There is a card in the Osho tarot pack about a wheel. And the wheel has a heart that expands outwards. And the reading is about how the world is always changing, it's like a wheel, and you can lose yourself, get disoriented, if you stay at the edges. And the work is to move towards the centre, to observe the change, to ground yourself through that, and to be able to see the entire circumference of the wheel. Rather than the piece of the edge that you are clinging on to.
It feels like the time of sitting at the edge. And every piece of the edge is imploding with its own story and drama.
The Malaysian drama, of SOSMA being used like ISA to make activists and critics disappear, of friends being hauled up and held for simply being acting, thinking subjects who commit their time, their lives to staking a claim in shaping what's ok and what's not, and everyone else counting their distance to the frontlines, of the ever present, increasingly hysterical tooling of race and religion to fan fears and hang on to power, and protests everyday.
A conversation with some feminist activists yesterday in Mexico. Black Sheep - a prominent rapper activist being grabbed and sent to a federal prison for a ridiculous offense of obstructing public pathways 6 years ago. At least 130,000 disappeared people, mostly young women, with silence from the police, in collusion with the terrifying forces of narco. Finding bodies only through the risky desperation of speaking with those in the know in prisons. A state of perpetual war in peace.
Reading a fragment of experienced reality in an email, of the Internet being shutdown with a megalomaniac in Gambia for 48 hours, in a wild bid to stay on in power. Saved by young people. Saved by a disbelieving military.
And the unceasing drama, trauma of Trump. The un/known future. Blared out. Suffocating everyone.
Fragments of edges. And it feels like a time to run, and run so fast, jst to catch up. With the internal mechanisms of plots unfolding. Trying to find some clarity in the next move just to know which step to take forward. Trying to catch up with other edges, because, I guess, that's what activists do? And bodies are worn down. Minds are filled with noise. So much white noise it's hard to hear any music. Because anything beautiful seems superfluous in a time of life and death. But dying should be beautiful. Maybe only in hindsight. I don't know.
Trying to figure out how to step back instead. To find a more human pace of being. Because this is a long, long, long walk ahead. At least it feels this way. Because we have spent a long time nurturing a rhythm that has now become capable of folding everything within its steps. Like that devastating Black Mirror episode of the young man whose rage became another piece of consumption. It's hard to find a different way of moving when you're running to catch up. Maybe the only way is to simply stop for awhile. Break the inertia. Catch your breath. And observe. It's hard to pause in solidarity.
It's almost 8am, and I think the sun rose while I was in the shower. There are men in neon yellow jackets hanging around the park. Waiting for something to start. Others are walking their dogs, clutching their bags and making their way to somewhere. A woman screams and clutches her small dog to her chest as another dog jumps up trying to assert his dominance. A man in blue jogs past, then another woman in a black hoody. Young people are biking past on rented city bikes, on their way to work maybe. A man and a woman walks past clutching styrofoam coffee cups, in some kind of conversation. The music flows from behind me, quiet, as the coffee shop wakes up. A man pushes a trolley with a huge green barrel filled with long sticks, brushes, and makes a jingly sound across the pavement. Followed by the thick hum of cars, pink and white taxis crunching the road, the big body of a well-used bus with scratched windows and a dented frame grumbling in its own slow acceleration. The tinkle of bicycles and metal against metal. And if I stretch my ears, I hear small birds making themselves known to the universe.
My fingers are frozen. My chest feels tight. I can't really smell anything. I have a tonne of emails to reply to. And a presentation to prepare for. But my eyes are tired. And inside my head is a wooden box, closed and stuffed with something that has no words at the moment. So for now, I am pausing.
Which is what popped up when I clicked "post new entry".
Hmm.. a series of chopped up thoughts from chopped up time.Notes on Castells
Manuel Castells analyses recent social movements and locates the importance of the internet as the kind of infrastructural backdrop to the circulation of values, and the capacity for connection in enabling these transformation.
He pulls out some key components that are similar across the recent movements (i.e. Iceland, Spain, Occupy, Arab uprising):
Contexts, culture and institutions are divergent. The only commonality seems to be that they are ignited first as online movements (i.e. establishing the primacy of the internet in its role)
They are not necessarily political movements, but are cultural movements (i.e. based on shared values as opposed to countering a specific political system) ← actually, can this be contested? E.g. in some moments, they are against specific political parties, as embodied through the identity of a person (e.g. Ben Ali, Mubarak, Najib). Or is it about values that they represent, as opposed to the person/party themselves? i.e. corruption, impunity etc? And is it mutually exclusive? Vantage points – if talk about political parties, it remains local. If values, then it is shared
Spontaneous and viral. There is a virality in dissemination of values. Okay.
Rejection of spokespersons ← I am not sure about this. There are always spokespersons, except they are very locally located. Globally harder, but even so, it happens (e.g. Laurie Penny on online GBV)
Non violent movements → before it disintegrates into either a civil war, or get crushed.
Because it's a movement of values, premised on the circulation and defence of shared values, enabled by a network that essentially does that (the internet), and forges connections across differences (identity, geography, struggles) based on shared values, therefore the biggest impact or change that this produces is a change in beliefs. A more sustained change than e.g. institutional change.
The movements become an important channel of affective discontent that has no space in political expression.
Okay, this is making me think of several things.
Internet = social media (explosion in early to mid 2000s) enabled this kind of sociality and engagement. Where it's less about who you are, and more about what you are interested in. This facilitated a kind of connective cohesion between people, where identity becomes secondary to values and political value.
As such, it is possible to construct imaginary topographies of resistance that is reliant more on ideologies of justice and social transformation, than on actual geographical boundaries for example. A global social movement response that is located in the local as a push back against the impact of globalisation that has basically thinned out our structures of accountability (nationally, states are beholden to other states or corporations because of the globalised connectivity of trade, so national demands become contingent on either regional negotiations or bilateral ones. It is no longer possible for the state to take care of its people with the kind of imagined sovereignty or specificity of control ← am I wrong in this?)
Social media today is very different. It's about pinning down exactly who you are, based on the kinds of content that helps to establish a persona and cultural/social capital. So what you believe in is secondary to who you are. Your beliefs only matter (in today's social media) in so far as it helps to construct a kind of identity label. E.g. hashtags you support, the naming of your political identity in your blurb.
There is a reactive return to the local in response to the global (i.e. hipsterised anti-globalisation response is about this authentic returning to the local and the national, a revisioning to “correct” the picture, the isolation of value that is very specific to notions of national identity).
And there is an acute magnification of violation, discrimination and resistance that is based on identity. This becomes the marker for the politics. Trump revolution by the “forgotten white man” who is disenfranchised by globalisation. The counter-movement by blacks, queers, latina community (united through exclusion on the basis of identity). Daesh and the new liberal Muslim vs the right-wing fascist West (are they imagined as identities, or as political beliefs and values? Atm, seem more like identities – who can belong, who cannot). (White) feminism vs (POC) feminism. (White) feminists on social media vs (White) MRA trolls. #Blacklivesmatter – a call that simultaneously specifies a historical context of exclusion and reifies an identity marker that automatically excludes. The sanctity of experience which cannot be touched, because it cannot be accounted for except by an insider – who is equally invested in the sacredness of the container because that is the source of power.
Embodied identity politics. Fuelled by a communication platform that profits through the cohesiveness of this identity. And “profits” is a keyword, because it is a privatised space, that is decimating all other spaces through its own generative capital.
So is the relationality – the important part about networks, of linking between one and another, the source of resilience – is it primarily about identity? If it is, we're kinda fucked. Especially if we are unable to contain multiplicity in identity especially if they occupy the same thread (Queer or Straight? Trans or cis? Feminist or not?)
My train of thought is not very coherent. Travelling makes thinking hard (and also creates the space for deep thinking, even if in disconnected pockets)
I'm reading too much about Trump. And I am telling myself to quit this habit. Yet another spectacular self-fetishistic media circus. The shrillness of the conditions for belonging, shouting each other into stupidity to hide the anxiety beneath. Everyone is afraid of the new Hitler. But I am more afraid of the everyday Hitler, and the everyday quiet rage and deep disappointment of exclusion that translates into excluding. And the momentum of their expression as they cautiously find a resonant voice.
Another thread of the conversation. With someone who spent about 20 years researching and analysing right wing fascism in Sweden. And this need to destablise coherent identities. The push back against anti-anonymity, anti-chaotic-subjectivities. We have a seed of an idea. And it involves stories. I'm excited.
There is a man in a bright orange suit with a whistle in his mouth. He watches for people traffic. And with a shrill blow, the two persons on the rooftop either starts or stops shovelling snow. Big chunks of semi-frozen snow fall with a satisfyingly heavy thud onto the ground. Like mini avalanches. Somewhere behind some buildings, a church has bells that are singing. Our eyes are trained on the ground, so we don't slip. It's a shame, because there are many other beautiful things to see.
You, who see through skin in layers
You, who hold fragility in stopped time
You, who have been held by the aching comfort of darkness
You, who have flirted with the unruliness of joy.
You, somehow you,
Are asked to summon steel
To hold the slightly broken, horizon of fragments
into a name
that sits in the chest,
sewn in the belly -
Maybe it is to heal.
Today I have very thin skin. I feel tired, and worn down, and unsure on my feet. Fighting words dry in my mouth before they become sound. And I am not sure I am truly seeing with my eyes.
I know it sounds like a tired refrain. Democracy is broken. Fuelled by globalised capitalism. That is made fat through popular culture. I know I have said it a million times myself. And that when we carelessly place our power into the distanced mechanical hand of structures that have outgrown its own novel imaginings, we're fucked. But so much of our work rests on this illusion. Peer accountability between states to keep to their fucking promises. Empowered by the size of things that its number of people can churn out to be circulated in another imaginary sphere of bytes of currency. The experts simply churn ideas. Intangible points of view that stir up the greedy flames of hope. Or is it hopeful flames of greed. The same animal maybe. And working for the act of choosing to become more meaningful. Putting conditions. Feeding the same propaganda of representational decision-making so more and more will participate in this machine. Working to put some of "our" people in there. Digging deeper and deeper to make more solid this crazy idea that it would work somehow for the most invisible, the hyper visible.
It's broken. Been for awhile, but we have invested so much we see the light in hairline cracks. And I can't think of an alternative. Which makes me wish I was better at global history. Learn some lessons from what almost worked, and what fucked it up. What I have is the now. And an acute sense of awareness that everything could actually change in a frame. I mean, even the climate changed in half a lifetime. The entire ecosystem, the age of trees, of slow shifting planets - is visible in its change. So everything is in this constant surreal state of precarity. This chair, this dark night, this quiet, this proximity to a screen, to the network. This knowledge that it's a different kind of war, a diffused and hysterically nodular war, and that that web is growing. Like the inevitable slow rise of flood water. And the first to be swallowed are the dissonant, the queer, the broken. And this space that we have again invested so much to hold the bonds of our solidarity, is becoming a discourse manipulator's wet dream. That you can shift the tide of conviction, of fear, with this careful dropping of packaged ideas. Advertisement 3.0.
We cannot do our politics on social media alone. We have to break the illusion of forging connection that is mostly about a mirror to ourselves. Because relationships take attention, and a willingness of risking boredom, for trust to emerge from vulnerability. And the only real thing that is in our power right now, is forging this connection. To see, beyond the puppets, gods and structures. Beyond the story. Because familiar plot lines must always be suspected. And we need some new fucking narratives. Because this one is shit.
This one feeds the stupid idea of divine identity from lines on land drawn through the grudging morning-after of war. This one makes you solid by decimating the other. This one makes you trace the root of your discontent to meet the other's. This one blindfolds you with the seduction of too many meaningless choices of things to put in your mouth (so you can't speak). This one fucks with your head, and messes with your skin, and makes you walk around the world like you are the centre of everything so you don't have to do anything. This one gives space for the most eloquent liar, the most beautiful face, the most distanced through meaningless adoration, to congregate and rule. This one is shit.
We need some new fucking narratives.
The silence of skin on skin -
My hands are large and gentle on yours,
there is something absolutely right about this scale.
Today I held you for the first time,
and the weight of your body against my hips
is as familiar as family.
Your name is already etched on my mouth
and I have always been bad with nicknames -
Somehow intimacy comes in full with me.
The skies beyond our heads is changing colour
And with it this discovery
Of how your eyes follow her voice, her footsteps
The surprised laughter that falls out every time
you find your hands making sound,
The impossible tiny curls of your eye lashes,
The changing landscape of your face as it moves from
intense assessment, to delight, to furrowed concentration,
to the peace of sleep -
broken with unconscious reaching out for
Skin on skin.
I caught the tail end of the Jacaranda trees. They line the street with solid, tall trunks and a canopy of improbable light purple flowers. The road is a watercolour carpet, waiting for magic.
We ate pizza and watched a slice of life - ordinary dreams blown out of proportion by the seduction of the camera and a nation watching. #OPW trends every week, and I can see why. Something about sharing, judging, laughing over this purported common dream. What I love most is that even if we yield to the colonial ghost of white wedding dresses and badly fitting suits, our bodies will move to the rhythm of other bodies that have shared the proximity of land, stories and celebration stitched through that. There is much to learn about the textures of people, coming together, through bad television that is so bad, it's good. Especially in a living room, with a kind of family, with food, and lightly cutting commentary.
It's been a very good day. I feel like a hole is fitted with a "w".
It's that no time, in between time, unreal time trapped between timezones at airports while waiting for transit. If lucky, there is free wifi, which somehow acts a bit as an anchor as time threads unfurl into realtime communication spaces. Multiple anchors to multiple interfaces.
I'm in a gross smoking room. All of them are gross spaces that cloud up groggy heads even more. Travellers betraying their addiction. But I always like to check who are in here. If they are mostly men, taking up room, and where the smattering of women locate themselves. Here, we are 2 women out of roughly 20 people in total. And addiction somehow equalises between genders. We are equally gross, equally trying to pretend we are not with complete autonomy, putting ourselves in this carcinogenic canister. Trying to pass time with our screens. And we recognise each other in complete solidarity as we share lighters or lit cigarettes. Communion of smoke and tiredness.
Found some poems scratched out from this year, and just putting it here.
1) A random thought
Holding hands we let go of the air
between our fingers,
and forget a name.
My tick-tock finds yours,
and I can hear its muscles crick
into a beat, a string.
Old salt finds new dents
to cuddle into a puddle;
Because it must.
And yellow lightning cuts the sky
into a fracture,
Tonight my love smells like
the shape of your shoulder
against my mellow.
- 23 March
2) Blocked roof
I awoke today to
a stone in my chest.
As I saw the walls of my home
With the momentum
That close up shot
of the heroine's heart
like her face.
What if these were streams
of blood instead?
Even fear could not
Instead I put on rubber slippers
with rubber soles;
And rubber gloves
with rubber fingers;
And mopped up the mess
- 7 April 2016
And the last is hard. It needs a context. But there is no context that I can share. Except this breaks my heart. And as a friend put it, "Men are dicks, and women attack other women"
Sister, a word that stitches my skin
to you, our footsteps somehow
dancing the same rhythm.
Sister, today I see the the scars
between us rise like mountains,
shadows muffling the hoarse rustle as
our river of blood cleaves into
Sister, is suddenly seized by its shoulders
with quotation marks that spans
the calcifying of fragile fern
I hear your rage as it spits fire into my mouth
And I want to scream, Sister!
But I am silenced by the rock,
If I could find an instrument, strong enough
to melt the unforgiving landscape, to find your
fingers, wet as the shattered remains of my
womb, to wind our journey back together,
without taking your fire,
without stubbing my sight,
without losing the intimacy of our tongues
to call each other, simply,
- 23 June 2016
I time travelled in the last 24 hours. Yesterday a friend took me for a walk on the streets of Beirut. I always find walking in a city a small way to try and get to know its pace, its energy, what it makes time for, and where some of its lines might be. The first night I arrived, the moon was full, and I have never seen it quite as large, as yellow, and as clear as that night. It rose over the hills framing the horizon, dotted with lights from buildings far away like fairy lights. So even though my body weighed weary, a walk was needed. Moonshine on skin. I found small cafes with men drinking coffee in groups, a shisha coal motorbike parked nearby, dark shop fronts, brightly lit petrol stations, young men in full military uniform carrying M16s, red and white steel barricades on the road, a trendy shopping mall, broken buildings, crosses from churches outlined with neon lights, grafitti-ed walls, a tv crew shooting a man in a suit in front of a makeshift backdrop that was leaning ungraciously against a greek-inspired statue who somehow still managed to summon dignity, big restaurants with lots of young people drinking coffee and beer and smoking shishas..
I tried to do a scent walk, having learnt this recently from Z. Recording a scent walk for her. And the city was a porous wall of exhaust fumes and dust, like a thin curtain. Which contained unexpected clear bright pockets of heady jasmine and another flower that I do not know the name of. And then the sharp knife of urea, or decaying rubbish – I'm not sure which, they are still having a garbage crisis (although, their streets where I was at seemed a lot cleaner than a normal day in Uptown, which makes me think about states of perpetual crisis where crisis becomes the backdrop of the ordinary – like military personnel walking about, fully armed in the streets). And then the smell of leaves, lightening the air, and more lingering than the perfume of flowers.
Last night's walk unpeeled another layer of this city for me. Which is rhythm. We walked along a street named after a tree that lined its pavements. Pavements are a rare thing in Beyrouth (spelled according to road signs). Cars hang out of them. Because there are no car parks. Because everything is privatised. From water and electricity (where you pay twice to get a subpar service, which results in a perpetual hum of water tanks delivering private water to apartments and of massive generators squashed between buildings with entrails of cables pulled into homes, spewing carcinogenics), all the way to beach fronts. On the walk, she was decoding street graffiti to me. One read: “The barbed wires you put around the pigeon rocks
are a shame to the city. The barbed wires are a betrayal of Lebanon.” Street graffiti and art is everywhere in this city. And they are beautiful. They crawl across abandoned flats like amoebas. Line walls and wooden boards as murals conversing next to each other, on top of each other. They pay homage to singers, poets, famous and unknown. Sometimes they are painted on, sometimes sprayed on, sometimes carefully printed and pasted on. Sometimes they are framed by arabic calligraphy reminding me of Yati's artwork from a decade ago. Sometimes they are commissioned. Sometimes they are pleasure. Sometimes they are rebellion.
So we walked across this street, and all the shops were closed. Shuttered down. There were two to three bars still holding up. But it was a long street that did not feel loved by night life. It was quiet, and dark. About 5 years ago, it was one of the most busy street in Lebanon at night. Elbow to elbow with bars and people edging for space with cars on the sidewalks. She tells me that the people in Beirut gets easily bored. There is an impatience for something new. And now the something new is a street away, and that street is the present past. The compulsion for reinvention. And capitalism doing what it does best to feed this on, with banks linked to politicians and the 3%. Something else I found out, while another friend drives like a gangster across the suddenly more uniformed lines of ambient yellow lights in the downtown area – a company called Solidere bought up most of the area during or just after the civil war, only to kick everyone out and replace centuries-old buildings with contemporary hulks that are aesthetically pretty interesting, but also, ethically nauseating (all bar one hotel that still stands grimly with a massive banner on its face saying “Stop Solidere”, seemingly in perpetuity).
So there is something of an impatience in the city. Old buildings that was up one week ago, is now almost entirely rubble. Multi-million dollar apartments wearing the latest thing in architecture (open spaces, queer angles, light, air, balconies, walls of plants) stare haughtily down on a row of shops (where only 3 are open), and wait for their disappearance. I saw on one wall barricading the clean from the messy, four weather-worn wooden birdhouses built by a carpenter across the street. It was tender. And also unpeeled another layer for me, which is persistence. And stubborn persistence blooms everywhere like wildflowers.
She points out shops to me that has been there forever. And my neck ached from looking up and trying to decipher the pattern in the buildings. They are so random. Every shape is perfect, but different. They face each other, away from each other, give sidelong looks at each other. Iron wrought balconies, gently rounded balconies, handsome hard angled balconies, postmodern puzzle-pieced balconies, 70s-styled balconies, stone-carved plaster-cast balconies – all in one breath. Both friends at different times recounted stories that happened in each significant building – this is where the restaurant owner shot the Israeli soldier with his sniper (and is now a Nike store), this is my favourite old house since I was a child (and I hope will be here next week), this used to be where the Meem office was (and did not have any bars in the area then), these series of steps leading upwards used to lead people to olive trees where the hill was an expansive olive grove (and now holds apartments and shophouses crowded together).
Time is a continuous thread of memory and recognition and dream, uninterrupted. So I wondered about the city's people. I wondered about my friend and colleague. And his impatience, that is also persistence.
We walked past another mansion, whose owners could no longer even afford to keep the lights on and had to rent out most of its rooms for events, but kept its garden with old trees. I wondered how our world would be organised differently if we valued property not by its postcode or materials, but by the age of its trees. How much gentler we would be to the land we tread on. And how the art of care would supersede the craft of making (and destroying to make space for more making). How much more yielding our borders would be. And how differently we would engage with time. The time it takes to grow a tree is a lifetime. Several lifetimes.
I wrote too much. And I haven't even started on today. But I am already tired.
Fragments of sentences will have to do for now.
It takes a century to form an inch.
Around me are time pockets calcified.
They look like trees.
They look like forests.
They are landscapes and mountains – and remind me of the drive up with Hassan.
Hassan who brakes gently every time I pull out my phone to snap a picture from the car.
And his face breaks into a sun.
They are flowers formed into stone from water.
And rise in silence.
I am amongst at least eleven thousand years.
I search for pairs.
One needs another couple of hundred years.
One finally meets.
There is an eternal drip of water.
(and I am reminded of a story seed, and another kitchen)
I close my ears because people are so noisy.
I resist making human forms with my eyes.
Trace their shape in the air and it feels like a dance.
What they call mushrooms look like jellyfish.
Abrupt horizontal straight lines, like a fringe
and a complex filigree, tentacled – dripping.
Shoulder blades, wings, bones.
Like cake batter when it's just right,
Thick, and I am surprised
- they always seemed so pointed and fragile in my mind.
They are alive. And life follows water.
And how it is right that humans only live so short, because -
I imagine a bomb lightly exploding this landscape,
or people huddled from the burning fireflies outside,
the careless urgency of human life.
The stone platform winding across this cavern -
centuries snapped off.
The ceiling is so high and the depths so low and folded that I am unable to hold
the shape of this space in my mind. In my body.
It is a relief to weep. Water to water.
I stop to smell their skin. But the smell of my own salt obscures.
And the puffs of perfume from others invade me suddenly as they walk past.
I close my mind. And try again.
The ghost of chalk.
I see time swaying, knotting, small bulbs, thin edges of waves, shelves that holds layers of cities from a fantastic imagination.
They feel soft and hard and cold on the tips of my fingers.
Everywhere, there are ripples.
The water reminds me of water from another space - cold, smooth - skin?
and my hands were hungry for more time.
But the ride is short, and this space is not for passing through.
Not for spotting the couple, the two camels or the leaning tower of Pisa.
I hesitated to wash my hands,
but I just pee-ed, and I must.
The water from the tap is like steel.
The first cable car for people was made in Switzerland in 1912.
Before it was to send goods to castles perched
We rise in a metal bubble, numbered,
crossed the carpark (where is Hassan?),
the busy highway,
I can see the tops of trees,
We rise between apartments
and I see the mundane artefacts of someone's life -
chairs on the balcony, tv, vase, photos on the shelf, laundry.
Trees – the Lebanon flag has the cedar tree, its wealth.
There were a few at the top. In the Church built like a wave or the bones of a fish -
paragliders cut the sky in pairs -
The sea edged the shore in the distance.
I climb up to My Lady Peace, and in two circles I see the mosque.
The church is closed.
The souvenir shop is open.
I buy three small vials of holy water, inscribed in Arabic.
I'm surprised I can read the words Allah in this script.
Hassan wakes me by saying,
The city is 9000 years old.
And it looks like a UNESCO heritage site.
Shops, cafes, tasteful music -
I am surrounded by hungry cats.
We wandered into an exhibition -
“Memory of Time”
There is an excavation -
850 metres above sea level, in the hills
They split rocks open and found fish -
turtles, prawns, an octopus,
prehistoric great great great grandparents of the stingray,
- 100 million years old.
One swallowed another fish.
How did it happen?
And the sun set against the sea.
Men stand on rocks and swing their lines into the water,
It is a perfect circle of bright yellow, turning orange,
dipping into the horizon,
Dropping flames against deep blue.
It is one day.
Now knotted into words.
R tells me about the significance of space in the urgency of memory. I imagine Beirut as a space that holds time and space in layers - on top of each other, jostling each other. Becoming bigger and longer. Like the stalactites and stalagmites in Jeita. Or the layers of rock in Jbeil that holds the frozen story of fish. And how it will take time, and maybe some measure of love, to get a sense of its textures. And maybe this is all spaces. Except some become mountains because of the imagined borders we construct as we walk. And mountains snatch breath.
Travelling across timezones in airplanes is a game of time. Chasing the sun. Chasing the moon. The screen paints a mountainous border of light and dark. I'm still aching at the same pace as snatches of breath.
A good read on the history of Lebanon
They finally sat there and watched the sun set together, in silence. Their forms leaned against each other, not quite breaching the distance, but close enough. It has taken them five recycles to climb this high and reach this close. They began as concrete foundations of the two houses, and remembered the ghost of a time when they shared the same belly of fire, in a space of intensed intimacy, when distinction and selves were not quite constituted.
When they were windows, there was the dissonance of skin. They shared the same sun, wind and monsoon rain, but were unable to speak about the sounds, smells and emotive texture of the lives lived within. As gates they could gossip side by side, as they watched the world pass by. But still, unable to lean. The most embodied space of yearning was probably when they were metal staircases, winding towards each other but separated by a wall. Sometimes they would vibrate with the weight of footsteps on the other, and hum an echo, hoping to be heard.
But that day, today, they leaned towards each other, and watched the sun streak a familiar fire across the sky in a completely new song, in a perfect silence.
Funny how I always return to this space when it's about fathers or grandfathers. I made a kind of resolution to write more this year, and I think I did. But not in this space. In other fragments and scraps of paper, screens, small and big. But anyway, I am getting greater clarity about shifts needed, and a return to this simple means of turning what is inside out. And with that, I recall a tree, a circle, an intention, and being held by the love of friends.
So patriachs. Today is the anniversary of my grandfather's death. When he died, I wrote him a poem. Or maybe a prosetry, as a friend would call it. A couple of years back, I read it at a Lit Fest. And now, it's here again.
His mouth reminded me of my father dying
Pulled back into a frozen "O"
Like the recurring nightmares I used to have
Tooth falling like icebergs
oiled with despair.
What happens to teeth? Do they all fall out this way?
Will our last expression always be that "O" of moans?
I was taken aback by his stretched skin,
His arms deflated
stained, by the red and brown continents of time.
His face carrying a memory, changing with light.
My eyes touched every rise and fall of his bones
to force flesh upon
I could sometimes see it.
My aunt tells me about his withering since my grandma's funeral,
How his body lost the will to sit, even as he needed to shit,
Everyday, that small mechanism of life.
She pulled open the covers and traced his pelvis, pointed to his
legs, skin and bones hanging, missing something -
His arms flutter and his breathing is loud and deliberate.
I put my face in front of his eyes, and tell him who I am, explain
my brother's absence, with a promise I have no power to keep.
His eyes do not blink, but maybe he sees me.
He used to have a glass bunsen burner,
with oil in its rounded bottom and a thin blue flame on top.
He set it up on his desk in the third room - the room I briefly
filled when I turned fifteen, and now houses my father's widowed
wife and their sons,
My brothers -
And when the time is right, measured by a mystery,
he would take out his small medical reference book, grind herbs, and
seal them into little clear capsules,
and for a few months, we would all be fortified with daily doses of
It never occurred to me to question how a clerk knew how to brew medicine.
Every Friday, when the sun set, after dinner, my
cousin and I were summoned.
With him between us, we would walk down the black tarred street, from
the house to the only supermarket in town,
It was a quiet walk, with little talk or questions.
The silence of how stars were trapped into
secrets on the road;
I asked him once, he didn't answer me,
he didn't laugh at me, or tell me off for being silly.
The journey back was the sound of the two of us
eating the best ice creams in the world -
Cornetto (1 ringgit) or the one with the chocolate suit around a
chocolate flesh encasing a chocolate heart (70 sen).
My grandpa's treat to his two granddaughters
In a house where men ruled.
His silent anomaly of love.
This morning I saw the messages on the phone,
Electronic news of his passing.
I think of his bones and his face and his eyes and his arms.
I don't think I held him when he was strong,
But when his skin faded and his soul looked out through cloudy frames
I touched him
I spent some time thinking of him today. And it is never that moment. But the in between years. When he kept asking me for my name card, certain but not until he sees the name card, that I am a lawyer. How do I explain feminist activist to a man who was so ahead of his time, and yet so stuck within it? When he kept complaining to me about his legs failing. That he couldn't walk anymore. He used to walk everyday to play mahjong, to work, until he was at least 80. Now everytime my leg aches, I think of him. And him who fed scraps to a kitten, and I think about the painful ache of aloneness. But that is maybe enough for today. We keep replaying memories in our heads until they become lore. Shape shifting until words hold them. And words hold poorly without attention.
Being still and being present. There have been spectacular sunsets recently. Every day since I got back the sky is a confident glow of orange and pink against bright blue, with clouds that summon the awe of mountains. They tell me to stop, and look up. So I do. And resist the itch of pulling out my camera to try and freeze yet another moment into something that I don't have to pay too much attention to now.
I wanted to write about the film I jst saw. The Cemetary of Splendour. Because it was at the same time a film, a poem, a story, a piece of conceptual art. And it was such a tender love letter to the idea of a nation. Of belonging. With mundanity and magic threaded throughout. Simultaneously serious, critical, playful, witty and moving. I'm not sure I can work up enough energy to do this now. But maybe the moments.
When she raised her trouser leg to show the scars from her right leg that is 10cm shorter than her left, and her companion, both present and past, male and female, real and imagined, washed it with a mixture of gingko and goji berry (for memory) and lovingly kissed it. And she finally broke down and wept. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the pain that the past has marked us with, with a choice to openly believe in something not quite real, but so inextricably linked to the landscape that is real before us.
When the soldiers are lost in sleep (within that, folded are dreams of glory from a previous kingdom, nightmares of the current battles) and the flourescent lights are the only things changing. From soothing blue to gently angry pink, to the indeterminate in between. To soothe the nightmares. The collective nightmares from the shared lore of warfare from border to border. Somehow the silent hum of technology is meant to make it better. And maybe with that, a narrative of the future. But even that has its tides. And the ceiling fans turn pink and blue and purple and yellow and green and pink and blue and purple and yellow and green.
When the women ask about important things. Like "Who are with you?" "Are they men or women?" "What do you want to eat?" "Where are you hiding your life?" And pray to the princesses of lands that once flew fire over her. "Wake him up." "Give us health." "Thank you for bringing me love." "Still time." "Stay my beauty."
Balms made from the land. To heal and preserve what is beautiful. But smells of sperm. And she rubs it on her chest. And tells the younger woman, "My breasts are perking up." And they laugh. Puncturing the myth (again, so much folded in this) with mirth.
And the women move in unison. A dance, some kind of exercise, not quite marching soldiers, a different rhythm, but it is the same. Almost the same. Because here, her body, her person, her flesh, messes with the metaphor. And he joins in at the end. And you are no longer sure which is more chaotic, more "real". The music has hope. But you are meant to laugh.
And everytime technology appears. There is this uneasy story. It's not a simple one, of raising past glory in romanticised ideals vs the literal metallic hunk of a yellow excavator digging up the earth. But that everything is held in the same kind of mythical dream. The progress of the past that still has not ended (that steals the souls of current soldiers to continue fighting), the promise of the future-past that is wiped out by a flood with only broken monuments and a line on a tree marking the moment, and a mysterious incessant digging, the anxiety of the now soon to be obliterated into the then by an unnamed next.
And yet, she found her love through online dating. The intimacy of an interface. A broken man, but a real man. Maybe a broken dream. The American dream. Coming in the form of an overweight retired soldier who has old-age problems and a big open laugh.
And she pulls out her phone to snap a picture of a forgotten monument of people hiding in a bomb shelter from the planes coming from Laos, retelling a memory from her past held awkwardly in the between stones, to something even more ephemeral but stubborn. The containers of our memory are embodied and unreliable. And the narratives are constantly shifting, even in the witness.
The blue sky that is unchanging. And you are forced to stare at it until the pieces of floatsam in your own eyes start to make patterns, and you see what isn't there, but is there, and is melded with a legend, that is both there, and isn't there.
The men become metaphors of the nation. The women become the quiet reality. And even then, it doesn't stay still. They move from metaphor to mundane to mythical to metaphysical. And then they exchange and merge, and you're not quite sure anymore. But the men do not fully become real here. They slip back into sleep. And what happens when you have a metaphor that sleeps? A symbol that dreams?
And finally, the last call. Is to open your eyes wide to truly see. And to do so, you must stay still. And your face is severe. It's serious. It's a commitment. Even as the playing kids kick up a storm dust, and the film is deliberately coloured in a way that obscures, we see her open her eyes wide, and commit to seeing.
This is an incredible piece of work. I feel like I need a notebook the next time I go and see it. There are so many layers folded within each moment. I'm glad I went to see it. And I'm glad I'm taking the time to write down bits of it. Memory. So unreliable.
[Part 2 observations]
Watched it again. And again it exploded within me. Some other moments.
The soporific balm of the colours, that spoke simultaneously of seasons, of ideologies over time that balm us (trash and perhaps a body lumped next to a stern concrete wall with a story of stoic patriotism > maybe beautiful serenity in a cultivated landscape at the heart of a city but there is always someone there, picking up the trash > an advertising board selling the union of civilisations between a current dream of the west but even that is starting to become dated as time speeds by in the shape of motorcycles and cars > consumption of anxieties embodied in a cheesy horror movie that just reinforces the sleep > elevators going up and down, left and right, and we simply follow in line), of precision and rhythm which is broken by sleep and wakefulness, of a phallus that evokes science and art and mysticism, bent like an upside down umbrella or the waning bough of a tree -
Time, time, time, time. Held in objects, in colours, in bodies, in memory, in history, in rhythms, in extended gaze, in stories, in * // ".. ^,./.... ~~~ '" .
"Did you have a meal with the villagehead?"
"Yes, we had a celebration."
"I thought so. You have parasites."
Interrupting the writing of history in the land of sleep with more pertinent questions like: "What does he want to eat?" "How many chillies?"
The food we put into our mouths becomes us. Land to flesh. And the in betweens where we make language, flavours, kinships..
End of 2015/start of 2016 seems to be about fathers. I found out a friend lost her father to a car accident on Facebook, early in 2015, and that she has been shattered by this. And I feel so sad for her, I wished I sensed it early enough to bake her some Lamingtons, unasked for. Which I still will. But better if it came before an intimate baring on something as callous as Facebook. Which is why I can't still seem to unplug. How much of my friends' lives will I lose? Even as I invest less and less in this space, others are investing more. Putting aside more and more scraps of our lives, big and small, into this space of curated self, or a thoughtless one. More of the former I suspect. Will any other way of knowing, relating weigh as heavily as this? Is the age of letter writing truly over, or the age of knowing only as much as you make the effort to have an actual sustained contact, over? That would be a huge loss for humanity. But then again, we have never been able to keep as much known as now. Even the peripheries of our friendships, and time travelling to times past to keep in the present. Or as much as we would allow into our timelines, or of some sense of self with the webs we extend, visibly, at least to ourselves.
But I'm wandering, I was talking about fathers. Another person I met recently, an acquaintance, work friend, whom I enjoy talking to, was talking about his father. Who had dementia. And we were wondering about the 'miracle' of modern medicine. That it can be so incredible to find out within the filigree of our nerves and veins exactly which one is blocked, and to then actually intervene at that spot. But sometimes, what is it extending? A life? Or the flesh and blood shell that holds what was once a life? His father was an intelligent man, his intellectual hero, and they had such profound conversations. And now, he is grasping with everyday sense. And he had just passed away. And no matter which direction this conversation takes, a loss is always something so unexpectedly cavernous.
When I lost my father, in 2009, I couldn't reconcile how I felt about him. His absences, the pieces of his presence all throughout my life, my absences in his, and the small stories where our paths met in some way. And how he looked, in that coffin. How I flew back from halfway across the world, having just landed, and being unable to summon the tears for grief. And how I kept stumbling into sadness everytime I saw a person that looked like him, that had a body shaped like him, that had a smile or a mischievous gaze like his. I suppose death is so final. And there is no more space to figure things out. To have the hopeful cloudiness of potential, of something different. I am glad I drove every weekend to see him, but my heart broke over his body trapped in the hospital, even as he could look out of the wooden lourved windows into the sky. He wanted to go home. But home was always something ephemeral for him. When I die, I hope I will have a home. A space where I have rooted. And that at least one person will go through my things to give away or sell, with the sweet, aching sense of loving, missing, and letting go. My aunt took care of all my papa's stuff, but it was more pragmatic, about duty, than anything else. My grandmother loved him above everyone else. Or at least, that is the family lore. She, I miss with every warm pulse. And her love, I remember so clearly. Even as I realise that I am turning 40 this year, and my memories have become those washed out photographs that I used to look at and think about how old things were. My life is aging, and my memories have become the old things. Old laminated green table with worn down white spots where I spent most of my life growing up. Peeling shallots, clearing the tables, telling stories, having make believe fancy dinner dates like a grown up, breakfast of Mastin Ghani mee rebus or Maggi mee assam laksa at the weekends, or when I came home. That house is my home. And even as it no longer exists now, it's in my bones. And when I die, they disappear with me. They don't exist, lifeless, on a timeline, with perfunctory likes and awkward comments that fail to hold the thought, even with countless emoticons. The casualness of relating.
And if life is too brief for stitching relationships that come from actual intention made and time spent, then maybe life is simply too brief to be lived fully. And maybe there is a reason that when we age, we begin to feel that we need to somehow make decisions about which relationship too keep, to nurture, and which to let go off, even with sadness. But I hope that doesn't mean I stop uncovering new friendships, new people, new lives to make a commitment of time to.
I strayed from fathers. I seem to know many people who love and adore their fathers. I accidentally typed my uncle's name under "father" in an application for visa. Maybe that is who my father is, and I do love him, and adore him. So at least one resolution for the year, is to call him more often.