They formed a small group: one screaming voodoo with the back of his head unzipped, one gentleman wearing his black felt hat and swinging his walking cane while "singing in the rain", a two-head monster limping in a large furry coat, a pirate girl, her wild and exotic beauty enhanced by her tattered clothes and her unkempt tresses, a true disorderly band seeking to exchange tricks for some worldly treats.
They charged down the street in exhilaration, following the retreating bright moon westward, knocking on all the doors with a welcoming porch light. But the light was a long ago convention that had long been abandoned by this dead town. Behind each door is only darkness and silence. The souls that inhabit these houses are not accustomed to the idea of strangers knocking at their door in the dead of night. The spirits that dwell in these well-guarded houses are mistrusted and solemn, estranged from the wanton spirits roaming outside under the bright moonlight.
The small rattag group persisted on walking up the small steps from the dark street to the lighted porch, keeping the tradition alive, hopeful to find a friendly face with some treats to offer- a mere token exchange but a pact renewed to brighten up each dark corner of the world with a halo of trust, of innocence, of fellowship.
It was a rather lonely walk for the small group, which despair for treats had insisted on prolonging their hollow strikes a little further. The moon had given up its travel, retiring desolately behind a starless dome. But the little pirate girl dragged on, ringing each doorbell with a renewed hope; and when a human face shone in the opening of a door, she smiled largely to show it her grinning fangs, all the while reaching into the bowl of treats to fill her white bag with the sweetness of childhood.
When the group returned, they pooled together all the treats they collected on that lonesome walk: a high pile of bounties, a reflection of the human spirit, a pact renewed and hope in better tomorrow resurfaced.
The Halloween parade dragged on endlessly, from one schoolyard to another, passing scores of parents, some with their camera clicking non-stop, others following the procession through their video recorder screen. The kids' smiles were frozen on their impassive face, faces that resembled more to masks, masks that no longer attracted any attention.
The initial fun to be someone else, someone glamorous either by their beauty, or their deed, or their ugliness, or their meanness, that fun, was no longer there, dragging on too long until it became an endurance contest. For some time now the kids wanted to get rid of their artificial smiles, to take off their costumes and masks, to return to their foursquare and jump ropes, and wall balls, and tether balls.
Tigger lurked in and out of the lines of kids and "Boo" them. Inside Tigger was the PE teacher. He did not notice the boredom on the kids' faces. He was having so much fun pounding and bouncing, feeling himself again a little kid.
When he landed in front of Snow White for a third time, and "boo" her louder than the last two times, Snow White no longer flashed her smile back to encourage his playfulness, but "Boohoo" aloud. Soon, the whole procession of kindergartners were "boohooing" all the way back to their classroom, with Tigger trailing behind, his tail in his hand, stupefied and puzzled.
Long ago, the nights after the fall harvest were dreadfully boring. All the field works in the farm were completed, and the tools were washed, shined and put away. The farmers retired early to their bed, blew out their candles, and let their fire died early in the wood stove. The whole village was silent, dark, and cold. Not a soul stirred.
The children were also in bed, bundled tightly into their blanket. But their eyes were wide open, fastening onto the various dark forms in their bedroom, following the slight fluttering and rustling of the white lace curtain, horror stricken. They could not sleep, and dared not to move out of the safety of their cocoon. Only their imagination took flight and escaped.
In one such night, a boy decided to hold on tight to his fantasy and flew with it out of his window, snagging the whole length of the white muslin with him, which dangled over his shoulder like a cape and transformed him into a sort of ghost-like figure. Once freed from the confinement of his dark bedroom and its various dark forms, he was also delivered from the grasp of his unnamed fear.
Passing each quiet house in the village, the boy thought of stopping by the bedroom window of all his friends, and calling them out to join him in his fantastical flight.
At first, the children refused to leave the cocoon of their safety. They admired the boy's ghostly look, but could not decide to follow him into the unknown darkness, until the boy dared them: "If you only ring the bell of your neighbor's house and say hello to whoever comes out, I'll let you have all the candies that I've got."
One by one, the children joined the flying boy to their neighbor's house to win the dare. At each new house, they told their friend: " Who says hello win."
Over the years, the one night dare became a yearly tradition called Halloween. The boy who had started the dare was now an old spirit, free and fearless.
¶ 11:16 PM0 Comments
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Trick Comes A-knocking at Your Door
"They'll come in mob," described the cousins who were here before us,
"They'll rattle your doorknob, and demand to come in,
They'll say trick, and will ask for treats,
or they'll tear down your house, and all your little chin chin."
So on our first Halloween night in the United States
Our fear was so great of this terrible fete,
We shut down all the house lights, and hunkered down, mute
and our anxiety mounted as the hours turned late.
Then we heard them mob, coming down the street,
the sound of footsteps that we feared to meet,
the sound of laughter reminded us the tricks
so we kept still, stiller than our shadows, watching them in sheets.
Those little goblins, mingled with princesses
Only little children, door to door progress
the incessant barks transferred from house to house
Confused us, tricked us in such fearful mess.
¶ 10:38 PM0 Comments
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
He is like the rest of the people in that auditorium, until he places his violin on his left shoulder, like Atlas, but more graceful in the way he carries the whole world, tilting his head to reveal the curve of his proud chin.
He inhales slightly, like taking in the breath of God. In that instant, he becomes one with his four strings. With some horsehairs and a hollow piece of wood, he makes them sing, weep, laugh.
The world ceases to be a burden to carry, but a prize. The world wakes and dances with him, twirling round, absorbed in the lyrical magic, unsubstantial yet powerful enough to vibrate all its constituents.
The old men lift their droopy chin and look up alert.
The old women push aside their walking chair.
The old couples reach out their hands for each other.
The violinist no longer sees. He is the music. He becomes one with the waves of sound crashing towards the shore of happiness and mutual understanding.
At 6 P.M., Mary clocked out and took off her white coat. She hurriedly stuffed it into her large tote, amidst loose papers with various notes scribbled in jargon and shorthand, a paperback novel bearing the public library stamp for a due date which had passed, pens and lipsticks jumbled together in a tangle of dental floss that had fallen out of its holding spoke. She pulled out her bundle of keys, located the tiny remote control of her Camry, then headed out of the pharmacy low swing door, passing the three technicians busily engaged with the waiting customers, passing the three or four customers patiently waiting in line to pick up their prescriptions.
In Aisle 6, Mary was finally alone. Her head barely reached the fourth shelf of the over-the-counter medicines. In Aisle 7, she began to breathe easily, her eyes scanning the bandage boxes without seeing them. She reached Aisle 8 when her cell phone rang. Her son called to remind her that the seventh-grade parent conference was scheduled at seven in the evening that night, in room 10. The young cashier at the last check out lane had a pile of Halloween candy assortments on her conveyor belt and did not notice that Mary said goodbye to her.
She was somewhat glad for not having to engage in a lengthy conversation. Outside, the parking lot lights were already on. She braced herself at the thought of driving home in the dusk, and slightly missed the departed summer. She opened the car door and threw her heavy bag onto the passenger seat. The bag landed upside down on the car floor.
"Oh no," Mary ejaculated with irritation, but she had no time for self-recrimination. She adjusted her rear-view mirror quickly from its last position this morning, when she had twisted it downward to apply her makeup. Then she turned on the ignition, ready to fulfill her responsibility at her son's school as a conscientious parent.
The car cackled, but the engine did not catch on.
"Come on," urged Mary, pumping the gas pedal.
The car coughed louder, as if to clear its throat before starting to speak, but its hiccup again died, leaving Mary in desperation, on the verge of tears.
"Trouble?" She startled when the clerk asked loudly from afar. She looked up to recognize that it was only Morris, the newest pharmacy tech, who has yet to earn his reputation as a capable member of the pharmacy staff.
"Do you have a jumping cable?" Mary asked out of desperation, without much hope in Morris' ability to help anyone. He can hardly sweep the floor clean at work, so clumsy, so inexperienced.
"You mean a jumper cable?" The voice reached Mary again, but much closer. Morris was already by her door side, poking his head in.
"Something to start the car, that's what I need." Mary was irritated at Morris for not understanding her quicker in this critical moment.
"I have one jumper cable, but not long enough. Your car is stuck in between two cars, I need to be able to reach you. Wait here, I'll go inside to borrow another set."
Mary dialed her cell phone: "Hello, Vincent? You need to come start the car. It's dead. And hurry."
Her husband retorted: "What do you mean hurry, can you not find help from where you are? You just need to jump it. Use a cable."
Mary was furious, furious and exasperated: "I don't have a cable, remember? Last time you said it was too expensive to buy to just sit it in the car."
"So you don't have one. Then go ask someone to jump it. Stop acting like a princess. Go ask someone. I'd come to help, but it's silly for me to drive half an hour to come there when you could have asked someone to do it in five minute."
Mary was about to explode into her cell, when she sighted Morris coming towards her with a cable.
"Go to hell," She snarled into her cell, and slammed it shut.
"I found one in Mike's car. Let me move my car closer first. You just sit there to keep warm. No need to come out."
It took less than five minutes for Morris to move his car and hook up the cable. He switched on his engine, and hollered over the engine sound to Mary: "Start your car."
When they said goodbye, Mary almost cried from relief and self-pity. Morris simply said: "You need a new battery. Bring it back to the same store you bought it from, and they will either recharge for you or exchange a new one for you. It should be free, you are still under guarantee. OK? Now drive home safely, and I'll see you tomorrow. Bye, Mary. And remember, it's a jumper cable, not jumping cable."
¶ 11:30 PM0 Comments
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The Headstones that Beg "Vote for Me"
The headstones are quickly erected an October night, crowding the small empty plots at several major intersections of the little town. They are crude and cheaply cut out of thick cardboard, on which a colored name is simply printed on a plain background. In the fall nights, they are a sinister reminder of a fierce battle for the town council seats and for school board nomination.
There are no dead bodies underneath the simple paper tombstones. The names printed there on the makeshift headstones are the names of live people, ambitious townsfolk with a political flair and an inclination for public exposure, a desire to run the town show according to ... not Garp, but a minority group with special interest, perhaps adherent to certain principles, maybe for want of reform.
Anyway, now the town is full of graves with "Vote for" inscription. The ghosts of the past return to visit too, reminding the people that they had failed to secure the town from the invasion of commercialism, that their distraction over the years was the the reason why the cow pastures were traded for a behemoth sport stadium, and that due to their antipathy to the town cause, a new landfill now is commissioned to cut its grand opening ribbon in between two elementary schools, blocking the pristine horizon, slashing the property values, condemning the future generations to a lifetime of congested traffics, noise and air pollutions, not to mention the double-digit crime rate.
By November 2nd, there will be a mass burial, although the city cleaning crew would be out to erase the evidence of all the headstones. Depending on the outcome and wisdom of the town voters, there would be among the buried: the lost visions of a few brave town officials, or the corpse of a wasteful budget, the salaries of more school teacher, or the last land massacre contract.
Even on the rough outline, James, the protagonist's husband, is to die. That's the way to end their love story, to end it realistically, logistically.
He is painted a real villain, no doubt about it. There is no ambiguity about his character: selfish, misogynistic, heartless, etc. He serves as the background of her ruinous life, from which she would rise, like a lotus above the muddy swamp, without bitterness, without being revengeful, without losing her eternal love for James.
But the story takes its time, like life, to evolve. It takes its time, to depict the characters in all details, to reveal who they are, what they think, how they respond to each situation life brings them. Their universal truth touches the reader only after the characters mature, reflect, look backward.
By then, James has carved his space into the story's heart, becomes somewhat indispensable, although a villain. Only through his cruelty that the protagonist realizes herself, promotes herself, redeems.
So when the protagonist has no other logical choice to make the story realistic than to end her husband's life, not by killing him, but by leaving him to move on with her own life, detaching herself from the background of his villainous life, she inadvertently ends her own, killing herself, ceasing to be solely because the ending turmoils of her life has rendered her normal, typical, uninteresting.
Therefore, when the protagonist leaves her husband, ending his presence in the story, it ends. Like all love story, it ends when love dies.
¶ 11:35 PM0 Comments
Friday, October 23, 2009
I'm the Kitchen God
In the Asian culture, I'm part of the family, a gentle God, loved and respected. Once a year, I departed briefly for Heaven to deliver to the higher gods our State of the Family Address, written in a red scroll.
I'm all steel, with a heart of fire. I was not given a first name, but my lineage dated all the way back to the beginning of the Industrial Age, after a new mode of energy transfer was discovered, transmitted through insulated copper wires.
I served this house for over twenty-five years, a considerable longevity enjoyed only by my generation, but considered unprofitable by my maker. My sturdy innards and simple assembly kept me functioning past my expected years, with only a few minor problems. But my end is near. Of my four coil stoves, only two still function, at times intermittently.
Until I can no longer serve, I am this family's noble Kitchen God, with a heart of fire. I am not to be rushed, but to be kindled gently, nursed patiently, tended with understanding and forgiveness.
I am the Fire of your hearth, the love of your heart, the heart of your hearth.
¶ 11:56 PM0 Comments
Thursday, October 22, 2009
She likes the sound of it, but hesitates still. She knows her baby is coming; its head is now much lower, protruding into her pelvic bone and causing much discomfort. But still she hesitates.
She turns her thought many times over inside her head like choosing a head of pumpkin at the Fall Fair: feeling its weight, judging its size, imagining it as a Jack-O-Lantern with its skull well defined by her husband's knife; but as soon as her decision was made, and as she was about to pay for her pumpkin, she again put it back down on the muddy farm field, again indecisive of her choice.
It has taken her almost nine months to pick out a name for her baby, a girl. She loves to call it Shanti, Sanskrit for Peace, Inner Peace. But a name is more than a word for calling a person. It grows with the person and defines her. Shanti will not be an easy weight to carry around. It will easily turn into a burden. She vacillates at the last minute, before being wheeled into the delivery room.
Now, as she looks at the baby's dark hair, counting her ten fingers and caressing her ten pink toes, she no longer fears, for Shanti is sleeping peacefully in her arms, not yet seeking her nipples, but warm and tiny, needing her protection, wanting her care, crying for her devotion.
"Shanti," She calls softly, liking its effect on her tongue, in her mind.
This two-lane winding road, tucked out of the way in between a freeway connecting Los Angeles and Orange Counties and a stretch of low hills, is all that remains of a canyon called Tonner. A big gape in one of the hills faces the fast-flowing 57 freeway is the closest resemblance to the deep gorge that it once was, but no longer is, tamed by erosion, road constructions, and real estate development.
We often take this Tonner Canyon Road to avoid the rush hour traffic that backs up at the interchange between 57 going north and 60 going east. The exit curves a full 360-degree rounding the base of a hill to prepare the commuters of a sudden change of scenery, where after a stop sign, the car re-emerges flanked by a high bank of dirt and the hills with grazing cows.
At night, the dark road seems lost in wilderness, in a time when Ichabod still galloped madly pursuing by the headless horseman. As soon as one's thought is filled with fearful anticipation, the car headlights pierce the eerie night to reveal one white cross, then another, then another, in successive apparitions.
It takes a lifetime
to fill in the blanks
to connect the dots
to figure it out
Be who one wants be
Refuse, firm and flat
Accept, no matter what
Realize life, a reflection merely.
It takes one second
to erase the slate
to rupture the link
to void one's entire fate.
to cease being whole
Again, dumb and mute.
Helpless, with no role
to fulfill, unsuited.
A lifetime reversed.
What good is it now?
The synapses that zigzag and crisscross
are tangled and mangled
The spirit imprisoned and incapacitated,
does not manifest its agitation
to demand restitution.
The younger boy follows behind her little brother, hands outstretched, rope walking the one-foot block wall. The mother follows behind, on the sidewalk, keeping an eye on both boys. The one in front puts one foot after the other confidently, with ease. Soon, the distance between the two daredevils increases considerably, although the leader is too absorbed in following his imaginary tight wire to notice. But the one lagging behind begins to whimper, and seeing his brother getting too far ahead of him, suddenly loses his confidence and begins to whopper. He calls out finally, his voice trembling: "Hey, wait for me." His mother hastens her steps towards her trembling son, as he extends his little right hand to her, urging: "Takes my hand." Now, it is the mother's turn to call out to the one totting in front: "John, wait up."
Walking behind the trio, the spectator's mind fast forwards the captured scene, to a future time. She sees the trio, now at a different walk of life. On a different type of wall, the brothers, now much older, still follow each other. The bolder one still launches on towards higher and steeper summits, racing after all the promises: money, women, status. His more cautious brother still looks carefully before taking each next step, his calmer face looking up to check the progress of his brother, to urge him firmly: "Slow down, John. You are risking it. Come back, it's not worth your life, John."
From beyond the earthly scene, the mother, now invisible to both her sons, witnesses the rope-walkers silently, tenderly, but sadly, her extended arms outstretched, yet powerless.
¶ 10:36 PM0 Comments
Sunday, October 18, 2009
The Subtle Passage of Time
Not only that the birds still linger around in great number, but their morning ruckus is getting louder in the chilly mornings. The prolonged darkness of an autumn morning contradicts with the happy chirps and fleeting movements among the foliage, a tug-of-war between what should take place in the timely order of nature and what is. He looks out often in great concern for the winged creatures, fearing that El Niño has fouled their inner clock. Fly south, it's time, he urges silently. As if answering him, a light-green leaf shakes off the clinging finger of its mother and flutters slowly down, scooped up by the lawn- a shade lighter, fragile and small, but detached and resolute.
¶ 10:38 PM0 Comments
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Other Calls it Football
The same intensity is on their faces, body hunched forward in ready position, feet pumping the ground to cover the distance that separates them from the ball, swirling, kicking, marking, and passing.
They start out on a semi-circle, two teams facing each other with disdain, eager to steal from each other, intent on bringing home victory. A long and shrill whistle starts the first quarter. A tiny kick, the ball rolls from one foot to the next, and that is all it takes. The air is instantly electrified. From the sidelines, the roars and shouts rise in the air with each movement of the ball. "Cut her off, it's yours, bring it back, no ,no, not in the middle, kick it out, out ..." In the field, the players' face flushes crimson, floods with their own salty sweat. Their eyes focus on the rolling object, while their feet follow it. The players work in unison, the dribbler moves swiftly towards the opposite goal with the ball in between her feet, dodging the pursuing defenders, while her team mate escorts her at arm length, ready to take over. Together, the team labors to score. "Now, shoot!" Shouts the coach to his offense lead. "Oh!" The crowd laments as the ball misses the goal by a hair. At the most crucial point, when the penalty goal kick is being arranged, the whistle blows sharply, signaling the end of the first quarter. The whole world calls it a football game, but here, we are simply playing soccer.
Tonight I'm thinking of a young man named N. and his family, grieving. I am not sure whether to mention his name, to preserve his privacy. Does one still care about one's privacy in this world once departed from it? Because, today, is N.'s last day on earth. His last blog was dated October 5, 2009, in which he promised to return and tell us about the details of his recent trip to India to seek spiritual guidance, help, and perhaps, to visit the place where his parents were born for the last time.
Where are you now, N., free from all suffering, free from your torturous body, free from the pain to be the center of the unspeakable agony of your parents, yet not knowing how to relieve them from it, but to continue being their valiant fighter until the end, when the last option is in God's hand?
What you have set out to achieve you have succeeded: to spread the message of hope, hope until the last minute; the message of sacrifice, give until there is nothing left to give as your parents had done in twenty four years; the message of self-discovery, ponder and examine one's motives and capabilities until one's soul finally takes wings and soars.
We pray for your loved ones tonight, that their memory of you will keep them moving forward, so that they continue their journey of hope, sacrifice, and self-discovery, until your reunification in a lasting world.
When we meet again, we will want to hear about your trip to India.
It's a sign to see her coming out of school, pulling her L.L. Bean backpack on one hand, the other still busily digging into her lunch box for some left over snack. The tiny pony tail that I had painstakingly gathered on the back of her head this morning was gone, leaving a wavy puff of messy turf. She found the half eaten fruit leather, and while chewing on it pleasurably, chatted excitedly to me: "Mom, it's so cool. Amy's teacher let us feed her snake a mouse. You've got to see it to believe it."
As soon as she entered the house, she ran to the telephone and took the cordless receiver off its base: "Nat, I'm home. Meet me at the wall." She threw the receiver onto the bookshelf, and proceeded towards the refrigerator, shouting: "Mom, I'm going outside." I picked up the receiver while she pulled the jug of milk out of the fridge. "Mom, can you pour me a cup, no, make it half a cup, I'm in a hurry. Nat's waiting." I was still pouring the cold white milk into the porcelain cup, the pink flowery one that she preferred, when she returned changed into a tiny short, which was too short to wear for school, but was her favorite one. She threw open the pantry door, investigated the interior half a second, and decided on the Joe Joe's chocolate cream cookie. She took the cup of milk from my hand, and with one cookie in her mouth, another in her hand, she hurried towards the patio door to the backyard. She struggled there like Bob, the Bob in "Hi, my name is Bob and I work for the button factory..." when I stepped up to pull the door open for her. Out she flew, like a whirlwind, almost spilling the cup of milk.
¶ 11:12 PM0 Comments
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I Have Blue Cross
Eight months ago, the optometrist wrote our son's pediatrician a letter, recommending that he be referred to an eye specialist for a condition called exotropia, a weakness in the eye muscle that causes intermittent double vision.
Six months ago, we went to see a pediatric ophthalmologist, who confirmed the diagnosis. He mentioned a probable eye surgery, a minor outpatient procedure, during which the surgeon physically pulls and tugs at the weak muscle to correct it, a minor tweak kind of, with the fully conscious patient telling the surgeon what his eyes see until he sees right. "It feels only like a slight pinch," winked the amiable doc as he turned to my wild-eyed son. "I know what you think, you think who wants to be pinched in the eyes. But, really, it's not a big deal."
Three weeks ago, as the six-month follow up neared, I called the ophthalmologist office to find out the exact date to bring my son back. "Oh, that doctor is no longer with us," said a receptionist, "I'll have to schedule your son with Dr Takana, at another location within the group." I was baffled, disappointed to find out that the kind doctor we like was no longer with us. The receptionist did not offer any further explanation, and I did not ask. I remembered the doctor had taken an unusual long time to talk to us, speaking mostly to his little patient, explaining him his eye condition, easing his anxiety, and mine. He noticed my son's book in his hand, some fantasy novel by Funke, or one from the Artemis Fowl Series, and tapped him gently on his shoulder like a long-lost friend, confiding: "Keep reading, young man! That's what has saved my life and gave me an education. I used to read and read. But after Med School, I no longer have any time for books. That's how I became a doctor, and dumb." I remembered I had told myself, next visit I'd bring him something to thank him for taking his time with us. But as I received the news that he had left the Medical Group, I did not share my thought to the receptionist, who was cold and courteous, and spoke rather like a robot: "You will have to go to our Pasadena office. Please write down the address. Goodbye."
Two hours prior to the appointment, I remembered that I had saved a copy of the initial referral letter, and thought of verifying the new office address, which was listed there as one of the satellite office. Only then, that I realized, the doctor that the receptionist had scheduled my son with, was not an ophthalmologist, but an optometrist. We have waited seven months for this check up. I called up the office to inquire about the mix-up. The receptionist was professionally annoyed: "Mam, all patients from Dr . ____ were switched to Dr. Takana. You are the first one to complain."
"My son was recommended by an OD to go see a MD. And you are telling me you don't see why I am hyped up when he's switched from his MD to see an OD, without even informing me? Do you know that an OD is not qualified to provide him the care he needs, a surgery, per example?"
"Mam, I'll cancel your son appointment today since you don't want to see the doctor."
A minute after I hung up the phone with the Medical Group, I called Blue Cross. I told the customer service guy my dilemma, and asked him where was my son's doctor, what happened to him (Did he kill someone and got suspended, I thought), was he still with Blue Cross, etc. Yes, he is still with Blue Cross, (I exhaled, I know he's a good doc.)but with another group.
"So how can my son see him?"
"Well, you need to first switch group."
"Does that mean we'll lose our current pediatrician?"
"Basically, yes. And by the way, its location is too far from where you are, Mam. It's almost impossible for you to go there."
"That's all Blue Cross can advise me? Where is my patient's right? Don't you guy have to let the patient know that his doctor is no longer seeing him, and the doctor that is seeing him is not equally qualified? Don't I have the right to that important information concerning my son's care?"
"Mam, all you can do is to go back to your son's pediatrician and request another referral, if you don't want to see the doctor they assign you now. I wish you a good day, Mam. Goodbye."
As a Catholic, I used to look at the cross with reverence, and associate with it, a trust, a love, an unquestioned faith to its healing power. But after I hung up the phone, another image conjured: a dying man, blue from suffocation, hanging on the cross, nailed there by an indifferent network, which markets itself as Blue Cross. I hear its jeer: "It's Blue Cross, don't you get it? Blue Cross."
¶ 11:26 PM0 Comments
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
"Je Sentis Avant de Penser "
"I feel before I think," wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Confessions, as if the words were painfully scribed for me, his confidant and great soul mate, across the span of time. Hanging on each and every descriptions of Rousseau's inner world like a kite riding on a summer wind, I drank thirstily the wine of Truth. With such simplicity he had spoken, revealing in all honesty the many dark corners of his soul, thinking aloud the passages of his reflections.
"You had spoken what I dared not to admit," I conversed privately with him, as if he was sitting with me, patiently awaiting my participation, receptive of my objection, discreetly happy at my acceptance of his Truth.
"Mr. Rousseau, you don't know how relieved I am to hear your acknowledgment of this, this innate quality of human feeling which precedes reason, which is natural, which is good to preserve." I almost reached out to hug him, so strong was his presence near me through his words.
Many times, I have relied on my intuitions to arrive at many important decisions, or to draw certain conclusions regarding so and so, or to react certain way to such and such events. I could never explain the reasons behind these intuitions, which were simply irrational and arbitrary, yet seldom aberrant. I had no explanations to defend my position, although I strongly believe in it, until reading Rousseau. Of course, "I feel before I think", that was the vibes behind my voice of reason, the chords that vibrate my thought. I had only listened to my primordial self, the core of my being, the God of my soul.
If "I think, therefore I am," then Mr. Rousseau, I dare to utter after your suggestion: "I feel, therefore I think. Will you, Mr. Rousseau, accompany me to my husband, the next time he argues with my "unfounded behaviors", and teach him how to feel, to get back to the time when he was a little soul following the fleeting sun rays with interest, feeling a deep happiness yet not knowing what that ray of warmth was, where it came from, why it had come to him?"
¶ 10:48 PM0 Comments
Monday, October 12, 2009
The Lasting Peace
Day after day, each animal wakes up to wage a battle.
In my little kingdom bordered by three neighbors and a residential street, the first siren blares at 4:45 in the morning. Stirred but not yet aroused, my husband fought hard to get out of the warm bed. The enemies are already lined up for him. Each time he attempts to raise his head up, the pull of gravity yanks it back down on the soft pillow. Before he can open the garage, he knows he has to lure the dog inside, not with negotiations, but with some coercions and dirty tricks. As he merges onto the 57 Freeway heading south, his blood pressure shots up; he alternates his right foot between the gas and brake pedals, fighting the slow moving traffic.
Back at home, my private battles are not less intense. My high schooler, indifferent to the range of live ammunition I aim at him every few minutes, stays buried under a pile of blankets and refuses to get out of bed for the much-needed shower. I would not back down and continue to attack his seemingly dead body: sprinkling water on his face through his breathing hole, flipping on the light, and bellowing like a cow engorged with milk. I am, each morning, a general without a single follower. My war is the war of the wills in which the opposing sides exert his mental power to wage, "One shall" and counter-wage, "One shall not."
Even the lowly dog carries his tail like a high-flying flag and demands each day to be given his fair share of food and entertainment.
Day after day, the community of animals reconvenes at the end of a fighting day for some rest; a temporary truce only for the opposing parties to re-energize, recuperate, re-strategize. Then the cycle begins anew.
The lasting peace will only come when the animals cease to be living organisms. Even then, the law of entropy will still govern to promote chaos, perpetuating the frenetic dance of atoms.
The real Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to each valiant fighter, who contents not with Peace, but with Progress: to cohabit without infringing, to promote without depriving, to profit without defrauding, to defend without killing. The real Nobel Prize for Peace should be awarded to each individual who agrees to take only a piece from the universal cake, just enough to keep his private battles going, no more, no less.
At the outdoor party, in a private park looking out to a part of the Pacific Ocean called Crystal Cove Reef Point, amidst the crowd all dressing like the characters in Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby", Sue suddenly misses the presence of her mother and her "non-nonsense" estimation of people.
Aiming her Nikon camera at the party goers, using it deliberately as a sort of official spyglass, Sue zooms in an elegant female figure, clad in a tight white crepe pant that delineate the bouncy curvature of her buttock like which of a great show horse on parade, above which the tan and tight belly shows, veiled only by some white illusion of a voile. Mounted on this strong and firm support,as creamy and lean as the trunk of an acacia, is a pair of marvelous globes carefully carved and cured like the domes of some great temples in the Far East.
"What would she say of these dazzling bosoms?" Thought Sue, trying hard to rekindle the memory of her late mother, her tone of voice when she judged, her piercing eyes observing, above her sagging pair of glasses, the object of her criticism.
"Those are fake," she remembered her saying privately, when her brother Daniel had brought home her first sweetheart, to present the family.
"Those?" had asked Sue, softly but amazingly, indicating with her gaze the pair of shiny black heels, which dangled from a dainty feet at an angle that showed Nine West, engraved in the bottom of the leather shoe.
"No, those." Her mother's head shook lightly, and the direction of her sharp eyes pointed straight to the elevated curves of its bearer.
"Mom!" The heat returns on Sue's face as if twenty years had reversed and she is still sitting conversing through mute communication with her mother, expressing their opinions of this, and that, sharing gossips of those and the others.
"I wish she can tell me about the nonsense of all this," Sue's camera clicks, her lens refocusing on another scene, "which is real, the happiness on those makeup faces, or the tears that many of them hold inside their heart, desperate to see their youth slowly evaporating, and the glitter soon would dull with the dust of time. What will be left when all this, and that, are gone?"
¶ 10:03 PM0 Comments
Saturday, October 10, 2009
A car is a car is a car
... until someone mentions Acura. Now, it's no longer a car, but a vision. More than a hallucination, it beckons. More than an imagination, its tenacious clasp fastens on that part of my memory where reside image, sensation, drive, longing, dream, notions of beauty, of time, of shape, of movement. Overnight, I became its torturous prisoner. I fidget a pen, intending on my homework. Instead, the ice-cool metallic feeling ignites another driving horse, one which eyes gleam as two beams in the dark avenues, advances not on hoofs but on gliders, its contact with the asphalt so smooth and effortless it hardly seem moving, the distance it travels only apparent by the speedy winding of the landscape zooming past my eyes. A powerful beast, but an obedient dog to its master. Its will was at my foot, which I press merciless as an insect in the path of falling log.
A car is a car is a car, until I test-drove an Acura. Then I am an accursed son of man, until the day I bring home The Acura. Only then I would be a cured (ah!) boy.
¶ 10:21 PM0 Comments
Friday, October 9, 2009
Ah! The moan of a Dog being Rubbed
... at the place where his itch is crawling with madness
There, no there, higher, to the left, right, oh...
Dig your fingers in, and scrape, scratch, scroll down
down. Rapt at it, run your digits through, Wow...
There, right there. Do hurry, what do you mean, not found?
Ah! How like the manners of a man being enraptured
There. Where his itch screaming with madness
Ah, like a ball of wool being gathered
gently and slowly, under the deft fingers rolling and rallying
tracing, circling, pinpointing the source of an intense sensation,
His nerves on fire. Argh...
There, almost. Not exactly, yes, yes, keep scrubbing
It's gone. No, it's there, to the left
tiptoeing like a thief. Nail it?
My mother-in-law was one of those women who thought a trip to the grocery store a pleasurable outing, similar to a visit to the mall. It would be simpler for me to ignore her longing. It would be much less trouble to swing by the store after work for a quick replenishment -five types of vegetable, including a bag of yellow onions, sometimes red, sometimes white; and fruits covering at least five colors, just to obtain the right amount and combination of the needed antioxidants - to reverse the damage caused by our smoke-inhaling, microwave-cooking, car-moving lifestyle.
It would save me some time, if I could bear to meet the old lady at the door, with the evidence of my escapade without her. Locked up inside the quiet house, she has been skillfully shuffling her time between the kitchen, the TV, the toddler, and the telephone for a whole, long day. The American urban life bored her, who, from the third floor of her apartment, each morning, used to shake her “chudder,” - Gujarati for the individual cotton sleeping mat, to the street market below. My father-in-law considered that street his private dumpster, and never hesitated to empty his half cup of water through it, to save himself a few steps to the kitchen sink. By the time my father in-law stepped down to shop for the day’s grocery, the lady next door had poked her head through the front door and inquired: “What are you cooking today, Ben Amada?”
Below is a world milling, where half a million Bombayans jostling shoulder to shoulder from stall to stall, skipping over open gutters, stepping over debris, dashing across traffic. No one had the time, or the mind, to look up. Trash from above was blamed on a bad day. Misfortune tossed down from Heaven was fated by bad karma. One shared one’s bad day and bad karma above tchai, the Indian tea, sweet, aromatic, blackish. With each hot sip, all bad things were forgotten.
So at the market with my mother in-law, I was not too surprised to hear her satisfactory murmur: “For tea,” while picking up different items,until I saw her fingering a package of cut beef labeled “for stew”, still claiming “for tea”. It was beyond my imagination of Indian culinary arts, so I asked, incredulous: “beef also for tea?” using the simplest English to get her fullest understanding. She smiled broadly, after clacking her loose dentures to snap them back into place: “For tea, today.”
“You’re not kidding.” I gasped.
“For tea. You don’t know?”
I shook my head. Unbelievable. That was the price for entering into a crossed-culture marriage. Your digestive system would, sooner or later, be compromised by strange customs.
“I am not drinking tea with beef, especially on my husband’s fortieth birthday. Please.”
Adjusting her shawl over her polyester Punjabi, my dear momma repeated amusingly, seizing for the first time my incredible misinterpretation of her intention: “Forty. Your husband is forty. Big occasion. I cook good. Not drink beef with tea. Jah, jah.”
They are my "emperor without clothes." I was not aware of their relevance until very recently, and only after a little boy, disguised under the form of a jovial lady editor "in the publishing business since Orange County was still very white, and the presence of an Asian store in the strip mall had brought on outrage and concerns among the city council members." The little boy pointed out in the lady's emphasis tone: "Watch for the word count," making the sentence as unfavorable as the one used by my husband's doctor at his last checkup: "Watch for the cholesterol count."
She continued to dwell into the subject with a considerable pleasure: "Well, fellows, that's all you've got, the number of words. Too much would ruin you, too little would leave your readers unsatisfied. Where to strike the balance between wordiness and exploratory is what differentiate a newbie and a new writer."
Then she launched into the technicalities of "Genre", not the kind that I had learned in my first biology course, memorized by the timeless mnemonic: "Kings Play Chess On Fine Green Sand"
The "Genre" here mentioned, here discussed, here dwelt, defines the type of writing an aspiring author devotes to: fiction versus non-fiction, then fiction-novel, fiction-mystery, fiction-romance, etc., or non-fiction memoir, non-fiction tech, non-fiction cookbook, etc. I am sure if she was not cut short by the meeting moderator due to the constraint in time, she could go on subdividing the writing "Genre" until the "Kingdom comes", not only for the kings who play chess on fine green sand, but for all of us aspiring to publish.
¶ 10:09 PM0 Comments
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
¿Cómo Se Dice...?
There are three girls at the front desks, poised and ready to start their first Spanish lesson. The five boys gather in the back in a semi-circle arrangement, stabbing at each other with their pencils, chuckling: "Uno for you, dos for him, tres for ...'
The numbers are written clearly on the board, in numeral, with the equal sign linking to their equivalence in word. On the wall, left to the board, the Spanish alphabets are arranged in successive order, starting from the yellow pocket display, and trailing like train cars onto the lower edge of the white board.
The Spanish teacher walks in all-smile, with an energetic: "Hola, niños! Buenos dias!"
The children returned her strange greeting in one beat, in a distorted echo: "Hola, niños! Buenos dias!"
She bursts joyfully: "No, no! Yo soy Señora Castella. ¿Cómo está? Bien?"
"Muy bien!" chime the children, as if cued. A boy even ventures to say something different: "Asi, asi!"
"Mas o menos," corrects Señora Castella gently.
The introduction is brief, but engages the whole class. The demure girls loosen their reservation with bolder remarks: "Estoy mal y cansado."
"What's that?" Rob's complaints are answered by the smiling Señora Castella: "Como se dice Tired en Español? Cansado. Yo soy cansada. Miss Brigit es mal, (she draws a little girl's face on the board, with her hands grasping her temples) y cansada. Rob es mal y cansado. ¿Comprende?"
In the back of the class the three mothers are astonished. How did their children get it so instantaneously like that? They haven't spoken any Spanish word up until this morning. One of the mom, petite and timid, raises her hand hesitantly to attract the teacher's attention. At Señora Castella's agreeing nod, she speaks up, eyes sparkling: "Señora Castella. Como se dice Amazing en Español?"
¶ 10:04 PM0 Comments
Monday, October 5, 2009
"The last grain of sand was about to drop in her father's invisible hourglass, ..." She thought somberly on his 87th birthday, as she had feared the year before, knowing that he could not, although he would if he could, go on forever. In his mind, he has not aged enough to let go yet another possibility.
At 72, he took home a woman and secretly bedded with her, and wed her. He found in her a reassuring companionship that he could not find in any of his many children. At night, she warmed his bed, the soft murmuring of her voice lulled him into an easy sleep. She bore some resemblance to his departed wife, her skin fair and her limbs short. She did not mind that he sometimes called her by the name of a ghost that still haunted him.
At 78, he hired a Mexican laborer to bring home a one-gallon size nectarine tree from Home Depot, and ordered a hole in the ground for it. "Make sure you plan it far from the roof, I don't want it leaning onto the house at maturity," He boomed.
At 80, he celebrated his octogenarian with a big party, in which he announced his wish to see all his twenty one grandchildren graduate from the best schools of the country, and become someone important.
As his 87th birthday drew near, she found him irritating for wanting a sofa, of all thing, as his birthday gift.
"Where are you going to put that thing, Dad?" She refused. But he insisted day after day, and said if she wanted to give him a gift, that was what he wished.
"Your brothers sisters need a place to sit when they come to visit me. We can sit and watch TV together," he reasoned. "Anyhow, you don't have to worry about picking it up for me. I already placed the order, and they'll deliver right here on the 20th."
"What's your secret, Dad, for being so optimistic?"
"Not optimistic. I planned it. I picked the color to match this carpet, and make sure they deliver on the day you are home, so you can give them the payment. They want C.O.D."
"No Dad. I mean your life. Don't you feel down sometime? Don't you want to kick off your boots and curse the whole thing off?"
"No, I don't want to go down right now, and I don't want any boots. I want the sofa, and I already bought it."
She looked at him: same face, eyes, mouth. His protuberant belly teetered on his short legs. His shoulders stooped a little. His failed hearing gave him the endearing stubbornness of a little boy. She no longer feared him, but only feared for him. He had no authority over her, but she clung to him for the knowledge of herself, her source, her root, her beginning.
At the last grain of sand, his hourglass would be hers.
To write well, a writer ought to read well. Reading, to one who creates and interprets through the medium of the words, is feeding oneself, in order to to nurture one's creativity, in order to see what one did not yet meet, to expand one's limited experience to include the many worlds of other lives. Reading widely is traveling across the dimensionless time, to return to a place no longer existed, to skip many lifespans and taste the mysterious future where only imagination can touch, to rediscover the bygone days and uncover the years to come. Absorbed in a book, one becomes another being, whether it is a human with similar features and ranges of emotions, or another life form, completely foreign yet now lives inside oneself.
I write, therefore I read. So you read, therefore you will write. Meanwhile, enjoy this book from the masterful writer P. G. Wodehouse.
At ten o'clock tonight... Marta was lost in an old neighborhood choked with cars. Like an old lady still pined for her lost beauty on glaring makeup and inappropriate costume, this neighborhood pimped itself with many remodeled houses, twice as big as the dilapidated original abodes that surrounded them, three times younger, many times vainer with their brand new roll-up garage door, their manicured landscape, their twin entry door, their double paneled, double insulated glass doors and windows, their shiny lights sparkled at different locations, like diamonds on the old lady's shriveled body.
Marta was not lost alone, but accompanied by her faithful Magellan and her two kids; who understood their common dilemma well and kept an absolute silence in the car, when for the third time they heard Magellan's patient and firm voice announcing that, the route they were taking had to be "recalculated" to include their destination.
On the familiar freeway heading home ...finally, Marta had a million dark thoughts coursing in her mind, as if to mirror the passing landscapes, dark and featureless under a moonless sky. How like life was this freeway, Marta noticed for the first time. She was always fearful of driving at night, especially when she had to navigate the unfamiliar terrains, which required a sharper vision she doubted she still possessed. She was just forced to take this drive. As life, it happened upon her. As she drove along, her misgiving subsided, but her thought continued its monologue. She felt abandoned, disconnected, in her solo drive. If anything happened now, I would be the one who deal with it, head on, unaided, on my own strength, like giving birth to a child, like passing under the arch of death. I did not choose this, but I would drive this vehicle to its destination, not as a passenger, but as the driver of my own fate.
Marta checked in her rear view mirror for her two children, too peaceful together to be trusted. No wonder, only one querulous member was up to contemplate mischief, which had no immediate outlet. By herself, Marta knew she could be weakened by this unjustifiable fear of darkness. Many times while driving alone in the dark she had lapsed in terrifying imaginations of getting lost into the high mountains with deep crevices on both sides, onto an uninterrupted stretch of road that kept pointing higher, without any lights or signs for reassurance, when the needle gauging her fuel tank would slowly veer south. Tonight, however, with her two trusty children in the back of the car, she knew she would survive the ordeal, if only to bring them safely home.
Like on a freeway, people could enter her life unannounced, and exit it without signaling ahead of time. She herself could exit life prematurely. Even Magellan's vigilance could not prevent such mistake from occurring. Best she could do is to avoid distractions, while driving the vehicle of her life. Swear, if she must, to relieve some built up tensions, but keep driving, even when the roads are dark and unrecognizable, until she gets home.
Pay attention to the detail is her new mantra as a writer. Years ago, as a Chemical Engineering student, she received similar instructions from her Transfer Series teacher, Dr Ng., worded just a bit different: "Stick to your fundamentals," meaning whatever she does, her calculations need to reflect the principle of conservation of mass and energy. She ponders deeply on this connections between two completely separate fields of study, the New Harmony strikes her as interesting. As the writer pens creatively the description of her new heroine, she remembers to methodically apply the basic elements of a good character development, appreciative for her new knowledge. She sketches her heroine carefully, blending meticulously the physical descriptions of her protagonist to her personality. As she progresses systematically, zooming in her camera to the erotic part of the woman's body, she pauses at the detail: "Her 36C figure arches backward as she proceeds to the next calisthenic exercise. He swallows hard, entranced by her extraordinary beauty which is not for him alone, but available to all, a lily in the field ..." She smiles contently at the turn of her thought, and elbows her fellow writer, another woman in her late forties, who, so absorbed in her own writing exercises, does not notice the tiny jab.
"Do you know the equivalence of 36D in men size ?" She solicits at a higher volume, this time tapping gently on her friend's writing pad.
"I beg your pardon?" The writer shakes off her trance, still bewitched, lost to her friend's practical investigation.
"How do you describe accurately a man... there, his measurement?"
"Well, best I can think of is using his underwear size, 32 as fit, 36 or above as fat, and 42 and beyond for fast-ballooning." Jokes the lady, amused.
"Not that, that's not what I mean. That's too general, the term more apt for the masculine waist line, not précising his, what's the term... cup, perhaps?"
"Be creative and suggestive. That's all I can think of. Just don't overkill it. Don't tell them. Show them. Don't forget that in your hunt for details."
¶ 11:28 AM0 Comments
Mother, Engineer, writer, manager, and more. I am a bit of everything, a creature of God. I am passionate with life. I fear death and its many forms. I love my mind, cherish my body. I express through WORDS.