Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson is as far removed from the Christian tradition as anything. It’s a collection of short-stories linked by a troubled narrator who is an addict. In one story, the narrator hitches a ride in a car he somehow knew before-hand was going to crash- supernatural prescience? Too much drugs?
There was a time in the 90s and all the way to the early 2000s when all I looked forward to on Christmas eve was to drink alcohol at friend’s houses. I started on my street and finished off at my best friend Eric’s before staggering back home and putting out the food 30 minutes before mid-night. Things changed when we all became adults. My parents had always been a team- left to their own devices, they would have coped happily whispering sweet-nothings to each other without having to worry about keeping up tradition for their adult children. Alcohol and the company of friends made the night more bearable.
But things swung back to how they were when the kids started to come- there was Matt and several years of Christmases when all the gifts under the tree were his; then Yanna but all too briefly because Al & Binky already lived abroad; then Toni and Jay’s kids.
Christmas is really about the children, no doubt about it. When Chini grows up, I think finally, I can have that Christmas I’ve always only recently, been thinking of having- to be alone, somewhere cold (or hot it wouldn't really matter), happily coping with just memories, and drinking tons of alcohol because this time, I’m actually happy at the thought that the holidays- unburdened by glossy memories of the past- is finally mine and mine alone..(does this make sense?).
September 4th, 2011
Remember Google+??? I remember wasting half a day at work, sneaking between open browser pages, looking up for a way to get invited. I eventually got an invite from my best friend and again spent half a day at work building it up.
So much fun, like being asked to spruce up an entire empty floor of some building with your, well, crap. Of course it was crap. What else could it possibly be, just a bunch of cutesy posed pictures (made up some faces on my Mac and edited out my jowl lines, my tired, baggy computer screen scarred eyes) random video links (wohoo! Hollywood Tuna) and ephemeral flotsam and jetsam. Just the digitized short-hand really of the generation.
A generation that's gone and disappeared.
And I certainly played well into the night when I got home. It was Cindy's mother's birthday and I had a very handy and dignified excuse- who the hell got drunk on a Monday???? I loaded a box of lemon-cheesecake cupcakes that my daughter Chloe baked for her grand-nana into Cindy's battered Holden.
'Put real lemon there dad, like they did on Top Chef.' Chloe just turned 9 and was trying to run away from her childhood faster than her stints at her school's cross-country races. "I'm sure your grand-nana would appreciate the lemon better on her gin and tonic sweetie..'
'Oh dad!' Mock adult disgust and falling over me for a kiss, her lips bitingly cold on my cheek. 'Where's your jacket hun, it's gonna get real cold.' And out of nowhere, she whips out my worn leather bomber jacket which she puts over some top and leggings on semi-adult legs. And it's my turn for mock-anger, 'oi!' I grunt before Cindy steps in as she's wont to, the only true time it seems for genuine affection, lightning quick snatches of it, before everything falls into the abyss of second mortgages, an immature job as she has always called it and too much Facebook instead of getting our freaks on.
Like can we do it now, right here on the driveway as she sidles up to me, locking her hips against mine, my hands settling comfortably on the rise of her buttocks.
'Yeah, tell Elaine you're down with the flu, really down with it' I bite her lower lip gently and she bites back, her face a blur, the scent of something richly sweet like dark chocolate on her breath.
'Uhmm..when we come back, promise...promise..'
Those were my wife's last words to me.
They pause down the driveway just before plunging into the darkened street as a light, misty rain falls. The car's interior light opens and I see Chloe, rummaging for her stuff at the back as usual. She tries to see me through the window, squeezes her eyes into slits, probably couldn't but waves nonetheless at what she believes to be her father still watching her drive away.
I was and it is the last and most painful memory of my daughter.
How it happened, I really don't know. There was no rumbling, no fireworks in the sky, no choir of angels announcing the ascension of the blessed and the eternal isolation of the damned.
I went back to my Google + account and thought, what a refreshing change. Empty; just me and digital quietude. I puttered around in the kitchen, made chapati and cumin meatballs in a Japanese curry sauce.
I think it was about 10:30 pm but I'm just guessing. I remember looking out the lounge sliding doors, through the smear of condensation and the fog outside. The street lamp just outside the gate was on and it looked to me 'sadly luminous'. I remember that description, sadly luminous and I did feel, like a sudden cascade of cold water had fallen over me and a seemingly infinite, weepy sort of sadness.
And the funny thing was that I never did know what I was sad about at that moment....
(he sends a text message that remains unsent, sitting in his draftbox. There is no mobile service, just a slight, unnerving humming at the end of the line. Television services stop at 3am, radio follows soon after. And yet there is still power even as public lights burn on throughout the day and night. The internet still functions to some degree and when he checks for some clues online, one thing is chillingly clear- status updates on Facebook have ceased just before 10:30pm, GMT. He doesn't sleep for 48 hours straight and walks all the way to his mother in law's house in the suburb of St. Heliers, marveling at a cityscape captured frozen in its tracks even as the day rolls by. Cars are packed at Elaine's expansive driveway. Inside Cindy's Holden is his bomber jacket and he cries and cries clutching it, because it smells of him and not of Chloe..)
This is why I think photos are more reliable records. Even if you filter them, nothing is really altered and it captures that singular truth- that day was what it all was. It was sunny. It was raining. It was raining and you were wearing your new winter boots. It was sunny and you had brunch at that new city cafe; the eggs were runny, the multi-grain bread moist with butter. It didn't matter what you felt or what you were thinking at that moment because there is no record of them. You can put in what you thought you felt at that moment but it feels somewhat insincere. I found a couple of poems I had written while combing through the back-end of my blog and I honestly don't know the context of how and why they are written. The only reason I'm reposting them is that I think they're not that bad.
And maybe this is why I take a lot of pictures- its a cleaner, more truthful record. But what is truth in this day and age? As someone known for fantastic story-telling (for the record, I've never lied anything about my life- I simply do not volunteer information which is nobody's business), what has truth done for me?
It was so easy,
that after all this time you thought,
it took leaps of faith,
a fortuitous hand
or maybe necessary deceit.
But love knows its way
even in the darkest of places
and I still remember your face
or what I remember of it
that even as I close my eyes
I can see you, as clear as daylight
and see that love
is not garishly bright
as I feared it to be
Ofcourse love is selfish.
In the beginning, the universe closes in,
collapsing in on itself until
there's only that vision of sweat on the nape
as if your eyesight had suddenly acquired
It was half past 10 when, spent, hungry,
we decided that it was impossible
to ignore the sunlight streaming into the room
which seemed more like the middle of March
rather than June.
You were tracing the veins right below my navel
and just above the line of pubic hair.
Everything does seem vulnerable at a certain point in time;
so clear and translucent
even when you're already half-clothed.
I gushed how wonderful Sundays were;
how carefree, slow and languid.
Today is Sunday, you said,
and I did realize that it was.
We rode the jeep, just the two of us then
and for the first 4 minutes, we cherished the thought
that 4 minutes would seem
like a postponement of the inevitable.
But ofcourse it wasn't.
and the rest of Sunday
was dark, closeted and long.
You mourn that time passes so quickly and when you look at the mirror, you're standing quite still. What will change, you ask yourself and this is your fear.Read More
I was saying to Sam's mum Mary this morning on our 7am drop-off that maybe I should re-read 'Catcher In The Rye'. Books are like people; how you get along with them depends on your level of maturity, your current state of mind. If I remember it correctly, I read the book when I was in college; there was a copy in my Tito Benny's library in Fairview.
I can say for sure that it didn't affect me as much as the Chronicles of Narnia did which I all read when I was 11, or Sidney Sheldon which I started reading at 12. So in hindsight, I wasn't at all the alienated adolescent that I thought I was. Holden Caulfield aside, I can identify more with JD Salinger.
I'm going to be a writer when I grow up, I declared to anyone who asked when I was 13 and unlike JD who was inspired/moved/influenced by his experiences in the war, Hemingway by his extensive travels or Tolstoy having a profound moral crisis, I was a child who was simply imaginative. And bored. And friendless for the first 16 years of my life. And well provided for by nearly perfect parents who didn't beat me up, let me starve or be sexually molested. In short, what the hell was I going to write about?? This is generalising I know, but something profound, something really important could have been a start- and I think that what I had wasn't just enough of a catalyst. Wasn't enough material.
I actually came across this trailer on Jessica Zafra's blog- yes, I check on the old girl once in a while to see if she's still alive (!)- and watching it made me cringe; nearly every line uttered in the trailer was me, that old writer me.
1. All I know is how to be a writer
2. My life is dull
3. Fiction is more truthful than reality
4. "I write short stories"
5. Write another story and another one after that
6. How is writing a real profession?
7. I don't know if I'm cut out for this
8. Are you willing to devote your life to telling stories?
9. Dumb it down once in a while
10. You can enrapture people, move people
11. I just want my writing to be truthful
12. You got to stick out these dry spells
13. Imagine a book that you'd want to read and go write it
Alternate Universe 1
I am over 6 feet tall, eyes as blue as a summer’s sky and impossibly perfect. I can sit down to eat huge meals of fried pork with mounds of white rice and washed down with real coca-cola. I go to bed at 3am after having binge-watched my favourite shows, half-finished a book and wake up- clear eyed, head buzzing- at 6 and head out to the beach on my bike, for a swim. In the icy cold ocean, I swim with the ease of someone seemingly born in water. I head out further, deeper and let myself sink, face-up towards the surface. Reflexively, my chest pulses, the network of serrations open, letting the water in and I start to relax as the oxygen dissolves into my blood-stream and I can breathe. The glimmering surface starts to fade and my pupils adjust- the darkness around me is no longer empty. I take a last lingering look at the world above, at the twinkling double suns before swiftly pivoting, barreling downwards into the world below.
For someone who has no idea of its comic-book origins (I didn’t until the end of the movie), Logan is real life- in your face, wrinkly, ageing, coughing, saggy, sad, regretful, bitter real life. Something is physically wrong with Wolverine- he is working as a chaffeur in Texas and Professor Charles Xavier is suffering from neurodegenerative disease, confined to bed and taking bootleg meds to keep his massive telepathic powers from getting out of control. The other X-Men are nowhere to be found and no new mutants have been born in the last 25 years.
So when an 11 year old girl appears who later reveals herself to be a man-made, cloned version of Wolverine himself, it’s the beginning of the end; it’s the child seemingly usurping the parent.
And death is all over this film; gone is the PG-13 filter. Adamantium blades slash across throats, severe limbs, stab through heads underneath, on top. Professor Xavier’s regretful pining of something in the past is more personal. It’s not about the world, or abstract philosophical questions. It’s about personal redemption, and whether he gets it we can’t really tell as another clone of Logan- X-24, unleashed by the shadowy Transigen group catches up with them and stabs Xavier as he lies in bed in a medicated fugue.
But it's when Logan succumbs to a fatal wound that something catches in our throat. And it's not the sentimentality of the cloned little girl crying out 'daddy' that gets us, but the fact that mortality and death catch up with those that seem impervious to it- at least in this alternate universe, it does.
In every apartment that Leila has lived in (and I've stayed in all of them save for one), I think there are four constant things:
2. Ashtrays for those cigarettes
4. A maid.
In her latest abode that overlooks a resort-sized configuration of pools, cabanas, a club-house and outdoor sports-areas, she informs me that the fourth one was no longer applicable. There are already three adults in the household, the youngest of whom no longer required supervision. And besides, the new place has only two bedrooms and I had a fleeting vision of the maid sleeping in the balcony on a folding bed.
We smoke in the balcony, these slender Korean cigarettes in which you had to pinch the filter to break some sort of capsule inside that releases this candy-like, menthol flavouring. We look over the balcony ogling families barbecuing fragrant pork, the kids screaming in the pool. We have so many memories, too many to count, of such scenes, but set at a real beach, all of us huddling inside make-shift huts of bamboo and coconut leaves to escape the heat. We were happy when we would bring help along, but sulky when we had to man the charcoal-fed barbecue pit ourselves. To this day, I can never light charcoal properly with the efficiency and patience needed to bring it to a blistering temperature. My idea of lighting one is to douse the bricks with as much kerosene as possible, an aggressive, scorched-earth technique that usually left a faint kerosene-y taste to the meat.
I feel the nearly imperceptible but all too familiar bite of a mosquito on my leg.
OMG, are there mosquitos here I cry out remembering that my sister-in-law and my nephew had a bout with Dengue a few weeks back. Leila looks at me as if I'm crazy; of course there are! Welcome to the Philippines! You should buy Off-Lotion and make sure to avoid staying too long in places where you'll be exposed to mosquitos (which is practically the entire country).
I laugh and tell her that if she ever needed a maid again, she would have to sleep in the balcony shrouded under mosquito netting.
It's not a bad thing mosquito nets and I remember as a child waking up in the morning and rhythmically rubbing my feet and legs against the netting as I lingered in bed.
If I had another chance to stay a bit longer in the country that's what I would get- a mosquito net, a good electric fan and a reliable reading lamp- and of course, ten books from Leila's shelf.
When Chini was little, she was fascinated with the app. Each time he came to visit and by the time he left, there would be a cache of photos of the two of them- all funny and endearing in that way that one looks at photos two or three decades later and thinking, 'my, how life had changed, how kids have grown'. And all of them- over 15,000 and taken with predictable regularity- preserved on the Cloud probably forever and ever. And of course, Chini clever as she was, soon learned on her own to take photos of herself without help and without prompting. Every child did, such were the days.
And then the technology leap-frogged in a way people didn't expect. One day, the app inventor thought that maybe it was time to take it to the next level. People had been flirting with hyper-realistic and enhanced images all the time that two-dimensionality had become boring and banal.
Step out of the frame, the app inventor said, and at first, it was like a baby giraffe struggling to get up on its long, spindly legs. The materials that passed for skin either didn't have enough coagulation or enough adhesion. And the colours and textures- suede was easy enough (3,000 shades!), but crocodile skin with its lattice of armour-like osteoderms, or the smooth firmness of watermelon with the familiar flat styrations of green- how to replicate an endless variety as limitless as one's imagination?
The answer was the Cellular Codex that was secretly being used by the Chinese for the good part of a decade to 3D print practically anything they wanted.
All it took was the threat of outing the Chinese government for printing agricultural and livestock products passed off as traditionally grown and reared to feed nearly half its population to acquire the technology- the app inventor assured them that he wasn't interested in using it to create stuff that could be eaten (there was virtually no research anyway on how safe it was, but it was probably proof enough that 900 million people eating the damned stuff were still up and about). The app inventor just wanted to create stuff that people could wear in a different way.
He remembered the year the beta came out, two weeks before Halloween. The costume shops were abandoned. Racks upon racks of latex masks, cardboard witches hats and superhero costumes were left unsold at department store aisles. All it took was choosing what you wanted to be, putting your head inside what looked like a vintage salon hard dryer and pressing the button on the app.
Looking back, the first generation of the app now seemed crude; the kooky disguises, the cartoon faces, the fantastical facial accoutrements of mythical creatures and beasts. It had quickly evolved of course into something else once people got bored of the mundane and the app inventor couldn't agree more. At this point, he was the richest person on earth and was building a home on the moon and couldn't care less about the raging social debates or the millions of electronic clucking that his people filtered and monitored every day.
And so it came to be that governments had to regulate and legislate. No using the app when passing through airports and borders. CCTV had to evolve and be equipped with sensors that looked into and identified people on a DNA level. A black market sprung up (with the Chinese leading the pack) where the printing was bio-regenerating and it wasn't even that expensive. He got sick once and it was his kidney. The doctor's words were inoperable, acute and dialysis. But the doctor was also a mate and whispered 3BR (3D Bio-Regeneration). Sure, it would cancel his insurance permanently, but it was either believing traditional medicine and facing less than satisfactory results, or choosing this technological miracle- there seemed to be no other more appropriate word for it.
Besides, he was never traditional to begin with. No family. Nothing to lose.
And that was 30 years ago when he was 51. Today on some days, he could believe that he was 81. He would close his eyes for a few minutes and let his mind wander down the long dark corridors of the past, his path lit up by memories that were probably the only real things he had. Awake and looking at the mirror he sometimes struggled to believe the reflection; it was his face at 43 (which even then, could pass for 35 and a good one at that) and that's where it stayed. Indefinitely.
Some people had gone too far and suffered horrific consequences; like you can't regenerate the entirety of your skin for example, or that brain cells were tricky, but that didn't stop people from trying. True beauty is on the inside he would remind himself and he stuck to this, as internal organs were regenerated keeping him at least in a state of statis. The science wasn't sure- it was too far mired in a social and ethical maelstrom as large (and permanent) as Jupiter's red spot.
But he couldn't care less as he had deliberately shied away from the internet and finally could say he had found the peace and rhythm he wanted- the (very) long ebb and flow of days spent reading, writing and drawing. He was 14 or 15 again, without a care in the world or a friend to his name and the truth was that you don't miss what you've never known or experienced. At least this was the state of his mind- most friends and family were either truly old or dead anyway.
He was alone and in this aloneness, the world seemed as clear and crisp as a sunny winter's day.
He dreaded it though when Chini came to visit and she always did with the regularity and devotion of his visits when she was a child. He dreaded it because he came face to face with the reminder that he could have chosen differently, and that now, looking at his reflection, he no longer had the heart nor the courage to change it. But Chini didn't judge, even as she was an Organic- untouched by the app, raised well by her parents who wisely resisted the technology, and now at 40, looking like them in every way, an amalgam of his sister's and brother-in-law's fine features as well as bearing the patina of her own journey in life as an architect and a mother to four accomplished children.
And yes, they go through their photos on some days- all 15,000 of them- with a glass of wine each and catching up on gossip, with updates on every one in the family.
But they have never taken another picture of them together.
That was the past and that man in the photos was no more.
Reading through the first chapters, I sensed that something seemed 'wrong'Read More