Saturday, May 31, 2008

Raided Library for Comfort Me With Apples

I was supposed to watch Sex and the City with HobbitGirl this afternoon - but a bad case of flu (her, not me) postponed those plans. Instead, I went to the library - again. This is my third trip to the library this week. I had to go back though, because the only copy of Comfort Me With Apples was due to be returned on 31st May - today. I had to get my hands on that copy before some other library patron steals it from me again.

Yes, I have been tracking the loan status of that book online for the past week. Yes, I can be relentless when I really want something. Yes, I love Ruth Reichl's writing. Yes, it is just a book. Yes, I am scary.

I did manage to find that copy of Comfort me With Apples, which I spent the whole afternoon reading at a coffee shop. I'm 144 pages into the book and I love it.

I think Tender at the Bone reads so well because Reichl understands the power of a story. It is a memoir of Reichl growing up, coping with school, making friends, falling in love, marrying and finding her place in the world. Like David Copperfield, it is structured as a bildungsroman. Through food, and through writing, Ruth Reichl finally discovers her calling. At the end, when she quotes her friend, Marion Cunningham (Marion was an alcoholic who reinvented herself in her middle age after she attended a cooking class by James Beard), she might as well be talking about herself:

My family may not have liked it, but I think I finally became the person I was meant to be.

I think the reason I love Ruth Reichl is because she shares the same ideas on food and life as M.F.K. Fisher. In Fisher's 'Foreword' to The Gatronomical Me, she wrote:

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it ... and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied ... and it is all one.

Food and love and life - they are the same. Yes, Reichl is writing about the food - but she is really writing about falling in love and making life's mistakes. Food nourishes and sustain life. It is life that is the true subject of Reichl's books - a life that has known pleasures, heartaches, variety and nourishment through food.

It is important to know how to eat, but the real art is to savour. I believe a person who knows how to savour food might perhaps also learn to savour life. When one is careless and indifferent to what they put into their body, they are also careless and indifferent to how they treat the rest of the world.

Oh, I must mention I also picked up from the library this title: The Magical Chorus, by Solomon Volkov (who wrote St Peterburg). It is a book about the cultural history of Russian, across painting, music, dance, theater, and cinema - covering artistes like Tolstoy, Kandinsky, Malevich, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Eisenstein and Tarkovskyto Solzhenitsyn.

I was browsing the first chapter and I learned that when Chekhov died, his coffin was brought from Germany to St Peterburg in a railroad car labelled, 'For Oysters'. That didn't make me want to go read more Chekhov. It did however, remind me of the deep fried oysters in Tender at the Bone and the oyster po'boy I once told myself I had to try when I travel in New Orleans. Later, while reading Comfort Me with Apples, there was a description of the eating of oysters. I remember the creamy texture of fresh oysters, the way it moves on the tongue, the briny, metallic taste of it, with the tinge of lemon.

It was pleasure indeed.

Been Bad. Raided Library

The public library has graciously doubled the loan quota this month. This means until end of June, instead of usual 8 books, I can check out a maximum of 16 books. I know this is less than some other libraries, but we work with what we are given, right?

Here be the visual of this week's haul (over the last few days):

List from the top:

  1. The Apprentice, Jacques Pepin

  2. The Library at Night Alberto Manguel

  3. White Slave, Marco Pierre White

  4. The Making of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman

  5. A Novel in a Year, Louise Doughty

  6. Last Rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

  7. Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays, Joan Acocella

  8. The Art of Eating, M.F.K. Fisher

  9. The Reach of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman

  10. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison

Will be busy for a while.

Friday, May 30, 2008

GK Chesterton Birthday

I just found out G.K. Chesterton was born 29th May, 1874. Hey, I posted some links to his essays on his birthday, so I did manage a tribute to the big guy.

What if Proust was Alive Today?

And what if Proust Discovers Livejournal?

Very emo.

'FESS UP FRIDAY | Back to Square One

One of the most difficult piece of writig I had to do last Saturday was my resume. I'm not totally satisfied with it. But I've submitted it, and it's done. Now we just wait.

What is a resume? It's really your sell-sheet/press release, where you are marketing yourself to potential buyers (employers).

My problem is: I'm the sort of person who hates having to explain myself. That makes it difficult in situations where elaboration is necessary - like writing a story.

For the past few weeks I was trying to write a scene between the two main characters. I'm trying to fleshing out the relationship - and power dynamics - between them in that single scene. I keep adding to the scene, because so much seems necessary and yet not enough is being said. Or am I trying to do too much in one scene, when I have an entire novel to work with?


I regret to report I have scrapped all that I had written. (Okay, I saved the Word file - just in case)

Word-count as of today is ZERO. Yes, we are back to Square One.

Wait, that's not true. There was something I salvaged: a single line from one of the character:

"I'm not the kind of girl you can hide from your mother."

I'm not sure what to make of it. It seems to say something about the character. I'm keeping it for now.

As for research:

  1. Read The New Yorker's profile of Grant Achatz (He's chef of Alinea in Chicago. The guy has worked with some of the best culinary masters - Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria)
  2. Finished reading Tender at the Bone. Loved it!
  3. Picked up the following books from the library:
    a) The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin,
    b) Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman,
    c) White Slave - the autobiography of Marco Pierre White.

    White is the youngest chef to be awarded three Michelin stars. He is also known as "The Man Who Made Gordon Ramsay Cry", and the first "Rock Star Chef". I adore these bad-boy chefs. Which may explain why my sous-chef is not a saint either.

  4. Started reading Kitchen Confidential and Making of a Chef.

    I'm enjoying Anthony Bourdain, even if he's mean to vegetarians. I can afford to be forgiving; I have high self-esteem. Also I like how he makes chefs feel like pirates. In fact, while reading Kitchen Confidential, I started writing a scene in my head of a bunch of line cooks just squatting outside the restaurant trading barbed banters.

    Making of a Chef, I'm still reading the first few pages - still too early to form an opinion.


PS: The Literate Kitten's link to all 'Fess Up Friday-ers. Or FUFers.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

GK Chesterton on Detective Stories

G.K. Chesterton has written some of the finest detective stories in English. His Father Brown stories has a gawky Catholic priest whose secret to crime solving lies in his astute empathy and psychological insight. Personally I esteem him above Arthur Conan Doyle - because Chesterton is obviously a more gifted writer. Not just of fiction - Chesterton is also a poet (an okay one) and a great essayist.

I found a link to some Chesterton essays on the detective stories today. Rereading them was a pleasure and the highlight of my day, so I'm passing them on:

Hopefully you will enjoy Chesterton as much as I do.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MUST CHECK OUT | Sleeping Chick

Very sweet story told entirely in graphics. Must check it out!

Click here.

Yes. What is it with me and farm animals?

Percy (Nine)

Your friend is coming I say
to Percy, and name a name

and he runs to the door, his
wide mouth in its laugh-shape,

and waves, since he has one, his tail.
Emerson, I am trying to live,

as you said we must, the examined life.
But there are days I wish

there are less in my head to examine,
not to speak of the busy heart. How

would it be to be Percy, I wonder, not
thinking, not weighting anything, just running forward.

~ Mary Oliver, from Red Bird

This poetry is for those of us who thinks too much, and yearn sometimes for a simpler way - a way of living more spontaneously, more carelessly. To be overly conscious sometimes brings with it a certain kind of pain.

PS: Photo of Mary Oliver and Percy - the actual dog Percy - here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Percy (One)

Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,
ate a book which unfortunately we had
left unguarded.
Fortunately, it was the Bhagavad Gita,
of which many copies are available.
Every day now, as Percy grows
into the beauty of his life, we touch
his wild, curly head and say,

"Oh, wisest of little dogs."

~ Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems: Volume Two

Monday, May 26, 2008

Percy and Books (Eight)

Percy does not like it when I read a book.
He puts his face over the top of it and moans.
He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezes.
The sun is up, he says, and the wind is down.
The tide is out and the neighbor's dogs are playing.
But Percy, I say. Ideas! The elegance of language!
The insights, the funniness, the beautiful stories
that rise and fall and turn into strength, or courage.

Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough.
Let's go.

~ Mary Oliver, from Red Bird

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Discovering Through Another's Playlist

Every Wednesday, Paper Cuts's Living With Music feature will showcast a playlist of songs from a writer or some other kind of book-world personage.

I usually glance through the playlists to see if there is anything interesting. Sometimes it is the writer that interests me. I look through their playlist, curious to see what music inspires them. Sometimes, it is the playlist itself that is interesting.

Pico Iyer's playlist has many recognisable artistes, yet it felt unremarkable.

The A.M. Homes fan in me was delighted that the writer is also a fan of the Leonard Cohen song, "Hallelujah". (It is a beautiful song, a metaphysical ballad, celebrating love, faith and life all at once—because they truly are the same thing.) Like me, Homes has multiple versions of the tune on her iPod. She has the k.d. lang, Jeff Buckley, Bono, Brandi Carlisle and Leonard Cohen versions. I have Jeff Buckley, k.d. lang, Rufus Wainwright and Leonard Cohen. I have not found the Brandi Carlisle version—but I will, one day.

I love Brandi Carlisle.

There is something voyeuristic about looking through people's playlists—but for those of us who loves looking through other people's reading list, we might understand the emotions behind this impulse. Maybe it is about looking for a connection. For someone who shares what you love and how they might lead you to something new. Or maybe we are just voyeuristic busybodies.:p

I was going through Rebecca Walker's Playlist last week and I have one thing to say about it:


It is an amazing list - jazzy, soulful and divine. She has included "Here Comes the Sun", the Beatles tune covered by Nina Simone, Feist, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Keren Ann and Joni Mitchell. The artistes I recognise tell me I admire her taste. So I moved on to the artistes I have never heard of, hoping to find something new.

That was when I heard Imani Uzuri.

I was mesmerized.

Listening to Imani Uzuri is a spiritual experience. Those deep, lush, powerful vocals. The soulful lyricism. I feel like this when I am listening to the music of the Sufi masters, where song is a visceral prayer, a cry of love. This is how Imani Uzuri sounds like to me.

More at

Friday, May 23, 2008

Many Books I Can Die Without Reading

William Grimes has an article about the book "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die." It says nothing new - nothing you haven't already thought about. Why was this article even written? But the way it ended did manage to provoke a sneer out of me. So, I quote it here:

No matter how well read you are, you’re not that well read. If you don’t believe it, pick up “1001” and start counting.

In his novel “Changing Places,” David Lodge — not on the list — introduces a game called Humiliation. Players earn points by admitting to a famous work that they have not read. The greater the work, the higher the point score. An obnoxious American academic, competing with a group of colleagues, finally gets the hang of the game and plays his trump card: “Hamlet.” He wins the game but is then denied tenure.

That’s the thing with reading lists like “1001 Books.” There’s always that host of the unread.

Come to think of it, I have a personal white whale: “Moby-Dick.” I really must read it before I die.

Nope. I can die in peace without finishing Moby Dick.

'FESS UP FRIDAY | Procrastination

I made a simple button for 'Fess Up Friday last week. The type-writer seemed a tad bit anachronistic, so I found this picture instead where Snoopy upgraded to a laptop. It even has Woodstock sitting there as a supportive audience.

I made the button when I was supposed to be writing. Procrastination is a powerful thing: I get so many (other) things done - my bookshelves are finally dusted and my laundry gets done. If I procrastinate enough, I can take over the world.

This week, word count remains around 1,800. No actual writing was done. *sigh* I hope for better progress next week.

What did get done:

  1. Drew up a research reading list
  2. Put The Apprentice and Making of a Chef on hold at the local library. I hope to pick them up this weekend
  3. Read blogs by farmers: Grow Better Veggies and I Love Farms
  4. Finally named all my main characters.
  5. Set aside a notebook for all my note-taking for the story
  6. Reading Tender at the Bones
  7. While drinking soup, suddenly thought of turning two of the characters into ghosts - so that it becomes a fantasy piece instead. I'm keeping it as Plan B though.

Can I add: "Going back for yoga class" into the list of things done? Yoga - er - grounds me. Improves focus, and er - makes me happy so I feel more productive?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Expanded Research Reading List: Updated

Did I mention how I always loved research when I was in school? I can be methodical when I set my heart to it. Pulling different ideas together and seeing the connections - it can be very rewarding. Sometimes I wonder if I should have pursue a career in the research field.

I digress - because I can never think straight. This is an expanded reading list - I'm probably not going to tackle all of them. But it will be a good guide when I search the library.

The book I am most excited about is Wendy Johnson's Gardening at the Dragon's Gate. But the book seems to be under-going reprint or something. It's out of stock from the distributors and I will not be able to place an order for it at the moment. That, and it's not available from the local library. I sigh.

I'm reading Tender at the Bone right now, and loving it. Ruth Reichl's light and humorous memoir of the people who influence her culinary passions makes me want to read all her books. Hopefully this weekend I can pick up Comfort Me With Apples (Anyone else smiled at the M.F.K. Fisher reference? It takes very little to delight me) and Garlic and Sapphires.

I've re-organised the reading list. I started the list as part of the research for the novel I am writing (very slowly). I am interested in how we approach food, and by extension, how we approach the other aspects of our lives - family, friends,lovers - and aspirations. Oh, yes - the farming/gardening aspect is relevant.

So, I've divided the list into a primary reading list - books with themes directly relevant to my novel (oh, it sounds so exciting). Other books that are of interest - and I might pick them up one day just because I want to - I've included them in the Supplementary List.

Thank you for all the suggestions.

Slightly Updated Research Reading List:

Supplementary List:

YOGA | I'm Back Again

Oh. Just a quick note: I went for yoga class again on Tuesday evening: Hatha class with my hard-core Teacher M. My body isn't as strong as I would like it to be, and my legs were trembling a little after all the Warrior variations.

But it was fine. No dull pain at the navel - at least, I was careful not to overstretch. Side-twists are just fine too. Just have to watch myself, not expect too much from my body at this point, and just do it.

Tomorrow is another day to practice. That's all that is to the practice, isn't it - you just come back, one day at a time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Have You Voted For the Sexiest Vegetarian Yet?

Emily Deschanel and Ian McKellen Have My Vote for the

It's frivolous fun. :)

I think I voted either Jorja Fox or Joan Jett last year for the Sexiest Female Vegetarian. But Sir Ian gets my vote every year.

Veggie Pride Parade 2008

[Picture of Penelo Pea Pod from the official Veggie Pride Parade NYC website]

My friend Serene just had to send me the link to the New York Veggie Pride Parade 2008.(thanks, sweetie! keep them coming! ;p)

The event took place last Sunday. It looks like so much fun. Lots of costumed vegetarians marching the streets - including the seven feet Penelo Pea Pod on the left.

The parade’s participants wended their way peacefully through Greenwich Village to Washington Square Park, led by a seven-foot-tall pea pod and an outsize carrot, who would later marry onstage in a faux ceremony. A giant pink replica of a human colon, replete with polyps and a sullied colostomy bag, brought up the rear.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Food and Love and My Usual Ramblings

We have a long weekend this week with Monday (19th May) being Vesak Day - a public holiday. I was supposed to spend the time reading and writing. Alas, I spend a good deal of it watching Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen instead. I'll put it down as research, since one of my main character is a sous chef.

What do I know about being a sous chef in a fancy restaurant? Very little, unless you count my part-time stint as a clerk in a French restaurant from 9 years ago. (It was a fun job, actually - brought to an abrupt end when the owners got into a dispute with the landlord over the rent and the restaurant was forced to shut down.)

I'm reading Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone right now. I've been the buyer for our Lifestyle section for the past few years, and while I do not claim to be an expert, I will admit to a growing interest in the area - especially for food writings. I read M.F.K Fisher's The Art of Eating last year. It was interesting, and it made me want to explore further the emotional relationship we have to food.

One of the erronous assumption people make is that because I am vegetarian, I am indifferent to food. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. It was when I became vegetarian that I started really paying attention to what I eat. I become more conscious of my meals: the ingredients, the taste, the texture, how they are prepared. It's not just about avoiding the meat - you also have to make sure you have a balanced diet that keeps you healthy. When I am not eating right, I can feel the difference in my body.

I am also curious about the the preparation of a meal - because it is one of the most intimidate and personal food experiences. Since I turned vegetarian, I find myself having to cook more. I am still not very good at it, but I try.

A friend once told us this story, of how her sister was in Korea, and she sought out this old lady who was renowned for her kimchi. When she asked the old lady about how to make good kimchi, the old lady replied: You have to season each cabbage leaf individually. As you massage the seasoning into the cabbage leaves one by one, imagine your family happily enjoying the kimchi you made for them.

Her method of preparing kimchi is a lot of work. Most of us just pick up a pack of kimchi from the supermarket instead; it's easier, so why bother, right?

I am not an expert here, but I think there is something to what the old lady is telling us. Just imagine if we can put that much love and mindfulness into preparing a meal, it would be something extraordinary indeed.

I was also looking through my old magazines over the weekend. I found the Yoga + Joyful Living article that spurred me to want to write this story about a farmer and a chef. (Right now the story stinks like ripe blue cheese. You see why I would be embarrassed to have people I know learn about this? :p)

It's a small feature on Deborah Madison, whom I know as the author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. What surprised me was that in her younger days, Madison practiced at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre, where she served as inaugural chef of Greens restaurant, as well as its head monk.

Asked what anchors her, Madison says without hesitation, "Sitting. Zazen." She pause and adds, "And my garden. It's literally grounding. When you grow your own food, it's clear what's for dinner."

It's as simple as that. A short article in a yoga magazine, about a woman who believes in growing your own food for dinner, because it anchors her. It just struck me - there is a love story here (or it's probably just my brain at work.)

And just in case anyone is interested, I drew up a reading list yesterday. For research purposes, of course. :)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Winterson | " intense experience needs an intense language"

Jeanette Winterson brought a friend to the stage production of The Year of Magical Thinking. The experience led her to meditate on death, and the language and poetry of death.

Wittgenstein said that "death is not an event in life. We do not live to experience our death"; which is strictly true but not emotionally true. My own feeling is that death is integral to life, but lost to language. When death approaches, when death happens, that event falls outside the scope of what can be said. To write about it is a kind of magic - an evocation, an invocation, a re-membering of what has been dis-membered. The scattered life, now returned to so many atoms, becomes what atoms are - empty space and points of light. I suppose the writers who find a way of saying what resists all saying find a way into the empty space and the points of light, allowing death to be both the wholly private and personal experience it must be, and yet a collective happening.

C.S. Lewis, whatever you think of his Christianity or his politics, achieved this beautifully in A Grief Observed. It is not simply a matter of understanding one's own situation, but a matter of finding the words to express the human situation, without platitudes or patronising. So when Lewis begins: "No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear", we are with him, and he is with us.

I have to admit that I struggled with The Year of Magical Thinking because I felt remote from Didion's experience. Vanessa Redgrave is a profound actor, but I found the text too limited - both parochial and sentimental, and lacking in poetry. I am not sure that death can be done without poetry. By which I mean that an intense experience needs an intense language.

And yet, another friend of mine was really moved by the play. It may be that if anything maps closely on to your own experience, then it works. Poetry, I think, does not depend on shared experience, but on shared emotion, the emotion shared between writer and audience. A fabulous actor can pull anything into being, but as a writer, I suppose I ask for the language itself to be authentic - it is not enough that the experience is authentic. Much is deeply felt, but how do we express it?

I came away wishing I had been given one single line as powerful as "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life and thou no breath at all?" But then I need such lines to carry around in my invisible pockets.

I went home and read Tennyson's In Memoriam, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rosetti, certain passages from Wuthering Heights. We all have our own list, I guess.

"We all have our own list" - that's probably true. To make sense of grief, loss and death, one of the book I found helpful was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. There is something in her coolness that was clarifying. When my Uncle Bernard passed away earlier this year, I was suddenly seized with a need to re-read The Year of Magical Thinking.

I also reach for the poetry of Mary Oliver for comfort. Perhaps like JW's said: "[A]n intense experience needs a intense language". When intense emotions threaten to overwhelm you, there is something grounding in Oliver's poetry. It brings you back to the earth, to nature. It reminds me of something larger and more wondrous than myself.

What else? Thich Nhat Hanh, of course.

Does anyone else have a list of books or writers you return to in the face of death, loss or grief?

Friday, May 16, 2008

'FESS UP FRIDAY | Some Gaimanesque Tips

Some of my friends in the real life (as opposed to this virtual blogsphere) actually know about this blog. But I think only 3 of them ever post comments on this blog. So, I'm always a little surprised sometimes, when they talked to me face to face, text message me on my phone or email me -- about something I posted here. In this blog.

"You mean you read my blog?" I would wonder.

Apparently, they do. Which means there are people out there - people who knows my face, my real name, my phone number, my address, my place of work - these people know I'm trying to write a novel.

This accountability thing is suddenly feeling a little stressful. But, here's some of the things I did this week that contribute to my writing:

1) There might be something to this 'Fess Up Friday - I actually managed about 1,800 words. It's not a lot and there are many awkward bits I need to re-write, but I'm leaving that for now. Just trying to get words on the page.

2) This week I spent some time reading Neil Gaiman's blog - which incidentally has some good advice by the man himself on writing. Here's some Gaimanesque Writing Tips:

Neil Gaiman, offering his opinion on actually getting your first draft written:

As for thinking time versus writing time, well, that's up to you. But -- and I wish it were otherwise -- books don't get written by thinking about them, they get written by writing them. And that's when you make discoveries about what you're writing. That's when you get the happy accidents.

So think all you like, but don't mistake the thinking for the writing.

Neil Gaiman's advice, on working on your drafts:

The second draft is where the fun is. In a first draft, you get to explode. The objective (at least for me) is to get it down on paper, somehow. Battle through the laziness and the not-enough-time and the this-is-rubbish and everything else, and just get it written. Whatever it takes. The second draft is where you go and gather together the fragments of the explosion and figure out what it is you did, and make it look like that was what you always meant to do.

So you write it. Then you put it aside. Not for months, but perhaps for a week or so. Even a few days. Do other things. Then set aside some uninterrupted time to read, and pull it out, and pretend you have never read it before -- clear it out of your head, and sit and read it. (I'd suggest you do this on a print-out, so you can scribble on it as you go. )

When you get to the end you should have a much better idea of what it was about than you did when you started. (I knew The Graveyard Book would be about a boy who lived in a graveyard when I started it. I didn't know that it would be about how we make our families, though: that's a theme that made itself apparent while the book was being written.)

And then, on the second and subsequent drafts, you do four things. 1) You fix the things that didn't work as best you can (if you don't like the climactic Rock City scene in American Gods, trust me, the first draft was so much worse). 2) You reinforce the themes, whether they were there from the beginning or whether they grew like Topsy on the way. You take out the stuff that undercuts those themes. 3) You worry about the title. 4) At some point in the revision process you will probably need to remind yourself that you could keep polishing it infinitely, that perfection is not an attribute of humankind, and really, shouldn't you get on with the next thing now?

Sometimes I think I rather spend time planning a novel than writing it. It reminds me of Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage, a book where he writes about how he procrastinated on the task of writing a book on D.H. Lawrence.

Procrastination may be a sign of fear - you forestall the conclusion - so you never need to find out how you might have fallen short.

Like Gaiman says, "books don't get written by thinking about them, they get written by writing them". I have never had problem charging into something without a definite plan. So, why stop now?

Excuse me while I go write something.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm somewhat drunk writing this, but...

Anyone knows if there are any averse effect of mixing alcohol with curam (a sort of antibiotics)?

Okay, I've been a bad puppy. I was at a publisher's dinner tonight and there was some good white wine being served. I took a glass, then some more - until a colleague asked me, "Should you be drinking when you're on medication?"

Uh hmmph. Forgot about that.

I should be fine, right? *sheepish grin*

Monday, May 12, 2008

WTF | I Hope There's Karma

I wonder sometimes, if there really is such a thing as karma. I hope karma exists, because there are some bastards out there who deserve some major payback.

As the cyclone situation in Myanmar gets worse, the military junta continues with their referendum to consolidate their power. What's more, they are using the foreign aid packages for the people as part of their propaganda campaign.

"We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights and democracy in the country.

"It is not going to areas where it is most in need," he said in London. [source]

How do these people live with themselves, with the things they do?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

'FESS UP FRIDAY | Research and Randomness

As usual, I have been daydreaming and thinking about the story and the characters. I'm still vacillating on the name for one of the main characters.

Meanwhile I was at the library today, trying to do some research on organic farming. As I've mentioned in my earlier 'Fess Up Friday, the currently unnamed main character is an organic farmer.

One of the books I had in mind is The Art of Simple Food - which the local library does not stock.

Why is this important? It's totally random, just something I have been interested in for a while. I thought I could combine the two interests.

I'm thinking about motivations here. Why do people make the kind of choices - and mistakes they do.

Meanwhile, I have been writing random scenes in the story, trying to get a sense of things. This usually means I'm writing a lot of stuff that I will probably not use.

Jeanette Winterson once said in an interview, that she never start a story at the beginning. She usually starts somewhere in the middle, and sort of work her way around it.

Not that I write like Jeanette Winterson. It's just comforting to know you don't have to work linear - because if I have to follow the straight and narrow, I need alcohol.

Friday, May 09, 2008

WTF | Myanmar Military Regime Snubs Aid

I am angry. It is the sort of anger that comes from your own sense of helplessness in the face of injustice and stupidity. Why? I just read this:

The UN food agency on Friday suspended all aid flights into Myanmar over "unacceptable" restrictions by the junta, which has refused to allow foreign relief workers to help desperate cyclone survivors.


Kaye said two aid flights had arrived in the country's main city of Yangon but that their cargo had not been unloaded. He did not specify what restrictions the government imposed.

The impasse came shortly after the junta, which has a long history of thumbing its nose at the international community, announced in the state-run press that it was "not ready" to allow foreign experts in.

"The international community can best help the victims by donating emergency provisions such as medical supplies, food clothes, electricity generators, and materials from emergency shelters with financial assistance," it said.

"Myanmar will wholeheartedly welcome such course of actions. The donors and the international community can be assured that Myanmar is doing its best."


Critics of the regime have warned relief organisations that if they do not supervise the aid supplies handed over, they may be snatched by the generals and never reach the victims in Myanmar, one of the world's poorest nations.

Excuse me while I try to process this.

*STICKY POST* Myanmar Cyclone Nargis: How to Help

Dear Friends, I hope no one wouldn't mind it if I keep this post sticky for a while.

Update 7th May 2008: It seems the Myanmar government figures on the casualty toll differs from the figures cited by US diplomats in the country:

"There may well be over 100,000 deaths in the delta area," Shari Villarosa, the US charge d'affaires in Yangon, told reporters in Washington on a conference call, citing a non-governmental organisation she would not name. [Source]

Right now, the Myanmar government and their visa restrictions are making it difficult for the foreign aid workers to enter the country. During the earthquakes in 2003 and 2005, Iran and Pakistan waived visas for aid workers. The Iranian and Pakistani government understood what was at stake and adapted accordingly.

It makes me angry that the Myanmar junta is more concern with control than the lives of its people.


Some of you may be aware of the recent Cyclone Nargis that devastated Myanmar earlier this week. The Myanmar government has raised its death toll to nearly 22,500 with another 41,000 missing. More than 1 million are currently homeless.

If you're outside Asia but is interested to help, you might like to contact any of these organisations:

  2. American Red Cross
  3. Direct Relief International
  4. World Vision

More links at Network For Good

If you're from Singapore, you can contact:

  1. Singapore Red Cross, at 15 Penang Lane, or call 6334 9152/53 for more information.
  2. Mercy Relief. You can call at 1900 112 1010 for a S$10 donation, or 1900 112 1050 for a S$50 donation. Crossed cheques made out to "Mercy Relief Limited" can be sent to 172 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore 118558. Mercy Relief also accepts transfers via ATM or through internet banking. Its DBS account number is 054-900493-6.
  3. World Vision Singapore is also collecting donations for the victims in Myanmar. Besides ATM funds transfer to its DBS Autosave Account (001-030600-6) or its Standard Chartered Bank Fusion Account (130-830-6900), the public can also send cash or cheques made out to "World Vision International" to its office at 10 Anson Road, #13-08, International Plaza, Singapore 079903.

(All Singapore aid contacts provided by Channelnewasia.)

If you can, please spread the news. See if anyone is interested in helping.

Thank you.

Doctor, O'Brian and Solnit

I took the day off for my follow-up with the Handsome Doctor. For a consultation that's just there to reassure me everything is fine -- even the severe cramps is considered "normal" -- it's costing me a lot of money.

I shouldn't be complaining. I am luckier than most, because thankfully, my company insurance promise to cover most of the hospital bill, as well as all expenses 3 months following the operation. Except it has been a month since the surgery and I have not yet seen the reimbursement for my medical bills. Then I read this piece of news, and I go, Hmmmm.

I'm currently reading two books: Rebecca Solnit's Storming the Gates of Paradise and Patrick O'Brian's The Surgeon's Mate. Both are interesting and absorbing in their own way.

In The Surgeon's Mate, the British is now at war with the Americans, so the action is picking up. I find the Aubrey/Maturin series very soothing. Like a musical composition, it thrives on patterns and repetitions, with dramatic highs and lows at strategic moments.

It amuses me that in the film version of Master and Commander (the one with Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany), they changed the enemies from the Americans to the French. I liked the film, and because of it, I read the series with the image of Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany as Aubrey and Maturin. I imagine their manner of speech, Crowe's swaggering manliness when he takes charge of his ship, Bettany's pale reserve with blue glasses as he plays spy.

Storming the Gates of Paradise is more political than the previous two Solnit titles I have read (Wanderlust and A Field Guide to Getting Lost.) In Storming, Solnit is interested in exploring the political in landscape and space itself. Along the way she also discusses her own political activism, migration, art, culture, history - and even a meditation on astronomy and the constellation. One of the things I admire about her essays is the breadth of her interests, the way she is willing to wander off a topic to explore a related idea within the same essay. Where you first started might not always be where you end up, and so it is more interesting that way - because in it is a sense of discovery, by being willing to be lost, you allow yourself to find something new.

She discusses her literary wandering in the introduction, which is symptomatic of her distaste for fences and boundaries, especially fences on thoughts and ideas. This compartmentalizing of ideas - where we see can only see one facet of an idea - limits us. Ultimately, everything is linked: nature, culture, landscape, politics, the city, the country, are all inextricably interfused. Storming the Gates of Paradise asks us to take that leap of the imagination, to see how the world is larger than we realise - and to love it, and to do something about it.

I just re-read what I wrote about Solnit, and I realise how this book affects me. It is beautiful, and it is affecting. The case studies that Solnit cites are depressing, because it tells you how much injustice there is in this world that has been allowed, often sanctioned by the government against the interest of her people. Yet - I feel a possibility of hope in her writing. Injustice will always be there, which is why we have to do what we can against it.

Can I just end by telling you I am enjoying this book? :)

Well, bye. I'm off to the library. Books to return. Reservations to pick up.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

MUSIC | Swell Season Does Pixies

Thanks to Carl, who started it with his fantastic post on The Swell Season in concert. He mentioned the duet performed a Pixies song, and I (the Pixies fan) - just had to know which Pixies song. Mary saved the day by revealing it was "Cactus". Ahhhhh. Thank you, Mary. :)

Here's the YouTube video, link courtesy of Carl, of the Swell Season performing "Cactus" - from the Pixies album I alway remember as "The One with the Flamenco Dancer with the Bare Boobies."

I smiled at Glen Hansard's little shout-out to Kim Deal (bassist and back-up vocals for The Pixies), who was apparently there with The Breeders.

Glen Hansard: "This is a Pixies song. In honor of Kim. I hope she's here. I hope she's listening."

They are a great pair. I ended up buying the "Once" soundtrack this afternoon. I am glad to say I enjoy it tremendously.

Big thanks to Carl and Serene for recommending great music that I must have!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bourdian Food Porn

This is for those of you who LURVES Anthony Bourdian to pieces.

*straight-faced* Click to enlarge. (Don't be disappointed if it isn't as big as you would like it to be.)

[Thanks to Hezbollah Tofu, who proves that vegans have a sense of humour :)]


As I mentioned earlier, I am currently compiling a "Wrist Cutting Music" Playlist for my new iPod Nano. I just happened to come across this: Sad Kermit singing Elliot Smith's "Needle in the Hay". Sad Kermit even acts out a parody of the scene from the Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums. [thanks Chad]

It's an awesome video, done by some obviously gifted people with very warped sense of humour. May you guys use your powers for good and not for evil!

Sad Kermit even has his own MySpace page, where it was explained:

"Soon after the death of Jim Henson, Sad Kermit spiraled downward into a life full of addiction, romance and pain. The songs and videos on this webpage shed light on Sad Kermit’s descent into his dark, hurting world"

Oh, you poor thing, you green thing.

Go to , where you can listen to Sad Kermit sing his versions of Radiohead's "Creep" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".


PS: I've decided I need a "Muppets" label for this blog. Yes, there will definitely be more Muppet posts to come. ;)

The New Bronte Screen Avatars

According to this article, Ellen Page will be working with BBC Films for a new adaption of Jane Eyre. I kid you not.

Can anyone see Ellen Page as Jane Eyre? Her smart-ass persona in Hard Candy and Juno still sticks too closely in my mind. I don't see Ellen Page as a Victorian protagonist. I don't see Ellen Page in any period drama at all.

But then, she might surprise me. I am hoping she will surprise me, because a bad adaptation of any Bronte novel is a bad thing.

This is on top of the recent casting of Natalie Portman as Catherine in an upcoming adaptation of Wuthering Heights. [via]

Here's a shot of Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala. You like?

I love Ellen Page and Natalie Portman. No debate about that - but something about these star-stubbed casting of the Bronte novels make me suspicious. Perhaps some movie executives decide they will milk the works of the Bronte sisters as the next cash-cows. They probably figured they were onto a good thing with Keira and Austen. Next thing you know, they will be calling the Bronte novels - "chick-lit".

I am cynical, aren't I?

I really hope they don't mess these up.

Back to Yoga on Monday Evening - Not Ready Yet

I went for yoga class this Monday evening. It wasn't a particularly tough class. Teacher M led us through the usual Krishnamacharya Vinyasa, with the emphasis on balance and strength.

But one month's absence from practice, with no exercise – my body felt the difference. I felt a dull tugging pain at my navel when I moved into a Cobra Pose. Perhaps my stitches still have some healing to do. Then come Tuesday, my shoulders and thighs ached. These are muscles soreness that will go away eventually, so I'm not too worried. It's that pulling pain when I stretch my abdomen that I am concerned about.

So I skipped the Tuesday Ashtanga class. Went to watch Iron Man instead. My goodness, I loved it. Did anyone else stay till the end, after the credits? I was so happy to see Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

Right now I have to decide if I should go back for yoga class on Wednesday evening, or rest a few more weeks. Some friends told me to rest a few months before resuming yoga. I don't think I can bear that.

To be honest, not practicing yoga allows me more time for other things. My social life is healthier, I have more time to read, to write, even time to catch a movie. These are things I enjoy – but I would just as easily set them aside just to be able to resume a regular practice.

It's odd, isn't it? I spent the first 26 years of my life oblivious to yoga – yet it has now taken over my life so thoroughly.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Lesbos islanders dispute gay name

From BBC News - 1st May, 2008:

Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop a gay rights organisation from using the term "lesbian".

The islanders say that if they are successful they may then start to fight the word lesbian internationally.

The issue boils down to who has the right to call themselves Lesbians.

Is it gay women, or the 100,000 people living on Greece's third biggest island - plus another 250,000 expatriates who originate from Lesbos?

If they win, what are lesbians going to call themselves?

OBITUARY | Elaine Dundy Passes

Oh. Elaine Dundy, author of The Dud Avocado (half-read on my TBR stack), passed away on 1st May 2008.

A Different Stripe has a write-up here.

'FESS UP FRIDAY | Just for Fun

I've just signed up for Literate Kitten's 'Fess Up Friday. It's a public declaration, where participants will "confess" to what they did (or did not) do for their writing goals for the week.

Of course, I don't expect deathless prose. I am not a natural writer; for me, writing requires great effort, and lots of editing. However, I thought I will do it just for fun.

Just because we can't all be Roger Federer, doesn't mean we can't enjoy tennis, right?

From the words of Patti Smith: "In art and dream may you proceed with abandon."

So, with abandon, here's my late entry for last week's 'Fess Up Friday:

I daydream a lot. It's probably my favourite past-time, and it helps me through long bus-rides and other long stretches of boredom. Recently I decided to pick up on an idea that came to me during a daydream. I decided that I want to write a romantic comedy. in novel form. It's chick-lit fluff, hardly the works of grand literature. Why? Because I want to write a simple love story, where we work with the best of intentions - but still screw up along the way. Most of all, because I thought it would be fun.

I spent several hours last week trying to name my characters. The naming is important, because with the names, you give them form. It's all about background at the moment, giving the characters relationships, careers, aspirations. One of the main character is the owner of an organic farm, the other just happens to be a cute red-headed sous chef. One is definitely vegetarian - but I'm wondering if the other should be as well.

Both characters however, wear sensible shoes.

I think I need to read Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food for research.

Oh, and I was also compiling a Playlist of "Wrist-Cutting Music" - the soundtrack to write to. List includes Sarah Maclachan, Rachael Yamagata, The Cure, Patsy Cline - and Serene recommended Nick Drake. (Anyone else has any other recommendations?)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Elizabeth Hardwick Article

The May issue of The Believer has a write up on Elizabeth Hardwick.

How did I manage to miss it until now?

In Sleepless Nights, her best novel, a meditation close to autobiography, Hardwick ponders a life she never could have had: that of a bachelor. This was, in extremis, another character she often wrote about, a cad, like Samuel Richardson’s Lovelace or Brontë’s Heathcliff, equally forbidden and fascinating to her. This is not surprising, in a sense, as she knew one intimately. "I often think about bachelors," she writes. "A life of pure decision, of thoughtful calculations, of every inclination honored. They go about on their own, nicely accompanied in their singularity by the companion of possibility. For cannot any man, young or old, rich or poor, turn a few corners and bump into marriage?" It is tempting to wonder what Elizabeth Hardwick’s life might have been like if she had had the option of pure decision, if she had remained an unmarried Bohemian. What if she had not bumped into marriage (into that marriage), if she had turned the corner toward Baton Rouge and the Southern agrarians instead of New York (a real choice she faced), if she had been content as a mere poet’s wife with a rotten life? Would she have been happier? I think not. And the world would be a lot poorer in prose.

QUOTE | The desire to go home

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

~ Rebecca Solnit, from Storming the Gates of Paradise

To "cease to speak and be perfectly understood." That sounds wonderful indeed, like a place of peace.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Feist on Colbert

Did anyone else catch Feist being interviewed by Colbert? I love that red tie and the vest by the way. :)

Updated: For Chris, here's the Colbert interview, in case you can't find anyone who Tivo-ed it.

Here's Feist performing "I Feel It All" on acoustic.

I heart.

Sex and the City Movie

I will admit it: Sex and the City was one of my guilty pleasures. The writers and producers created four distinct and beautiful women, all likeable in their own ways. Personally I like Miranda -- not just because she is a red-head. She is also probably the most intelligent of the group, the one with the cynical humour. It also helps that one of my friend insisted that watching Miranda on Sex and the City reminded her of me.

My friend Ted prefers Samantha, because: "She fucks like a man!"

What was amazing about Sex and the City was how it made you noticed the women, their styling, their fashion. Well, it made me take note of how the four women were styled so distinctly from each other. I can't remember any other TV series that made me notice fashion styling.

I'm not ashame to admit I want to watch this movie.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ex-Classmates Meet-Up Tonight ... Some Thoughts, Some Good News

Dinner with the ex-classmates went pretty well. The place we originally arranged to have dinner actually closed down. So, we made contingency plans on the spot and stuck with them. We are not good planners but we are good at spontaneity. Maybe it's better when we are not allowed sufficient time to waver and second guess.

Notes to Self: Next meet-up, we do it last minute. No planning. Do not allow anyone to change their mind.

We moved on to coffee after dinner. Ted left soon after -- not before we talked about the next meet-up: which is supposed to be at Ted's new home. He moved into a snazzy new pad last year but the man absolutely refuses to invite us to his place. It's like we are vampires. But finally, the man relents, so coming June, we're going over to Ted's Place for "Movie Night."

After Ted left, we started talking about Ted, and how he was suddenly willing to invite us to his place. We wondered if it was because he was finally at ease enough with his homosexuality -- and with us -- to allow us into his private space. While Ted had not denied outright that he was gay, he had been evasive. Once, at a friend's wedding, Ted was so drunk, Cindy decided to ask him directly if he was gay. He replied, "You really want to know?"

Everytime we meet up, The Lawyer would try to rattle Ted with gay innuendos. Some are funny, but sometimes they can also be pretty below the belt. Ted had always dodged the verbal attacks with his wits and good cheer -- but I suspect even he has his limits. Maybe that is why Ted limits the time he spends with us -- so that he would never have to be too emotionally invested in us, in case we prove disappointing. I can't speak for Ted, of course. I just wonder.

After Ted left, we collectively told The Lawyer that his gay cracks at Ted are discriminatory and downright bigoted. You do not call your friend an "ass bandit" and get to laugh it off as a joke. It is not funny. Just because Ted chooses not to acknowledge these derogatory remarks, doesn't mean it's permitted.

"The minorities have no right!" The Lawyer insisted. Oh, and he just happened to be pointing at our Muslim friend, Nabs, when he said that. The Lawyer is a real charmer, oh yes. In less than 3 seconds, he manages to insult both the gay man and the Muslim man in the group. At least The Lawyer had the decency to look sheepish for a few seconds. He pointed at me instead -- the vegetarian -- as an example of a minority that has no rights.

So, it's okay to insult the Salad-Eaters now?

I know I'm not making The Lawyer look good in this post. In his defense, I have to point out that he is a good friend, the loyal, steadfast sort who will drive down to a neighbouring country to bail a friend out. He has never failed to help a friend in need. He is capable of immense compassion, especially with children. He is all sound and fury, but he has never really laid a hand on people. He is a good man at heart. He just has all these issues.

I'm trying to reconcile these mixed feelings: I know The Lawyer, and I love him like my brother -- but I hate it that he behaves like a bigoted, racist, homophobic asshole. I also know, if I am ever in any serious trouble, he is one of the first people I will turn to.

It would be easy to dislike The Lawyer for all his very obvious flaws -- but I can't overlook all his goodness and kindness, so evident to me through the years I have known him. That would not be fair. He is the sum of all his parts. You have to take him as he is.

We talked a little more about Ted, and his taciturn about his love life. I reminded our friends that in Singapore, sex between men is still illegal. So if Ted wishes to stay in the closet, he's just being prudent. We all know about Ted, but we have all openly acknowledged our acceptance of Ted as who he is. If he still feels uncomfortable coming out to us, perhaps the only thing we can do as friends, is to just respect his privacy.

Somewhere along the way, the conversation drifted to children. That so many of our friends have children. Then I was asked if I wanted children. I have to confess, I don't feel any powerful maternal instinct in me.

Then we asked Alice and Wilkie if they wanted children. Alice just off-handedly remarked they are expecting their first baby this December. It took us a while before we caught on: Alice is 2 months pregnant.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Walking the Talk

For those who read the Rebecca Solnit essay, "Men Who Who Explain Things", I would like to point you to this post, by gartenfische. It is her response to Solnit's essay, with a personal story of how she came to be told one day, by the people at her workplace, that she was an unreliable witness to her own work performance, and her own worth. They tried to short-change her, and then worked to discredit her.

What was admirable was how she challenged this unfairness -- in spite of the great strain on her and her family. I wondered if I would have the courage and mental endurance to do what she did?

Virtues like moral courage are taught by example, not by mere preaching. For what it is worth, I think her daughter has a great example to learn from.