Which feels like I am resurrecting the ghost of words that were.
A flower bloomed inside a rock, and only the rock felt its roots take hold. Disarmed by the gentle persistence that unfurled fine lines against its heart, hardened through time compressed.
The second part of the ghost words maybe does not need a repetition. But ghosts are hauntings. And I wonder, if I am haunted, and if so, by what?
A long conversation and an idea. Creating, building in the withdrawing. The necessary work that needs to happen before we withdraw. Or shift. The right amount of sun, soil and rain for seeds to germinate and grow into an unruly, untame-able force. Figuring this out. Best thing is, with two amazing persons who are also heart-friends.
At a loss for words.
When you are struggling
it usually means
you are hearing one thing
writing (creating) another.
- honest | risk
He is a kind man. He puts his days and hands and time into my garden, and is creating a self-watering system where a vertical garden can grow. Thinking, drilling, figuring things out. This commitment of affection has a mysterious source. We are not kin, we have barely had ten hours of conversation together in total. But maybe it is through his expansive way of loving. He loves like my mother. Through material things. The rainbow element. Do you have food in your stomach? A roof over your head? Are you okay at work? Is your water heater working? Things that can be held in the hand, that can be solved somehow through some kind of extended action.
What does this require? A kind of imagining of the basic needs of the self onto the others. The materiality of life. A generosity of time and attention that is translated into active hands. Beyond words.
There is more to be said, but tonight words are struggling to come out. Maybe a pause.
In the past month, John Berger's small book with the big print "Ways of Seeing" has been in my peripheral vision a fair bit. Instagram post here, a quote there, hands holding it here, it appearing oddly frequently on surfaces. So I've been thinking, maybe this is a book I should read. Today, I found out that he passed away. And there have been a lot of links and articles shared about his work, and his contribution to a different manner of engagement with the world, and his incredible life. And somehow, it ignited me with a fire that I have been struggling to feel for the past 6 months. A kind of invisible barrier I put between myself and a universe that I feel strangely more alienated by through increasing proximity. Where I couldn't clearly see where I am embodied within it. Even though through instinct, I have devoured it with a kind of hunger that had no clear direction except its own need. And it's been safe, and satisfying. To find my own meandering paths into it, to seek ways I can immerse in it, with no language but that of my own head. To have random and inconsequential deep tendrils into different currents of it. But now that the shit gets real, I am a little lost. Because I am swimming in a different lexicon and vocabulary of time, nodes and capital.
But reading some of Berger's quotes has really (re)illuminated parts of me that make complete sense. It's like standing in darkness and then having specific facets light up in different neon colours. A rubicube come to life.
"We can no longer "use" most paintings today as they were intended to be used: for religious workshop, for celebrating the wealth of the wealthy, for immediate political enlightenment, for proving the romantic sublime, and so on. Nevertheless, painting is especially well suited to developing the very faculty of understanding which has rendered its earlier uses obsolete: that is to say, to developing our historical and evolutionary self-consciousness."
Which reads like a freaking mission statement.
Which makes me think about the book I'm reading now, "The elegance of the hedgehog", and one of the main protagonists' devastatingly critical opinions on the truth about engaging in art. The same fragment in the form of people and stories. And another conversation at another time about commodification of arts as cultural product to be tactically used to create the illusion of value on decaying corpus. It's jst so damn well put.
"A love of art has been a useful concept to the European ruling classes for over a century and a half. The love was said to be their own. With it they could claim kinship with the civilisations of the past and the possession of those moral virtues associated with "beauty". With it they could also dismiss as inartistic and primitive the cultures they were in the process of destroying at home and throughout the world."
Which led to what I felt to be like a 'true' conversation, because it was not about logistics, but politics.
It reminded me of going to Balai to check out the Malaysian biennale retrospective. And how it broke my heart. This hulk of a building, confused over its purpose and its age, being patched together like an unloved-robot through the cross-eyed, divergent visions of different creatures. It was truly, achingly, sad. The cafe looks like a soft cry for attention by a disheveled child trying its best. The out-of-date banners about past exhibitions, oversized bright yellow maintainence and upgrading signs and cliched self-exoticising tourism-type paintings hanging side-by-side, slightly ashamed as they jostle each other for space and attention. The South-East-Asian sub-regional attempt at creating a visual arts network that nurtured each other into a small dot in the global map only demonstrated how timid we are in our visual expressions. I wanted to tell the four tourists that came up the winding stairs to turn back. There is nothing to see here.
Then I went to the second floor, where the retrospective was shown. And it suddenly transformed. Because these are unwieldy participation that had to do its own dirty work to shine. And this current ambition, dot-obsession, has had to grudgingly accept these as part of its own history, because without which, there is no capital. No sediments. So space is created. And a different type of nation emerged. Still problematic, but suddenly shiny simply by being brought to light after decades of obscurity through deliberate exclusion. A mucky 50-sen coin would still gleam like the brightest silver if it's the only thing in light. But still, I was still transported. I want to talk about this more, but I'm tired. Maybe I will return to this.
What we try to construct, not just the art as object, but the entire ecosystem that surrounds it to prop its worth. How ambition is bolted to the churning mechanism of value production, which rests on air, that is bolted on ambition. And so it goes. The only thing that matters is to make yourself a more significant cog in the machination.
Maybe I am being too cynical. But on that afternoon - in that hulk of a building, sick to my stomach to the fucking short-sightedness and gluttony of that which is our current government - I was at least, truly sad.
Anyway, I found myself suddenly adding cogs to the machine through the effacement of my own wilderness. This willingness to submit to the mind-numbing oil spill of colonialism. And it was like fire illuminating parts of me in bright neon lights. My heart is still pumping and I have a hunger that is entirely new. And I'm excited.
Metaphors of today.
I'm like toffee in the sun.
I either melt all over or get dried up and crack.
How much can a bladder hold? Can pee be turned magically into sweat?
Don't hold it in. Just pee.
Doing something entirely different. Like jump into the sea or slide down a live volcano.
Prophesies. And old hand and a steady gaze. Water gushing out from palms.
The sky is a heavy blanket of greys. But the sun shines through. Finding its edges. We are on the road. Stories are shared.
You're as familiar as half of my life, and yet, entirely new. We make time to let our new spaces be known. I realised something through you. That we draw chalk lines on door frames to measure ourselves against in some distant imagined future of a newer, better, more moral self. And prepare for the aching taste of pain at the destination.
Time for a meal. Eating together. That time spent in nourishing ourselves. Sewing connections over the desires of what to put in the mouth, in the stomach, in the body. Connected over the shared matter of a meal that we each keep a part of. There is something primal and precious about the act of eating together. Maybe that is why families do it.
Making time for the skies to fill my eyes, the wind to touch my skin, and the soft rain to turn me into heat, into water. And he walks beside me. His universe an orchestra of scents, swimming in air.
Sitting in silence. And the silence holds us like an old friend. Present, assured, easy.
And now. Making the time to pause.
It's not a bad start.
The park in Cochin and that golden late afternoon light that gives everything a bronze sheen. Of age, of emotions. People walking through the park. Playing in the park. Reminding me of Hari Sukan in a bronze age of my life. Where time is languid, with space for daydreaming.
A synagogue at the end of a street selling all kinds of Indian fabric, colourful doorknobs. And the blue and white porcelaine tiles that each offers a slightly different hallucination of the same scene.
The pathway between squat, misshapen trees and their dark green foliage that opens into the expanse of the sea. Within hills, this is where Moby Dick lies. Abalone squeeze tight between rocks. And we climbed into the cold panoramic landscape, we ran into the freezing sea, and we jumped on the sand. Because we are exhilarated to be there together. Even if it was hard. I forgave myself going back on a decision.
Into your home in front of the suburban canal. With the blackboard walls and your beautiful animal characters on cards. Walking in the rain after the train ride, with Sabella in the yellow raincoat, running, delighting in between legs of adults shuffling to see the wild imagination of a fanatic man with a talent and a persistence. We had onion soup and I have been hankering for one ever since.
At the airport. After the melting of a silence that lasted for a year. I will miss you. My family.
A temporary collection of people who are trying to come up with the next big thing for technology for social good. The toilets are made by people who have never grown up in a place where you dream about toilets that flush. Where pastel coloured ideas are so shiny you forgot the inherent white-ism.
And I opened my heart to someone new. Who gave me her stories, and a sketch from a dream I had that gave me a sign to be brave. And I was brave.
And we started to plant the seeds of a new us.
You invited me into your home. Where you left your husband, to fail as a trash person and a supermarket check-out person, to finally land in a library. Where you can let your hands and your mind find the smallest connection in a dot of ink to make a magnificent tapestry of a portrait. And I am amongst mythology. We shared two small cakes and you wore my campaign t-shirt and we watched animation videos and horror flicks while stoned for hours.
We saw each other from across the crowds in a busy shopping street where you were leafleting for the upcoming elections. And spoke of refugees arriving on train tracks and working with Mosques at the creases of the city. Your roof top is lined with pebbles and we rested our eyes and ears on each other again, for the first time, in more than a decade. The birds sang. The elevators to your office are made entirely out of wood and naked, brutal mechanical metal. I feel like I am in Hogwarts.
We cycled and laid on the grass, by the river. And spoke about love.
What can we say about a city that has no soul? Peacocks sauntered amongst the smoking human penguins. I am maybe one of them. I saw you and your new partner. We spoke, in the sun, and I have alcohol in me because I am nervous. And became somewhat, softer.
And a recurring nightmare. Of being hunted, of cutting myself open, of bleeding without stopping, of being awake in a dream, of escaping through the hum of technology.
In the same room again with an old friend. Deep fried milk pudding and discovering the art of beautiful skin. Queer lights in a neon city, where the same plant is chewed to numb the gums and insides, and magicians and classical chinese musicians make play of the streets. Late night de-composition over irreverent games.
This city in the sun is not the same city in the cold of winter. Where there is impatience, as if to run away from the realness of heat. The glass shards become more evident. But I stayed with two dreamers, with ordinary concerns of capitalism. They taught me how to put apples on my peanut butter sandwich.
There is a work that put together the hue of each artist whose work was in the same gallery. And a architectural model that was the memory-dreamscape of its maker. And a man from Armenia who couldn't paint the details into his mother's hands, or skirt, because the devastation was too complete.
The house that we have found so much holding and inspiration in. Facing the sea. With the telescope that at that very moment, brought in
an impossible long silver line of dolphins dancing across the horizon
the encrusted bodies of southern right whales turning in the sea, playing, birthing,
a seal's dance to do something as necessary as poo (it faces the sun)
Something old. Something new. Germination of affection.
Unravelling in front of the fire, with the help of music, weed and love. Embraced by the loving walls of a Black Kat, each stunned silent by the giddy weight of over-spilled happiness. The world shifts a little. We walk to the shore and throw our wishes into the wind, the horizon, receiving the girl who is about to enter into our lives.
A child is in the world
A child is in the world
The rock falls and from the heart a spring
forms a river
A child is in the world
And she is held in history
of our loving imagination
All is extraordinary
Meaning all that is ordinary
The familiar path lies behind
there are not-yet-words
And we are learning the language
A child is in the world
- 8 August 2016
Thom Yorke dancing on stage. The sound of raven, birds, trees in the rain, on the ancient roofs, our footsteps on gravel, on pavement, on leaves. Re-knowing the familiar. And it is important work of re-making a home to twine scars into the roots of trees. We are our own ancient forest.
The bodies of old women - pieces of living time in the pockets of cities. We are communing in water.
The delicate heady fragrance of jasmine, exploding in my mouth. We walk the streets together. And you try to convince me about the collective hallucination that we are colluding in building. How it distracts. I am on sending pictures of the sky.
We have a conversation, and it hurts a little. I watch the floor of integrity beneath my feet and I am tip-toeing with care.
An opening of the home. A paper unfolded. My mind is fed with the particular histories of names on a distant map. You taught me how to see the threading together of stars. My hands opened, and in return, my eyes and heart were opened. And I am grateful. Forgotten questions are given new destinations. Late night explorations, that so much can be said about, but I am at a loss for words.
Your gentle waters that feel like a universe holding me. The easing of time into how long it takes to slowly eat the silences of poetry, with slightly broken, beautiful souls as company. The horizon. How fully the sea holds my body. And how light explodes from my belly in laughter. Stories in water, in the sky. I am held in love, under a tree, and we make intentions. I am gifted precious words that holds time, attention, generous imagination. I turn to stories, and I find seeds.
The magic of Salvadore weaving a tapestry through the different threads of our seeking, knotting threads that come together, in perfect synchronicity, and taking us into our distinct universes. My body is dancing. The moon is full.
I love turning 40.
Beirut. The aching beauty in the layers of a city.
The jacaranda trees is hueing the world in lavender and I slowly get to know you against my chest. Time stills.
Driving with aching knees into the cusp of wilderness, tamed by the mature anarchy of community with money. Where the nights are never silent, and baboons saunter past in tidy rows, like uncles and aunties going to the market. And we became vulnerable, in our differently similar hope for change. The cracks made us bleed a little. But maybe there wasn't enough time to build paper boats for the river.
More snow than in a 100 years. Shoveled from roofs. Young people create powerful words and moves against a growing tide of fear and loathing, and for that one evening, what was distant became mundane through generosity, kindness and the strange shining of an acclaimed name. I etched a remembered horizon onto my skin. And in it, a thank you and a dream.
Putting on the yellow to join the stream. And we are fatigued and indefatigable. The chants are humming under my ears. My mother joins me at a rally and she holds the placard high, and asks me, who is this person, who is that person. It is much easier to be led than to lead. Energy and a clear voice are evolutionary gifts, which has maybe become a little wayward.
Late night shisha conversations. He comes from Bangladesh. His brother is studying to be a doctor.
We talk about narrative containers, and power. We talk about the walls we build to hold our universe in tact, and the painful and necessary work to surrender to grief.
We are each others' company in the journey to satiate our desires for something delicious to put in our mouths. One long afternoon, we came together and sang our hearts out. And find evenings for the sound of mahjong tiles to sing like ironically racist sesame birds.
The fierce uncompromising politics of a different space. I feel the layers of automated activism burn away from my skin. And it stings, but in a good way. I swallow new fire.
You are strangely age-less as you take my momentarily disabled body. And the accordion keens with yearning and aching sadness in the slowing down of time.
I seek sparks through conversations, and we plumb each others' intelligence and the slow crunching of political life in our different seats. I am still left with questions. That have taken a few steps forward.
You let your grief and rage break skin. I looked deeply at you. And we both shattered a little.
A crease of a perfect song looped around the wrist. Morning coffee and cigarette on the steps, skeletal trees framing a changing sky, the way the domesticity of space imprints itself on you as you imprint yourself on them. The body abandoning itself to dance, and the proximity of rhythms.
Becoming lost in an old hospital, peeling an orange with a stranger mirrored. The grudging pacing of a wolf, uncaring of your ideas for its place in the world. Impossibly beautiful music in a cramped living room from fingers crafted by something divine.
A gentle un/knowing.
My garden. The unruly, heaving, breathing garden. Where birds rest, rats clamber past, shrews chitter with irritation at the dog, that became two, and white flowers fall in silent perfumed grace every day. Where I sit to watch the rain. To be filled with music. To wait for company. To sit in company. To share poetry. To enact my work. To find words. To do the daily work of finding words.
Finding hidden sleeves of time for the exchanged gaze of connection. Embodied interfaces.
An asking. And another asking. In another thread of time. The making of threads of time. Even if they are only small knots. But in abundance.
I remember your double rainbow. And your stones in places that are soft. And your aversion to violence. And your silent grief that is still stoically unbroken except when the bird escapes in.
It has been an incredible year. Even though my body is bone-tired, my mind is aching, and my absence have become a pronounced shadow of my presence in a fracture of space and time. Even though the air around us is spewing violence and hysterical difference in every conscious blink. Even though I am unsure of the next step. I am hushed in awe by the incredible expanse and depths of this year.
A year of opening, of following, of learning to trust, of making the commitment to tend to making something entirely different, from the flesh and bones of what was there. The intimacy and distance it takes from seeing a forest from a single seed.
I pull this to the next year. This openness, and submission to the energy of curiosity. This hard work of remaining soft. This attention and absolute presence in time, even if spaces are fractured. The act of seeing, of returning a gaze, of moving towards skin on skin. Of holding as precious as wild water, people. Each a piece of puzzle. And of learning the vocabulary of wise instinct for direction.
I see or I hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It is what I was born for ---
to look, to listen
to lose myself
inside this soft world ---
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant ---
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these ---
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
- Mary Oliver -
I don't really have Mary Oliver's ocean shine or prayers of grass. But I do have monsoon skies that suddenly curtain infinity with the heavy curves of silver-grey clouds and slivers of bright light that escape between its folds. The drama of sudden heavy rain pour that drown rats and turn rubbish into small colourful boats, floating towards somewhere.
I have unwashed mugs in the sink, bearing the memory of mouths that paused, maybe for conversation, maybe for a thought, maybe to open the gate or door. I have slowly rusting metal cut into the shape of a chicken, a cat, a cactus, a burning heart, twirling gently from a string in an invisible breeze.
I have the sound of cicaks hiding in creases of the roof, quiet flapping of bat wings, the soft rumble of car wheels on tarmac, the occasional prolonged deep sigh of planes, the metallic music of a gate being opened, or closed, something rustling in the leaves or maybe in the rubbish. The fan hums in a rhythmic whirr. A motorbike's drone hushed.
Joy and acclamation is a bit of a tall call for today. A day of disquiet. For now, maybe it's simply enough to note.
Mimaland. Ask anyone who grew up in the 80s, and chances are, they have been there. This is a scrap of memory that was reminded to me from a conversation with S.
I used to love haunted houses. Everytime we went to some kind of park, or pop up funfair with their makeshift brightly painted boards and multi-coloured lights - I'd head straight for the haunted house. With company. Can't do this alone. You need a shoulder to crouch behind, a hand to grip and a shared terrified body to scream together. Past the black curtains, we'd be thrown into complete darkness. And our steps would become very small, as the classic horror sound effects wrap us up in the terror of our worst imagination. Sudden screams, something drops from the ceiling, a flash of green neon figure rushing towards us, someone grabbing us on the shoulder from behind and a maniacal laugh, and in a later version, strips of cloth on the floor that get pulled about as though someone was trying to grab hold of our feet. My adrenaline rush. I'd come out of it with my heart pumping and laughing almost hysterically hard. That did it for me. Rather than the rides, that just made me freak out. This was somehow, pleasurable. A submission into a knowing unknowing, where the worst bits are in the head.
Maybe it's a family thing. One thing we did together as a family was watch horror movies on TV. Whether these are P Ramlee's "Orang Minyak", or "The Blob", or "Twilight Zone", we'd sit there together. If I'm lucky, I'd get grandpa's lazy chair - the pre-hipster version of a metallic chair with a blue-red-white plastic weave - and stretch out. Because these happen invariably at night, we'd also have food. Deep fried char kueys from Glutton Square, or bowls of laksa from the laksa man who drove by every other night in his motorbike with a steaming pot of soup, or sometimes, just bread. Food and horror. Consumption and abjection. In a simultaneous moment of bonding through memory-making in the shared reading of pop culture. Which then gets re-told the next morning in school, or a decade later in remembered soundtracks or storylines. The experiential beauty of pop folded into shared spools of time and context.
Digressing from horror and from Mimaland. We painted a big mural of a feminist sign as part of Kata Gender once. In Subang Parade. From the streets into a mall. The one and last time. The mural was orange and brown and yellow and reminded us of Mimaland. And years later, we wanted to find Mimaland, This lost paradise of gigantic fibre glass creatures (were they dinosaurs?) and water theme park. But it feels ridiculously hipster as well. Grown ups looking for relics of their once-youth. Until the conversation with S, I haven't really thought about them as grand efforts to rejuvenate exhausted land. From tin mines to water parks to high-end housing estates "by the lake." And always accompanied by the movement of bodies. Of families? Finding something. Whether this is the promise of better livelihood in another land, the throbbing pipes of diasporic labour; or the promise of escape from the humdrum everyday as a family (making memories - they work, we hold our slightly faded photographs from the period like an instagram filter); or the promise of another kind of living that sits a little shinier than the rest; and what next? When those fail? Maybe art. When land has not been fed enough to give birth to jungles, we make human things on them. Erect structures, perform an ambition, give it colour.
And they all matter. At least to the lives that the piece of land homes for a little while. And then let go. Like the paper boats we used to fold out of newspaper when the floods come in. The water carries them, and they go. And we keep on making them. Each monsoon season. Because in that gesture, that ritual, is the seed of excitement, of convening a collective conversation with the changing texture of the small landscape we inhabit and call home. At least for now.
Your footsteps are light, and fast
but each feels fully the weight of skin
When someone finds you in the space of crowds
to check if you're okay,
You're their family.
You spell each step all the way through,
referencing meditation -
anchoring your wings.
You take each frame and fold them into
Sometimes to deeply see,
Sometimes to distance.
You remain, the only real truth
I have a lot to think through, but somehow it is already 4:22am, and jet-lagged or not, this is not a good way to continue. So maybe some thoughts just for now.
Conversations with friends that I have known for a big chunk of my life, and yet, don't really know. New old friends. And somehow the threads we have occupied in shared slices of space and time, even if they are divergent, feel a little like a visit home.
A sudden memory came back to me. Seeing Hale-Bopp hanging brightly and persistently in the sky over Broadgate. 1997. A comet that shone brighter than the more famous Haley's comet, for far longer, discovered by two amateur astronomers at almost the same moment, Mr Hale and Mr Bopp. It was the backdrop to another bookmarked skin-shedding chapter. Where the fire inside was given space to burn wild. And I learnt about how far I could stretch the boundaries of my body, what images and words fell furiously out to hold the temperature and texture of emotions and urgent questions, the cautious un-stitching of boundaries in the abandonment to connect, and the grotesque beauty of holding to the self even in the act of giving in order to shed skin.
This year feels like a skin-shedding year. My own presence|absence is made so loud with the knowing of A's double rainbow day. Every step punctuated with significance. And yet she has so much wisdom, grace and laughter. And M's desire for her own space to sink into her soundscape. Each of our own skin-shedding year.
We stood by the florescent light of the lok-lok stall, steam and smoke rising into the night sky like orange mist against the street lamp. And talked about death, pleasure and life. One should not weigh more than another simply by virtue of blood alone. A soya bean is as in love with its own pulse of life as a chicken. And death is an inevitable rhythm in the movement of chi from being to being. Maybe everything tacked on - morality, emotional narrative, politics - is just accessorising (and accessories are a vital part of this complex textile called humanity). Maybe what matters is that we simply pause, and value, pay attention, at the commas. And at the very least, take pleasure.