About Shymala

Shymala came to the US to study physics and literature at Bennington College, followed by a Masters in Applied Maths at the University of Maryland, and ten years at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Being a first-generation expat (born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and after decades abroad still a KL girl) her literary work naturally turns to issues of immigration, family, identity, culture and place; how we are defined by, and in turn define, the societies we live in. This varied background, as well as extensive interests and connections in the arts and creative worlds allows her to provide informed creative industries consultation in Asia and elsewhere focused on harnessing creativity in corporate and institutional environments.

Chandra Bose, feminism, Girls Army, & Mrs. Bhupalan

I’m wondering, if Chandra Bose has won the tussle inside the Congress Party in WWII, whether rape would be a problem in India today. He makes contemporary feminists look silly. Girls Army (1943-1945) did everything a male army regiment would do, and yet did it with sensible guidelines in daily rules because it was young women, actually girls, and not men. Second in command was 14-years old. Astonishing.

There was no ‘backwards and in heels’ nonsense, either. Women in the regular Indian Army, i.e. the British Indian Army, wore the usual sort of military shirt but they wore it over sari. And they worked as typists and such. Women in the Girls Army, part of Bose’s Indian National Army (nothing British about it) wore khaki shirt and pants just like any other soldier, trained on obstacles courses and with weapons, and went into some of the worst terrain there was in the war, in Burma.

Mrs. Bhupalan — Datuk Bhupalan these days, but I knew her and loved and admired her as my Secondary School Headmistresses — was a soldier in the Girls Army. I’ve joked for years that I’m turning into her, but now I’m researching this, the more I find out what they did the more I think I can consider myself as doing very well if I manage even a small fraction of her character. In my schooldays, I’ve seen Mrs. B. in her office on the phone with a minister or a bishop or somebody else important, and she was more than capable of dealing with everyone, and win any argument, with a smile on her face. She had charm, firmness, and kindness in equal measure. And she could be fun, too, as when she relaxed and told a personal story.

Personal note: MGS girls, I know she could be scary, but we all know she was fair, and I think we were very very lucky to have such an example.

Dragon Dictate Tech Support: “Backup Profiles? You can’t.”

Gentlebeings, tech idiocy heads up (the particular example is Dragon Dictation software, but if one company is doing this it may be happening elsewhere). User profile files (the thing you train with your data) cannot be backed up. The file you are happily relying on in your time machine (or other backup) has no info in it. If you think this is nothing, please note that moving to a new computer will mean starting from scratch to train your vocabulary. Work around below:

Vocabulary, user commands, etc, have to be manually exported to produce a file that can be copied, and if/when the software crashes or you move to a new machine, this exported file can then be reimported.

There is no autosave option for this export process; it has to be done by hand. Apparently some part of this software was designed c. 1970. Even MS Word does autosave.

Also note, the basic profile itself, i.e. whatever it builds after you read into it, tell it what type of accent you have, etc., cannot be exported, and cannot be backed up at all. If you lose it, you start over, retrain the application, import the vocabulary files…

So, the heads-up is, check any complex programs you’re running that depend on user defined data input and make sure you have a way not to lose that information.

Dragon tech support seems to think it’s funny that anyone would be bothered by not being able to restore from backup or autosave. So, 4 mice for the dictation part, and minus 1.5 mice from that for this nonsense.

Most other applications (every other app I’ve used) do in fact allow backup of user profiles, so this comes as an unpleasant shock if found out after one has lost data. Forewarned is forearmed.

One final note: users with specialized vocabulary words very similar to words in the standard dictionary recommend (it’s all over the forums) that the standard vocabulary word be deleted. E.g. I use the Indian name ‘Nalini’. To get this to work, I deleted ‘Melanie’ from the built-in vocabulary. If you crash and lose the profile somehow, these deletions have to repeated one by one, by hand, no automation possible.

“Have a nice day. Thank you for calling Nuance tech support.”

Winter wind

Blow, blow, though winter wind. Thou art not unkind in intention, really, and that veiling effect of driving snow makes all the old red brick of this neighborhood mysterious and inviting rather than chunky and boring, but I’m not sure the little flying shards of frozen water you’re flinging into people’s faces at 20, 25 mph were the most fun I’ve ever had. Did I mention, it’s cold? Also the sidewalks and streets are sketchily cleared if at all and there’s a fair amount on the ground, only 3″ so far but drifts of 5-8 in spots (it’s windy in Bay Ridge, we have the ocean right by us), enough to make for some adventurous guessing of where sidewalks and curbs end.  Weirdly fun but I’m glad to be back from the post office — 3/4 mile at snow walking speeds is enough my face is still tingling and I’ve been back 1/2 hour. Safe evening commute, people. Next fall, I WILL remember to order a balaclava and silk glove liners.

Oral tradition versus historical ‘fact’

Working on the WWII book today, making choices: the Indian National Army, as described online, is not the same as the Indian National Army in the oral history I grew up with, stories and unspoken attitudes of my elders who lived through the war. I may of course not be remembering perfectly. I can talk to people who were alive at the time, and have, but I find they don’t remember perfectly either. Some memories are crystal clear and consistent, even down to using the exact same words each time they tell the tale,, others vague and shifting. So it’s up to me. At the end of the day, it’s my book; and I’m fiction for a reason. I will do the research, but I will write from my memory of the oral tradition.

I just heard my father chuckle and say, “What to do?” about these sorts of quandaries. So I’ll stop quandary-ing now, and get to writing.

What do writers, sword dancers, and zombies have in common?

I write. I dance, sometimes with a sword balanced on my head. Google ‘bellydance sword’ if you’re curious what that looks like.

Writers aren’t as interesting to watch as dancers. ‘America’s Top Writer’ is not the hot new reality show for a reason. Paint drying has far more glamor. When I’m trying to get my writer’s head on, I look and sound like a zombie. Most of me is elsewhere.

At this moment, I am trying to send most of my self back to 1941-1945 Malaya, where there was a war and an Occupation on, and once I’m there I am planning on watching and eavesdropping and sniffing out secrets and the scents of wartime food. I will have imaginary people in my head.

Some dancers wear a very serious face as they dance. Dance swords are hollow, but. Drop one on and you’ll see, it has impact. Serious business, like most dropped things in life; something breaks, possibly your foot.

Nevertheless, I personally can’t help grinning like a loon when I do sword. The sheer improbability of the thing makes me feel like a child blowing a first soap bubble, or lighting a sparkler for the first time. A thing turns into something other than itself: I, a perfectly (more or less) normal human being am standing here, dancing, even, with the edge of a blade sitting on my head, and it’s easy.

Yup. Easy. But only after you know how, after you’ve practiced, and only when you’re in the zone. In the zone, magic keeps it up, body and sword and music are one. Unfortunately this is related to the zone where soufflés never fall, stocks yield steady profits, kids never get sick, it never snows more than is pretty but not a nuisance, your nearest and dearest never irritate you…. Impossible and good things happen – for a while.

It’s easy in the zone. It’s hard to get there, and unfortunately it’s all to easy to leave it. (One tiny wrong move of the head, and boom: sword’s on your foot, have a nice day.)

Writing larger pieces is like keeping the sword up for longer periods of time. 20 secs even a beginner can do by a fluke. Couple of minutes, still not so hard. 10 – 20 mins, that’s a real challenge. It takes prep time and focus or a crazy high level of expertise (Google ‘Parri double sword’ to see what crazy high level of expertise looks like. She dances with two swords balanced at right angles to each other, on her head. Extreme expert.)

No writer finds balancing a book in their head easy. But once you’re in the zone, it’s fun. That’s you sledding down that hill, skating on that pond, skydiving, balancing that sword…

Unfortunately, sledding downhill and trying not to fall out is not the best time to, say, balance your checkbook, help a friend decide who to date or figure out why their printer won’t work. Braincells are busy elsewhere and everyday life gets interesting. Trees jump out to ambush your car when you’re parking (really, at least they do me).

In this silly place, company is a blessing. It’s lonely, not to mention slightly loony, to be stuck alone with a headful of imaginary people. But conversations in words of one syllable or less are best, and what someone’s cat did or, ‘Isn’t that a gorgeous tree’ is probably the right speed. Calm voices and emotions are best (sudden loud noise, sword or book on head, isn’t going anywhere pretty). Ladies and gentlemen, assume your writer friends are slightly deranged if they’re inside a book, and be gentle. We can be quite entertaining in that state.

 

Malaysian meditation technique for cold weather

Yesterday I posted a Holiday leftover poem for a cold day. Today it’s really cold, subzero windchill and Malaysia is in my mind.

We have dessert called ice kacang, which is shaved ice with lots of good sweet things on it, like aduki beans and palm sugar and coconut milk/cream. The meditation is as follows: like in bed under a lot of covers. Visualize the excess of winter around you piled up into giant mounds in a field. Now, drizzle it with your favorite sweet things. Take your time. Let the warmth of the covers sink into your bones and the visualized taste of the sweet sink into your heart/tummy (the two are closely related!). Tomorrow, or the day after or the day after that, once we’ve sweetened and eaten all the winter, it will be spring. My parents and grandparents got through living under foreign invaders in WWII (the Japanese Occupation) by devising a hundred thousand tasty things you can do with tapioca.

Speaking of which, drizzling sweet things on tapioca pearls is a wonder also.

Images: Ice kacang and sago gula Melaka.

Holiday leftover food poem for a cold day.

On a bed of bitter greens, layer leftover poultry (or beans and mushrooms, I’ll try that tomorrow) drizzled with good wine-vinegar and topped with some sort of interesting cheese, lightly melted. Probably good with any squash soup and those extra rolls from the back of the freezer. Stay warm. NYC is getting a break today, but I’m practicing warming food for tomorrow.

water dance

8:30 pm: Finally a moment to dance and get my head together. Silly day but all good, leaks are gone and my ceiling is in one piece again. Meanwhile I am beginning to wonder if there is a jinx on the WWII book. Every time I block out time to assemble the complete draft and do for myself what I do for others (which is, see that a book is full of holes and lay out how to get to a decent version) some wholly unexpected silliness occurs. And therefore, dance. But must get it done. Anyone who hears me talk about anything else but this book and dance for the next month, you have my permission to sternly ‘tut’. Or there’s that ‘tschhh’ sounds all annoyed older Indians — which includes me, now — make. And now I dance. I dance, I dance, see how I dance 

(The day began with a leak from the bathroom ceiling at early a.m. pre-caffeine, and went on from there. Humpty Dumpty is put together again, but the need to dance is urgent.)

Having danced, I am reminded that bellydancers often imagine themselves moving through water, in order to keep their movements fluid (except of course when they are, very deliberately, not fluid at all). And so today has been a water dance. And nothing, after all, can be better.

remembering kindness: 9/11

9/11: Six degrees of separation, everyone lost someone. I waited 3 days before my next door neighbor came home from the Pentagon. People in 60 nations lost loved ones on that day. But the biggest casualty has been our collective consciousness. America was a kinder country before that day.

There is still deep kindness. Fear and the instinct to self-preservation makes it easy to forget that to love, to relate, to respect the other — other nation, other race, other gender, other anything — requires being vulnerable to a certain extent. My prayer is to see the collective trauma released — it is not seemly to grieve forever — and to remember with love but also to live, into the future, with kindness.

Just after 9/11, we were kind. At least, common people were, I claim no understanding of politicians. My neighbor, a Marine Colonel, came back from the Pentagon, having stayed long enough to be sure one of his best friends made it, and his first concern was making sure none of the violent backlash hit a very nice, older Indian couple round the corner from us who spoke little English and always wore traditional clothing. They were great gardeners and cooks, entertaining their extended family to lunch every Sunday. I was too naive back then to think they might possibly have been at risk, but — he was military, he’d been in volatile situations before — it was the first thing his mind went to. And he said a word here and a word there and made sure our neighbors were safe.

I want that neighborly America back. I do not think this disrespects the dead. They were part of that kinder world. The America where, when I was a lost kid at Bennington, one older friend lent me her bicycle, another taught me to bake bread, strangers drove me to church, my professors lent me books I could not afford to buy, and on and on. A thousand kindnesses, and too little paranoia for me to notice. I’m sure it was there. I’m not asking for a community of angels. Just the community that was injured in 9/11. Time to let go and heal.

 

Blessed are the Soup-Bringers

I got a bad cold once, back when I was a young, slightly lost foreign student in a tiny town in Vermont, and something astonishing happened. I opened my door and found a surprise outside.

Vermonters are very private people. They make jokes about how you’re an outsider in Vermont unless your grandparents were born there. They’re proud. The further north you go in New England the greater — and more justifiable — the pride, because the place is beautiful but also stunningly harsh. It’s difficult even to imagine what winter must have been like there in earlier times, snow piled up to the eaves of the roof, the wind howling, and the temperature dropping down to minus 70.

When I got that cold, I found out how they survived: what was outside my door, as if magically left by fairies, was soup. I hadn’t even told anyone I was sick. Perhaps I’d coughed walking down the street?

That moment was when I understood the real Vermont. Vermonters are good neighbors. There is a lot of racism in this country — in every country — but in Vermont I had the feeling no one would care if I was bright green and from Mars, only if I was a good neighbor. When I worked at the Bennington Museum one summer, one of the volunteer docents, a middle-aged conservative Italian Catholic woman, set me up with her son, which proved it. (Apparently she thought I was a nice girl. And he was in fact a nice boy. We actually ate dinner together, both of us too polite to hurt her feelings.)

Vermonters are proud, they’re private, almost stand-offish; but when the chips are down, they’re genuinely, deeply kind. They are good friends. I don’t have the fortitude to live in that climate any more, but I hold a deep affection for the place.

And I still to this day divide people into two categories: those who bring soup when you’re sick, and those who don’t.

Novel Analysis, IT-style

I had lunch with an out-of-town friend recently, and while we were doing the ‘So, what have you been up to?’ part of the conversation, I said I’d recently done a manuscript analysis on a novel, and described it as something like ‘critical design review’ in software design (the friend has a Silicon Valley engineering background).

He said — part interest, part skepticism — “How do you do a critical design review on a novel?”

I said, “Well, remember I used to be a geek,” (more formally, a NASA tech). And like the elephant, I haven’t forgotten. So when I sat down to read the draft of a novel and comment on it, my report wasn’t quite a PowerPoint presentation, but it did use more headings and subheadings than someone without tech reflexes might have used.

A more flattering way to describe what I did is to say I automatically tried to be comprehensive, and objective.

Comprehensive led to headings, and to trying to cover all the ground: character, voice, setting, story; the story arc, intention, beginning, middle, end; etc.. I drafted 60 pages of notes and cut it down to 18.

Objective led to remembering, it’s not my book. I’m trying to find all the critical issues as well as all the deepest strengths in another writer’s story, and help it become the best they can make it, not think about it as I would if it was mine. (Remembering the useful and not useful manuscript analyses I’d received on my own work did a lot to support this idea!)

In IT land, I also learned to bless people who are clearheaded, and straightforward. And so the final ‘voice’ I tried for in my report can be described as ‘blunt but also encouraging’.

So that’s what I told my friend. I don’t know whether he was convinced; but I’ve since heard back from the client, and the report is apparently of some use. So geek-style literary analysis is not such a bad way to go.

soul food

First home-cooked meal underway since before I got the flu. ‘He restoreth my soul.’ My cup isn’t running over, but the pot on my stove is content in the moment. Italian-ish pork stewed with tomato, eggplant & capers, seasoned with rosemary, bay, thyme, oregano and garlic.

There is also tofu in the mix. The pot asked for chickpeas, but my larder had no chickpeas and my fridge had tofu. Somewhere here there is a moral. I will think about it after lunch.

NY, Grand Central: entering the city of dreams

Someday this draft will grow up and become the beginning of a story, perhaps fiction, perhaps memoir. It is the beginning of one chapter of my story, returning to NYC after many years, reentering the dream that is this city:

Grand Central, the is-ness of the space… Streams of light coming in the upper windows, the space so solid and concrete, and yet really a cavernous hall floating about further levels of caverns and tunnels beneath, no one really knew, probably not even the engineers who were meant to know, where all the caverns and tunnels were.

Riding in the train into Grand Central, on the Metro North line from Connecticut with the rich bankers and the city wage slaves wedded to suburban living, was to pass through, on the final approach to this station, sudden openings out of the black tunnels the train was going through. This, starting about ten minutes before the train reached the station. It was the signal for people to get out of their seats and begin collecting themselves. There is a putting on of jackets and folding of newspapers and retrieving of bags and packs from the overhead racks – which, incidentally, are far too narrow for comfort when they’re loaded with heavy bags.

In the middle of all this bustle, for the most part ignored by those habituated to it perhaps from birth, the tunnel opens out into now one cavern, now another. These are neither lighted nor dark: from somewhere, reflections of reflections, scattered photons bounced off walls in upper, lit chambers and so down stairwells and down, finally to be trapped in these caverns, where perhaps there was no further down, and allow just enough diffuse light to glimpse dormant trains and ghosts of trains and other equipment slumbering in the shadows on sidings in the caverns. Passing just as the eye begins to parse the shapes, are darker areas in the dark grey, barely lit dimness. Trains. They seem curiously alive in their stillness, almost more alive for being still, the difficulty of seeing them clearly in the dim light making it seem as if they were on the edge of movement. And there are ghost lines, train tracks running this way and that, and further tunnel mouths.

And then the train we were on would plunge into a tunnel again, a moment of darkness while I wondered about the cavern just left behind, who built it, what those engines were for, why it was now dark… And then another cavern would happen.

And presently one of the caverns, the third or fourth or fifth one in, wouldn’t be dark, but lit by doggedly determined institutional fluorescents in a white, would-be glare that the soot from the trains and the black of the city coats and clothes subdued. And so out of the train, onto a cement platform, giant recycling wire baskets piled high with newspapers, up concrete stairs or through doors, up and out. The closer to the main level and the outside one gets, the wider and more comfortable the corridor or stairs. And then there’s the Deco opulence and high, high ceiling of the Grand Concourse: illusion of dream fulfilled, journey’s end that is really only journey’s beginning.

The place as a whole is a maze, a mountain, a mystery. From the outside, panting around on the wrong street, it can be just a blank concrete wall. From the right street, a building with a dozen openings, a clock-tower, windows….

It is the dwarves hall in the Lord of the Rings, that goes on further than one thinks in every direction.

politics, rice pudding, & the ocean: also, science 101

I’m going on holiday soon and was thinking what to take to read. This morning, I decided: mathematics. A long time ago, I was a math/physics student, and then a NASA science drone. Mathematics, unfolding, is as beautiful as the ocean, alive, intricate, complete in itself. Physics unfolds mysteries, and I don’t mean the God-particle nonsense that people have been getting excited about but the even more wondrous daily mysteries: wind, weather, why there is that odd-shaped shadow on my ceiling, how to park on a hill so your car doesn’t roll away…

Physics enchanted me, as a girl, because it the fundamental rules were essential simple, and clear. Water rolls downhill, ALWAYS. Stuff like that. Studying physics was a way to allow my mind to be simple, and clear. It does not contradict itself. Subtlety exist, but there is always the real to measure against.

For some years now I’ve been a writer. Fiction, mostly cross-cultural, dealing with social, political, and emotional issues. My community is now mostly writers, artists, activists, and nothing is simple, or clear; or rather, much of it probably could be, but people cultivate complexity. To include ALL the data — by which I mean all the facts, not all the opinions — on something, or as much data as one can get, and look at it all in balance, is not a popular sport. Balance, as best I understand it, requires calm. But the troubles of our times, from tars sands to Islamophobia to economic class warfare, call for concern. And most people don’t find concern and calm coexistent within themselves, especially in American culture, which says, subliminally, that we should be able to fix anything. So there is tumult, and shouting: a noise of long-winded thoughts and exhortations that seem to be saying, ‘Care more, care more! Don’t relax, don’t spin down, not for a minute, the world will cease to be if you do, the battle will be lost…’

I’ve tried to get people to care about some of these issues, particularly the race-related ones, without stirring anxiety. I think I have failed. Caring deeply while being staying as calm as we can is an emotional reality in daily life for most people, else we’d never let our loved ones go out the door, never mind become skydivers or firefighters. I think it’s okay, even essential, to deal with political issues the same way — do what you can, everything you can, and then let go and fix dinner. I talk a lot about politics, but I’ve never said this before, and I apologize for not doing so.

I am going to read, on my vacation, not a novel, full of sculpted emotion, or a nonfiction book full of argument, however just, but mathematics: to find a state of clarity in my mind again. It will be like eating fresh fruit, or rice pudding, after too rich a diet. Cleaning, and strengthening. In-between, I will go to California farmers markets, which are a paradise of grounded goodness, and I will cook dinner. I will look at the ocean.

I will be simple.

SubDrift

SubDrift: free-for-all open mic and Desi love fest made wonderful by warmth, camaraderie, and a really awesome quality of performance. This particular evening was NYC SubDrift March 2013. I test-drove a bit of my book with a South Asian audience for the first time and was pleased to find it grip despite the fact that it’s the stuff of our daily lives — the one early S. Asian reader commented that I was writing for clueless white people.

Speaking across cultures seems a reasonable mission statement to me. I grew up in a town where half the population and many of my close friends were Chinese, and yet learned things from The Joy Luck Club I hadn’t known. So I chose, in many places in my book, to state the obvious. There was the possibility of this audience reacting with terminal boredom, but that is not what happen. I am pleasantly surprised

This evening was also my coming out as an auntie-at-large in the diaspora, and considering what Desi aunties can do, it was greeted surprisingly cordially. Possibly because I let on about the secret of our culture: at 30 you get to start thinking what you want, at 40 you occasionally get to do what you want, and at 50 you’ve turned into the enemy (an auntie, or, presumably, an uncle) and can tell other people what to do.

Also my favorite adopted niece gave me chocolate, so all in all it was a fun evening.

Outside, OR, Homeless on 5th Ave

There’s inside, and there’s outside. Inside of power. Outside in the cold.

Thursday afternoon, it was cold. Spring equinox, supposedly, but far from springlike in Manhattan. People were huddling against the wind, the lucky ones warm from still wearing heavy coats often discarded by this point in March. I had unfortunately believed the weather report, and was wearing only a light spring coat, no wool except for my hat, no fleece, the scarf around my neck and a pull-on hat the only real comfort as I walked from the subway to meet a friend at MoMA.

I got out of the subway at the bottom end of Central Park, on 5th avenue. The upscale part of NYC. I walked past high-end retailers, diamonds in the window in Bergdorff-Goodman’s (I think I’m remembering that correctly), status for sale at Louis Vuitton, and so to the upmarket church section: Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic in a row, just a few blocks separating them. I planned, as I walked, a funny blog post about God turning off the heat in NYC and me wishing He wouldn’t because I was freezing.

On the sidewalk outside the Presbyterian church, I saw a homeless woman, and the joke stopped being funny.

The city is full of homeless people, and full of people walking past them. But this was different. In the winter, a lot of homeless people look cold, bundled in as many layers as they can get, stoically enduring. This woman wasn’t bundled. I do not know what she was wearing, because she was huddled in a canvas sheet, but it can’t have been much at all, because the whole of her, sheet and all, was slender. She was shaking violently. Not the shaking one sees sometimes in alcoholics or other addicts, but from the cold. How do I know? I’m no doctor. But I am human, and it was stunningly obvious.

Her eyes were clear, and conscious of all that was happening to her. Homeless people are sometimes shut down inside, by their eyes, long suffering having numbed them. She wasn’t numb. She was feeling every second of that horrid cold. She was sitting on a concrete sidewalk.

She was beautiful. About my age. Clear brown skin, expressive eyes, cheekbones that any artist would love to capture on canvas. An angel of God, a daughter of humanity, a sister. Our eyes met. And there was nothing I could think of to do to save her.

Her eyes expressed suffering: but no blame. I don’t know how that was possible.

She had short hair, in a spiky hairstyle. Bits of bare scalp showed in-between the thick curls. Heads lose heat. I pulled off my hat, gave it to her, and said, “Here, take this.” She pulled it on. The interaction was a natural one, in a horribly unnatural situation. Her hands were shaking. I knew I had to be out myself, late, and it would get colder; so I kept my scarf and gloves, though the real human thing to do would have been to hand her everything, coat and all. And then I dropped a dollar in her cup and walked away.

She is, was, Human and Beautiful. I pray she is alright, now. I was less than human. Every single person walking by her was less than human. If there had been a dog or cat there, stranded on that sidewalk shivering, a dozen people would have stopped, someone would have arranged a rescue.

I walked away. I did not know how to rescue her. Could one call an ambulance? Take her somewhere?

I walked the three remaining blocks to MoMA; across from MoMA there is a new building, or perhaps a renovation, under construction. It will be a luxury hotel. Presumably a thousand dollars a night, in that location. Louis Vuitton, 1K hotel rooms, 5th Avenue churches, among them my own, where well-dressed people will worship this Sunday, and Outside, in the cold, are the angels, abandoned.

In justice I will say also: those churches run soup kitchens, are active in helping the poor. Part of the reason I did not interfere is because I guessed she was in that location by choice, and presently would go to one of the soup kitchens for a meal. But dear God, it should be better than this.

“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for …
we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.’

From ‘Dover Beach’, by Matthew Arnold.

E-Paxson-isms

What is an E. Paxson, you are asking. An E. Paxson is a human being and a friend, so far only on Facebook but qualifying as ‘friend’ in the best sense of the word regardless, which is, for me, someone who gives a damn, who notices, and is thoughtful. If that someone is also good with words, it’s extra. And so, here is a bit of that extra, several Paxson-isms, shared with the writer’s permission.

On Facebook:

“FB friendship: a new form of human relation. New vistas for philosophy and psychology; there’s a treasure trove of PhD theses here. Here are the people I work with every day, those I met last week and those I knew when I was a kid. Those I love, and those I’ve never met. People I knew and lost and rediscovered. People I met here and have come to meet in ‘real’ life. All of you neatly alphabetized, posting about the ridiculously sublime and the sublimely ridiculous. Here I learn, laugh and cry, and get to know you and share your life a bit. And of course out there are some of my close friends who, by their FB absence, help define FB-ness as well. FB: like.”

On the big question:

“Perhaps there is afterlife, reincarnation or nothingness. Perhaps tomorrow someone or some event will call you to account. But right this moment, you, the sum of the wiles and weaknesses that equate you, can act as you please. This then is the freedom of the human condition. You are absolutely free, even if you do not have absolute freedom.”

Finally, something simpler, but equally universal:

“Les nuits blanches, quand on rêve
On est son propre démon
Qui se tourmente sans trêve
Sans trouver satisfaction.

When one dreams, a sleepless night
His own demon he becomes
To torment without respite
Yet no problem overcomes.”

And yet is uplifting to read. Thank you, Edwin.

Desi Auntie Universal-Interference Disorder

I sent an email yesterday morning:

‘Dear N.: I don’t mean to be pushy. But can’t help myself, I’m past 50 and the Desi-female genetic disorder of universal interference is kicking in. But I have a practical suggestion…” After which I proceeded to tell her how to gather her materials together to prepare for writing a book.

One suggestion, non-stupid, was to use a Wiki or WordPress site like this blog, with the tags allowing an organic swim through any angle of the material, for all those times that one doesn’t really know what one is doing and it’s nice if the structure can spark thoughts.

Another, both profound and silly, was to say, “But it’s good to remember, no one writes a book. We write sentences, sections, paragraphs… and then shake it together into shape.”

This is perfectly true. I am trying this minute to assemble a short story, in rather a hurry, for a submission deadline. I didn’t worry about it because the bits of the story are all preexisting, I just have to assemble and shake. Like an instant energy drink, only hopefully more entertaining.

The silly part of the exercise is this: the preexisting pieces of the story I am planning are quite old, and not organized in anything like a Wiki, but are flat files in a basic file tree. And I can’t find them.

Yesterday also included numerous other emails to young Asian friends — and middle-aged friends, Asian and otherwise — several of them packed with useful advice.

So not only do I have Desi Auntie Universal-Interference Disorder, I am that worst of Aunties, the kind that fails to take it’s own advice. So now you know.

 

 

Novel assemblage

Some 2nd draft work — splicing together lots of bits that are good in themselves or good enough, but there’s repetition, contradiction, and a complete lack of punctuation in the right places — is just plain tough, though, get through and it can be lovely: metaphor for life, just as easily seen when baking pie or painting the porch as when writing.

Advent

I am heartened, and reminded of all good things. That one need not understand everything or know the outcomes to choose right action (rereading C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, and being reminded). Now if you’ll excuse me slipping from one thing to another, “tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, tis a gift to come down where we ought to be…” The gift that came at Christmas wasn’t just for Christians, whatever the extremists want to believe. Grace and Goodness can’t be tied to a name. We’re the ones with small minds. Grace is infinite. For me, and for you, and for you, and for you… Happy Sunday, Blessed Advent, friends.