive conspire to talk us into disastrous affairs. I guess Shaggy was on to something when he sang that it wasn't me, song. "It wasn't me, it was my mind." Marcus'observations are somewhat scary because they make so much sense. Just read his Idea Lab article on our awfully unreliable memories and further complicate your view of yourself and all the dumb choices you've ever made.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Morning After

And so the date is done and I've counted another year, brought in the day with drink and an overflowing cup of friendship. (the last four drinks were probably unnessecary and show that I may be older but I'm not getting any wiser). The naked exhibitionism that is this blog is also testament to the immaturity and suspectness of my edifice, dear reader. So trust my words no more than you would the breeze.
The first person to call was my mother, who I love for her peculiar honesty and intuition, whose articulation of the fear that can accompany the birth of a child, has left me with a precious awareness of the subtext in motherhood. As a youngling playing with large-eyed dolls, I had always assumed that women were filled with immense joy after the birth of a child. That it was one of those blessed, unambiguous states of being....
I'm thinking today of women and men who don't quite feel so fantastic, who are hit with waves of doubt, who were/are good mothers and fathers, despite the apprehension and loss of self that accompanies birth.
I thought this sort of feeling was not possible to translate into language. But of course, a poet would find a way to do it. Sylvia Plath's 'Morning Song' is perhaps the most brilliant articulation of the awe and fear surrounding birth I have ever read. It's not important to know, but she wrote it shortly after she became a mother.
The startling genius of this poem is hard to break down, but read it once, pause and then read it again. Wonder at her command of language and metaphor, rythm and structure and then look around and see if your world still looks the same.


Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles,
and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival.
New statue. In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Tale of Two No-Good Tribesmen

I woke to fresh lizard kill this morning. A tail-less corpse, upturned on the floor. The two layabouts pictured here no doubt assume that this is a great offering to be appreciated by their leader. There is much solemn skirting about said kill while I clean it up. Still, I am glad they accord me such respect. As we all know, hierarchy and power dynamics, especially in a tribe of three, are very important. So I have given them their reward: scratch under chin and soft white bellies. They've forgotten they have claws which is good. I also forget that I have claws. My personality hypothesis today is that my claws are way too retractable and that I need to sharpen them a little bit. Maybe I need to relearn some hissing too, while I'm at it, I mean if I even knew how to hiss in the first place. What am I on about? I am poor this morning and radioactive. Half-life = 32 years. But that's going up to magic number 33 soon. Oh how lovely are the peaceful notes of middle-age where angst is dulled and one thinks of soft rugs and plush carpets. I think I had better shut up now.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Moving To The Country

I'm moving countries in seven weeks. All it means is that I have a bunch of tasks and a couple of lists to follow meticulously. I have to complete said tasks by certain dates and cross out with a tick. That's all. Cool.
That's what I tell myself. Actually, even if I tick off things, I'm obsessing about tangential stuff, the accumulation of life, papers and memories bound up with this house, this island.
So I'm a little emotional it seems, which is fine. Why I expect to function like a robot is anybody's guess, but I think we all expect ourselves to be robotic to a certain extent. We assume it makes life easy. It doesn't. Nor does losing it. Balance, my dear Watson, is key. And for me, balance immediately arrives when I see images like these. Can only be described as tres, beaucoup good!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Science of Wonderment

My penchant for quoting studies (usually to the long-suffering soul who listens to all my boring theories) is born out of a need to formulate my own rational understanding of behaviour. I like knowing, for instance, that women under stress tend to secrete more oxytocin--the hormone that promotes feelings of empathy and bonding while men tend to secrete testosterone, the hormone that is most associated with feelings of aggression. I think it explains a lot of things. It makes a lot more sense than those annoying 'women come from outer space' type relationship books that oversimplify the differences between men and women. It also explains why friendships between women are nurturing in very special ways. My women friends, you all know who you are, thank you for the warmth of your sparkly-eyed empathy. But I've actually been equally, if not more lucky, with my men friends, who have so often taught me the anatomy of grace in difficult situations.
But I digress. Through the ages, science has often been seen as an agent of disenchantment. The reasoning behind this line of thought is that science curbs the imagination and leaves the mysteries of the world in tatters.
A new book called Cosmic Imagery: Key Images in the History of Science, by John Barrow, a Cambridge cosmologist, challenges this view by showing how the history of art and that of drawing is tied to the history of science. The Guardian (How empty would my life be without Guardian online? Even the thought scares me) has a wonderful review of Barlow's book and an accompanying slide show which shows the original scientific image that inspired Van Gogh's Starry Nights, among other things. But what might happen as the technology of visual reproduction grows more and more sophisticated? Will the sheer power of immersive realities bump off the imagination? This is the scenario that Barlow envisages, and it's definitely something I'm going to be wondering about for a while:

"We can imagine what the next stage will be, with holographic creations and alternative realities. So, for example, instead of reading Shakespeare, we're increasingly going to find ourselves transported into a Shakespearean environment. Instead of imagining, which will be thought of as hard work, we will be dropped into an experience. We see this saturation of interactive experience already with the web, and I see the future very much as one where subjects are increasingly presented in a way that removes the need to exercise one's imagination."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Best ever one-line review of The Prestige

I watched that Prestige movie -the one where Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play crazed and obsessive-competitive magicians.
My friend, the New Asian who lives in LA, wanted to know what I thought about the film. New Asian and I go back a long way, bound by our mutual desire to deconstruct all manner of cinema, even really important films like Bounce and Bring It On.
I told New Asian that it was a good film. "That part where they squash birds was hard to watch. Their competition and obsession was believable and tension-creating so I quite liked it. It made me question what entertainment really means, how we sometimes enjoy watching things go bad, that we are secretly thrilled when we watch something macabre even as we shake our heads in horror and recount the trauma of it later to our friends. There's something vaguely self-congratulatory, a misplaced pride even, at having been a firsthand witness of something awful. And that's awful but true"
New Asian's response: "These are two really obsessive and bitter dudes who need to chill, though chilling would reduce their greatness."

This Post Will Change Your Life

There's a guy at work who buys a sugary biscuit before he starts writing his column. He's very focussed about his writing and incredibly disciplined. He's not always wandering off to get a coffee or a tea, mid-sentence, like some other people we know. (me)
I just read about a study which shows he's on to something good. Apparently, when blood glucose is depleted, we're less able to exert self-control. The researchers say that the brain has a limited reserve amount of glucose, which allows us to handle the initial task demanding self control. Once that glucose supply is depleted, self control becomes much more difficult, across an array of different tasks.
Oliver Burkeman at The Guardian refers to this study in his latest column, the title of which I love and have shamelessly lifted. He talks about the effort needed to resist the power of our surroundings. For instance, "food that gets eaten because it's there; evenings spent watching TV because there's a TV in the room. Or bigger things: a job you fell into because it came along, or a relationship."
The point is that resisting these things uses up real energy. Burkeman argues that this is why willpower can be only a temporary or partial solution in changing a behaviour.
"It's exhaustible, and if you rely on it too much in one area - eating healthily, say - you will find that you don't have enough left over for the rest of life."
But there is a moral here for me...if I really want to concentrate on something or resist something or hopefully, someone, I need to eat a bar of good dark chocolate first.