the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: September 2008

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

“Here lies Carrie. She had two loves, and lots o’ shoes.” – Carrie Bradshaw, Sex & the City

It’s the eve of Eid and everyone is being lazy, what with it being in the middle of the week and all. This entire month has been dreadfully dull, as the fasting masses ceased to function as soon as Ramadhan began, and there hasn’t been much to do except proofread very badly-written fund reports and marketing collateral. And with only three people in the office today, myself included, I agreed to join Becca and Joyce for lunch at the Tian Xiang Steamboat Restaurant on Pudu Road.

Partway through lunch, Becca dropped a load of noodles on the table, but then decided that it couldn’t be too hazardous to put the noodles back in the soup. “If I die eating them then too bad,” she said. I added that at least she would have died doing what she (i.e. we) does best. “Can you imagine how it would appear in the news?” she chortled. “Girl dies after eating steamboat; police suspect noodles.”

That led us to thinking about how our extraordinary (assuming they would be) deaths would be reported in the newspapers. Girl found on streets with dirty noodles in her esophagus… Girl choked to death on noodles in restaurant… Noodles found to be as lethal as melamine or heroin…

And then we thought about how our gravestones would look if we were buried. I came up with Loving wife, mother (assuming she would be in either role), and trailing plumber for Becca. Trailing because that’s what she does when she goes out with her man — him striding away while she trails/gallops behind him in her efforts to catch up — and plumber because she has been domesticated to the point of having to fix his toilet when left in his apartment to fend for herself.

And for me, she came up with She who woke up at 6AM every morning to go to work, who had big boobs and who was groped by other women. No explanation necessary.


Is it time?

I haven’t felt like this in a long time. Years, in fact. Maybe it’s because this past month was Ramadhan and I’ve had its meaning and everything that it stands for and everything that goes against it shoved down my throat. Maybe it’s because I’m back here, trying to pull my life back together with every fiber in my being, as excruciating as it is. Maybe it’s because over the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I’ve done and that have happened and wondering how it all came to be. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m finally ready to renew my faith in my religion. Whatever the reason is, I can’t wait for Lent.

After I was baptised when I was twelve, I tried to be a good Catholic, to live up to the reason I chose to be Catholic in the first place. I wasn’t a diehard Catholic, but I never missed Sunday Mass if I could help it, I took Communion and went to Confession, and I observed Lent even though I wasn’t considered of age to be doing so, because I wanted to understand what it was that I had cleaved to and why it had seemed so important to me to go down that road.

And somewhere along the way, about four years ago, I got lost. I made mistakes that I couldn’t yet learn from, and I sought comfort in the absolution that Confession brought. But then it came to a point where I couldn’t bring myself to go to church, because I felt like a fraud for being there when I was so steeped in sin that I knew if it had been entirely up to Him — and not on the obligation of the priest who must have balked at all my confessions — I would never have been forgiven. And so I stopped going to church, deciding that the day I knew in my bones that I had truly, truly learnt from my mistakes and was ready to embrace the purity of the Church again with a clear conscience, I would go back.

Yet I still observed Lent, because I felt it was at least the one thing I could do to keep that last shred of faith hanging on. During those forty days I took little comfort in the thought that I was trying not to let go of everything that I had learnt and accomplished, which was a substantial amount for someone who had had no sense of faith or spirituality in the first eleven years of her life. But it never brought the same sense of peace and contentment that it used to, and there were days when I wondered why I was even doing it.

To say I’ve reverted would be an exaggeration. To say things are back to the way they were before would not be quite so accurate. But things are certainly different now, in a way I have yet to figure out. There is no going back, only forward, whether on the same road I was on before, or on a different one that will teach me different things along the way, but in the end let me understand again why I was on that road in the first place.

So yes, I can’t wait for Lent.

We have a choice

If it’s a broken part replace it
If it’s a broken arm then brace it
If it’s a broken heart then face it
Jason Mraz, Details in the Fabric –

Sometimes we think we don’t have a choice in certain matters. Our cell phones start freezing up every now and then, but we think that means we have to get new ones because repairing seems impossible or just never occured to us. We want the black Manolo Blahnik Mary-Janes but they’re not in our size so we give up the search, not thinking to look at Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin. We want something so badly that at the slightest hint that we might not get it we think that means we should just give up on it immediately, our judgment so clouded by disappointment that we fail to look at other ways around the situation that might get us what we want.

But sometimes we do have a choice. It may not give us what we want, ever or anytime soon, but it strengthens our resolve and renews our resilience, and even if it doesn’t apply to any current situation, it prepares us for the next time around. It’s whether we’re willing to go through the harsh lesson of being disappointed and humiliated time and time again or ready to throw in the towel in the face of too many obstacles and a seemingly dead end that makes all the difference in the world.

Bad juju

I went to KLCC during my lunch break today, because Eza wanted to get something from the Lancôme counter in Parkson. Up until then I had been having a decent day; I just got paid and I’d spotted some things I liked in Burberry and Fendi. Then it was time to come back to the office, and because we drove separately we split up and went to our respective cars.

Only I couldn’t find mine.

I remembered parking relatively close to the escalator entrance right below Topshop. I remembered getting out of the car, locking it, and as I approached the entrance, tossing my Kleenex into the trash can right by the door. And I remembered the escalators being on my right as I walked in.  So why couldn’t I find my car? I had located the trash can, but everything around it seemed different.

I walked round and round the entrance, looking out for the green Kleenex box that I had stuck to the dashboard of my car, remembering also that I had reversed into the parking spot so I would be able to see the box as I approached the car. But there was no box in sight. I began to panic, remembering very well the hyperconniption fit the folks had thrown when my brother had had his car stolen.

Not knowing what else to do, I called Eza, who had by then just arrived back at the office. Knowing how absent-minded I tend to be as she had witnessed me losing my Pavilion parking ticket not three weeks ago, she told me to look again. And after I had walked round and round the entrance while holding the phone to my ear, she suggested enlisting the help of the security patrol. I don’t usually ask for help until I need it, because I’m not sure anyone in this country understands English — or Malay for that matter, as Pavilion proved — and because I’ve never had to ask for help in matters like this. But time was running out; I had to either get back to the office or to a police station to bawl my eyes out.  So I hailed one of the little fluorescent-green (or was it yellow?)-clad men on his motorcycle and asked if he could help me find my car. Thank God the man could understand me, and a few minutes after he zoomed off, he reappeared a good hundred feet or so away and pointed to his right.

I was half-inclined to believe he really had found my car, because I know for a fact I didn’t park that far away. But as I walked in the direction of his finger, I saw that it really was my car. Before I could finish wondering indignantly what my car was doing so far away from the entrance, I looked around and saw that it was near another entrance — the one right below Guardian.

And then I remembered: I had parked below Guardian, even though I had gone up to that floor with the intention of parking below Topshop, because as I had gone up the escalator I had looked over at the hallway leading to the Convention Center and thought I saw someone I knew. So I left KLCC feeling rather sheepish.

When I finally arrived back at the office, I was about to swing into my designated parking spot when I suddenly blanked out and thought I was getting into the wrong spot, because there was a car in it. So I looked again at the empty spot I had been about to enter, and saw that the sign read 72, and not 71, which was mine. Amidst a slew of profanity, I parked in the spot next to my invaded one — who didn’t even have a company windshield sticker — and stormed up to the office to get Property to make the intruder leave. My colleagues said I should have parked right behind the car to prevent it from getting out and serve it right, but that would involve blocking one other car as well and I wasn’t going to suffer the indignity of being reprimanded for blocking them, never mind the intruder.

After a good ten minutes I saw someone crawling into the car from the passenger seat, because I had parked so close to the driver’s side that it would have been impossible to get in, and reverse out of the spot. Grumbling at having to go all the way back out into the sweltering heat, I flew down into the parking lot and shifted my car to the left, back into my own parking spot.

And then I walked into a door as I went back into my office — right where my hip bone is.

This is what I get for being tempted into shopping when I should be saving.

The last of the embers

“You are everything they never were.” – Me

I remember when she first told me about you. Through her haze of alcohol she texted me to say that she missed me and couldn’t wait for me to come home because she had found someone for me. I remember I was rushing out the door of my little Copley Court apartment and didn’t have time to entertain her except to say I was not one for random setups, but that I hoped he could speak English like a decent person. If only I had refused. Thank God I didn’t refuse.

Two days later, I was reminded that she had said she’d given you my email address. And so I went against my usual principle of deleting and blocking strangers who added me on MSN, and let my own curiosity get the better of me. My sceptical side thought I would tire of this within a fortnight, but then… Maybe, I thought, this one could be different. How right I was. And, in some ways, how very, very wrong.

I will never know for sure what it was that had me so drawn to you over the next few months. Maybe it was the fact that we shared so many interests, and I could talk to you and relate to you on my own level. Maybe it was the fact that I had not yet met you and I felt safe enough to reach out from behind the wall that was the oceans separating us. Or maybe it was the fact that, throughout that difficult phase of my life where I was going through several transitions at a time, you had somehow become a constant in my life that I could always turn to. My penis fish, I called you — how silly it all seems now — because that was what you had become: a presence that had found its way into my system and affected me when you were and weren’t there.

I remember all the firsts. The first time I spoke to you over the phone and you said I didn’t sound the way you thought I would but that you liked my voice. The first time you said you liked my laugh, although you never knew that it was because of you that I laughed so much. The first time you fell asleep talking to me, which left me mortified and later amused because she told me how you had woken her unceremoniously to ask for my number so that you could apologize. The first time you said you missed me, and then followed up several seconds later with “I miss talking to you” because I was frozen in my seat and couldn’t reply, and, several hours later, the first time I gathered enough courage to tell you I missed you too. The first time I saw the shoes — do you remember the shoes? — and laughed, because even though they weren’t me, they were exactly what you would have bought for me, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The first time I told you I fell in love with you just being you, and how your surprise at that statement showed your vulnerability.

I think I felt it the most when I was in Boston. You were getting ready to move as well, do you remember? I remember all the text messages I received from you, speaking of your uncertainty and apprehension about leaving behind a life you had so loved and starting a new one in a new place. Those were the days when I wished I were there to help you, to hug you and keep hugging you, to tell you that everything would be fine, that it was all right to be afraid, and that I was there for you, no matter how far away I was. And yet I always knew that you would find a way to see the brighter side of it all, to embrace it for the opportunity that it was, and to make yourself rise above all the hardships and come away from it a wiser, if not happier, and stronger person.

Throughout all this you talked about us often. I always wondered what made you talk about us, what gave you the courage to talk about something that at that time seemed so surreal and yet so uncertain. It terrified me because we were still so far apart, and yet it softened my cynical side because I thought that if you could find it in yourself to talk — or even think — about this, I could learn to break down that wall and allow myself to think about it for once.

And then I was home. Those were the most difficult days, when I wished the most that you were here, especially at night when the memories of the place I once called Home washed over me and I cried myself to sleep, incidentally making it the only way of fighting the jetlag. And that was when the need to tell you was greater than ever: that I was in love with you, that in some crazy, impossible way, I had fallen in love with you. But again, I was held back by my fears — the fear of having everything take a turn for the worse when I told you, the fear of driving you away (even though in the end it did), the fear of you disbelieving me, because who in their right mind could have fallen in love with someone they had never met? And so I kept it to myself, thinking that when the right time came I would tell you. How I wish I’d never told you. But thank God I told you.

“There’s a time and place for everything. Time to confess. I was outside your place just now. Nice basketball court. Don’t scream, it was meant to be a surprise.” I remember I was so stunned I couldn’t do anything either except to say, “Oh…” You were home. All at once I was happy, apprehensive, excited, terrified. I will never forget the first time I saw you; you had your water bottle up to your face and when I got into the car you stopped drinking and just looked at me, and I wanted to laugh because I could not have imagined you doing any differently. And when you later said, “So… here we are. Nothing has changed, right?” I wanted to hug you and tell you that no, nothing had changed, nothing would change.

You knew, didn’t you? You knew I was in love with you, which was why you tried so hard to make me tell you. But as terrified as I was of the consequences, I knew had to tell you because I would regret it if I chose to go the rest of my life wondering how it all could have been. And when I finally told you, I was convinced that I had made everything worse, and in a way, maybe I had. Maybe if I had waited until things had been on surer ground to tell you, we wouldn’t be the way we are now. Maybe if I had opened up and told you more than just that I was in love with you, things would have turned out differently. Or maybe… maybe if I had never told you at all…

And then, just like that, the music died, and the laughter stopped.

Sometimes I wish I had told you everything then. How it always made me laugh when you laughed at my silliness. How I wanted to open up to you, but found it difficult because you shut me out sometimes, even though you didn’t know it. How happy I was whenever you called, because after a while it seemed that MSN and Gtalk just weren’t enough. How I had to look away whenever you looked at me, because the look in your eyes was so intense it shook me to the core. But I couldn’t tell you, because I had seen how just telling you I was in love with you had made you afraid of what could happen next, no matter how much you wanted to know all of it.

To this day I’ve never fully understood where it all went wrong, where I went wrong, what I could have done to make things better, why everything had suddenly fallen apart just like that. I tried so hard to build it all back up, but I knew the damage had been done, because you had already shut me out. You had lost what little confidence in me, if any, that you had before, and I had lost my footing on what I had thought had been relatively steady ground. And I knew that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times you left and came back, things would never be the way they were when I was still in the U.S. The irony of it.

Do you remember SINGfest? I think that was the last time we were even remotely happy, maybe because at that time I thought that things could get better. I wanted to tell you how much I missed you when you weren’t around, and that I missed you even more when you were around, because we weren’t the way we used to be. But when you started to shut me out again a week later, I knew that was the last time you had let me in. And after you moved back here, it was painfully clear that somewhere along the way after SINGfest, something had happened to make you decide once and for all that you didn’t want to try anymore. Maybe you had never wanted to try in the first place.

And now here we are. Almost a year later, and we are even greater strangers than we were when we first knew each other, and the damage is irreparable. I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry I never told you everything when I had the chance, I’m sorry I made things so difficult for you when you tried to reach me, and I’m sorry that when I wanted to open up to you it was too late. I’m sorry you couldn’t forgive me for not being what you wanted me to be, and I’m sorry I was so accepting of you exactly the way you were that I let you be and never fought hard enough for you. I’m sorry you couldn’t believe in me — or was it in yourself? — the way I believed in you, and I’m sorry that you couldn’t let go enough to give us a chance, in spite of everything you had said over the past months.

But I have to thank you. You taught me to hope again, to believe that there would always be a light at the end of the tunnel as long as we didn’t turn away from it. You taught me to have faith, both in myself and in life around me. You took away some of my cynicism and bitterness, even though you couldn’t let go of your own. You taught me to go for what I want when I want it, even if it meant setting myself up for failure, because looking at you now, I know that if it had to come down to this, I would rather be sad about losing you so that I can move on, than to keep stumbling about blindly in this gray area, wondering what the outcome of all this would be.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? We’ve both done our fair share of growing up, of learning, of searching. I hope you find what you’ve been looking for, now that I know it isn’t me. I don’t know what I will find now, because I thought you were everything I had been looking for, but that’s the risk I’m willing to take.

Cold turkey… or not?

My boss is on a mission to quit smoking. It all started when he went on vacation with his family during the last school break and wasn’t able to smoke, and when he came back he decided that since he’d managed a week of not smoking he might as well go on without it. It’s been a little over a month, and he’s held up very well, considering the two managers he used to smoke with have been trying — and failing — to tempt him back to smoking.

“The strangest thing of all is that this time around, I’m not suffering any withdrawal symptoms or feeling the need to smoke,” he said. “It bothers me a little that I don’t feel that way, but at the same time it’s a good feeling. I think it’s because I didn’t say I would stop cold turkey forever and ever and amen, but I said that I’m just not going to do it because I’ve already come this far.”

When we’re trying to stop doing something or break a habit, which is the better way: to gradually cut down, or drastically cut off? We can say we’ll cut down, but wouldn’t that just drag everything on and make it more difficult to stop altogether, because deep down we know we really don’t want to stop? But if we try to cut off completely, we would still feel the need or want to do it, and at some point our resolve could break and we’ll be back in the habit.

Why is it so difficult to stop? To stop smoking, stop gambling, stop speaking to someone, stop anything at all that hurts us? Is it because we know that if we stop completely that part of our lives will be gone forever, and we could regret it because in a strange, twisted way it had always been something we could turn to? Or is it because we actually don’t want to stop, thinking that we can control ourselves and we would know when and how to stop?

I think my boss is doing very well. But I know exactly how he feels every time I see him eyeing the other two when they light up.

Flight of fancy

“You and I are like that red wall.” – Carrie Bradshaw, Sex & the City

Apparently guys ‘dig it’ when girls think of them this way, and actually say it. Whoever these girls were, they were extremely fortunate to have men who didn’t run in the opposite direction when they told them how they felt. But to be fair, the author of this post is already in a relationship which gives her the freedom to tell the whole world she’s madly in love.

Over the years, I’ve been told that I keep too much to myself, which gives people the impression of, as Scarlett O’Hara put it so well, a “silly little fool who can’t open her mouth except for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and raise a passel of mealy-mouthed brats just like her.” As I grew older, I tried to open up more, but still with great difficulty, and eventually managed to get to a stage where, after many moments of freezing up and deep breathing and screaming to myself to calm down, I would bring on the word vomit. But somehow, whether immediately or weeks or months later, it would backfire on me, and after each time it happened I swore I would never take that risk again.

I do agree that when it comes to matters of the heart, some things are really best put out on the table, because even if we’re terrified of the consequences, we will never know what lies on the other side until we actually step over the line. But if telling him I was in love with him was just the tip of the iceberg which made everything fall spectacularly apart, is it any wonder I never told him the rest?

How could I tell him that I don’t know why or when or how I fell in love with him, but only that he had made me happier than I’d been in a long time? How could I tell him that of all the men I’d ever known, he was the only one who had ever come close to breaking me in ways I had refused to break before? How could I tell him that I was grateful to him for bringing back that feeling of hope I’d lost so long ago? Not the hope for anything to come out of what we had then, but that no matter how difficult things were, with enough hope and faith in ourselves and in God’s grace, everything would eventually be all right. How could I tell him that everytime he laughed at my silliness it made me feel warm, or that everytime he looked me in the eyes it shook me to the core and I had to look away? How could I tell him that I understood his vulnerability and that I was here for him, and that it didn’t matter what he was afraid of or what his flaws were but that I accepted him just the way he was?

How could I tell him any of this when the very intention of telling him was what drove him away in the first place?

The calm before the storm

What’s goin’ on?

Sometimes you have to wonder what it’s all worth.

Sometimes you have to think of how much others have already suffered for the sake of freedom.

Sometimes you have to think of how much more they will have to suffer for the sake of freedom.

Sometimes you have to think of this Uncertainty that has been the sole constant for so long.

And then you have to wonder if it’s worth it.

Three Arrests in Malaysia

September 15, 2008

Malaysia’s democracy took a body blow Friday with the arrests of a blogger, a journalist and an opposition politician under the country’s draconian Internal Security Act. The government appears willing to use any means it can, including fear and intimidation, to retain office as support for opposition parties grows.

[Abdullah Ahmad Badawi]

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar justified Friday’s arrests as an effort to “safeguard the interest of the majority.” Blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin commented on political and racial issues on his popular Web site. Reporter Tan Chee Hoon wrote about a ruling party politician’s slur on the country’s Chinese minority in Malaysia’s largest-circulation Chinese-language daily. Democratic Action Party politician Teresa Kok was accused of objecting to a mosque broadcasting its morning prayers too loudly.

The accusations are ridiculous on their face. Mr. Kamaruddin exercised his right to free speech, which is protected under Malaysia’s constitution. Ms. Tan’s reporting also falls under free speech, and the man whose comments she reported hasn’t been arrested. Ms. Kok’s alleged crime was refuted by the mosque, which confirms she wasn’t involved — and even if she were, why would it be a crime to file a noise complaint? There’s no reason the charges couldn’t be sorted out by civil courts.

Rather than an attempt to “protect” Malaysians, the arrests seem designed to invoke fear before the opposition parties, led by Anwar Ibrahim, mount a challenge to government in Parliament. The ISA is a powerful weapon: Under its umbrella, the police can detain any Malaysian indefinitely with the permission of the Home Minister. Five ethnic Indian activists arrested under the ISA in December remain behind bars.

The government denies that Friday’s arrests were politically motivated. The Home Minister became visibly agitated when questioned by journalists at a press conference Saturday, saying, “We do get information from members of the public who feel unsafe, so we have to take preventive measures.” If that’s the case, then Mr. Albar could help make his case by releasing that information.

The arrests are part of a broader crackdown on freedom of expression. Mr. Kamaruddin’s blog, Malaysia Today, was blocked briefly by government regulators last month. On Wednesday the police issued “a stern warning to all quarters to refrain from making statements on sensitive issues via the various media.” Two days later, the government sent “show cause” letters to three newspapers — the Sun, Sin Chew Daily, and Suara Keadilan, Mr. Anwar’s party publication — asking them to explain why they shouldn’t be prosecuted for recent news coverage. The content of the letters hasn’t been made public.

The police released the reporter, Ms. Tan, Saturday, saying she had cooperated with them. That action could be seen as a tacit admission on the government’s part that it was a mistake to incarcerate her in the first place. More likely is that the UMNO-led coalition was interested in protecting its own back. UMNO’s Chinese coalition partners were outraged after Ms. Tan reported the anti-Chinese slur by a Penang state official, Ahmad Ismail. UMNO responded by banning Mr. Ahmad from politics for three years, calming the intra-coalition dispute. Ms. Tan’s arrest rekindled the flames.

That leaves Mr. Kamaruddin and Ms. Kok behind bars today. Many Malaysians are courageously protesting their incarcerations in blogs, text messages and public statements. The Malaysian Bar Association said Friday “the ISA and other preventive detention laws violate fundamental rights, are unconstitutional and oppressive, and have no place in a society that respects and upholds the rule of law.”

A political showdown is expected soon. Mr. Anwar says he has enough votes in Parliament to defeat UMNO’s coalition. As the government struggles to retain power, its use of the Internal Security Act weakens its legitimacy. Many Malaysians already see Friday’s arrests for what they are — a blot on their country’s democracy.