Saturday, May 31, 2008

Waving Goodbye to the Singapore house

I haven't been around puppies. No blog, no internet, not much e-mail or television. Just travel, family, friends and a whole load of good books. I should have been in Singapore today completing the formalities of handing over our empty house back to its owners. But I'm still in Bangalore, having decided to spend more time with my parents and friends. Three wonderful women have helped make this remote handover happen and I haven't the words to thank them. It's no easy matter. The house needed cleaning, the cats needed feeding and have now been shifted to the house of a friend who will forever be my sky fairy of much goodness. This is about the most slacker-like thing I have done in my life and I really should do it more. It is also probably the first time in six years that I have spent more than a week or ten days at home with my parents. I've only managed four or five days at best but at least the visits have been made at frequent intervals. It was my father, really. His big, thoughtful eyes were transparent with dismay and he said, "Do you have to go this week?" and I held his soft pudgy hand in mine and said, "No, I don't really have to go. I'll stay on a little longer."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's good to be on the road back home again

I love coming back to Bangalore. Too pleased at the moment and drunk on amma's cooking to say more than that.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Anxiety-relieving Bhangra (TM)

The packers are coming tomorrow. The forms are somewhat filled. New Zealand biosecurity is very strict and so there's all kinds of boxes to tick and sign. I'm sorting my clothes now, having mostly finished with all the papers. What am I forgetting? According to my files and my wind-up chronicle, all systems are go. Why am I talking like a fool in a hyped-up Hollywood movie? See, this is what happens. At weak and vulnerable moments in our lives, we fall back on stock plots and phrases for comfort. In other news, I was immensely entertained by this Billie Jean Bhangra video that is making the rounds of the interweb (said like the great world leader George W Bush.) In case you're interested, here's one of my favourite recent Bushisms from Slate:
"Let me start off by saying that in 2000 I said, 'Vote for me. I'm an agent of change.' In 2004, I said, 'I'm not interested in change—I want to continue as president.' Every candidate has got to say 'change.' That's what the American people expect." —Washington, D.C., March 5, 2008
Go George! Why should anybody be anxious when y'all are in charge eh?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Kneel and worship at the church of Charlie

Whether you read my theories or not, please read Charlie Brooker, the funniest and greatest genius columnist of our time, writing in The Guardian (which is also the greatest newspaper in the world) about existential angst. I love this paragraph: "The gap between your stupid face and cold hard reality is increasing all the time. We plod down the street holding remote conversations with voices in little plastic boxes. We slump in front of hi-def panels watching processed, graded, synchronised imagery. We wander through made-up online worlds, pausing occasionally to chew the fat with some blue-skinned tit in a jester's hat. We watch time and space collapse on a daily basis. Our world is now running an enhanced, expanded version of reality's vanilla operating system. As a result, it's all too easy to feel like a viewer of - rather than a participant in - your own life."

Theory of Life Central/You are here/ Welcome

Good morning puppies. Anybody who doesn't like being called that, I'm not sorry. I like saying it. Okay? Its my blog and I'll bark if I want to. But I'm richly brimming with theory, concept and witloads of understanding this glorious Monday morning (while earthly mortals work, I have morphed from reportergirl to skyfairy) By the way, anybody have any suggestions for what kind of costume would most suit a reportergirl ? Ah, but I digress from my richly theories. My theory this morning is that I've so far been looking at my life as a maze, while in actuality, it is a labyrinth. A labyrinth is not a maze. This is a very important distinction and lets not forget it. My expertise with Google (it has made experts of us all, none more so than I) reveals that a labyrinth is a circuitous path with one entrance point, that leads through a series of switch-backs to its centre. A maze, however, has dead ends and blind alleyways. Its intention is confusion and mystery. The labyrinth, when followed, leads eventually and without making choices to the centre. The French existentialists laboured over choice and came to the conclusion that there was no absolute right or wrong choice--you just had to make a choice and take full responsibility for it. (I'm talking macro life choice here, not your average bad choice of food, drink, etc) In simpler terms, bloom where you are planted or find a better soil and climate mix. But remember that repotting takes some planning and soil prepping. Don't be doing it willy nilly or you'll be wilting. So back then to the labyrinth, which may be thought of as a map of your innermost being. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. It's comforting to know that the feelings that won't be tamed, the switch-backs and the meanderings they cause, will all eventually lead to the centre. As one of my favourite Indian playwrights Girish Karnad, says "You can't master knowledge through austerities. It must come with experience."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Good notes and bad photographs

I can be quite inept with a camera but the results don't do much to discourage me. Some of my friends derive great enjoyment from these photoshop fix-resistant images. I'm flaunting a flawed photograph of my favourite vegetable market in Bangalore. I'll hopefully be there next weekend to see my parents and friends before I fly off to the new end of the earth.

Nudging yourself towards better decisions

I've started walking a lot more than I used to. It started off as a planned, incremental increase in exercise and now it's a way of life, even in 75 per cent humidity. I make an exception only on the days when I have let vanity get the better of me and have worn girly shoes that almost always hurt. My favourite columnist writes today that little and often is a better way to change than instituting dramatic militaristic regimens, which are bound to fail.
"The point missed by the "transform your life now" culture of pop psychology is that the changes most of us would like to make in our lives aren't enormous. We don't have eating disorders: we'd just like to eat healthier meals. We don't lurch through our working lives, always about to get fired: we'd just like to finish a project on time for once. We're not debilitatingly depressed or anxious: we'd just like to be a bit happier. All we need is a nudge, whereas many gurus would rather deliver a kicking." If there's anything you're looking to change about your life, I suggest reading this column as a starting point. Baby steps. That's where it all starts. So I'm going to gently shut down my laptop and walk down to this reservoir near our house where I love to go but don't go often enough.

Field Guide Poetry

Some months ago I attempted a poetry exercise set by David Morley in the excellent Books section of Guardian Online. An ecologist and poet, Morley, suggested we try and locate poetry in the scientific, somewhat opaque language of natural history field guides. I have a small book called A Guide to Growing the Native Plants of Singapore and these lines seemed mighty poetic to me. This is clunky and incomplete but I love the second paragraph and the fact that one can find poetry in the most unexpected places.

Native species, they evolved over millions of years
to cope with climate, soils, seasons and interactions,
with others in the ecosystem.

Accidentally-introduced species
come by various means,
on tires, earth-moving equipment
and in the ballast of ships.
They may just persist close to their sites of escape,
establish so well, they outcompete the native species,
though, the most exotic species are those
deliberately introduced by humans.

A quarter of native plant species are already extinct,
yet, most tropical cities grow the overexploited
Madagascan flame-of-the-forest,
the American rain tree.

Friday, May 2, 2008

This modern world of muchness

I slept like a child again and have woken up to a beautiful, breezy blue-sky day. Sold our beloved coffee machine yesterday and was sorry to see it go. I'm not attached to much but that DeLonghi machine was more than a machine you know? A memory of Italy and the warm ritual of many cafes for all the coffee lovers who ever visited our home. Yet, every single time I pack up a home (seven times in the last 10 years) I think to myself that I really must simplify my life, own less, buy less, accumulate less. And its so hard at least where I live not to go out and buy something. Trinkets and beads I haven't worn, a neck pillow that I have used once, because it breaks my neck far worse than sleeping on my own shoulder like a drunken lout, 100 multi-purpose cleaning wipes for cleaning the laptop screen (75 unused), sachets of sample hyacinth moisturiser or some such(yuck) papers, papers, papers, particle board furniture, nifty tools that have not been used at all, the list is endless. I'll manage to sell some things, recycle some and the rest will all end up in a landfill somewhere, while I take more long-haul flights and buy new things made in some factory in India or China.
What's the alternative? I'm not even going to talk about carbon footprint--rendered almost meaningless from overuse, misuse and dodgy calculations. Please read Specter's Big Foot in The New Yorker. Michael Pollan has also written a great article called, Why Bother? He takes the question of individual responsibility and works out some answers. It's really worth reading.

"Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?
A sense of personal virtue, you might suggest, somewhat sheepishly. But what good is that when virtue itself is quickly becoming a term of derision?"

"And even if in the face of this derision I decide I am going to bother, there arises the whole vexed question of getting it right. Is eating local or walking to work really going to reduce my carbon footprint? According to one analysis, if walking to work increases your appetite and you consume more meat or milk as a result, walking might actually emit more carbon than driving. A handful of studies have recently suggested that in certain cases under certain conditions, produce from places as far away as New Zealand might account for less carbon than comparable domestic products. True, at least one of these studies was co-written by a representative of agribusiness interests in (surprise!) New Zealand, but even so, they make you wonder. If determining the carbon footprint of food is really this complicated, and I’ve got to consider not only “food miles” but also whether the food came by ship or truck and how lushly the grass grows in New Zealand, then maybe on second thought I’ll just buy the imported chops at Costco, at least until the experts get their footprints sorted out."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The joy of joblessness/ To say what one thinks, instead of what one should say

My last day at work was a breeze. At the coffee shop upstairs, it was also my favourite barista's last day. She's quitting to spend more time with her children. She gave her special customers free coffees and I was pleased to be among them. I'll miss her and the mean-faced fruit lady and the crazed Indian stall owners who put so much salt and MSG in their food that you can lose a litre of body fluid simply by eating lunch there. And then, there's the lovely woman across the road, who because I can't speak Mandarin, communicates with me in sign language. We've developed our own charades for noodles/tofu/vegetables, no meat, no fish. Two months ago, when I got to her stall, she smiled, nay beamed and handed over a laminated menu with an all-new VEGETARIAN section. How cool is that? And now I've gone and left, bah, ungrateful wretch that I am.
I've had such a good run here -- loved my work and met some incredible people whose stories will always stay with me because of the madcap humour and quiet grace with which they handled not-so-great-news from doctors. And yet I feel like my work here is done. Last night I slept a whole nine hours for the first time in months. I slept like the dead.
I have learned some very wonderful things in these last three-and-a-half years. Yesterday, as I was cleaning up my desk, I found a small piece of paper given to me by a woman I interviewed a year ago. It sums up some of the most important things that I have learned to do (lie), actually, I'm still trying very hard to learn these lessons.
"To see and hear what is there, instead of what one should see and hear. To say what one thinks, instead of what one should say. To feel what one feels, instead of what one should feel. To ask for what one wants, instead of waiting for permission. To take risks on one's behalf, instead of choosing to be safe." — Virginia Satir