the accidental art of being and not doing (June 2020-June 2021)

I never knew then I would come to this page. No, I am not discontinuing what had started. Blogging is not like turning on a tap to wash your hand and then turn it off when finished. Is there a finishing line? Where or what the finishing line is? What is the goal? The terms “finishing line”, “goal”, or “goal-post” seem irrelevant for non-commercial blogging. It all depends on the blogger/producer for a blog to survive. In commerce it depends on the recipients/viewers of the blogs/products. In blogs like this the blogger merely does a creative thing and leave it on the shelf, not necessarily for any other purpose aside for the creation process.

Do bloggers ever visit their own site and view the things they have journaled in the dusty past?

Of course, some bloggers use the piece as an expression or a diversion. Perhaps there is something you want to tell a loved one or someone really important, but is unable to do so in person or in other forms of communication, like a digital text or audio/visual message, email, or even a longhand-written missive, well, the remaining option is to blog, hoping that the intended recipient will one day find this and read it (and perhaps respond somehow).

For me, I use this blog as a way to check on my writing. Am I still writing words and making sense? Is my mind still working and my use of language fluid? What are my trends of thoughts lately? Today I visited this blog and noted a post on August 15, 2016, titled “Leaving behind is like a taboo statement”, and the content stirred me to write this page. In it I quoted a passage about Paul, (the protagonist of a classic book) being left behind as a self-imposed derelict after the demise of his mother and the final leaving of his long term girl friend. Looking back now, that passage had wielded its impact subtly over my years of solitude, and that blog post has revealed a page which I had forgotten, but not entirely lost…

A blog expresses something a blogger wants to talk about. It is interesting that at that time I wanted to talk about a sudden sense of being alone after a rather fruitful event of writing a biography for a business missionary and her team in a distant land. It was a restful time for me after finishing the big task of writing and publishing the book in two languages. Yet, away from the limelight, I could sense the solitude of just being and not doing.

The year June 2020-June 2021 had been a “being” year for me. “Being-not-doing”. In a way, it is very much self-imposed. I returned from another foreign land, locked up another newly acquired academic certificate and an important license and rested. Over the whole year I did not get to use them. Are certificates and official licenses important? The Generation Zs know they are important for them.

For me? Really I have no imagination there. Meanwhile, I continue this blog and not abandon ship. Afloat with words. Effortlessly sailing ahead. Ahoy! Land!

PraiseWord, 2021-06-30

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A November day in 2014 —a time in the light of another life

I have been thinking about time and found this picture in time passed. This was taken in a place called Baray, at a remote province in an ancient kingdom. It was an ordinary sunny day for a transient traveler. I did not know then I was to return and extend my stay because there was a long story to be written.

I chose this picture at random. When I look closer now I notice the immaculate hand carving on the piece of wood that held up the stairs, commemorating the timeless care and love for art of this people.

Unlike an outsider like me from a relatively developed city, the dust is of no consequence to them. I looked at the superficial cover of dust everywhere. But the artist looked at each piece of solid material (in this case, real wood) underneath the dust cover and decided to make a beauty out of it. I looked at the bicycles and wondered how anyone could bear to ride on them. The proud owners looked at them as valuable assets that enhanced their livelihood. I looked at the lean chicken and wondered they would be of any commercial value. The farmers told me that they didn’t normally eat the chicken as they were considered expensive dishes. They kept the chicken for their eggs and an important day in the future, or for a valued guest from a faraway land…

Yes, I will remember that November day in 2014 —a time in the light of another life, for a long time.

Praise, 2021-02-03

a letter writer’s heritage

Heritage

I just received this WhatsApp message, “Would you please write another generic and/or personified donation letter for us on this new school project?” I cannot remember when I have stopped writing my own formal/informal letters. The last time I wrote was for someone else for charitable donation. As usual, when I receive a letter writing request I need all information of the project and meditate for a number of days, sometimes weeks. I could look at the numerous letters and newsletters I have received to find tips if any. But since they have not persuaded me to donate there is really no point looking at them.

In my recent month-long trip to clear a house of old stuff so that it can be put up for sale, I found and carried back some old books. They are mostly books printed in the 1950s. I asked for permission to keep some for myself. Here is one which I quite like: Ladies’ & Gentlemen’s Letter-Writer, printed in Great Britain, 1953. 

I cannot resist taking the liberty to quote the following sample letters. Enjoy.
All the names are fictitious of course.

November 20th
Dear Sylvia,
Here is a cheque for £5. I know just how difficult things are these days. In fact my own account is nearly overdrawn, so try and let me have the £5 promptly at the end of the month.
Love,
Pamela.

December 12th
Dear Sylvia,
What about my £5? Be a dear, and let me have it as soon as you can, since I’m getting rather short myself now.
Love,
Pamela.

December 20th
Dear Sylvia,
I wrote on the 12th, asking for repayment of my loan (which you promised to repay at the end of November), but I have heard nothing from you. I hope you haven’t spent all your last salary on Christmas presents, because I really need that £5 very badly. Could you send it by return?
Love,
Pamela.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hard times then and now. History does not change over mankind and circumstances. We now use digital ways to communicate instead of physical paper and ink. We gain speed. We can even delete our side of the record. But the mark is there on the other side unless he/she deletes too. In the house where I just cleaned up I found tons of paper records, old letters, magazines, books, exam papers, certificates, pictures, children’s school books, drawings, manuscripts, boxes and boxes of them. Some magazines are still in their original wrappers as though they have not yet been read. When I return to my own abode after a long absence, I too find many magazines (from some faithful mutual funds) in wrappers. I just do not have time to read them. The worst is that they come in two languages so I get two per month!

Many years ago I made a decision to get rid of my papers. So I gave away books. I burned my papers, pictures, certificates, thesis, whatever. Yet, many years later when I see some old pictures in my siblings’ collection I take a photo of those which depict me as a very young person. I find one such group photo lately. In those days people were expected to be respectfully serious and close their mouths when not talking. When all mouths were dutifully closed, me at five was captured in history with my mouth gapping, staring at the camera. Was it a premonition that one day I would do such verbose talking on screen?

“Every body allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female.”
― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

“Every body at all addicted to letter writing, without having much to say, which will include a large proportion of the female world at least…”
― Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

“Andy: But they gave us an out in the Land of Oz. They made us write. They didn’t make us write particularly well. And they didn’t always give us important things to write about. But they did make us sit down, and organize our thoughts, and convey those thoughts on paper as clearly as we could to another person. Thank God for that. That saved us. Or at least it saved me. So I have to keep writing letters. If I can’t write them to you, I have to write them to someone else. I don’t think I could ever stop writing completely.”
― A.R. Gurney, Love Letters*

*Love Letters is a lovely play. Quoting from online sources:

A new Letter begins
In the age of instant communication, iPhones and Twitter, Love Letters is bringing memories of a simpler time to Broadway in 2014, helmed by Tony-winning director Gregory Mosher. The limited engagement includes appearances by Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen. The first celebrity pair in the new revival is Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy, who will reprise the role of Andrew. “[Love Letters] is an extraordinary piece,” Dennehy told Today. “You cannot stage a play more simply than this, and yet it’s about everything in life. First love, loss of opportunities, loss of life, loss of love…It’s a beautiful play, and all you do is speak it.” But there’s two things the play won’t include: “Tweets and twerks,” Dennehy joked. “There are no twerks in this play.”

A Surprise return to the house of dreaming swiftlets: a short story attempt

Lutong River
Surprise
Surprise. Surprise. She never expects to go back after an interval of nearly fifty years. She never expects to see and walk on the same street and lane that leads to her old house. Today is her birthday.
The phone call from her eldest sister Liz sounded desperate. She was in fear. So being sisterly Kate decided to buy the ticket and fly with Liz-six years her senior. Liz has lived alone since her husband passed away a year and half ago. Kate has been away from her family since thirteen. The place they have landed which lies between an ocean and a river is her birth place. Her parents and siblings have all moved away but Liz and her late husband had decided to settle in this quiet and sleepy town with a handful of old families whose shops line the main street faithfully. Kate left at thirteen. She returned once in a while to see her parents before they moved. After they moved to another adjoining town in her university days she has stayed away completely.
But today Kate walks on this street and this lane again. And today is her 69th birthday.
She has forgotten the river but the river has not forgotten her, as it shows itself as she strolls to the back of the row of shops. The scene is spectacular. She has remembered a river of black water in which lurked crocodiles, as some folks warned her. She was a little girl then and was forbidden to go near it. But this beauty that reveals herself today is different. She is a class of her own: calm, serene, and breathtaking like a painting created by an unknown sublime painter of an imaginary place.
She does not mean to walk far but the same country lane entices and beckons her to walk on. So she walks and tries to remember the little house she used to live. There are big modern houses interspersed with smaller older wooden houses. She stops at a wooden house which is far inside with a driveway leading to its front. The green lawns on both sides are well trimmed. Someone has planted lovely red and yellow flowers in front of the stairs. The little house is on low stilts. She has dreamed of this place many times and remembers its details. The verandah, the stairs, shape of the house and the large garden. It is all there in this real life picture! She remembers her dad built it and they moved in when she was eight. How can this house still stand at the spot with the same look after sixty-one years? The ocean, the wind and rain storm, the river flood…the ages, do they not corrode and wear out even human looks? Has time bypassed this place? She asks.
The only change is the coat of white wash that someone has clothed the naked wood. She takes some photos with the permission of the owner. The perspective from the side makes it look bigger. Indeed, she remembers its rooms, three bedrooms and a sitting room. The dining area, kitchen and bathroom are on the ground floor in an annexed building. They moved in before it was painted. And her dad said they would paint it before the next new year. Yearly he told them, yes, it will be painted this year-end, before the next new year. It was never painted. Once she even wrote a short story about a house that was never painted. It was published by a local press. And it is now painted white.
Who are the new residents? Edible-nest swiftlet. Someone is using it as a house for the birds to build their nest, nurse their young and rest when the sun sets. The swiftlets are the new tenants. It is daytime and she cannot see them. The swiftlet nest farmers have boarded up the windows. There used to be one through which she looked at a blue, green and red bird who perched daily on a branch which stretched its arm toward her as she sat for hours after school daydreaming of the plot of her new story. She has always wanted to become a story writer. There was no TV, no radio, no mobile phone, no PC in those days. Story books were rare and costly. All she could do was dream and daydream her own stories. Verse by verse, chapter by chapter, plot by plot she dreamed them and seized the ears of any willing heart to listen to the stories that seemed episodes of an unfinished saga. The house was surrounded by lots of green trees then, tall and handsome. Her bird friend sometimes danced from branch to branch, tree to tree.
And now she is standing here looking at a forlorn habitat without the trees. Where are they? Not one tree is left behind. They too have migrated. She wonders where the bird has flown. Has he found his new home and settled down? Do birds settle down? Are they too, like humans, creatures of habits? Looking at this sun washed white house no one can imagine what habitat the birds have behind these walls, simulation of dark caves…? She likes to imagine the swiftlet parents soaring high and far to hunt food and bring home to feed their young. A man once told her the swiftlets have flight path. He even brought her to a place where the swiftlets gather because of the richness of insect supplies. He said that they would always fly through a pathway to the food source and later return the same way to their habitat. They never missed the flight path home.
Here she is, today, looking at the place she once called home. It dawns on her that she too, has a flight path home. How else can she explain this homecoming after nearly five decades? Has the flight path followed her all these years of traveling further and further from home? Like a string tied to her heart without a visible sign and yet in the unseen realm it pulls the other way, so she suddenly finds herself there without any warning? During the years when she was away she remembered the place as dusty and rather primitive, to which she was ashamed to bring her teachers or classmates. She remembers being taken by surprise when her high school Australian geography teacher suddenly turned up during school term holiday in the little town looking for her! Apparently he flew in to visit the adjoining town and asked someone to take him to her house. Her house did not have a formal address. But the folks knew each other and she was the only kid who took a plane to the capital city to study. So it was effortless to find her.
Looking at the beautiful lawn, flowers and solid white wash wooden house she realizes it looks rather nice. Why was she so ashamed of it when she was a teen? The land owner’s house has been demolished and rebuilt. Yet he has kept this house designed and built by her brilliant dad sixty-one years ago. The present owner is the eldest son of the former land owner. He is pleasantly surprise when she introduces herself even though he cannot remember her. He remembers Liz and all her other siblings except Kate.
I was the little girl who left at thirteen. She explains. He smiles and nods his head. What is your name? He asks kindly. Kate. He seems confused. There is no Kate in his recall. She asks him how old he is. 77, he says. You? He asks. 69. She replies. I have never seen you, he says. She too has never seen him. I know your younger brothers. She mentions some names. Then he tells her one of them had died. What do you do? He asks. She tells him she is a writer. From his silent response she knows the answer is beyond him. However, he is too polite to ask her how she really makes her living. You have a family? She shakes her head. Then he says that it’s better as she can be free to travel where she likes. Have you traveled away from here? He shakes his head. No, I am always here.
She waves goodbye and walks back toward the row of shops that line the main street. She notices that they bear the same old names just as they have been known for decades. There are few new names. The old signboards. The same layout of their wares. The old wooden shelves. The glass display cupboards. The goods. The trade. The faces of the shopkeepers, the children of those who passed away. Nothing much has changed. When she reaches a cafe named “United Profit” she decides to have a cup of coffee. As expected, her old primary school classmate “Beautiful Flower” greets her. She cannot recognize Kate. Kate remembers her. She asks, are you Beautiful Flower or Gentle Flower? They are two sisters. The lady answers, Beautiful Flower. Who are you? I am Blue Flower. Kate answers, removing her sunglasses.
Kate’s real name is Blue Flower, a name she hated and changed the minute she left home. The lady’s wrinkled face cracks as she smiles. I cannot believe it. I just cannot. Blue Flower. O Blue Flower. Is it really you? You look so different now! Kate has dyed her hair medium brown but it turned light gold in the process. She doesn’t know why. Perhaps her real hair color has turned white. What a nice surprise! Beautiful Flower exclaimed. Kate doesn’t remember much about her. But Beautiful Flower says, I was your classmate until form five (equivalent to Grade 12). Kate pretends she remembers as the lady enthusiastically talks about the past. At thirteen the children left this little town and went to a bigger town to continue their secondary school education (Grade 7-12). So Beautiful Flower was one of them. But she returned after Grade 12 and took over her dad’s business since then. Have you ever left this place? No. Travel? No. Joined any clubs? No, unless you count joining our clan association too. Clan association membership is hereditary. Being the eldest child, Beautiful Flower was automatically awarded membership at the demise of her dad. Beautiful Flower seems genuinely elated to see her. Why? Kate wonders.
She decides to ask whether Beautiful Flower ever thinks about the meaning and purpose of her life? She has never married. No suitors? No interest or hobby. Daily she sits in the coffee shop and manages the business. Her younger siblings work for her. They seem contented and easy with lives. No stress. They live above the shop. The married ones move out. Four sisters remain unmarried and one had died young. Kate shares her own testimony of how she encountered God at the peak of her professional career with ample material comfort. She felt empty and meaningless to continue with life as she watched some of her close friends suffered incurable pains, illness and death. One day she went with a couple to a worship meeting and God poured his love on her. That was the beginning of her journey with God. she challenges Beautiful Flower to ponder over this life and death matter. They briefly talk about three women, all their former classmates, one died of childbirth, two of cancer.
Beautiful Flower, we just cannot live life without a purpose. What is yours? Find yours. Kate challenges her.
Yes, Blue Flower, I will ponder over this. I am so so happy to see you. She says. Kate wonders why.
They have black coffee and take a picture together. they exchange phone numbers.
Please come back to see us again. As Kate leaves Beautiful Flower urges her.
Why such an encounter? Kate asks. Then she remembers Beautiful Flower. A student who failed her primary six exams and had to repeat one year and thus became Kate’s classmate. In the secondary school she had the same struggles to pass exams and Kate offered to help her, took pain to explain the lessons and helped her with homework. Was Kate exceptionally good to her alone? No. Kate has lived her 69 years (minus the toddler’s time) trying to help others, the weak and the sick. She just felt it was her duty. She did not particularly love them but she looked out for those in needs and tried to meet their needs.
A boy failed his exam and had to repeat and became Kate’s classmate too, like Beautiful Flower. His name was something like Glory. But he was just the opposite. In those days, teachers beat up kids who could not perform in class. Beating became this boy’s daily routine by default. Kate felt it her duty to help him out of his dire straits. She really tried. She made him learn lessons during recess time. She taught him shortcuts to memorize important facts. But he soon fell asleep and snored loudly. It was impossible. He received his daily beating for six years. And he quit school after that.
Beautiful Flower managed to pass exams. It was like a little miracle.
Yes, we all have miracles, big and small. Kate smiles to herself. Today is her birthday and she has two presents. Miraculous presents. Who would have thought she could find her way, her flight path, home after all these years? Or rather, who could have imagined that the flight path has found her after nearly six decades? Blue Flower has returned home after all.

a dense but colorful concrete jungle

Today I walked through a Dense but not boring Concrete Jungle.

dense concrete world I bought the book for a young person. But it was left in my house for a long time. So one recent day I decided to buy some coloring pencils and tried out this pass time activity. The first picture was a rather futuristic one and my audience did not comment so I knew it was really not presentable. I did a second one without recognizing the objects until I finished and took a picture and read the small heading which labeled “Bon Voyage”. I realized then I was coloring a whole lot of sails on waves! Someone sent a few claps. So I was encouraged to do a third one. This is the result and I finished it on time for this week’s picture, “dense”.

When I first looked at the densely packed buildings in this concrete jungle I really had no clue what colors I should use to make it a bit more cheerful looking. So I just picked whatever color pencils I pulled out from the pack at odd time when I was taking a break from my usual writing or translating work. Often it was after a meal. It became quite fun as I was amused by the colors that come out at random after a while.

I like to imagine what kind of people would reside in such colors. Would they like the colors? I imagine myself as a friendly giant who tries to be helpful by breaking the monotony of the colorless world through splashing bright colors at random on people’s houses. Perhaps he is trying to cheer up some home alone children who look out of their tiny windows. I hope they like the colors. Being fictional characters they can swap house if they prefer the colors of their neighbor’s house and vice versa of course.