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.


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.

Missing books

Books lost in these many moves: Betrand Russell’s ‘History of Western Philosophy’, the 3 volume Joe Campbell, Frazier’s ‘Golden Bough’,… i.e. most of the philosophy/anthropology/sociology. Thankfully still present, Tagore collected letters & essays, also Lionel Trilling’s essays. But I need to read about Hume and Locke now, and better from my own loved books than unfamiliar resources. Anyone who thinks moving is glamorous should not be a lover of books. Now to hope I remember all the lost titles, that they’re still in print, and that they don’t cost a fortune.

Cantonese talk radio

People arguing on a Cantonese language talk show on the radio in California. I recognize a word every few minutes and am ridiculously happy, imagining it’s Malaysia 30 years ago. Words i know in Cantonese: ‘hurry up’, ‘don’t make a fuss’, and ‘beautiful’. Also, ‘how much is that?’ accompanied by a pointing finger in a marketplace.

Ganesha’s birthday

Happy Ganesha’s Birthday, especially to my Hindu friends. This elephant is a drawing I made of a carved wooden elephant that belonged to my father and his uncle and before that I don’t know. I think my father was wise, so, sharing. Wisdom and prosperity all round wouldn’t be so bad.


Hari Merdeka

Selamat Hari Merdeka, Malaysia. You’re not perfect, but nobody else is, either. We all do the best we can. Nothing more to say than that, except I’ve always loved you: ‘…di sinari cahaya matahari, makin di pandang bertambah seri.’ Happy Birthday, Malaysia. I am blowing out an imaginary candle and praying for Muhibbah and prosperity for you. You will always be my homeland, and I will always miss you, and always sing your songs.

Splinters: reunions

Diaspora families tell themselves, and tell each other, that they are keeping in touch when they talk on the telephone, send each other pictures, ask questions, and explain. Sometimes if they spend enough time apart they even come to think of all the talking and explaining as being the actual stuff of intimacy and life. But it is a displacement: and so, these two, meeting after many years of displacement, had to displace displacement and discover – this process always fraught, in all such reunions – what the shape of their relationship was be in the present time. Meanwhile the sheer pleasure of being about to see, hear, touch and smell each other after years of reconciling themselves to doing without those simple joys was almost unnerving. They were so happy they weren’t sure what to do with it or each other.

Dust removal

Thanks to a couple of generous friends, it is now possible to breathe in my apartment without choking on the black soot the movers so thoughtful added to my shipment. Commencing to unpack now. Just washed, Czech crystal wineglasses bought in grad school, when the stuff was new on the western market and inexpensive enough a grad student could actually afford it. My first ‘grownup’ purchase.

Brooklyn, NY, 6/25/12

We had a storm this morning, early, not a monsoon but in that general direction: lighting, thunder, wind, rain. And now it’s past and the sounds are shifting down from that wildness. The hush surprises my ear. There’s one remark from an arguing seagull.

Other sounds slowly begin to make themselves heard. It’s like the pause between movements in a symphony. Now the songbirds are tuning up. The slow movement is starting. There’s a shushing sound, car going by on wet road. It’s going to be an urban pastorale. Hah! And now a crow!

And here is the wonder of it, to me: this entire landscape of sound could be happening in Port Klang, Malaysia. If I close my eyes I can see the domes of mosques, a restaurant overlooking fishing boats and serving chili crabs… I never expected this in Brooklyn. The world is vast and almost unbridgeable, sometimes, and then there are moments when the far is achingly near. Good morning, friends.

Dance and dreams

Wobbled through a full-ish dance practice on the injured foot for the first time last night, woke this morning to a dream of not spending Christmas as the designated hausfrau (which will be true), burst into tears, and am now icing the foot, which I should have done last night. Dreams are odd, as are mind-body interactions.

Wardrobe, almost

A little wine, a little furniture assembly – actually a lot of furniture assembly. For an amazing assist, props to she who will prefer to remain nameless here. Wardrobe is done but for a few shelves and anchors, and one door which refused to cooperate. Will try again with 3 people or perhaps someone with better DIY mojo.

Tsunami in South Asia

‎6.7 earthquake in Indonesia and Indian Ocean tsunami alert, 2nd earthquake and some alerts lifting, but, prayers please for coastal areas of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand. Friends and family but also, ever single person is someone’s beloved. And so, prayers please.

Obsessed with my own home country and (horribly) forgetting: Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Maldives… Presumably, hopefully, nothing will happen. But still, prayers for all countries around the Indian Ocean, and the coastal populations.

Dance and free association

Dance practice is better with a belt (just arrived). Now a mirror… and, for writing, a non-computer/printer covered work table with luxuries such as many colors of paper clips. and pens. and highlighters. and erasers… Early childhood note: white erasers with tiny multicolored dots embedded, did anyone else think the dots tasted like candy?

The joy of solitary writing

Early wakeup in my own space and several hours of writing before any interaction with the world. a mesmerizing increase of black marks appearing on white paper, almost magically coming out of the pen, dent forming and familiar, long-missed pain in pad of thumb gradually building from pressure of holding the pen, for hours, steadily, in silence.

I am happy. This is the opposite pole to dance, and quite as essential.

House, warming

Yesterday: 1st guest bearing gift of 1st houseplant, a walk by the Verrazano Narrows bridge, like a trip to a seaside town, curtains mounted with some acrobatics followed by dance time. This morning: a back that’s asking pointed questions. But the curtains are up and i hazz meds.

Bridges, rivers, and cats

The river under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge appears to be tidal, or at least changeable, as at the ocean. Midnight walk after a writing burst, it is serene and beautiful. I am meeting my neighbors: black and white tabby, more or less spherical, about the size of Ohio. I think I shall be happy here.