Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Timely inspiration

Too soon to get back on the proverbial old horse? A few months of pent up thoughts finally spilling on the page.

We all talk of inspirations...what movie made us do one thing or the other, who unsuspectingly convinced us to go here or there, what song pushed us to accept or reject a proposal or creme brulee. Is there an inherent quality in the flick, chick or tune that helps us make decisions, or at least deludes us into thinking we are making the right ones? Or is it all just a misunderstood matter of righttime-rightplace?

Just some timely cake for thought...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

the last word

After a four month hiatus, I woke up this morning knowing that I wanted to write. Not knowing what I wanted to write about. With thoughts of secrets overlapping those of cake and candy to time travel and photographs, it all looks blurry.

Is knowing what you want enough? Is waking up in the morning to the knowledge of what will make you happy get you any closer?

This morning I woke up knowing that I wanted to write.

You did write. Several words. Unconnected yet well-thought out. Letter after letter, building on what is already there, something begins to take shape. Not necessarily coherent but uniquely created through a dialogue...of sorts. Composed of small yellow tiles against a gridded canvas. A senseless tirade of words connected by nothing more than a mere letter or a regular plural.


You play the cards you're dealt. You play the letters you draw. You bluff and hide your cards. You place and arrange your tiles. Bluffing is futile--nothing remains hidden for long. A hidden Z reveals a resize while a guarded Q unveils a quote. LOVE. HAPPY. JOY. Triple word score. DECEIVE. LIE. HIDE. Not even a measly double letter score on E.

Three hundred and twelve to two hundred and eighty five. Close game. Nothing like seven strategically placed letters to give you the upper hand. BREAKUP. Will it pass? That's two words. Oh shit. Swap your tiles.

Her turn. TRYING. A feeble attempt. Just ten points. GREEDY. Double word score. She furrows her eyebrows; she rearranges her tiles. She sees a word but can't see the word. Your tiles sit patiently, waiting to morph the snaky form collecting dust.

QUIT. You raise an eyebrow. Meticulously, you voice your thoughts. QUITE. She looks at her rack, fingering the tops of the tiles, wondering which direction to go next. Unwavering and ahead by a dozen, one by one, she places her remaining tiles to complete her thought. UNREQUITED.

You look back at your rack but it's over.

She had the last word.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Unfinished short story. Title pending. Any thoughts?

Hazel stared at her cellphone, clutched tightly in her left hand, willing it to ring. In her other hand, a lit cigarette dangled absent-mindedly, and brought up to her lips and sending a rush of nicotine to her brain. She stared some more, flipped it open a few times "just to make sure it was working" and waited. She slipped it into her pocket, imagining the inanimate object to be stubborn, thinking perhaps it may ring if she stopped willing it to so impatiently.

The sun moved higher in the sky, forcing the little patch of shade Hazel stood in to get smaller and smaller, until she was completely exposed. Despite having half of her face obscured by dark sunglasses, Hazel squinted her eyes as the sun's rays, unwelcome yet indifferent, hit her square in the eye.

"Fuck it," she muttered, throwing her unfinished cigarette in a gutter, adding to the already growing collection of discarded rubbish and debris. She checked her phone again, sure there must be something wrong with the networks. Was it possible that he hadn't called her yet? He had said noon. It was fourteen minutes past. Could there have been a mix up at the drop off point? She looked around hurriedly, making sure she wasn't being followed or recognized and lit another cigarette. Inhaling deeply, she looked up at the sky where oddly enough, a crow circled overhead.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Train of thought

(vintage pre-blog writing)

It must be cold out today. You shiver slightly, clutching your worn leather gloves close to your chest. You use your free hand to grab hold of the pole as the carriage lunges forward. Your thin brown hair brushes into your eyes and you’re careful to replace every strand in its place; glancing at your reflection in the window to make sure nothing is awry. Must be your new haircut. I wonder where you go every morning. I mean, you can’t possibly have a nine-to-five job, you take the 10:34 metro every day – and that’s including the weekends. I wonder if you have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend.

You furtively slide a perfectly manicured hand into your concealed coat pocket, fingering the buttons on your cell phone. You furrow your immaculately shaped eyebrows; you remember that there is no reception underground. Whose call are you waiting for? It is then that you notice me watching you. With only the shiny metal pole that you grip between us, you feel naked and exposed. You are not used to being watched – that position is reserved for the blonde, blue-eyed bombshells, you think to yourself. But I can’t help but watch you. I catch your eye and you are quick to look away, looking intently at your watch as an excuse not to hold my gaze. Although you look away, I know that you see me.

We arrive at the next stop. Your whole body jerks forward as the train comes to a halt. You seem to be caught off-guard. Maybe you have something important on your mind. I wonder if I am that something important. I guess I must seem strange to you; as I watch you. But you don’t seem bothered; you make no move to distance yourself away from me. On the contrary, you carefully choose your carriage every morning; as if to make certain that we are in the same carriage. Our daily proximity to each other almost validates our existence.

I turn my head away; compelling you to watch me instead as I have watched you. I yearn to look up and see whether I’ve been able to tempt you, but I decide not to. Instead, I look at my reflection, looking at you, you looking at me. I smile to myself; I have silently convinced you.

Why is it that I find you so intriguing? For one, you never smile. But you don’t seem unhappy either. I wish you would smile. We have never spoken but I want to believe that on some level, we communicate. I am not the shy type; I am the person standing in line at the bank and who talks to you endlessly while you mutely wish for my swift disappearance. So why is it that I can’t muster up the courage to talk to you? With each passing day, it becomes more and more difficult to make that verbal exchange. I have become too comfortable with our imagined telepathic exchanges.

You steal a glance at me, pretending to examine the metro map, which by now I am sure has been emblazoned in the depths of your mind. I wonder why you are always alone. But then again, I am always alone. Not by choice though. You reach into your oversized bag; it never ceases to amaze with its contents. You rummage through for something that you seem to have just thought of. The intent look on your face turns into a frown, and then suddenly, a smile lights up your eyes. You take out a DVD and hold it tightly in your left hand, your knuckles whiten after a few seconds – it’s a Hitchcock classic; ‘Strangers on a Train’. I wonder if you are sending me a message, after all, we are strangers on a train too. Now I would offer to exchange victims with you, except that I am your victim and you are mine. You have victimized me by consuming my thoughts as I stand in this carriage every day, watching you. And I have victimized you by making you the object of my every thought. Still, neither of us shows any interest of changing carriages, and neither of us has missed a day on the metro yet.

You often carry a cup of overpriced coffee from Starbucks, but not today. I notice that when you do, it is always full as you always empty it into the same rusty trashcan as you step off the carriage and onto the platform. You never drink your coffee but hold the cup gingerly in your left hand, shifting back and forth between the two hands, warming each one as you secretly inhale the deep aroma. I, on the other hand, don’t drink the stuff. It clouds my train of thought.

Only four more stops before you end our encounter. I am sometimes tempted to follow you out but something always holds me back. Maybe it’s your aura, lingering behind to keep me company. I usually stay on, finding a seat to rest my legs when you walk out of my day. But today is different. Today you miss your stop. For a minute I am stunned. I’ve already found a seat and now you’ve thrown me off-guard. My hands are soaked in sweat and I wipe them vigorously on my jeans, adding to the collection of stains I’ve gathered. I nervously stare at your back, trying to fathom why and how your schedule changed today. Your face is hidden from view but after a closer look, I can see your reflection, looking at me, me looking at your back. And then without warning, you turn and look straight at my face; your bottomless brown eyes penetrate mine.

You smile at me, take the empty seat to my left and extend your right hand. Then the unthinkable happens, you speak to me: “Hi, I’m Rachel.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Over-utilized and under-used

After having almost exhausted the topic of keeping secrets, I started to wonder about the virtue of honesty. Since I'm a fan of analogies and examples, here's one to make life easier.

Let's say there's a girl. And she's in love with this guy. We'll call her Sheryl and we'll call him Mike for now. Sheryl thinks Mike is hot, Mike finds Sheryl attractive. They've known each other for a few years now, maybe three. One day, Sheryl wakes up to the realization that the explanation for that uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach is that thing we call love. She's in love. With Mike. But Mike on the other hand, is possibly in love with someone else. Someone he can't have. But instead of doing the gentlemanly thing of putting Sheryl out of her misery and acting uninterested, distant and aloof, he makes the classic move of doing this part-time while sending out his famous male cocktail of mixed signals (sans olive) for the other half. Ignoring Sheryl is his usual behavior, but every once in a while, to keep things exciting, and Sheryl on her toes, he puts out his bat-signal. "I'm into you," it says to Sheryl. And we're not talking vague and open to misinterpretation "eye-contact" here; we're talking an undisputable message, but strangely without the fine print of an RSVP or even a return address. Both parties know that the message was sent and in turn received, but neither acknowledge its delivery. Her heart beats a million miles a minute, it drowns out everything else. His heart beats.....well this is the problem: we simply don't know.

And this is where our elusive friend Honesty pops in, rearing her frightening head and triggering what can only be dramatically described as a downward-spiraling obsession. At this point, Sheryl thinks: Maybe I should come clean. We're adults. It's not like I won't recover from this. What's the worst that could happen? At least I'll know once and for all where I stand.

But she does nothing.

People always say "honesty is the best policy"; possibly the most over-utilized but under-used clichés around. We throw it around like we would a frisbee on a Saturday afternoon. Easily, breezily... But like a frisbee, much simpler in theory. What we forget to consider is the wind direction, the glare of the sun, the gradient of the slope and, most importantly, the other frisbee-throwers.

In theory it's a great idea, but practically, we always end up lying on the prickly grass, staring at odd cloud formations with our lips firmly sealed, just hoping not to get hit by a rogue frisbee...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fortified armour

Just when I thought I'd got all that secret business out of my system, it creeps up on me stealthily as I plod through my daily life, getting on with the mundane and the routine, camouflaging the truth.

Do we all have secrets? Simply put, yes. Some of us more than others, some of us less that we'd like and some of us more than others would ever imagine. But we all have them, things that we are ashamed we have done, feelings we are too scared to admit and perhaps relationships that are too taboo for us to emerge unscathed from.

I think I am coming to a realisation. Despite what Frank Warren is telling me; that getting my secrets off my chest and out into cyberspace will bring me some semblance of peace and clarity, I beg to differ. In fact, I like my secrets. Sometimes they may be haunting and sometimes they make me feel giddy inside, and even though I may not always like their content per se, I can't deny that I like having them.

I enjoy knowing that there are some things that only I know, or perhaps me and one other person. The secrets, on some level, contribute to defining who I am, and by giving them away, even to supposed strangers separated by no more than six degrees, I am willingly becoming more vulnerable. Less safe. Increasingly exposed.

Instead, I'll fortify my armour, reinforce my walls and widen my moat...and hold on to my secrets for a little while longer.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Still life and strawberries

James squinted in the glare of the setting sun, visually scanning the piazza for Victoria. He spotted her in the distance, the gold hoop earrings he had bought her from a street merchant hung from her earlobes, casting a glow on her face. She haggled with a squat white-haired gelato vendor for "just an extra little bit" of the limone. Eventually, he topped up her cone, having given in to her batting eyelashes and flirtatious per favores.

James headed over to where Victoria was, eying a disheveled-looking flower girl on his way. He made a quick stop, signaling to the young girl that he wanted just one rose. Distracted by Victoria's innocent laugh as she stood by the gelato stand and watched the pigeons squabble over discarded crumbs, James hastily took the plastic-wrapped rose, exchanging it for a couple of euros.

As he approached Victoria, her eyes lit up. He handed her the rose and she took it excitedly, wrapping her arms around his neck, her ice cream cone firmly in hand. Drip...drip...drip... The ice cream was melting, creating a small puddle of yellow and pink on the brick floor just behind James.

"That's soooo sweet!" a hoarse-voiced Victoria exclaimed, before flinging the rose into her oversized handbag.

"Vic you know you shouldn't be having any ice-cream," James said but Victoria just laughed it off.

"I know you like my voice all sexy like this..." she playfully remarked, glancing away to find out which pigeon had claimed the final crumb.

James had met Victoria at a gallery opening for his photographs two weeks before. He had been described by the NY Times art editor as having "revived the still life movement". Bored and already on his third drink, James had left his fiancée with the formalities of explaining the influences behind his work to admirers for a refill when he stopped dead in his tracks. A tall brunette with hair which hung all the way down to the small of her bare back stood at the bar, flirting with the bartender who was obviously in raptures over everything that escaped her seductive lips. Her laugh was husky, and she spoke with a slight accent that he couldn't place. James set his empty glass down on the far side of the bar before making his way up to her, and unwittingly reviving his own still life.

Her black slinky dress skimmed the floor, hinting at the flawlessness that hid underneath it. James glanced back to where his fiancée stood with an older woman, deep in discussion on the similarities between the works of Kandinsky and Picasso. He brought his attention back to the stunning woman before him, who had by now noticed his less than obvious looks at her.

"Hello, I'm Victoria," she said, her voice still gravelly, giving him a light peck on the cheek, "you must be James Felding, there was a picture of you on my invitation!" She quickly fished the invitation out of her miniscule purse and waved it at him, "See?" she said with a smile so infectious that James found himself feeling elated by her effervescence. "Oh, I'm sorry," she began, having noticed that he hadn't said a word yet, "I didn't mean to be so forward but I absolutely have to have the strawberries and thought you might be more inclined to give me a discount if you knew me! So, I'm Victoria."

James cleared his throat, leaving his trance-like state of wondering whether she was real or merely a whiskey-induced apparition.

James mustered up the composure to finally speak to her, "Hello Victoria," he said, "I'm James; it's lovely to meet you." Her smile widened and she kissed him on the cheek again, lingering a little longer this time.

Victoria was talking about one of his favorite photographs, a jovial bowl of fresh strawberries that he had picked up from the farmer's market on a cold and wet Sunday morning, in hopes of surprising his fiancée with fresh strawberries atop her breakfast pancakes. As he had sat in his car, drenched from head to toe, he couldn't help but become immediately taken by the beauty of the unassuming scarlet fruits which sat against the background of the cheap green plastic netted box. He had stretched his arm to the back seat of his car, rummaging for a camera to snap a few shots of the strawberries. All he could find was an old disposable Kodak, thankfully one with a flash, with a couple of pictures left on it. He couldn't remember what else was on it, or even whose it was, but he had no choice. He couldn't let this moment slip. He looked through the viewfinder, and snapped.


Having rolled the little gear until it could move no more, James readjusted the camera, flipping it round for a portrait shot and took his second and last picture.


A few minutes passed before James realized he had been sitting in the car for nearly half an hour, contemplating what would become part of their breakfast later. He put the car in gear and sped back home, occasionally glancing at the strawberries that sat patiently beside him.

As he chatted with Victoria, James didn't mention his fiancée. Not a particularly calculating move on his part; the topic simply didn't come up.

They discussed furniture arranging, pie making and flight patterns of seagulls—anything but the mundane. In that moment, James couldn't imagine Victoria in a conversation with anyone about the weather.

Victoria was significantly younger than he was, and made him feel younger. He hadn't looked for his fiancée at all that night since his encounter with Victoria, which had now changed its venue—they were on the terrace, where the chill in the air ensured no one would venture out there.

Another uncalculated move—simply one in a series of uncalculated but convenient moves that evening.

Hours passed, and unbeknownst to both James and Victoria, everyone inside had left, save his fiancée and fiscal-minded agent, who stood discussing the possibility of another showing in October. Victoria, noticing his distraction, questioned him lightly, "Looking for someone?" This was his chance to come clean, be honest, no longer able to chalk it up to happenstance. But before he could utter a word, she quickly interjected with "Oh, and I forgot to ask you, how do you feel about sandcastles?" She had changed the subject, uninterested in the answer. James let her be, as he delved into a childhood anecdote of a destroyed sandcastle on the beaches of Brighton.

Midway through his story, his fiancée had come out to the terrace in search of him. "Almost done?" she asked. She seemed impatient to leave.

"Do you mind going ahead without me while Victoria and I finish up the paperwork on a sale? She's taking the strawberries," James said in a composed tone.

Victoria had walked off to the edge of the terrace, smoking a cigarette and counting the stars.

His future wife smiled faintly, "Congrats babe! Are you sure you don't mind that I don’t wait for you? I’m absolutely knackered."

James nodded. He gave her a quick peck on the lips before adding, "Let me know when you're home safe." Before he and Victoria had shared anything more than anecdotes and cigarettes, the guilt was already creeping up on him.

But with his fiancée gone, James felt lighter. He crept up to Victoria, gesturing for a smoke. She lit a cigarette and placed it gingerly between his parted lips. He inhaled. So did she. Silently, they exhaled at the same time. James threw the cigarette to the floor, stubbing it out with his shoe; Victoria did the same. Mutely, he leaned in towards her, and intoxicated by her scent; fell into a deep kiss with her. She kissed him back. The moment was surreal; they were alone but out in the open, fueled with the rush of getting caught.

As he pulled away from her, James could see her smile widening. Casually, she picked up her purse, pulled out her invitation and using her eyeliner, scribbled her number on the back. "I was serious about those strawberries," she said. Her eyes were sparkling; he could still taste her on his lips. "So you’d better call me," she added teasingly. And just like that, she walked out of the gallery, leaving James staring up at the fateful basket of strawberries.

It was two weeks later. James had been seeing Victoria at every moment he could since their meeting at the gallery. What his fiancée perceived as a new project in still life, was actually a personal project in crawling out of his still life. She thought he was away on business. His strawberries hung in Victoria's bedroom.

Victoria's gelato was almost completely devoured. Her hair kept falling in her face; she used her free hand to whip it away. She teased James with the last bite, before placing what was left of the cone in her mouth, savoring it all till the very last bite. She smiled at the old man who had sold it to her, mouthing "Grazia" at him as they walked past.

The sun had almost set on an almost-perfect day. As they walked through the bustling streets of early-evening Rome in search of somewhere to have dinner, the plastic wrapped rose peeking out of Victoria's bag caught James' eye. He lifted it out to smell it. It was then that he noticed the rose was artificial. It made him uncomfortable, he felt deceived.

They found a secluded trattoria and sat down. Strangely, James' appetite had escaped him while Victoria, having just finished her raspberry and lemon gelato, was already ready for more. Excitedly, she scanned the menu, studying every choice to determine what would be the best decision, and eventually settled on a pizza topped with "local ingredients". James, on the other hand, couldn't make a choice.

As he listened to her talk, wondering the origin of the non-local ingredients on the menu, James became slightly annoyed. Victoria's voice seemed unusually loud, and her conversation immature. His appetite had disappeared completely. The big hoop earrings that hung from her earlobes had lost their charm and now just seemed gaudy.

James had trouble breathing. He excused himself from the table, mumbling that he needed to use the bathroom. Unworried and unperturbed, Victoria signaled to the sommelier for a bottle of rosé.

As James walked out of the restaurant, he took one last look at Victoria’s long chestnut hair resting comfortably on her back, and walked out of her life for good.

It was time to return to his still life.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Heroic measures

Hercules: husband, hero & hunk. He fought against the seemingly impossible, supported by his loyal half-sister and somewhat estranged father. He endured his father's jealous wife and came out on top. He suffered a serious Hades-induced overdose but still managed to make his way back and have everything come up roses.

Today, he would be endorsing a footwear line, designer watch and carbonated drink. The Meg 'incident' is conveniently spun and Herc becomes nothing short of an international hero.

Wait a minute, wait a minute, let's go back just a little. What got him into the mess to begin with? And why are we so quick to forgive his actions? His winning smile, bulging biceps and apparent suffering have made our hearts melt. The Brad Pitt of ancient Greece. After having forsaken (and accidentally (?) murdered) his woman, Meg, he wins the hearts of the masses with nothing more than some good PR. Highlight his achievements: Hercules, strong and loyal. Brad, supportive and doting.

But what of our favorite friend? Swept underneath the rug, this damsel in distress is unfairly forgotten--nothing more than an inconvenient skeleton in the closet. Left to sit in an old book on a dusty shelf somewhere, merely an afterthought. Shuffled to the last pages of US Weekly. Jen and Meg are conveniently diminished, while Herc and Brad adorn the covers. When will Meg get the attention and sympathy she deserves? Or will directing sympathy at her make us love Herc just a little less?

As a staunch supporter of Jen, I can't help but take Meg's side. How can a man who slaughtered his wife and kids have made it to the ranks of hero, and one of the greatest no less? His lawyers sorted the whole thing out, "We'll plead insanity" they told Herc reassuringly. "Don't worry about a thing, with your winning smile and that just-got-out-of-bed hair, the media will eat the whole thing up." The jury must have bought it too, hook, line and sinker. Poor Paris (Hilton, not Troy), if only she had hired Herc's attorneys.

And what of retribution??? Forget rehab, leave Promises and Wonderland behind; only Eurystheus will really bring you back. A custom twelve-step program is the new "I'm sorry". If only Britney and Lindsay had known.

So is there any hope for Meg? Doesn't she deserve just a little more recognition, even if it is at the expense of the man-of-the-moment? Sadly, Meg has bad PR. No press releases worth being picked up, nor newsworthy scandals surrounding her. Sure, her murder was tragic, but where's the blockbuster in that? And the murder of her children? That would never pass the PG 13 censors ratings.

What Meg really needs is a little sneaky PR of her own: an underground grassroots movement. 'Free Paris' and 'Team Aniston', move over, 'Save Meg' is where it's gonna be at.

(Don't miss out on all The Twelfth Task action: Watch the coolest trailers around and join the Facebook group of the moment...)

Blueberry muffins

How often do we do things in life just to avoid disappointing people? Once again (and this seems to be evolving into a theme of sorts...should I rename my blog?) Postsecret is providing me with something-to-blog-about.

Mother's Day (the Americans tend to be better at commercializing it) seems to offer a deep well of issues, encouraging buckets of bottled-up secrets to spew forward. People looking for someone to blame, someone to thank or simply someone to bake them some blueberry muffins...

This is one of my particular favorites.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"So what?"

My post on secrets has caused me to think a lot more than usual. (Yes, this is possible).

As I struggled to produce something life-altering, shocking and pretty to look at, I found that I could decide on just one secret, and that the more I thought about it, the more secrets I had that I hadn’t previously considered as secrets, or even thought about for some time. But the main issue, when it came down to it, wasn’t the plethora of secrets buzzing around in my head, meticulously placed there by a concerned but disturbed BFG-like figure, but the difficulty of wording the secret.

Like most of my obstacles, the main cause of my procrastination was writer’s block, fueled by my recurring fear of feeling inadequate with a hint of mental exhaustion (and a pinch of salt)... My attempts at getting a secret down on paper, and creatively no less, felt very much like my struggle to post on this blog. I look forward to the final product, reading it later and wondering why I thought it would be so difficult to write, but still, I dread the process. It’s like someone crawling inside me and photographing everything inside, only to post it all on some drab wall in an obscure location. Out in the open for some people to sort-of see, but did it even make a difference?

Now back to the content of said secret. After I had finally, sort-of decided upon it, I actually started to worry that someone would recognize the secret as mine. By attempting to free myself of it, I worried that it would come back to haunt me. A postcard from the past, traveling right into my future. I started to wonder whether the risk was worth it. I also thought endlessly about the “creative” part.

I remembered those countless art contests my parents would enter me in when I was younger, expecting, not hoping, that I would win. The pressure was unspoken but immense, and I was frightened to death of failure. I worried that my secret wouldn’t be creative or shocking enough to make it to the Sunday Secrets. Mostly I was panicky at the prospect that my worst secret would be deemed trivial and silly by others. I was scared of being judged but even more terrified of someone reacting with a casually nonchalant “So what?”

So I’ve made a decision, and some of you may think I took the cowardly way out and it is no secret that taking the easy way out has been a specialty of mine. Anyway, it turns out that my secret wasn't ready not to be a secret…just yet, at least. Writing it down was difficult enough.

As I sat down to start my morning, some espresso was spilled all over it, mangling and obscuring my words.

Secretly, I took it as a sign.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

everyone loves a big fat lie

"It's a lie. It's a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and... all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it's beautiful 'cause that's what they wanna see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone... But the pictures make the world seem beautiful, so... the exhibition is reassuring which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie."

Bright and shiny on the surface, no matter how dark and twisty on the inside, the cliché may actually hold--a picture is worth a thousand words. Or more, sometimes. In an age obsessed with photographs, from digital cameras and photo sharing sites to glossy magazines and gossip websites, we make every effort to "capture the moment" perfectly.

Regardless of how imperfect the moment in question is. We smile at the lens, hoping it won't see through our thin veneer, leaving our unhappiness on hold for a second. Oh wait, let's take it again--we give it a second chance.

Our own pictures, all happy and smiley on the surface, hide the truth. We smile for the camera, giving it our best angle, hoping to have nothing lodged between our teeth. And what about those sly shots, taken by someone when they think we are unaware, when we are in fact highly aware of having our picture taken. We portray the persona of who we want to appear to be to the photographer, deceptive through our false candidacy. We pretend we didn't realise we were having our picture taken; but secretly ecstatic in the knowledge that someone wants to capture us.

Our pictures are misleading, only pretending to tell the truth, yet, they remain strangely reassuring. Lonely and terribly afraid of being alone, we hold onto every fleeting moment of feeling desired.

How can a photograph of something so tragic turn into a work of art and beauty? The only explanation is that it doesn't. It exposes a certain humanity, an aspect of humanity that makes us uncomfortable. So we react in the only way we know how; we transpose it into "art", masking the tragedy in the photograph with a supposedly beautifully captured scene. And at the end of the day, that is all it is, merely a scene. The photograph places a barrier between us and its subject, keeping us a safe distance away and freeing us from any guilt as we sashay into pretentious galleries displaying a façade of beautiful art at the expense of deep sadness.

Beauty emerges from tragedy. But does it really, or are we selfishly just looking for one saving grace in hopes that it will make us feel better?

Broken Glass

(written by guest blogger HB)

I'm storming off. He's following. Why bother? What's done can't be undone. What's known won't be forgotten. but still, he insists. I reach the corner when he grabs my arm. "Let go of me." I tell him with such strength that he does. "It was a mistake" he says. He seems sincere but I don't care. "How can you sleep with someone by mistake?" I turn around. I'm storming off.

I'm tapping my foot. The seat in front of me is empty so I don't think I'm bothering anyone. "Can you please stop that?" she says in a tone that suggests we're just strangers, sharing a bench when the bus is half empty. I obediently stop and mutter "I'm sorry". After 15 years of marriage I'm weakened and don't bother with replies. I just output what's been programmed. The bus stops and picks up a young man wearing headphones. He sits somewhere behind us. I look out of the window and lose myself watching some pigeons. I'm tapping my foot.

He’s still following me. What could he possibly be thinking? I’m not going to take him back. It’s been two weeks, is it really worth it? Why would he care so much? I turn another corner and he’s still behind me, pleading. “Why are you still following me?” I say. “Because I think it’s worth it. I think we have something worth fighting for.” I’m about to say something but decide not to. I turn and walk off and he’s still following me.

She’s yelling at me. Why is she yelling so much? Does my tapping really bother her so much to make such a scene on a bus? Is she doing it to teach me a lesson? To subdue me? I haven’t retaliated to her attacks in about five years why would she feel the need to shout so loudly and so continuously. She’s bringing up things that happened years ago. I spilt coffee on the sofa seven years ago. I lost my job three years ago. She says it’s my fault we’re riding the bus. I'm jealous of that lucky young man wearing headphones who can listen to whatever he wants. I’m about to say something but decide not to. I shut my mouth and she’s yelling at me.

I cross the street. I’m afraid to hear him talk anymore. So I walk faster. But he still keeps up. “Sorry,” he says. “I don’t want this to end.” I don’t want it to end either but I can’t let him know that. I can’t allow someone to treat me like that and get away with it. If I do, it’ll just get worse and worse. But I can’t help it. “What we had was so good,” he says “we can’t just let it go to waste. Please.” He’s getting to me. So I start to slow down as I cross the street.

I look at her face, trying to ignore her constant screaming. I think about other things. How did it get to this? We were happy once. A long time ago, but still, we were happy. Was it really me as she claims? Could it have been my fault? I’m thinking about all the events that she’s talking about. One by one I can visualize them. They all feel very similar. I’m staring at her thinking of other things while she screams at me. The variable is what lies between us. A coffee machine. A toilet. A toothbrush. Some groceries. It’s her fault; she exaggerates, every time. She just wants to have control over me. It’s starting to get to me and I’m getting angrier. I’m glowering now as I look at her face.

“We can work it out,” he says. I stop now and turn around to look at him. I’m almost in tears but I’m holding them back. I’m sure it shows though. “Just give me another chance.” I’m looking in his eyes and it’s getting harder and harder to resist. “How do I know I can trust you?” He comes face to face with me and holds my hands in his. “Look at me and tell me you can’t trust me.” He squeezes my hands. I look into his eyes then across the street. The little man shows green. I could turn and leave him forever or I can stay with him. He looks me in the eyes. “We can work it out.”

“I’m sick and tired of you!” I scream back. An unfamiliar voice; a voice I’m certain she’s never heard. “I’ve taken enough of your shit. Stop blaming it on me. Not everything in the world is my fault and not everything is worth it.” She’s looking back at me, shocked. I know the guy with his headphones on would cheer me on if he had any idea what was going on. “I may have ruined your sheets but you’ve destroyed my life.” I stand up and walk to the front of the bus. She stays in her seat in complete silence but for the first time in our marriage, she looks genuinely apologetic. “I’m sick and tired of you.”

I let go of him in one more act of rebellion and turn to cross the street. The little man is blinking green now. As I cross the street I can picture his face. His apologetic face. I’m trying to let him go. I don’t want to be trapped. I’m trying to just cross this street. As long as I don’t look back I can leave him I can be free. Half way through my willpower collapses and I turn to look at him again.

I turn and look at her again. With that puppy dog look on her face. I’m standing at the door, I want to get off at the next stop; I don’t care where it takes me. I’m holding the handle and looking in front of me. I can picture her face in my head. For the first time I feel free. I feel alive. I want to turn and savor my first and only victory. I look at her and as I turn I let go of the handle.

I don’t see the bus in time but when I do the only thing I can think of is how weak I am. I’m glass.

As the bus brakes sharply and I hit the windshield I can think of only one thing. I’m strong. I’m iron.

I’m crystal.

I’m stone.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Can you keep a secret?

We all have our secrets, some we are more ashamed to admit than others, and some which we’d deny to the grave. Whether you secretly wish that your gorgeous best friend would get fat and break up with her boyfriend, just so that you’d feel less inadequate, or that your crush would find out that you like him just so that you wouldn’t have to face telling him yourself, the secrets are still there.

If we all have these secrets, and hence all relate to each other in one way or another, why is it so difficult to admit them to each other? As a society, we have outlined what is acceptable, what is unacceptable and what is, the worst of them all, downright politically incorrect! Being jealous of someone who’s been in an accident for getting all the attention and leaving you out in the cold is plain wrong, as is being happy that the girl you secretly envy is being cheated on by her boyfriend. But the truth is, some people secretly believe that these things will make them happy—and in the end, how different are they from you and me?

It is my belief that it is not the nature of the secret that we are ashamed of, but rather the reaction by other people around us. Above all, we fear judgment from others, as if that will some way dictate our self-worth; and even if this is judgment from someone we have never met. Our deepest darkest secrets remain deep and dark for a reason, and that is because they are deep and dark and possibly very twisty but they are what makes us human. But they are never easy to admit.

PostSecret (as well as hard copy collections compiled by Frank Warren) has been an initiative that has interested and intrigued me since I came across the first collection on a rainy day when I had escaped into an Urban Outfitters store, and secretly flipped through the book, a glance over my shoulder with every flip of the page. I related to some secrets, shocked by others and as cliché as it sounds, felt hopeful that I wasn’t alone in feeling so many of the things that other people, people that I may never meet, were feeling too.

So then I started thinking a little about my own secrets, and which of my secrets I would share if I decided to send one. Would I send the one that I thought most people would relate to? Or would I send the one that haunted me the most? Would I care what people thought of me, as anonymous as I would be? And would I worry that someone would recognize me through my secret, that someone being the only one who really knew me?

Mostly, I wondered if sharing my secret anonymously and with strangers would change anything at all. Would it give me the courage to make the changes in my life that I want so badly to make? Would this finally be the catalyst that I have waiting expectantly, and a little impatiently, for? Or would it be another way to further procrastinate? Was I placing all my hopes on one flimsy 6x4 postcard?

In the end, there was only one way to find out.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mirror image

Beatrice stared at her plate. There were too many staring back up at her, taunting her to reach out for them with her pristine silverware. Approximately twelve pieces of romaine lettuce occupied her plate, and as she struggled with the dilemma of how to best dispose of them, Beatrice mentally calculated their nutritional content, their fat content and calories, taking into account the calories spent on chewing them to a greenish pulp, and with a determined stab, she captured the first morsel of lettuce. As she looked at the last piece of lettuce still left on her plate, Beatrice began to feel the familiar wave of guilt that followed every meal. She looked around the room, wondering if anyone would notice if she didn't finish her plate, but she reconsidered and placed it gingerly into her mouth, and methodically chewed and swallowed it.

Beatrice felt guilty, incredibly guilty. She rushed to her room and lifted up her shirt, staring at her disappearing midriff in her full-length mirror. All she could see was fat and ugliness. She pinched the skin separating her bones from the rest of world and grimaced as she tightened her grip on the offending flesh. She turned slightly, trying to determine whether her profile gave away the contents of her stomach. Had it not been for that fattening salad dressing, she might have felt a little better, but all she could do now was hope that it didn't convert itself into ugly ugly fat.

Beatrice pulled her shirt back down and stared at her sullen face. It was getting harder and harder to hide the bags under her eyes. Her cheekbones protruding, she turned her face from side to side, inspecting it for imperfections. "Kate Moss wouldn't be caught dead looking like this," she thought to herself in a self-accusatory tone.

Sitting at the dinner table surrounded by the scrutiny of envious faces, Beatrice had relinquished her control for one hour. One measly hour that had resulted in having to eat something that she hadn't planned, something that she didn't deserve.

Beatrice carefully opened her jewelry box, looking over her shoulder to make sure no-one was spying on her. The romantic couple which crowned it ceased to dance, the music having stopped playing for them long ago. A secret compartment revealed a small jar of pills labeled Ephedrine, the rest of the writing indecipherable; some sort of East Asian symbols covered the label entirely. Beatrice tossed one pill into her mouth and washed it down with a swig of flat Diet Coke.

As she walked to the door, Beatrice caught her reflection in the mirror and stopped for another look. She tried to look beyond the shrinking flesh to the person inhabiting it but there was not a shred of recognition on the face staring back, only accusations. Beatrice walked out of the room, plastering a smile on her face and silently wondered when she would finally recognize the person staring back.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Sliding MnM's...

At one point or another we all sit back and ponder to ourselves, "What if I had become an architect/married someone else/had another cupcake???"

In life, and often when slipping into a mid-life crisis, we tend to look at the big decisions we've made; whether to take a job somewhere, whether to move or not move somewhere new, whether to stay with someone or not, and without ever wondering about the small decisions of our lives, which scarily may be playing a much bigger role than we had ever thought. Blue or black socks? Turkey or Roast Beef? Should I run that red light or not?

I am not saying that this is a topic that hasn't been explored (Sliding Doors, anyone?) but on a daily basis, how often is making a decision this trite so difficult and near-impossible? Hardly ever? Should I cross the road up here or down there? Should I stop to get some gum? Should I get into this cab or the next? Without realizing it, and quite distressfully so, these decisions end up shaping our lives much more prominently than we would like to think. I mean, is it fair that your decision to wear a red shirt instead of a blue should dictate your future in any shape way or form?

For some of you reading this, you may have started thinking "This girl is absolutely bonkers, how can my decision to pick up a bag of MnM’s instead of a Snickers bar matter at all?!"
If this is you, then picture this:

A long day at the office has forced you to go down to the lobby souvenir shop for a mid-afternoon snack. After minimal debate, you decide to purchase a bag of MnM’s. You walk out of the shop and in your haste for a sugar fix, you fling open the bag, dropping a couple. Annoyed with yourself, you bend over to pick up the candy and realize that the slippery marble floor has sent a red MnM's careening to the left. You reach out and grab it, and as you stand up, your head comes in direct contact with none other than your boss' protruding chin. You apologize hastily, struggling to assess the physical damage you've done without making physical contact with the boss. Your boss is understanding, "Don't worry about it, how's your head?" You are quick to reply, "Oh I'm fine! Thank you!" not having expected the attention. You lock eyes with your boss, and he says unexpectedly, "Say, might you be interested in joining the accounting team on the Paris trip? We sure could use an extra head from audit." Taken aback by the invitation, it takes u a second to respond, "I would love to come." Three days later you find yourself in a business class seat, enjoying a scotch on the rocks. It is at this point that you chuckle to yourself, silently thanking the MnM's for getting you here.

And I know what you're thinking: what if I had bought the Snickers??? Something even greater could have happened! You might have not dropped anything and as a result seen an old college friend which you ended up having coffee with, getting together for dinner with, dating and eventually married to with lots and lots of babies.

Or what if you had decided not to pick up the fallen MnM's or, better yet, not gone down for a snack at all?

Frighteningly enough, we make hundreds of similar decisions every day. Having an extra coffee may mean needing to go to the bathroom before leaving work which may mean sharing an elevator with a prominent CEO of a publishing company which may lead to the book deal you have been waiting your whole life for. But it could equally mean that you miss the elevator ride with the CEO. So how can you know whether you are making the right decision? There are no pros and cons to weigh. You can never know whether you are making the right decision, or in the end, whether you made the right choice.

Big decisions and trivial choices, each riding on the fact that we believe in free will, believe in the ability to "choose our destiny". But the very concept in itself is paradoxical, for destiny is something unknown and something which cannot be pinpointed or measured, and something which cannot be chosen for it is what it is. Whether you choose to marry someone or not, or whether you choose to have that extra drink or not, could make the ultimate difference in your life, so armed with this knowledge, the real question is: "How do I decide?"

Next time you're in a restaurant, pondering the decision of whether or not to accept your boyfriend's marriage proposal, think for a second longer, pondering the more important decision of the evening: will it be chocolate mousse cake or crème brulée?

Friday, March 2, 2007

ingredients and frames

I've been doing a lot of thinking about cake (and baked goods in general) and pondering the phenomenon that I've been taking for granted. By combining a series of ingredients which look nothing like a finished cake, I end up with a just that! It's like magic.

How can a thing be defined as the sum of its parts if when separated they contain no hint of the final product? a slice of cake looks nothing like an egg, cup of flour or spoonful of sugar. And what about environmental factors? The heat from the oven makes the cake rise, giving it that lovely golden glow.

The big picture; more than just a sum of its frames. Each slightly altered from the one before, there is little or no semblance from the final feature length product.

How do we define things? What makes something what it is? And isn't whatever you are considering or looking at itself a part of a greater thing, rendering it in itself a part of a sum of parts?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You

It's been a while since I wrote my last post, and wanted to squeeze a last one in, especially it being the shortest month of the year (which does have its upside as it means I'll be getting paid sooner...) It’s been an odd few days. Consumed with sleep, I've been battling with my internal clock but not matter how early I go to bed, my body refuses to be awake at 7:30 am. And can you blame it???

So having been wrapped up in the world of movies lately (I blame the Oscars) I can't help but wonder about happy endings. Apart from the masochistic, narcissistic few out there (you know who you are), we pile all our efforts into achieving just that, thinking that we want a happy ending, but do we really?

In a movie, and let's look at the most basic structure of a romantic comedy, we are led to believe that everything past the closing credits and the sappy crooning is rainbows and sunshine and babies. There is a suggestion that nothing of real significance happens past this point of bliss. This often involves a wedding dress and/or a bun in the oven, with someone who was a stranger approximately 92 minutes earlier (and anything longer than that automatically prompts most thinking intelligent beings subjected to the story into a deep and well-deserved slumber).

Many of us have started to view our lives as our own little (or big) movie, probably thanks to the ubiquitous 'biographies' out there. We experience our highs and lows to a soundtrack and carefully consider who we believe our supporting actors to be. We dramatize insignificant events, and tell each other what happened to us today, each from our own heroic perspective. We mentally edit the teaser, the trailer and the montages over and over, wondering if we've captured the mood and the moment. We take make-up and wardrobe seriously, and exert insurmountable efforts to remain in character. But most of all, we worry about the ending. We think about labels, choosing between Cinderella story and war-time epic, or perhaps an open-ended mystery? We wonder which would make the most exciting feature, not wanting to end up as a short. Most importantly, we shy away from the scariest genre of them all: Documentary. What nobody ever wants to see is the real truth.

But when I think about endings; happy, tragic or ambiguous, I do not worry. I know that the ending of one story is the beginning, or perhaps middle, of another. I like to believe in the prospect of a sequel for my story and my life. Or several, for that matter. A happy ending simply won't cut it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

the time of your life

Claire sits in a room, seemingly unaware of the others around her. Rocking back and forth, she hums quietly to herself, something that sounds like a lullaby, over and over.

A young man, sitting to her left, reaches out his hand to tap her on the shoulder. "We should make sure she's okay," he tells the rest. As soon as he makes contact, Claire emerges from her trance, weary and disheveled, to the sight of eight others, sitting in a circle, uncomfortable in their rickety plastic chairs which had been donated to the community centre many years prior. The man to Claire's left reminds her of a young poet, with thick wavy hair and grass green eyes. A closer look reveals a hard glassiness, an invisible barrier forbidding any trespassers, sacrosanct against 'the outside'.

The point of the support group wasn't a matter of self-help; it was a matter of self-preservation. Being able to walk out of the room with you soul intact, not having squandered it for a few moments of peace. Claire couldn't remember a day go by that she didn't relive the memory of her lost life in her head. And Claire was only ever in her head these days.

It had been an orange day. The changing leaves and the warm sun combined to form a deceptively comforting glow, one clothed in the underlying death of summer. She had left the turkey in the oven, not needing to baste it for another half hour, and wandered out of the house for a smoke, eying the calendar on her way out; "Christmas soon," she thought, "1998 is almost over." She sighed.

Claire could hear the familiar drone of family banter, studded with the occasional laugh from Uncle Morty, whose alcohol intake and protruding belly had been increasing steadily over the years. Claire walked away from the house, anxious to be alone, and flicked the lighter on, giving life to the cigarette, its end glowing with a passion of the knowledge of its impending demise. She inhaled the fumes and exhaled, her staccato cough punctuating the ruffling leaves around her. It had been a while since her last smoke. Her blonde hair, stringy and limp, now carried the fumes of a well-seasoned turkey. Her cashmere sweater housed the faint aroma of sweet potatoes. Claire was a walking-talking tribute to all that is holy and sacred during Thanksgiving weekend--the food.

It was only when she started making her way back to the house that she noticed the car parked a short distance away from the house, its engine running and its windows fogged up. She stepped cautiously, for fear from getting caught spying on the unsuspecting neighbors as she very much thought they were. She got a little closer and that's when she noticed the number plates--it was a rented car. She peered into the driver’s seat and could make out the outline of a young blonde woman. In the passenger seat was a sweet young man, his green eyes taking in every inch of the woman in front of him. Claire felt like an intruder and with sheepish embarrassment, she stepped away from the car, and made her way quickly back to the house.

When she walked in, she almost didn't notice the missing aroma of Thanksgiving dinner. She slipped into the kitchen, not wanting to explain where she had been. It was unusually cold and slightly eerie. Not a pot or pan in sight. She blinked several times, trying to understand what had happened. Had someone come in, finished basting, put all the food in the dining room and meticulously cleaned up? All in the time that she had smoked a cigarette and spied on the neighbors?

She walked into the living room where her family sat. She looked around at the vaguely familiar faces, none of which registered an ounce of recognition. "I'm sorry," started Uncle Morty, less rotund than Claire had ever seen him but with the same sparkle in his eye, "are you a friend of Lisa's?" Claire was dumbfounded, her thoughts raced. Lisa was her mother; she has passed away eight years ago from a misdiagnosed headache. It had turned out to be a cancerous tumor.

Claire's heart started to pound, her breath quickened and the room began to spin. In the distance she could hear another voice, "Oh, is Lisa still saying goodbye to that boyfriend of hers in the car? Someone should tell her that her guest is here." Claire couldn't hear anymore, she had fainted on the floor.

Claire looked at the stranger sitting beside her. He held out his hand, gesturing that she could hold it if she wanted. She looked into his eyes, lined with wrinkles from a lifetime of worry but expressing a kindness that she couldn't understand.

She looked at the clock hanging in the entrance of the community centre; 7:52. "Almost over," she thought to herself. Right below the clock hung a calendar, and Claire tried to ignore it, having been the source of her anguish for so long. The clock ticked on.

Claire felt a light tap on her shoulder. It was the kind stranger with the haunting green eyes. "Lisa, honey," he said softly, "are you ready to go?" She got up slowly, her pregnancy weighing her down and took the stranger's hand for support. Walking slowly out of the room, she couldn’t help but glance back at the calendar, hoping for some proof of a lost reality, but she couldn't escape its truth; it was still 1968.

Monday, February 5, 2007

a fear of feeling inadequate

"Half the battle is getting over the fear of feeling inadequate."

While editing a certain someone's paper, I came across this observation which, although was being used in a specific context, suddenly shed a new light on my own fear of inadequacy.

Anybody who knows me will tell you that I have been putting off my masterpieces. Whether it be a novel or a perfectly poached egg, it feels as though I am trying to take large steps with baby feet. Where does this fear of inadequacy stem from? Is it universal, like the fear of death and public speaking, or bred from a past experience, like a fear of clowns and cupcakes?

Even writing this blog feels like a battle every time, each post laced with the fear of being inadequate, or even worse, mediocre. What if I have no ideas left? What if my well has dried up before I've had a chance to morph from average into successful and confident?

Every time I come to write, whether it be about cake or bunnies, it makes me nervous. What makes me nervous is not the fact that others are judging me by my writing, but that I myself am the most critical judge of my writing. What scares me is the thought that I will begin to measure my self-worth by the product, and no longer by the process.

"Millions of people live their entire lives without finding themselves. But it is something I must do. The best way for me to find myself as a person is to prove to myself that I am an actress."

Did Marilyn believe that the only way to find out who she was was by defining what she was. Being an actress made her feel like she was someone. And not anyone, but Marilyn Monroe, actress. By being able to define herself by what she did, her job, she was, in a way, proving to herself that she really did exist.

But does "actress" really define her, or is it just a job? And is a job, a profession, a measure of who you are? Is it an easy way out of defining who you are? If you live your whole life not being something, can you still be someone? And when do you know that you've become the person who you really are?

Maybe finding yourself is overrated. Maybe it is so difficult because every time you find what you believe to be yourself, you are already somewhere else. You spend your life chasing a truth that, in itself, is mercurial in its state.

Why are we so fixated on finding ourselves?

Maybe it's easier to to just wait, patiently, hoping to be found by someone else.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

A tree stands in a forest...

Standing on his own but surrounded by an entire forest, Jason the Oak Tree didn't have much to look forward to. He spent his mornings hoping for a visit from a squirrel or two, but they rarely came. He spent his afternoons trying to reach up for a feel of the sun on his leaves, but he was too short. He spent his evenings trying to whisper to the trees around him, but no-one ever whispered back. Jason spent sleepless nights wondering whether there was any meaning to it all and waited impatiently for dawn to come; not because he had anything to look forward to, but only because he wanted the empty nights to be over.

To his left was another oak tree, a few years older than him. His name was George. They didn't say very much to each other, the age gap meant they had very little in common. Sometimes George would ask Jason what time it was. Jason would look up at the leafy canopy above, trying to peek through the leaves of his elders to get a tiny glimpse of the sky. But even squinting wouldn't help him gauge the position of the sun. Jason would try very hard, hoping for a breeze that would ruffle the leaves and give him a beacon of light. But this wouldn't happen very often, and when it did, Jason usually noticed too late. He spent most of his time looking down at the soil, trying to make friends with an earthworm or bug. Even they weren't interested in him.

One grey morning when Jason was fast asleep, having stayed awake until dawn trying to get the attention of some owls, a loud mechanical roar woke him obnoxiously from his slumber. He tried to make out where the cacophony was coming from but it seemed to be seeping into the forest from all around him. Jason looked around; the trees around him all shared his confusion. Still, not many took notice of him. With a worried look, Lucy, a slightly older tree, asked him, "What's going on?” her leaves moving in a ripple as she turned to talk to him. Before he could get a single syllable out, she had turned again, creating a slight breeze as she did so. A fresh aroma from Lucy's pine cones washed over Jason. He breathed in her scent, wishing he has been brave enough to talk to her first. Then he realized this would have been futile anyway.

The thundering roar got louder and louder, and Jason could feel his very roots shudder with the vibration of the approaching monster. He closed his eyes; Jason wasn't very brave. The noise got louder and louder, until he was sure he had gone deaf. After a few minutes the noise was gone. He was sure he had been killed.

Cautiously, he opened his eyes. "Heaven is dustier than I thought," he mused to himself. He could hear some voices in the distance but his vision was still blurred. The voices started to get nearer, the language indecipherable. "I guess they speak a different language in heaven," he said to himself, this time out loud.

One of the voices got quite close. He could now make out what it was saying. It spoke quickly, responding to another voice. He squinted, trying to see more clearly. There were no trees around him. He must have been the only one to make it to heaven, he thought.

It was then that Jason heard the voice again, loud and clear. "Looks like we missed one." He felt a prod at his base, a poke at his bark.
"Should we do away with this one too?" a second voice asked the first. There was a slight pause, followed by another prod, this time to one of his roots.
Then the first voice spoke up again, "He was a lucky one. I guess we can spare him."

The two voices moved away, getting further and further until Jason couldn't hear them anymore.

He was left standing on his own.

Monday, January 29, 2007

party of one

The pots and pans rattle; the din of the kitchen is suffocating. I push open the door and take in a deep breath of the smoky air.

The restaurant is full, our clientele diverse. A group of well-dressed women heartily devour their steaks, medium-rare or they'll send them back, while an older couple enjoys a quiet dinner, exchanging glances and bites instead of stories and anecdotes. On the other side of the room, a young couple fights. My experience tells me they are breaking up; her with him, she's fallen in love with the gardener. Or pool boy. Or tennis instructor. Or something of the sort. I stand right beside one of two birthday tables this evening. A young lady celebrates her 18th birthday; she blows out her candles in two breaths, laughing hysterically and flashes go off in an attempt to capture the moment forever. The cake, immaculately covered in pink icing, is cut to reveal a divine chocolate filling, punctuated by raspberries which seem to bleed with each slice. I look over to the other birthday table. There is quiet conversation and the atmosphere is altogether more serious. No party hats, no cameras, no cake. So sombre that I would have never guessed there was anything to celebrate at table 12. The young man's mother had come earlier to request that "no birthday stuff" be brought out. She had left her credit card to take care of the bill, slipping a crisp $100 bill in my hand as she said goodbye. I thanked her, assuring her that it was unnecessary but she insisted that I take it, asking me to take the utmost care of her son. I didn't think it wise to ask any questions. I slipped the bill into the tip jar.

As I meander through the dining room, I note that the most popular dish of the evening is the grilled fillet mignon, each cooked to perfection, even when ordered "very well done", much to the horror of my head chef. Maurice's heart breaks in two every time a waiter waltzes in with an order, "Table 6. Two steaks. Well-done." Pause. "Sorry Maurice." Earlier in the kitchen, I heard him mumble under his breath after Antonio walked in with an order of seven well-done steaks, all for the same table. "Les americains..." he muttered. I ignored him, what do the French know about food anyway?

It is now almost closing time. A few tables are still occupied. The fighting couple is making up, over a good recommendation of Beaujolais Nouveau by Collin, my newest English recruit. The birthday group is still here; not the young lady's 18th but surprisingly, the young man's. He beckons me over. "Please, enjoy a glass of wine with us. You have done so much to make this evening so memorable for me." I politely decline. He insists. I take a glass and pull up a chair. A night like so many others, I doubt I will remember much of our conversation the next morning. I drink the wine; it slips past my tongue and down my throat; welcomed like an old friend. I drink a little more. The young man (his name is Gregory, I learn) tops up my glass. I thank him, and drink the rest. At this point I notice that the dining room is almost empty.

I walk over to the only other occupied table. Four attractive women look up at me as I get closer to them. One whispers something to the only brunette at the table and she smiles seductively at me. I think of my wife and daughter at home, probably fast asleep by now. Another day that I've missed away from my family. "Hello ladies," I say, "I trust you've had an enjoyable evening?" The brunette answers on their behalf, "Of course, the food has been exquisite. But if only it hadn't taken you so long to come over." I smile, flattered by her intended compliment. She looks at me, waiting for me to say something witty to which she will quickly deliver an equally-witty reply. But all I say is, "Will there be anything else, ladies, or would you like me to bring the check?" The brunette seems a little surprised but nevertheless replies, "Not at all. It's getting late and we must get home." As I wait for their check to print, I cautiously look back at their table. The brunette looks back at me. I hurriedly look away, slipping the check into a leather-bound envelope. Taking a chance, I also slip in my business card, with my private cellphone number written on the back. When I walk over to the table, the brunette picks up her glass, downing the rest of her Pinot Gris. "I'll take that, thank you," she says, gesturing for me to hand her the check. As I walk away, her friends all interrupt with pleas of "splitting the bill" but she will have none of it. She slips my card into her purse and they all get up. All are taller than I would have imagined. And slimmer.

She doesn't look at me again. The party of four walks out of my restaurant, the three blondes leading the way. As the door closes behind the brunette, she turns around and with a quick motion, takes out my card, crumples it up and leaves it laying in the gutter. She smiles at me, raises an eyebrow and after pausing for a minute, walks away. I am stunned.

My attention goes back to the birthday table. Gregory and his friends are getting ready to leave, feeling they may have outstayed their welcome. Most of my waiters have gone home. A couple stand outside, smoking a cigarette. Gregory comes over to settle the bill but I explain it has already been taken care of. He thanks me again, and with a warm handshake, tells me that his birthday was everything he hoped it would be.

As the last person walks out of my restaurant, I sit in an empty chair by the window, and with every passing minute, watch the cars whiz by. I look at my watch; it is almost two in the morning. I go into the kitchen to close up. Maurice has left it impeccable; all that is left for me to do is switch off the lights. In the dining room, I add up the day's total. Not bad for a Thursday.

I step into the crisp November night and, for the first time that day, breathe.

Friday, January 26, 2007

the meaning of food...

This is a highly deceiving title as this post has nothing whatsoever to do with food (or at least very little). But it does have a little to do with the meaning of life. If I know, really know, what I want to 'do when I grow up' and what I want to do is actually a lot of things, how do I pick?

I sit, alone, lounging on a faraway beach listening to the seagulls, hugging a hot mug of coffee and musing about my next installment of Henry the Hoppity Bunny. Henry's been labeled the latest craze in children's literature, fusing thriller with adventure; romance with action; horror with bunny. The kids are lining up at the stores. The parents wait for their young to fall asleep before sneaking their copy of Henry the Hoppity Bunny's latest adventure/romance/mystery. Churches and schools are banning the books, citing the worship of bunnies to be immoral. The first installment has made it to the big screen, with the next three already in production. I'm credited as consultant. I've never visited the set, and the only person I have spoken to from the studio is James, a squat middle-aged man, more interested in talking numbers than chatting about the benefits of sea air. And all the while, fan fiction websites are popping up, all chronicling Henry's thrilling romantic action-packed bunny-filled adventures.

But my fame remains a paradox. Exposed yet obscured. With no husband, no children and very few friends, some begin to wonder whether the famous Clara A. Thatcher does in fact exist. The pen name does not fool anyone. They begin to wonder whether I am trying to convey a secret message, visible only to those smart enough to make out the anagram 'CAT' in my name. Will my next protagonist be a cat? they wonder to themselves as they chat online, in libraries and on spaceships. The excitement is almost too much to bear.

I hadn't noticed the anagram. Nor have I any affinity to cats. Perhaps I could write about Camilla the Curious Cat but somehow I fear for her fate; I see an unfortunate end for her, scarcely before she has had time to grow a long enough tail.

I pick up a pen and begin to doodle on a notepad. I draw a cat. I try to make her look like she's smiling but somehow her expression comes off looking like a scowl. I scribble her out. I pause then rip off the page, scrunch it into a ball and fling it towards the sea. It manages to travel a few inches before a gust of wind flings it back at me, catching it in my hair.

The real Henry is getting restless. I can see him hopping about, with neither adventures nor romances to his name. Not even a measly mystery for him to solve using his thrilling crime-fighting prowess. He hops a little more, pausing for thought. How many carrots have I had today? he wonders. Not enough, he concludes, and continues his hopping, finding and munching escapades.

It it almost sunset and the very thought of a romantic setting makes my stomach turn. I hurriedly get up, leaving the notepad behind and walk back towards the house. I pick up Henry along the way. For company. But before closing the door, I quickly glance around the foyer, making sure that pesky Camilla hasn't somehow snuck her way into my life.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

pre-lunch; post-breakfast

The office is pretty quiet today. It's almost the weekend so maybe people are taking quick naps (pre-lunch; post-snack) to recharge, making sure they have ample energy to do nothing but eat all weekend (and then "diet" all week, of course).

Food seems to be the main topic of converstation around here. What did you have for dinner? I had a small breakfast. Are you having lunch here? I feel like a burger with extra onions and large fries. Is that all? Oh, I'd like a Diet Coke, but please make sure it's Diet. I feel guilty, I shouldn't have had that. Oh it's okay to cheat, doctors say it's better than not having something you crave. Hmmm got any chocolate? I could go for a quick coffee actually. Double latte. Fudge brownie. Oh, can I have nonfat milk with the latte? You know, I only drink nonfat. That was good. I wonder what's for dinner? Well, there's a new restaurant which, apparently, has been packed to the brim. What do they serve? Why, sushi of course! Naturally with a side of hummus and french fries...

Here, I have found the meaning of life: Food. People aren't eating to live, they're living to eat. Times of day surround meals. Before breakfast. During lunch. Before dinner. After my midnight snack! At breakfast, the topic of discussion is lunch. At lunch, we reminisce about breakfast and anticipate dinner. And naturally, at dinner, we discuss tomorrow's breakfast.

I really can't be bothered to get up, walk somewhere (or drive, more likely) and go get something to eat. I'll just get it delivered. Oh, in some countries there are restaurants that don't deliver? How barbaric. I do wonder how they get by.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


So now that I've spent a day at home, shortened my 'working week'--I use the term quite loosely here--and effectively decreased my grand total of seventeen sick days a year to sixteen (which braniac decided that the average human being needs seventeen days for being sick a year?), I am hoping to get sick less often and use those sick days more often--for a good lie-in on a rainy Monday morning, when even the birds don't want to be chirping.

So what exactly makes birds so cheery in the morning? Are they chirping because they know they got the worm? Where are all the latebirds (as opposed to earlybirds)? Sleeping in, I suppose. The early bird not only loses the chance to sleep in, but also has to stomach an awful breakfast which he may very well live to regret. He is lonely from being the only bird with "early" status stamped on his beak, and on top of it all, has to spend his morning acting as a clock-radio. The latebird on the other hand, wakes up rested and content, and instead of having to hurriedly swallow an unsuspecting worm, sits down to a quiet breakfast of healthy cereal and the morning paper, quietly contemplating the day's events (the earlybird has no time for formalities, and furthermore, the worm expects to see the esophagus of said earlybird before lunch). The latebird is thankful that "Wake People Up. Be as Annoying as Possible" is not scrawled on his To-Do List. Thankful that he doesn't know what a To-Do List is.

Next time you hear someone say, "Come on, you know the early bird gets the worm!" just smile and say "I know" while secretly basking in the lifestyle of latebird life.

Monday, January 22, 2007

cake for thought...

Well hello world, and welcome to my life.

The purpose of this blog is to connect you to me and me to you and us to other worlds. And such. And to talk about cake of course. For today, at least. Chocolate. Foret Noire. Cheese. Marble. Upside-down. Sponge. Fruit. Christmas. Birthday. Banana. Ice-cream. The world of cake is big to say the least and if we look closely enough, I am sure the meaning of life is lurking somewhere under the copious layers of sugary icing. Take the time to enjoy a particularly delectable piece of flourless chocolate cake on a dreary London afternoon. Cake does not masquerade as something else, something essential or necessary but admits, not proudly nor defensively, that it is what it is. Something you can't resist, what begins as a one night stand with an unusually large piece of seven-layer chocolate fudge cake develops into an endless string of affairs, with the occasional unspoken romp with a lemon meringue pie. Don't lose your head over it, chocolate souffle will always be available the next day. Marie knew what she was talking about. What could be better than the champagne of water when it comes to thy daily bread?