*The Pointless Writer*
has a life you're completely uninterested in. But it's okay because I can write. No abbreviations. No shoddy grammar (though I'm not immune to mistakes). Just quality writing on sometimes completely pointless topics.
UnPoints of Note
1. I write when fancy takes. Sometimes, fancy takes many months of leave.
Living in the Neighbourhood: Next Door
I stand in the shower, relishing the sensation of warm water sliding down my body. Warm water possesses a rare power, one that God no doubt placed in the natural spas of this world. The knowledge that grime is being swept away by this comforting blanket of heat is physically and emotionally pleasing, cathartic.
A dreamy fog fills my mind like the hazy mist of water droplets that is suspended in the air, thickening the air I breathe as it thickens my mind. It is difficult to know if I am asleep or awake in this twilight zone. The sounds of the outside world wash over me like the water; I am unalert, and they echo against my heartbeat.
I live in one of a circle of blocks that tower over a common park. The effect is amphitheatric: every sound from the playground is carried upwards in an auditory swirl of sound smoke - the screams, the shouts, the laughs... Even the caterwauling from the cats. They muddy together in indistinguishable echoes; one cannot tell where two sounds end and an echo begins.
I seldom listen to the screams. Children laughing. Playing catching. A couple of rowdy teenagers yelling at each other without thought for the amplifying effect of architecture which makes all their secrets unsafe. Tonight, as the screams fog around me, they take on a hard edge. Inadvertently, I tune in.
The scream. There's something wrong with it. It doesn't sound like the happy, excited cry of a child at the playground. I cannot tell how I know this. A mysterious sensitivity of the ear to tone, perhaps, to the invisible contours of uncoloured sound. It's amazing how much we can tell even from an unfamiliar voice. I'm about to brush off the darkness of the sound as an effect of the dreamy fog, where reality and dreams collide, twisting together and breaking apart into new existences, making it impossible to distinguish truth from imagination. Then, the man's voice shouts.
I cannot hear his words. They eddy with happy sounds from the playground, television noises from an unknown apartment - perhaps another, perhaps his own. Consonants are lost and vowels deformed. As garbled as a digitally warped recording. The knifed scream is cut off and all I hear of screams are the happy ones. Almost seamlessly, the sobbing begins. Heaving. Racking. Maybe fearful. It sounds like something hard has been knocked over or thrown, but the sound has splintered into a million pieces that colour with other sounds. It's hard to tell if my imagination is affixing a creative label in the absence of fact, or if those are truly the echoed tones of an angrily tossed object. It's impossible to deliberate on the woodenness or tinniness of the sound that reaches me. Are the shouts and the sobs and the screams even from the same location?
I wonder if this is merely an angry father berating his son, or a darker soundscape. I barely dare to think the word.
I don't like to think about it, but I am forced to accede that it is possible. With at least four people living in any of these large apartments and four apartments on every floor, there are easily the sounds of a thousand people that reach my ears via these echoes. What is the rate of known abuse in Singapore? The rate of unreported abuse is no doubt higher.
How much do I know about my next door neighbours?
Jurong West Primary School Art Exhibition: Jurong West Public Library
I had a pleasant surprise when I went to the Jurong West Public Library on 25 July 2013. More than pleasant, in fact. The feeling started as a mildly astonished "huh, would you look at that?"
Glue Batik by various P2 students
Being a terrible photographer and possessing shaky hands, I took a few shots and have uploaded the two best.
A lover of all things colourful, my brain gave the order to release happy hormones at the sight of these delicious batik palettes. This batik quilt of sorts hung like a majestic tapestry of yore (perhaps similar artworks hung in San Nila Utama's palace) along the winding staircase, commanding attention with its regal presence.
The feeling then grew into a semblance of awe when I reached the second level and was greeted by panels of student artworks, which included the following:
More glorious rainbows: Tie-dying on paper and cotton by P3 students
Charcoal drawings by P6s: Eye by Lim Say Yaw, inspired by Rene Magritte's The False Mirror (T), Son of Man by Nadiah Bte Mohamad Azman, inspired by Rene Magritte's Son of Man (B)
Water colour paintings by P6s: Sunflower by Ding Mohan, inspired by Van Gogh's Sunflowers (L), Milestones by Nur Syafina Bte Imran, inspired by Rene Magritte and Van Gogh (R)
Acrylic Painting by two P4 students
As I walked from artwork to artwork, the feeling blossomed, just like this acrylic flower, into a rainbow splash of awe, amazement, and wonderment at the love of the school for its students--to put up such an extensive display, spanning all levels--more than a hundred students' works were put up for public admiration!
I proceeded on to the third floor, eager to see what else could be seen, my initial mission to find a book all but forgotten.
Koi, acrylic paintings by Mdm Suriati Binte Samuri
This beautiful three-piece series of Singapore's most iconic fish (second only to ikan bilis) was part of a collection of works by teachers of the school which included painting, drawing, and photography.
This exhibition and its location are a beautiful amalgamation of two distinct art forms--language and art--as well as a trailblazer for the path forward. The rich culture of the library has long been fused with the local heartbeat in the form of the public library in Singapore. It is apt that the first art form now presents the second, once more representing the local heartbeat by showcasing in pride the unspoken talent of the general population--the talents outside of our niche schools, from overshadowed youths to undervalued teachers.
Snapshots of Society: Train Rides
She sits, the perfect picture of this generation. Her eyebrows are furrowed slightly, her gaze cast upon a small rectangular screen I cannot see. What is so intriguing about this tiny oblong creature, whose back is red outlined in grey? A cherry red that lacks sufficient brightness to be named thus, the product of this generation with its artificial processes of colour and material creation. A matte red too bright to be named thus also, decorated with an insignia I never get to see clearly. A crest? White with a horse, shadowed by the angle at which she holds this precious pet, enabling her to admire with reverence its visage. Though why she worships it so I do not know since it only causes her to frown.
She fidgets every so often, tilting her head in various directions, far enough that it looks to put an uncomfortable strain on her neck and spine but not so far as to cause immediately noticeable discomfort when her attention is diverted from the well being of her body to the device. Her fingers wrap and unwrap around her device, sometimes possessively clutching it in two hands, sometimes only in one. Her right hand never leaves contact with the matte cherry red. The oblong acts as a mobile stage, pivoting forward and back as her fingers adjust themselves, breaking out of each plateau to dance their next step. Her index finger now wrapped gently about the grey edge, now elegantly outstretched with only the padding of her fingertip against the furry-coloured grey that is actually smooth rubber.
The persistent movement, small though it is, renders her hard to sketch as shadows dance across the entire portrait.
Two friends, so similar yet so different. Friends? Perhaps they aren't. Both attired in dark jeans and black tees. Perhaps they are merely acquaintances, travelling companions, moving to or from some event they are both involved in. Probably the former, as we travel toward the city centre. But I could be wrong.
No matter the event. Perhaps they are friends regardless. Similar taste in hair: two heads of rich dark copper brown hair, artificially coloured with man-made chemicals. A fashionable colour in some circles. Newly coloured, lacking the initial sprouting of black that betrays the hair colour we are born with and the time of our last colour job. Both clutch phones.
But so very different in their approaches to life. One ceases staring at his phone only to complain loudly and vulgarly (vulgar in manner though not in language) to the other. I do not bother listening to his complaints, which sound inconsequential, as so often happens when one is unpleasant about things. His upper lip twitches, revealing his teeth. There is something incredibly feral and coarse about such an action, small as it is. But rather than make him look predatory as it would a lion or defensive as it would a dog, it combines with other fine muscular movements on his face - a twitch of his upper cheek muscle changing the contour of his eye, the tugging down of his lower lip asymmetrically, the pulling of his jaw muscles - to form a smirk. A smirk that betrays overtones and undertones of his character and his view of the world. How people mistreat him and people are ridiculous and he is superior in his unstupidity.The other, friend or no, is silent. His eyes a little vacant. Bored. His chin is slenderer, the product of a gently sloping jaw, a contrast to the hard angles of the first's jaw made harder by their tense set. His lips neither upturned nor down-turned. He listens silently to the first's complaint, if he listens at all, offering no sympathy or disagreement. Almost a statue carved from flesh. No thoughts can be seen on his face at all. No character defining or revealing muscular twitches. His eyes are glazed as he continues watching his screen noncommittally. The mystery of this mid- to late-adolescent is solved when he closes his eyes and goes to sleep.
The first remains awake, turned away from the second as if in a sulk that he does not agree emphatically about whatever he has just complained about, typing angrily with an almost vicious pleasure into his phone.
A mother and her son. Perfect picture of attentiveness, for a split second anyway. The son's face turned up towards the mother, glowing where the sun gently flows, in shadow where his nose forms a natural screen from the light. Just enough light to make an angel, and just enough dark to make a secret. The mother's left arm up on the edge of the seat (where chair meets train window, clear and forever changing as the landscapes shift) and her other hand in her lap, her whole spine curved away from her child to bring her face closer to him - her hair falls, framing her face, blocking her face, as she whispers a secret love.
In actuality, she is trying to get him to repeat a certain word, but he is a spirited, lively child and spews a string of other words instead.
They lose each other's attention. The boy, having finished reciting his alphabet hastily with his mother's prompting, turns. Now his behind faces us, in a swift pivot only children are skilled at with their young bones and smallness in an adult-sized world. Torso straight up from his knees as he watches the quickly passing world outside, his calves forming an imperfect right angle with the rest of himself, tapering off into little feet that don't quite make it to hanging off his seat. His younger sister (or brother?) to his other side, seated docilely in a helper's lap, bores of her docility and reaches over to touch the soles of her brother's shoes, now upturned.
The mother, who seems inattentive as she stares at her mobile phone, eyebrows slightly furrowed, instantly reaches out with a hushed exclamation of higher middle range. High enough to express surprise and low enough not to disturb other passengers. She wraps her hand around her daughter's hand, wiping off dirt (ineffectively). The boy turns from his world gazing, "What?" Always eager for new action, new stories, new worlds. The situation is explained to him and his body completes its pivot, swiftly swinging his behind back onto the seat. He touches his sister affectionately, left hand gently prodding her at an indiscriminate spot whilst his right leg remains folded onto his seat, betraying his desire to pivot back and watch the outside world, contradicting his left leg, which hangs almost limply off his seat to facilitate his contact with his sister.The boy bores of his non-verbal sister and turns to get his mother's attention. As before, she seems inattentive, her eyes glued to a tiny screen, but the oblique angle her torso makes with her seat shows otherwise. Though she occupies herself with a digital barrage of information, her femininely crossed legs point her feet towards her children as comfortably as they can whilst her back seeks no comfort in the chair, instead facing another passenger, all so she can watch her children out of the corner of her eye. Her son's hand lands on her arm, but already his eyes are elsewhere! Such scarce attention is found in the young. She rebuffs him softly, gently. "Later"? I can't quite catch her words. He doesn't fuss, dropping his hand to her lap to maintain contact and allow his eyes to drift further. His lips are parted slightly, smooth and shiny puckers of pink-skinned flesh. A little cherub.
And he is a cherub indeed! As close to one as you will find in a real child. Attentive and yet dreamy, affectionate, well-behaved. A true angel for one gets to enjoy the spunk and willfulness of a young child - the way he doesn't sit in his seat the way he's supposed to - without being over-frustrated because he doesn't resist extravagantly - no screaming for attention. And perhaps this is simply because his mother provides sufficient attention, despite the picture of distraction the phone in her right hand provides. He knows she will listen to him when it is important, as we can infer from the quick response to the dirtying of her daughter's hand no matter the otherworld she gazes at.
Confessions of an ugly Stepsister
“So what books are you going to read now our holidays have come?”
None at all, I told my friend with a strange laugh I have never heard myself emit. Strangled, strangely incredulous, altogether unexpected. Perhaps it was a portent of its innate untruth for, barely a day later, I retracted my reply: having more time on my hands during the interim provided by job-hunting, I’d attempted to write a review of Iron Man 3 and discovered that all my non-music vocabulary had just about upped and died. Now, having finished the book, the English language centre in my brain is up and running again, and words flow with delicious ease, in much the same manner as wind blows and waterfalls... fall.I stumbled across Confessions of an ugly Stepsister by way of its author, Gregory Maguire, who happened to write Wicked, the book that inspired the identically named Broadway hit musical. A story inspired by Cinderella? Irresistible. Completely original and novel work is great, but, sometimes, a remake of an old tale is better. For one thing, it gives readers (and viewers, because this principle applies to movies as well) a guide of sorts. Everyone loves fairy tales. They are the food of the soul, the building blocks of childhood, the dream makers and character growers. Beast turns out to be a cursed prince, who metamorphosizes from arrogant to chivalrous in the course of the story, thanks to the witch, who could admittedly do with new methods of teaching; Cinderella spins a tale of hope and dreams in the midst of a dreary situation; and Thumbelina infuses strength and bravery in the little ones as they face the larger world.*
So I grabbed my paperback copy of Confessions of an ugly Stepsister from the nearest library, curious as to Maguire's take on a famous fairy tale. He didn't disappoint. From the start, the characters in the book are developed so independently that, when the novel started converging to the original tale, I was almost disappointed. Each character is so real and so ingeniously reinvented that I can scarcely believe he took any inspiration from the tale at all. The original tale is merely old skin, barely clinging to the story which has shed it in favour of a larger, more complex form. It in no way defines the novel, suggesting only a shadow that pales in comparison with the subtle colours and contours of the actual tale. All the main characters are there, redefined in name, character, and origin, along with many others. It is this closeness yet distance which makes the read so delicious.
The use of the present tense throughout the book sets a more realistic stage than I ever thought possible. I was sucked into the story on every browning page, privy to Iris' (the titled stepsister's) inmost thoughts and reflections--her fancies, her self doubt, her fears--and living them with her. No longer a spectator looking upon past secrets, but secrets that are here and now. Meanwhile, the skillful use of sentence fragments paints a picture in a way it seems whole sentences do not. I was forced to see, in my mind's eye, each detail as Iris saw it. And this makes the stage all the more real, for we do not think in sentences or structure what we see as we see it. We add the frame after catching the details in poor grammatical fragments.
Ever the optimist and always desiring my happy ending, I must confess the book did not leave the best taste in my mouth. I hoped for the realization of the dream, even after all the ugliness in these characters' lives. But Maguire is not Disney, and I am in a way thankful for that (for Disney does not deliver such compelling lives), and the book ends in his way, which I cannot complain about. The dream is incomplete, and what stands is not detailed as I had desired, but it's okay. Isn't that life?
*The writer refers to Disney versions.
Part of the Common Crowd
All of us yearn in some way for normality. However extraordinary we wish to be, we desire to be common kind of extraordinary: skilled, wealthy, having many friends. Our innate desire to be common is a by-product of our instinctive longing to ‘fit in’; and as long as we fit in somewhere, we are common in that context, even if not outside of it. For instance, a group of rebels priding themselves on fighting commonality have in fact established for themselves a separate order of it: attempts to fight what is perceived as ‘normal’ become the normal in this context.
At this stage in life, as a student, small talk primarily revolves around school and desired career. When I reply “Music” to the socially constructed question “What are you studying now?” I invariably get surprised expressions embellished by interest. The logical follow-up question “What instrument do you play?” is awkward because nobody says “I play my voice.” Oftentimes, human presumptuousness results in the comment “You must play the piano very well then” in place of this question. Additional surprise results once my instrument is revealed. “Oh! You sing?” then comes out as brains scramble to come up with a response now that there is no automated reply designed by societal norms.
I enjoyed this the first few times. Similar to yet conflicting with our desire for commonality is our desire for extraordinariness, our want to be special. I enjoyed being special. But the novelty wore off after a while. I gave an awkward, polite smile as they said “that’s very unique” and, when they queried why, gave the only possible answer: “I love it.” They would “ohh” in a way that betrayed lack of understanding and I would shift the topic to them instead.
Entering the Conservatory is a breath of fresh air. Music is normal. Music is common. There are no fewer singers than violinists and pianists. This year’s intake includes 5 singers and 2 trumpeters. Singers are no longer the minority. People don’t ask “what do you play?” I no longer have to contend with the syntactically incorrect “I play voice” or statement “I sing”, which technically doesn’t answer the question. Instead, the conversation starter is “what’s your major?” My answer “voice” is then deliciously grammatically correct.
It’s almost beautiful that I can now rave about what is generically termed “classical music” with people who rave about it too. That I have a friend who too is bowled over by the grandeur of group music-making: me as a chorister, her as a violinist, thinking “this is something larger than me” when the sound of a dozen musicians fills the concert hall in a heart-throbbing way that one voice (whether human or instrumental) never can. That there is peer pressure to practise the art I love daily. That I fit in, and am part of the common crowd.
Dictionary.com's Word of the Day
In honour of my Fringlish post, one of my personal absolute favourites, I've decided to share a Dictionary.com Word of the Day:
It highly resembles my Fringlish word "mumpfalump", for obvious reasons. I have to say I think mine's a lot catchier. It's the assonance, I'm sure. (See any word so far that you don't know the meaning of? That's what free online dictionaries are for, and there are plenty for you to take your pick from.)
I subscribed to Dictionary.com's daily email in an attempt to boost my vocabulary, which has never been great to start with and happily deteriorated not long after the 'A' Levels ended and I was no longer plagued by GP. (Those darn essays! Formal writing is not my forte.) This wasn't exactly helped by my holiday job: teaching in a primary school. Some of the most basic words earned me blank stares, not exactly the expression you hope to see in a classroom. With no context to show off my fancy vocabulary (which I've always had difficulty recalling anyway), I suffered the Child Language Use Syndrome--which my mother and all similar ancestors who've spent years teaching young children have each been afflicted with. Simply put, the CLUS sets in when you use too much kiddie language and can no longer speak like an adult. In extremely severe cases, it may sound like this:
GOOGOOGAHHHH… GAFUPBALUBBA TOO TOO…
In hospitalisable (disclaimer: may not be in the standard lexicon) cases, they may even mutate to look like this:
Because no agemate (another Word of the Day) can decipher their conversation contributions and we all know anger’s bad for your complexion.
My main complaint is that Dictionary.com tends to send me words that I would never use. Look at the example sentence for mumpsimus:
"I profess, my good lady," replied I, "that had any one but you made such a declaration, I should have thought it as capricious as that of the clergyman, who, without vindicating his false reading, preferred, from habit's sake, his old Mumpsimus...
-- Sir Walter Scott, The Talisman
If that’s the way to use the word, I might come off sounding like the obnoxious, posh-wannabe at the party of the year that nobody wants to talk to because her British accent is so obviously fake. I might as well stick myself in a cheap imitation of a Victorian dress and prance around saying “oohlala!”
However, I do get some fun words that sound as if I could actually throw them into general conversation:
This town is chockablock with restaurants that are just clones of the same old themes.
-- Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
Glutch: to swallow
It’s like the word “masticate” which is the weird word for chewing that makes people think of a rather different process.
So I shan’t remove my email from the mailing list just yet.
The Day the Water Dam Broke.
On Sunday, the 24th of June 2012, the sweet silent serenity of my home was broken by a shrill scream.
Such a treble voice, capable of impressing even the heavens with its skyward reach and fortissimo capabilities, could only belong to one person: Mum.
Being the loving daughter that I am, well-acquainted with the theatrics of my source of life, I momentarily diverted half my mental resources to listening for an elaboration, if it was coming, while continuing my studying. My father (my other source of life) was rather more proactive—well, he had chosen to spend the rest of his life with the next Sarah Brightman—and asked, “What? Is it a lizard?”
“THERE’S NO WATER!!!!” Came what would have been a thunderous reply if it had been far, far lower-pitched. And this was followed by an encore of the earlier performance. My mother may have indeed been a siren in another life.
“No water?” Dad exclaimed as if such a phenomenon was unheard of and completely impossible, given Singapore’s aqueous climate and the fact that most of our water comes from Malaysia anyway. It’s not like we’re ever going to have a drought. (Unless you want to argue that in war-time, we may not have the ka-ching to buy what makes up 75% of the earth’s matter. But that’s really not relevant to this story. Go somewhere else to debate the definition of ‘drought’.)
“The water was half-stream earlier!” I piped up helpfully, and then instantly felt guilty for drinking so much water.
I shall not waste words (and your eye power) recounting the following discussion word for word. Here are the minutes: we had not received any notice, neither at the lift landing nor in our mail, that there would be pipe maintenance and a momentary lack of water. Hence, it was inconceivable that we would be out of water.
After a lot of drama about not shitting in the toilet because we wouldn’t be able to flush it down, we came to a highly logical and problem-solving solution: as resourceful Singaporeans (we are the nation’s most prized resource), we would go elsewhere for water. My brother and I trooped over to SAFRA to refill every water bottle we had in the house so we had drinking water and to bathe at the pool showers so we wouldn’t die from our own B.O. during the night while we dreamt stinky, stinky dreams. It was also a prime chance to get rid of any undigested waste material… and being able to flush it down.
I, personally, derived extra pleasure from the fact that our SAFRA memberships got us into the pool free and we literally had free baths: free water, free soap. (No shampoo, but my hair can get shot for one day. It’s okay, really. Don’t cry.) And if you’re going to argue about the cost of the memberships, I’m going to kick you to the Bahamas. Right now. Seriously.
My parents chose to head over to the library, not because the library has shower facilities but because they wanted to borrow books. What did you think they went there for?
Now comes the moment I provide you enlightenment and you have that AHA moment I read about in some thinking book. (It might have been by Edward de Bono. It might not have been.)
On our way out to exercise our Singaporean resourcefulness, we found a flood. Flood. Drought. Flood downstairs. Drought upstairs. Hmm… It seemed a main pipe had broken behind locked doors and we were completely reliant on PUB sending someone to fix it though I know I could have done the job with masking tape. Meanwhile, the water was pouring out from under the doors to heaven and filling earthly drains for street urchins to frolic in. Just kidding. About the urchin part anyway. They were resident kids who didn’t know what diseases they were contracting from our now filthy water as it pranced along the cement floor, where lap dogs sometimes poop as lap dogs do and their owners pretend not to know they’re supposed to pick it up (as inconsiderate owners do), leaving the stool behind for unsuspecting residents to step on and then attempt to wipe off on the rest of the floor as they walk along, resulting in a long shitty trail of bacteria. Which was now being washed away by the area’s new wading pool.
Dad had refused to bathe at SAFRA, insisting the water would have climbed up to our apartment on the fifteenth floor through the newly fixed pipe by the time we got back from the library and dinner. Whaddya know? He was right! But hey, I still got a free bath.