Friday, July 31, 2009

Train Journey: the end of summer

I was writing this in my mind even as I hurried down the Raffles Place tunnel toward the train station, past the stand that sold the expensive, expatriate array of magazines and the 7-11 that sold the cheap and cheerful housewife-ly selection of page turners alongside the candy spread and 'fridges full of sandwiches and yoghurt.

This one is going to be rambly and without any real point.

Stepping down onto the escalators that led to the station, I thought of my birthday - it was this week, the Wednesday just past - and of roses, red dresses and firelight.

I've wanted roses for awhile really. Ever since the November trip to Sailor's Falls and the room that seemed to fill with the scent of the full blown rose in a slender vase. Oh the scent! It reached out, wound its loving arms about you and rested softly on your hair- the humming alive scent of summer and countryside.

I sighed involuntarily, stepping onto the escalators that led into the bowels of the station, already starting to fumble for my purse.

But staring at the roses at the Republic Plaza florist a month after Sailor's Falls- tightly furled buds, miserably devoid of scent- I could not bring myself to buy them. They led exiguous lives in plastic wraps and no doubt, some girl would be delighted to have them – exemplifying or perhaps implying some form of love that needed to be translated into diamonds and expensive rosebuds.

But I just wanted gloriously rich red and fragrant – a rose blooming in the full heat of summer,to bury my nose in and remember summers past.

Then turning toward the MRT turnstiles, a brief glimpse of a red dress – beaded and unsuitable for the pasty skinned woman who inhabited its cheap shiny confines.

If not a rose then a rose red dress. A dark red wrap dress, in flowing satin so that I could dream about princesses in castle towers, picnics beside rivers and a library lit by firelight.


Birthday presents are odd things. It’s nice to get them but I won’t run away from the fact that the best birthday presents have been the ones I bought for myself.

Sometimes I think it’s my fault really; there are too many sides – and not one is the one exactly, though they all are. The girl who can listen to Keith Jarrett is also the girl who listened to Hey There Delilah and the Fray is also the girl who can listen to the same overly emotional rendition of There is a Fountain every day is also the girl who loves hymns.

Through the turnstile and hurrying toward my platform, I thought of the birthday presents I would buy for myself this year. Piano lessons, a new Keith Jarrett CD – the melody at night with you – a jar of good honey, new running shoes and (this was a luxury for me) new, expensive shoes for work.

People weaving in neat choreographed paths toward the same destinations. Joo koon.Pasir Ris. Dhoby Ghaut. City Hall - where I often got off to buy groceries on the way home. Stepping on the escalator, I thought of Thursday.


Thursday I had woken up – as the saying went – on the wrong side of the bed. Tired from the celebration the night before, my stomach hurting, angry at myself, angry at being in Singapore and having to go to work. Walking down the Raffles Place tunnel toward work that morning - the self same tunnel I had just come through - there was a thumping visceral knowing, of being... in Singapore with crowds, airless tunnels, drones. It angered me further to think about myself turning into one of the drones.

The image of the St Kilda Road winding gently past the war memorial and parks in the afternoon sunlight floated to mind on Thursday morning and clung on with the intransigent might of a rose tinted memory.

I didn’t want crowds, didn’t want people on top of me, everywhere. I thought of green fields, farms, light and air and wanted to cry.


The carriage is hermetically sealed with air-conditioning turned on strong. But no matter how climate controlled the train seems to be, there will always be this soaring lift, almost like that moment of take-off on a plane - whenever the train rises from the tunnel and into the air.

The sharp intake of breath when we slip out from the dark, is for the sunset over green fields and the Kallang river. Then Kallang station – home, the quiet safety of my room and soft notes of the piano – are not far away now.

Thursday lunch hour, driven to frustration, near tears and exhaustion by the unrelenting drill of the day. I took up my purse and phone and fled to the quiet comfort of a bookstore. The largest I could find, 1,2 3 – no, 4 train stops away.

The week turned then, with the understanding that I needed time alone. To be away from crowds,to dwell, however briefly, in that oddly charmed circle, the place beyond time and space with the Creator.

Thursday night- home, to a book, to sit and sleep.

On the train, hanging on to the rails.

Last week, telephone conversation with H: telling me not to go for the conference, asking me not to give myself more excuses to leave Singapore. What are your intentions, why do you want to go? How does this help?

And I finally realised. She does not get it. Does not want to leave Singapore, does not understand the need to meet people – so random and interesting and lovely when you finally find a new someone with an aspect that mirrors you in some way. Not soul mates but friends with an angle that precisely fits a side of you so that for awhile – you have someone who understands.

Why do people do anything?

I don’t need an excuse to leave. There are reasons enough that excuses are not needed. If I am here, it is because I choose to be – and I do choose to be,for now.

But the restlessness does gather strength and there does not have to be a reason beyond needing to meet people not from these shores for travelling and clearing away the cobwebs of daily existence.


Thursday falling into Friday into this moment on the train, swaying with the train's motion and the weekend with its frenetic pace, embraced.


The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

~ Wendell Berry ~

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Commencement Speeches: Bradley Whitford at the University of Wisconsin

In the Spring of 2004, Bradley Whitford, an actor from the West Wing delivered a commencement address at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The speech made the list of top 10 commencement speeches compiled by CNBC earlier this year - the lone representative from the entertainment industry amongst political and industrial luminaries such as Winston Churchill, JFK and Steve Jobs. I saved the link of the list- hoping to find time later in the year to track through each of them. I've read three so far, this being the funniest and most down to earth.

In retrospect though, his line: "Ominous threats seek to distract us from achieving our spectacular potential as individuals, as a nation and as a delicate, shrinking planet. We need you." seemed eerily prescient in the light of the asian tsunami. In May 2004, Mr Whitford - and countless others worrying about the delicate ecosystem - could not have forseen the devastation that the earth could muster up when roused.

I've excerpted my favourite parts of the transcript below.

"Now, you may think that I am inappropriately taking this opportunity to attack the president on a meaningless issue because of my particular political persuasion -- and you would be correct. But I hereby challenge the leader of the free world to swear under oath that he wrote every word of the commencement address that he delivered. It is not gonna happen.

Yes, friends, take solace in the fact that if you had actually paid me anything to come here today, you would be about to get your money's worth. For better or for worse, this horribly disappointing choice of a commencement speaker had to write his own speech. "

"It comes down to about six basic principles. I call them "Everything I Need to Know in Life I Learned on My Way to a Humiliating Audition," and they go like this:

Number One: Fall in love with the process and the results will follow. You've got to want to act more than you want to be an actor. You've got to want to do whatever you want to do more than you want to be whatever you want to be, want to write more than you want to be a writer, want to heal more than you want to be a doctor, want to teach more than you want to be a teacher, want to serve more than you want to be a politician. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.

Number Two: Very obvious - do your work. When faced with the terror of an opening night on Broadway, you can either dissolve in a puddle of fear or you can get yourself ready. Drown out your inevitable self-doubt with the work that needs to be done. Find joy in the process of preparation.

Number Three: Once you're prepared, throw your preparation in the trash. The most interesting acting and the most interesting living in this world has the element of surprise and of genuine, honest discovery. Be open to that. You've all spent the majority of your lives in school, where your work is assigned to you and you're supposed to please your teachers.

The pressure to get into wonderful institutions like this is threatening to create a generation of what I call hiney-kissing requirement-fulfillers. You are all so much more than that. You've reached the wonderful and terrifying moment where you must be your own guide. Listen to the whispers inside you. We have a lot of problems in this world and we're going to need you to think outside the box.

Number Four: You are capable of more than you think. If you've ever smashed a mosquito on your arm, there is a murderous Richard III inside you. If you've ever caught your breath at the sight of someone dipping their toes into Lake Mendota in the late afternoon sun over at the Union, you, too, have Romeo's fluttering heart. "

"Now, I'm not advocating that you all go out and bleach your hair so that you can play the jerk in a really stupid Adam Sandler movie. I don't know what kind of an idiot would think that is a worthwhile way to spend their life. But don't limit yourselves. Take it from the professional extrovert - the most gregarious among us are far more insecure than we would ever admit. We all go through life bristling at our external limitations, but the most difficult chains to break are inside us.

One of the few graduation speakers who will never be forgotten, Nelson Mandela, put it this way:

"Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world."

Let's just take a moment to hope that Nelson Mandela and Adam Sandler never again share a paragraph. "

"Number Five: Listen. It is the most difficult thing an actor can do and it is the most riveting. You can't afford to spend your life like a bad actor stumbling through a predetermined performance that is oblivious to the world around you. We can't afford it either. Listening isn't passive. It is an act of liberation that will connect you to the world with compassion and be your best guide as you navigate the choppy waters of love, work and citizenship.

And finally, Number Six: Take action. Every story you've ever connected with, every leader you've ever admired, every puny little thing that you've ever accomplished is the result of taking action. You have a choice. You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life. Action is the antidote to apathy and cynicism and despair. You will inevitably make mistakes. Learn what you can and move on. At the end of your days, you will be judged by your gallop, not by your stumble. "

His parthian shaft:

"Let me be clear - I want you all to stay the hell out of show business. The last thing I need is a bunch of young people invading my job market.

But I do want you to be an actor in your own life. Infuse your life with action. Don't wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen -- yourself, right now, right down here on Earth."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Two kinds of Vindication

A: I would never have dated him.
B: He's smart, cute and reasonably successful - why wouldn't you date him?
A: He's too cute and guys that cute can't be trusted.

Apparently A was right. Even the shrinks agree.


C: No, you shouldn't bring your Taylor to Jakarta!
D: Are you sure? I could just try labelling it as fragile or buy a hard case?
C: It's a Taylor and the way luggage gets handled......

Note for my non-guitar-y friends: Taylor is a brand of guitars.

C was right and the link to the video proof is here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


A:Yeah she has a really bad sense of direction. My fear is that she'll end up somewhere in Singapore.

B: Dude, Singapore is an island, of course she'll end up in Singapore! I doubt she'll end up in Malaysia - no passport.

A:(realizes mistake)......


Had a good run tonight - 10km - and a good long mull over some of the stuff happening in life, work,church etc.

Righto - in need of some levity. Silliness and crazy fun are the order of the day.No more serious poems; humour's on for tonight and to kick start that is an MV by the Wombats below. The lyrics are darker than the song seems but I like the kick-y beat and the irony.


Monday, July 6, 2009

The Pond

My friend J, who is currently situated in Shanghai and I had a series of conversations recently that revolved around

the general ugliness and lack of beauty in Chinese cities,

the destruction and marginalization of aesthetics in the mad rush of the Chinese toward development and capitalization and also

the dearth of creativity, culture and gentility amongst the Chinese.

Yes. Big topics – but mainly, I think he was tired. When your world is concrete and steel and shouting pushy people, it wears you down and it was wearing him down by slow degrees. When he left for a much needed vacation to his home in South California, I was glad. Enjoy the summer sunshine, friendliness and idealism, I told him. Enjoy.

I had no real answers for him. Just like I have no real answers when tasked about why I send out poetry to my friends, post up pieces of prose, poetry or music, on this blog and on my facebook notes. There is no real plan, no grandiose ideal about changing the world. I do not pretend to be better or worse than anyone else because I love poetry, song and story – conversely, the love for it makes me a dreamer, unfit for most jobs and definitely too impractical for the likes of my family.

I only know that it helps me, has always helped me. Francis Bacon once said that poetry 'has some participation of divineness' - and it does. I put it up here and out there because I love its beauty, its ability to awaken the mind, chart the inner landscape and set fire to the imagination.

This is why I set aside time for study - of the bible and other things my mind runs to. It is dark and–in the gracious silence afforded by early dawn or night - I look for a little light.

I was introduced to Mary Oliver via a blog I frequent and glad I am that she'd posted it up too. These days I am hungry for more - poetry, books, music, ideas - and reading Mary Oliver's collection of poetry cast a little divinity over my evening.

I've also posted the poem, because you never know, when some hungry folk might stop by your door, the way I stopped by hers, looking for - oh a little bread and milk,but also warmth, kinship and light for the path ahead.


The Pond

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them-

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one clearly lopsided -
and that one wears and orange blight -
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away-
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled-
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing -
that the light is everything - that it is more then the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

By Mary Oliver


What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.

I know that whatever God does,
It shall be forever.
Nothing can be added to it,
And nothing taken from it.
God does it, that men should fear before Him.
That which is has already been,
And what is to be has already been;
And God requires an account of what is past.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ask that your way be long

From W - who has been the source of much music and reading joy. Some poems are more than words on a page - they swirl about you in a glorious haze so much that inwardly,I stand in at the eye, light colour and sound in hurricane winds blowing about me.

This was one such poem and oh the richness - there's a reading of it by Sean Connery on Youtube.

I borrowed an anthology of poetry on journeys from the library this year and I'm amazed that this wasn't included.


When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

- C.P Cavafy