Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true
** probably true

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005

New Year's Resolution

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
To all the ones who said I would amount to nothing, would do nothing, would go nowhere, would be nothing, was nothing, was irrevocably broken—whether implied, spoken aloud, intimated, imagined, written down and placed atop a pile of my nearly-worthless belongings or spoken in the eloquent language of action—I want to thank you. To everyone who let me down, kicked me while I was down, laughed when I fell, and tripped me when I tried to stand, I extend to you my gratitude. To the teachers who refused to teach, to the caretakers who refused to care, to the lovers who failed to love, the friends unclear on the concept of friendship; to the strangers who picked at the intimate, vulnerable and/or wounded spots of my psyche for their amusement; to the ones who could only raise themselves by pushing somebody else down; to the ones who cold have done something but just watched, impassively, dispassionately, inhumanely: I thank you all. Every success, every accomplishment I ever achieved was my way of saying 'fuck you'. And believe me, they were heartfelt, each and every one.

But now it's time for me to take a different approach. Anger, resentment, rage and bitter hatred are great motivators, and I accomplished far more because of them (and you) than I probably would have, otherwise. The problem is that they just aren't sustainable. The cost is too high. Every time I managed to crawl through a desert to spit in your eye, it was just a symbolic victory that ultimately cost me more than it was worth. Not that the satisfaction wasn't real. It was very real, and kept me warm on many a bitterly cold night when I had nothing and no one else.

But a thought occurred to me today on the train: If I managed to write and publish a book to spite the one who destroyed all my writing; if I managed to survive four years in the army to spite all those older, bigger, and stronger than me who belittled me as a child (some my peers, some grown fucking men) and who questioned my manhood when I was a teenager (some my peers, some grown fucking men); if I won academic award after academic award to prove to those teachers who thought I was stupid or lazy that in actuality I was just bored out of my fucking skull…. If I could do all that, operating from a position of weakness, for all the wrong reasons, what could I have done if I had been motivated by some positive force, operating from a healthy, strengthening environment?

The truth is, I'll never know. You can't apply 'what if' to the past with any success. You can only do that to the future.

So I need to let go of you, my beloved enemies. You who I have clung so tightly to, for such a long time. You whose memories I know more intimately than a lover knows the curves and secret recesses of his love. You've served your purpose, you see, and now you're just stinking up the joint, you carcasses of injustices past. The truth is, the strength that you gave me was the strength of the doomed and the damned and the hopeless. Every success carried with it the seed of the next failure. All my victories were ultimately either tainted or rendered meaningless.

But I'm not the skinny, helpless, disadvantaged kid anymore. I'm not the gawky, awkward young punk desperate to fit in. I'm not the confused, wounded lover anymore. I'm not the easy target or the convenient sucker. And I am most definitely not anybody's whipping boy. And the next desert I cross on hands and knees, it won't be your ghosts on the other side. It'll be something or someone that actually matters. You aren't worth the blood and sweat and suffering. You never were. You never will be.

So to all of you, my faithful fiends, a final 'fuck you' and farewell. May we never meet again. To everybody else, have a happy, healthy new year, and may all the desert journeys you make this year have shade and cool water waiting at the end.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On astigmatisms, endurance, and running repairs

My entire relationship with life, I realized today, has been astigmatic. For those of you not in the know, an astigmatism is an ocular malformation—when your cornea is slightly misshapen. Light enters, but because of the warped lens it does not strike the retinal nerve at the back of your eye perfectly. It's slightly off center, causing blurred vision, and/or headaches. The funny thing about astigmatism is that you can have it and still have 20/20 (or better) vision. I do. It just means that my eyes strain three times harder than your average bear to see the world as it really is. It also means that I suffer from some pretty nasty headaches on occasion.

And that's a pretty accurate description of how I deal with life. It takes a certain amount of extra effort for me to see clearly; my natural inclination is to see it slightly blurred, a little fuzzy. For the most part it makes no difference. On a day-to-day basis, I compensate and self-correct without even thinking about it. It's automatic. I take extra care to map out my surroundings; physically, emotionally. I've been doing it for a long time. That's a skill kids learn when they grow up in unstable environments. It's a survival skill, the ability to read between lines, to read a room, to interpret body language and tone of voice. When you're the person least able to defend yourself physically, you compensate in other ways. And you know what? It's an incredibly valuable skill, that awareness of surroundings.

I remember when I was maybe nine years old, my mother came home early from work with severe food poisoning. She couldn't make it up the stairs. She collapsed at the foot of them. My sister, 8 years older than me, fell to pieces. I was the one who had to call 911. When the ambulance arrived and the paramedic wanted to know which of two hospitals we wanted her taken to, I was the one who had to decide. Truth be known, I would have been a lot more comfortable if I could have driven me and my sister there instead of my sister, but some things are beyond a 9 year old; one of them is convincing anyone to let him drive.

We compensate for our deficiencies; be they inherited or thrust upon us in less natural ways. I was never the strongest kid, never the most popular, never even the smartest (but that's another tale for another time). I had that ability to sniff the wind, so to speak, and the ability to think clearly in crisis situations. But beyond that, I had a great faculty for endurance. I learned to endure a dysfunctional family, poverty, two alcoholic stepfathers, school bullies. I learned to endure anything that life threw at me. Broken hearts. Pain, suffering. Defeat. Disappointment. I endured four years in the army. I endured the sustained, coordinated assault on my life by X. But you know, It's like they say: when all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.

I'd always been a bit unstable emotionally (another 'nother tale for another 'nother time); but my first breakdown and subsequent diagnosis of acute clinical depression took that to a whole different level. I was paralyzed. I was an engine that had seized. And the funny-but-not-in-an-amusing-way thing about it was my capacity for endurance was what allowed it to get so bad. I had learned to deal with external hardships so well that when the hardship was internal, I made the terrible mistake of trying to endure that as well. Which meant that I let myself suffer needlessly for months longer than I should have. I was hemorrhaging inside, emotionally, mentally. It was as if the appendix of my psyche had burst, and I was treating it as if it were a case of indigestion. That's a good way to end up dead.

Sometimes our greatest strengths end up being our Achilles' heel.

In the aftermath of all that, slowly, I began to understand that I'd gotten so good at surviving that I had made it a lifestyle. I never gave a thought to how I should go about the next step. I never considered how I should go about trying to thrive. Because of that metaphoric astigmatism, I spent so much time and energy focusing on what was at hand, that I rarely if ever glanced up and tried to figure out what was going on in the wider world. I was first class at one foot in front of the other, but not so good at things like planning a destination.

I'm trying. But it's still very hard. It's hard to rewire yourself. It's always easier to start a project from scratch than it is to make running repairs. But sometimes you got no choice, so get on with it, yeah?

So my advice to anyone in a similar situation is this: Endure-in an enlightened fashion. Always keep an ear cocked to the inner workings. Don't do a rush job. Live with the mess and the dust and the discomfort and the inconvenience. Because really, truly, it's better than the alternative.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

and water is wet, fire burns, babies poop their pants...

Soap operas might not be the best authority on comas. Okay guys, I know it's Christmas eve and all, but surely there's some news somewhere that actually deserves to be reported. How about that whole 'President is spying on Americans' thing?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sticky Issues: The NKF Maths Tuition Centre!

Filed under: NKF whosaysmathsaren'tcreative?

(pic too small? click on pic, then click on 'all sizes'. that should do the trick.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

On writing fantasy

There's a brilliant blue sky today, and it's cool. At least in the shade. There is a breeze. I have a touch of wanderlust, which in Singapore is like having a craving for pork chops in a Muslim country: You gotta go somewhere else to satisfy it. So I go to the place that doesn't require standing in line at an immigration checkpoint: My imagination.

I've been working on a prequel to Thagoth. I've been working on it, off and on, for about a year or so. I'm at 36,000 words, which is maybe 5,000 or so short of the halfway mark, give or take. I'll write 500 or a thousand or five thousand words, then put it aside for this or that reason for days, weeks, months at a time. Bu unlike a half-dozen other projects I've started since Thagoth was finished, this one keeps going, albeit in fits and starts. Unlike other projects, there is no guilt associated with putting it down, and no stress wondering if I can pick up the thread of the narrative again.

I like writing about Amra and Holgren, you see; it's like revisiting old friends, listening to them bicker, watching them going from frying pan to fire to blast oven. I enjoy creating villains and situations that make them stretch as protagonists, as people. I enjoy the mix of melodrama, humor and bloody viciousness that makes up one of their tales. Even if I were to venture out of this comfortable little literary ghetto known as Sword & Sorcery and write something 'serious', I would always return. The sights and sounds and smells here are home.

Of course, home is not always a pleasant place. For those of you who don't read any sort of fantasy, you should know that it's not all fairies and princes and that kind of bullshit. Especially Sword & Sorcery. Here's a taste of prison life for you (at least in the world I've created):

'Mother-man', as I came to think of him, was never truly quiet. Even in his sleep he would moan for his dam. I assume he was sleeping. And when he woke, he’d scream “Mother! I’m blind! Moooother!” On and on until they came to beat him quiet. Then he’d start again with that monotonous call for maternal comfort.

Eventually I couldn’t stand it anymore. I screamed at him, “Your whore of a mother is dead, shit-brain. Shut it!” It only made him go on louder. Which made me invent ever more gruesome ends for her. Run over by a carriage. Gored by bulls, made into meat pies. Drowned in a cesspit. Gnawed to death by rats, face first. Dead of syphilis. It only made him carry on the louder, which made the guards come. They beat us both.


I found myself hoping they’d come to hang either him or me soon. I didn’t really care which.

As bleak as anything Dumas came up with. Come to think of it, books like The Count of Monte Cristo probably have more to do with the creation of the Sword & Sorcery genre than fairy tales. I can see Robert Howard, sitting in his tiny room in his tiny house in North Texas, reading Dumas, feeling just as trapped as if he too were an inmate in Chateau D'If. I can imagine him planning his great escape. Thwarted by his mother's failing health, thwarted by love and obligation, escaping instead into Hyperboria, into his imagination.

Sword & Sorcery was created by Howard, of course, the day his character Conan the Cimmerian first strode onto a battlefield, sword in hand. But Fritz Leiber coined the phrase, and Fritz was the one that carried S&S forward after Howard committed suicide. How odd, that a Texan invented it and a yankee German immigrant carried it forward. As unlikely as any Sword and Sorcery story, I guess. And fitting.

Thinking about Howard's death has made me morose. What a waste. I think perhaps he too wrote fantasy to stave off the predators in his own psyche. He was brilliant and crude and unstable, and above all he was a creator. He was a master storyteller. He was brutish and eccentric, and his amazing mind was hidden behind a harsh, unlovely face. I have been to his home town, to his little white crackerbox wooden house. If I had lived there, I would have gone mad. He was surrounded by hundreds of miles of almost nothing. Even today, seventy-odd years later, there isn't much more than there was then. But they say he loved that land. They say he was planning to write a serious history of it.

He shot himself in the head before he ever got around to it.

#

I feel a connection with him, of course. Us Texans are like that. So are us fantasists. Oddly, I never had any urge to copy him, though. The fantasy I write is different from his, just as it is different from Leiber's. If you read a Conan story, it is full of vitality and color and spectacle. The writing is larger than life, because the characters and theme are larger than life. If you read Leiber's Fafhrd & Mouser tales, you get a more intricate, more well-crafted story; but you also get one that doesn't hesitate to pause and wink at the reader, as if to say 'we're all just having fun here'. Howard never winks. He carries you along by the force of his own belief. After you're done, you might think the plot weak, the prose overblown. But while you're reading, you just want to know what happens next.

So I try to take something from both of them; Howard and Leiber. From Howard, I took the idea of the need to drive the story forward; that it is better to leave the reader breathless than yawning:

“Tell the Elamner he’d better back off if he doesn’t want the golden toad melted down.”

“You have it?”

“No, I just assumed he’d want a golden toad. Doesn’t everybody?”

“We can do business, then.”

“Yes,” I said. “We can deal.”

“How shall we contact you?”

I yanked out a handful of his hair and pushed him into the gutter. I tucked the hair into the top of a boot.

“Don’t worry. I’ll find you.” And then I turned and tried to make myself scarce. I was sure the mage Holgren would know just what to do with Bosch’s greasy locks.

It wasn’t Bosch’s men that got me. It was the Watch. Markgie’s Rest wasn’t the Rookery, or Silk Street. When taverns got busted up and blood got spilled, and people started running around in the street with bared blades, they came. In large numbers. Quickly.

There was just nowhere for me to go. Three appeared ahead of me, and two more behind, blocking off the alley. Black, varnished billys thunked into meaty palms. Blank walls rose on either side.

“Kerf’s shriveled balls,” I spat, and dropped my knife, and put out my hands.

They beat me unconscious anyway.


And from Leiber I learned that it's okay to have a laugh once in a while, and that you should write no less maturely for a Sword & Sorcery story than you should for any other sort of story. Never write down to your reader.

He walked through the door less than an hour later. Holgren didn’t bother with knocking. Or locks, for that matter. He took a look around, one eyebrow raised.

“Did you upset the housekeeper?”

“Ha ha. Somebody turned the place while I was in prison.”

“You were in prison?”

“Don’t remind me. Wine?” I held out the bottle.

“Is it any good?”

“The very best I have.”

He took a sip. Swallowed, reluctantly. “That’s ghastly.”

“True.” I took another swig.

The final lesson I learned from both of them was to try and always make the world your characters walk in a world of wonder and of war, but one that makes sense. And that can be the hardest of all. That's what makes the difference between a passable story and a great one. I'm still working on that. I don't know that I'll ever be satisfied with my attempts.

But that's the way it goes, whatever you write.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

1.2.3.

From Amara. Sort of. But half as long because I'm lazy. And a meme because my brain is sorta mushy right now.

You can ask me three questions. 1.2.3.

No matter how random, revealing, rude, naughty or pointless, I promise to answer them 100% truthfully.

[Repost this to see what others ask you...]

Friday, December 16, 2005

letter to a friend

Dear Jae,

Can people change, you asked, for the better, for the worse? And I gave you a single-paragraph, cynical answer. But your question has stuck in my mind. Maybe because I feel you deserve a better (or at least more thoughtful) answer. Maybe because the question deserves more serious consideration. I don't know. I do know that it's a damned complex question to try and answer fairly, honestly, thoroughly.

And so I sit here at Serangoon Gardens in the heat, listening to The Smiths, sweating and smoking and drinking iced tea, and Morrissey is telling me how he'd go out tonight, but he doesn't have a stitch to wear. And I think, you're asking a man who's still listening to The Smiths in 2005 about change. I'll try to answer, but don't blame me if it all ends in tears.

What is change, Jae? How do we define it? How do we quantify it? When we talk about change, are we talking about emotional, moral, ethical, intellectual or behavioral change? In this post-postmodern world, even the definition of change is uncertain, shifiting. So let's limit the conversation to the subject you were commenting on—which, if I understand you, is based loosely on the whole thing about X: can someone who has done some really despicable things in the past change sufficiently to be, for practical purposes, either incapable or at least utterly unwilling to repeat same or similar despicable actions? Or to muddle a metaphor, can a rat bastard change his/her spots?

You and I both know, Jae, from first-hand experience, that people are capable of some truly horrendous shit. You and I both know that the beauty of this world is inextricably bound up with its ugliness. I believe, from reading what you have written, that you would agree with me when I say that sometimes it is better and more appropriate to curse the darkness than light a candle. That's just the way it is. Nobody asked our opinion when they put this whole thing together.

What am I trying to say? What does this have to do with change? I'm not exactly sure, my friend (and I do count you as my friend for all that I have no idea who you really are), but something tells me it's important that we recognize upfront the fact that forgiveness can never be earned. It's always a gift, freely given or irrevocably withheld.

#

I have done wrong in my life. I have tried to earn forgiveness for the wrongs I have done, when I recognize them. Sometimes I've gotten it, sometimes not. Sometimes I've had to say to myself, 'You've suffered enough for that. Move on.' Sometimes I've done wrong that was beyond my control. It comes with being slightly unstable. Should I feel guilt for being a bastard towards people who cared for me when it was the fault of a hereditary chemical imbalance in my brain? Should I blame my chemically imbalanced ancestors? Should I blame God? Should I blame the vagaries of evolution? The answer is, none of that matters. It only matters whether and how I deal with the consequences of my actions.

Can people change? Yes, of course. Was Tookie Williams truly a changed person when they strapped him down and lethally injected him? Almost certainly. But he was still directly responsible for four murders and indirectly responsible for hundreds if not thousands of deaths in his role as founder of the Crips. This same man did enough good behind bars to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times. A truly bloodless sort of justice would see Tookie executed for his crimes, and then erect a memorial for his good works. But we could never be that coldly logical. We must either vilify or beatify him.

#

Can people like X change? Sure they can, Jae. We all of us change all the time. No one can step into the same river twice, and all that. But the kind of change you're talking about, the change from viciousness to—oh, call it trustworthiness, call it benevolence—well sure it's possible. Just as it's possible, given a sufficiently fucked up situation, for someone who is essentially good and kind to repeatedly do despicable things. But the only thing that I've ever seen that could cause such a change in someone for the better is sheer unadulterated suffering (be it physical, mental or emotional).

The price you pay for such a fundamental change is the fact that no one may ever believe you really have changed. No one is obliged to, and generally speaking they'd be fools to give you the benefit of the doubt. We've moved beyond the simple expectations of right and wrong that we were taught in elementary school. Repentance doesn't automatically make everything okay.

At the end of the day, it's just too easy to mistake regret for remorse. They tend to look the same, but regret is essentially selfish, while remorse is something mostly selfless. Mistaking one for the other can lead to all sorts of trouble. If someone who has wronged you truly changes, then they must be content to be rejected by you for months, for years, perhaps forever. True change has absolutely no expectations.

Anything less is flawed, and dangerous.

#

So that's how I feel, Jae. I don't know if it helps. I don't know your situation, other than the slivers you share with us on your blog. But even from those fragments, I can hear the lions roaring. You walk down there in the literary grasslands, exposed to all sorts of savagery. You're down there, staring into the dispassionate eyes of predators. I'm up here in the trees, flinging feces and rotten fruit at them. I don't know that anything I have to say to you will be of use.

But there's room on this branch if you want to take a breather.

MachineBoy Serious


MachineBoy Serious
Originally uploaded by MercerMachine.
Just look at those eyes... MrsMachine takes good photos, no?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

MachineBoy's bath time


MachineBoy's bath time
Originally uploaded by MercerMachine.
mainey, mokie-- let the bidding commence!

Letter from X

(Some of my readers have expressed an interest in X – here is a suitably edited email from her.)

Hello Image,

It is November in this city where youth spreads out endlessly comprised of perfect tan skin and flawless white smiles. I think of you on the other side of the world, and wonder what the other side of the day looks like, and I guess that if the world's going to end tomorrow you'll be the first to know about it, right? I think of the distance and of such a foreign place.

...and dead can dance plays through the speakers here at good ol' spiderhouse down here off the drag. I think of the DJ at work - the one I'm secretly falling for, [name]. I think of the QS, [name], at the day job, and how we shared the drive home... I mean in separate cars whizzing past one another, back and forth, like a game. We both drive Mazda's and work for [company]. I let my hair down and turned up the radio. . I have finally figured that I am truly disturbed. Is it really your loneliness that says that you've sinned? Should I tell dear [name] that I've caught him staring at my breasts and that I don't mind? And yes, I think that I've been cut off, but the lime just makes this beer so damn yummy...

I've been working on this story. It has been going well, in the sense that its even been going at all. I want to write about my life. Is that vain? Not because I think that I have the most amazing life. We all have a story to tell. We all go through things and think, "Holy shit! That was weird."

Take [name] for example. [name] is a man in his late forties, but why is it always so hard to tell the age of a mentally retarded person? [name] has a fetish that is so common, but it is his mental retardation that alters the _expression of it. I met him at my other job. He has a fetish for blow jobs and being in control. He expects you to answer every question with "yes master". And for someone completely unaware of this... well, It proves to be pretty amazing, pretty funny, almost.

Or all the time that I was in Vancouver. Vancouver means prostitutes and drug addiction under the forever raining skies of the pacific northwest. The garbage men went on strike while I was there. It was truly beautiful in the sense that the whole place was a dumpster. The whole place was literally a wasteland. I find beauty in that.

So I broke up with this guy I was with for a year. I was pregnant, and well, I told you the rest. I am seeing this guy now. I hate to say those words. I hate the thought of anyone being close to me. I miss my ex like something so horrible. I am in this weird stage of half depression, half liberation. It is not the freedom to go out and fuck, or to be able to flirt. It's the freedom from all the bullshit. Freedom from complaining about the constant ex-girlfriend in Boston that he was soooo close to. I could go on. I miss that misery though, but it has at least gotten me out of the house. [name] was a musician. I purchased him a brand new Martin DCME for about $1200.00. He bitched and moaned about the thing non stop. I took it back and got a refund. I purchased this lap top - IBM thinkpad with all kinds internal wireless options and a bunch of other crap that I don't know how to use, and now I have committed myself to writing again, because this is the best choice that I've made in quite a while.

So this guy that I've been seeing, his name is [name]. He works for [company]. He is an electrical engineer. His father is a surgeon. He graduated from an ivy league school. This has been a complete manifestation from the previous relationship that fell to complete shit - Thanks to my unyielding ways and my uncanny ability to seek and destroy, but never mind the fact that he loved to jump on my car, threatened to slash my tires all the time, liked to throw my stuff off of the balcony, and then there was that argument that landed him in the back of a police car. I thought that money would make me happy, since the endless bitching of a poor washed-up alcoholic jazz musician led me to have yet another domestic violence charge against someone and the misery of having an abortion.

So I chose the nice guy. The guy whose friends live in a condo down town, own a boat, and her engagement ring is at least 2 solid karats accompanied by the wedding band composed entirely of diamonds. The guy who never got lucky in college, but sure is great at giving back rubs. The guy who needs to carry around a woman like a trophy.

uh... ground control, we have a problem.

I e-mailed my stuff to him, since he is always asking why I'm not going out with him and his friends to get totally trashed on Friday nights. (After all, what girl doesn't like getting all the free drinks she can stand and the luxury of a 250+ tread count set of sheets to collapse between in the rooms of an old house set behind Waterloo Records off sixth street.) The response was... he just couldn't understand. He was trying to draw all these connections between my life and the story. Granted, the story is about a majority of my life. Yes, there was a man with a pellet gun down on the drag, but no one ran after him, certainly not [name], [name] or [name]. Yes I did live in Vancouver, but I didn't have night terrors. The poem really threw him for a loop. He responded with a list of premium alcohols along with their approximate ages, that he likes to drink while reading the works of Wilde or... Fucking Shakespeare. And all the while he is still trying to figure out who Charles Bukowski is. See how I suffer?



Would it be too politically incorrect if I were to say that the perfect orgy would include Leonard Cohen (minus 40 years), Dave Gahan (minus 15 years - heroin addiction negotiable), Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, Morrissey, and Carmen Electra??? …
(I'd probally wake up with a really bad rash and a need for penicillin like something so awful, so the perfect orgy doesn't seem so perfect)

Hey M, ...

I AM sorry for what I did. There is no way to make things better and that is not the point, to be honest. I saw you out there on the net, and I just wanted you to know that... aw fuck... Somewhere in an Austin jail cell, scratched with a bar of soap like a stick of chalk, are the words, "God bless and Jesus save [MM]" because Karma is a bitch my friend. I know the words are there because after hour #15 of the "cooling off period" there is nothing else to do. I know because I put them there.

I was dealing with some really fucked up stuff back then. I was in a completely self destructive mode. If it weren't you, it would have been someone or anyone. Knowing you - your kind and gentle soul... It hurts all the way to the bone. To atone for your words... My God will I try, and have been for some time. [fucking writer's block] You came into my life. You came, and you gave without taking. (...well, so I stole that line from some psycho who sends me greeting cards via e-mail and I'm more than positive that he's ripped that off too. That doesn't make it better. It doesn't take away anything and never will.

Prefer to call you M, and with that you can research the parallels … - and that is one of my better kept secrets like the fact that I dream about water all of the time, or that I write in French... or even better yet: that time that I suffered a horrible case of psychosis after not sleeping for almost 2 weeks (all that time spent watching the winged angles shuffle around my kitchen, with white robes and golden tassels, as they came to give me my last rights) and the 10 days that I spent in the Hospital, one of the days spent speaking nothing but French, they had to get a translator for me, or the day after - I spent the whole day drawing the molecular structures of simple compounds on napkins... I requested water and drew out the molecular structure for h2o: H=O=H.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Oh My!

Looks like some anonymous person has stolen my idea and set up a Singapore Blog Award site! how shameles of them! Oh, and look, they're also asking for other people to participate! Terrible, I tell you. You should go over there and scold them!

Sg Blog Awards?

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, in that twitchy time where ideas come to me but I'm just too tired to get up and do anything about them, I thought to myself, 'Why not have a Singapore blog awards? How hard could it be? You could create categories that would be fun, and categories tat would be serious. 'Best Beng Blog', 'Best Depressing Post' 'Blog Most Likely To Incur The Wrath of PAP', 'Blog Most Plagiarized by the MSM', 'Best Blog With the title 'SomethingStickyThisWayComes' and stuff like that. It would be a hoot.

And then I realized A) I'm lazy, B) I have no programming skills and don't really know how to set it up, and C) I'm lazy. And so I went to sleep, MachineBoy's head buried comfortingly in my armpit.

But when I woke up this morning, the idea was still buzzing around in my noggin, along with 'gotta pee', 'need caffiene' and 'gimme a cigarette'.

So if any of my clever cever readers have any ideas on how to proceed, post a comment or email me at mercermachine@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tomorrow's Troubles

Looking at the situation over at Tomorrow.sg, I have to say that things have indeed become more cranky, more contentious, more combative than seems healthy. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I have always believed Tomorrow went about mixing their content in a good, even-handed way. Sure, some posts were annoying, frivolous, or moronic, but hey, that's the blogosphere. The whole point of Tomorrow is to present as accurate a portrayal of the Singapore blogosphere as is possible. Just because I think something is inane doesn't mean that a majority or even a substantial minority will agree with me. So their 'slice of life' approach from the beginning seemed not just adequate, but appropriate.

Nowadays, every post seems to be controversial (even the ones you wouldn't think would be). People are irate, and leave ever more vitriolic comments. The flames are getting higher, the trolls more trollish. Don't get me wrong -- I think disagreement is a healthy thing, especially in Singapore. I've participated in more than one heated discussion in my time. But when people started verbally brawling over the fate of La Idler's blog, a level of ludicrousness was reached that will be extremely difficult to fully recover from. The reputation of the entity known as Tomorrow.sg has been damaged. The tone of Tomorrow is suffering.

Like it or not, agree with it or not, one of Tomorrow's functions has become that of 'legitimizer' in the Singapore blogosphere. If someone's post is picked up and published by Tomorrow (and the 'brand names' of the editors associated with it) then there's a lot more happening there than just elevated hits. A certain amount of validation and respectability is conferred along with being Tomorrowed. you may agree or disagree whether that should be the case--but that is the case. Much like athletes who become, whether they like it or not, a role model simply because of their level of celebrity. Maybe they're worthy, maybe not, but they are leaders in many areas, from behavior to beliefs.

Tomorrow, in my opinion, needs time to regain its composure, as any entity does when it suffers such a blow. In fact, La Idler's death struck a double blow to Tomorrow: there is the sorrow and confusion resulting from her death, and then there is the loss of La Idler's editorial voice, which has in a very real way diminished what Tomorrow was and is supposed to be. Some of its personality, if you will. When dissenting voices are silenced (in this case unwillingly, tragically, bitterly), then the richness of the discussion suffers. Tomorrow is the social discussion that Singapore has sorely lacked-- real people talking about their lives, loves, what they had for lunch and whether capital punishment is abhorent... it's messy, it's chaotic. It's life. And in 20 years, people will look back on Tomorrow and mark it as one of the turning points of Singaporean society from authoritarian and overly conservative to democratic, and possibly socially liberal. It will be one of the benchmarks of the maturing of Singapore into a first world nation not by economic standards, but by social ones.

So to the editors of Tomorrow, I say: Grieve. Regret. Get angry, hell, get furious. And then go out and find someone who will not replace Sondra (no one can do that), but who will be able to fulfill her critical function in Tomorrow's operations. You need that individual voice of dissent now more than ever.

V.L.P.S. (Very Long Post Script)-

Let me be quite clear about one thing: That voice of dissent should not be me. I wasn't hinting at it, and I hope none of the editors were considering it. I belong exactly where I am--on the outside.

I am not Tomorrow's apologist. Not exactly. Not quite. I sit here on my day off, watching the rain come down, watching the grey-haired auntie in matching print top and pants hawking tissue packets out of a red plastic bag. "Three for a dollar," she says to the passing crowd that wants only to scurry towards or escape from the maw of the MRT. I drink my tea, iced for the ang mo, and listen to other bands pay musical tribute to morose Fleetwood Mac songs on my i-shuffle.

That's the point. I'm an observer. I am in some sense an outsider, and have been my entire life. There has always been in me that which is emotionally and intellectually distant. That is what allowed me to weather four years in the US Army relatively unchanged, that detachment; it's what allowed me to survive X. It's both a strength and a weakness. It's ruined some of my past relationships and friendships. It's just part of who I am, as inescapable as gender or skin color. I could probably change it, excise it if I put the effort into it, but there's no point really. It has already shaped who I am and how my life has proceeded.

The point I'd like to make is that I'm not carrying water for Tomorrow or its editors. I have no vested interest in whether Tomorrow succeeds or fails beyond what anyone living in Singapore has. The only editor I've spoken to more than once or twice is Mr Myagi, and while I think he's a hell of a guy and a good writer, neither of us owe each other anything. I'm just a small if occasionally vocal fish that enjoys swimming around in the big, messy pond that is Tomorrow.sg. Because, while a part of me will always be standing to one side noting details, an increasingly greater portion of me is engaging and is being engaged by this strange creature known as Singapore.

I live here. My son was born here and will grow up here. My wife is from here. I may be just a permanent resident, but I am increasingly invested in this country, and because of this I feel increasingly obliged to shoulder some responsibility for the future direction of this country. That may sound incredibly overblown, but I mean it. Singapore didn't ask me to come. I asked Singapore if I could come, and Singapore said 'ok'. And so if I can contribute something to Singapore in some fashion by virtue of who I am and what my abilities are, I feel obliged to do so. Who I am, in part, is an observer. Who I am, in part, is a writer. I have a certain facility with words, and I have a certain frame of reference that may be of some value in the discussion of the liberalization of Singaporean society.

That frame of reference tells me that Tomorrow is an important step or milestone in Singapore's cultural maturation. That frame of reference also tells me that when you're fighting on the sandy floor of the arena, the blood and sweat and dust can obscure your vision, causing you to make mistakes that an observer can see, but you cannot. And in the end I am saying that while missteps are bound to be made, they need to be viewed in the larger context.

It's no secret I believe in the sanctity of freedom of speech. I am a product of the environment I was raised in, specifically the United States. I believe that freedom of speech is the greatest deterrent to tyranny available to the masses. I am a writer, and I am descended in large part from the Celts, from warrior-poets. Of course I believe in the power of words. Of course I rail against any move to stifle them. Of course I support anything and anyone that has as its goal, stated or understood, freedom of expression. To do otherwise would be to betray my heritage and my upbringing, my beliefs and the very definition of who I am.

Is Tomorrow perfect? Of course not. There is no such thing as perfect. But it's a damn sight better than what we'd have without it.

Some people rail against the fact that 'celebrity' bloggers moderate Tomorrow's content; others bemoan the fact that Tomorrow's editors show biases and partiality, faults and foibles. Comparisons are made between Tomorrow.sg and the Singapore government. And some of these complaints are valid. But they are also irrelevant. Cyberspace, unlike Singapore, is infinite. If someone gets fed up with Tomorrow, they are free to set up another Singapore blog aggregator based on a different model of moderation. I hope somebody does. The greater the diversity the better, especially in Singapore's case.

As far as 'celebrity' bloggers are concerned, it hardly seems fair to blame someone for being who they are. I can blame Xiaxue for writing crap because I honestly believe she's not writing to her potential. For whatever reason, she has gained a platform from which she is able make a difference and sway opinion. In my opinion, she pisses that opportunity and talent away on frivolities and lazy writing. But it's her opportunity. Even I can recognize that.

And as far as Tomorrow's editors being human—well of course they are. Tomorrow is not an emotionless mechanism into which one deposits posts, and posts get processed and published. Tomorrow is its editorial team as much as it is its contributors. And because of its editorial team, Tomorrow is an entity with a personality, not just a thing, a process, a resource. And the thing about personalities is, sometimes they come into conflict.

Welcome to the world. Welcome to the humanization of cyberspace. Do remember to wipe your feet at the door.

If you'd like to hear my opinion on the vacant editorial seat left by La Idler, here it is: Tomorrow should run a poll as to whether her seat should be filled. If the majority say yes, then they should start a nomination process. Once the frontrunners are determined, another poll should be set up and people should vote as to who they would like to see become an editor at Tomorow. (In case you were wondering, i'd vote for the rather mad jac.)

The End.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I am a b

That's right. I am a b. And you know what? That's just fine with me. I've always been an under-achiever. Set the bar low, or better yet, what bar? Why should I have to jump a bar when I can just walk around it to get to where I'm going?

Why is it there is no antonym for kiasu?

I say we start an anti-kiasu movement! Amble onto the train! Wait for everyone else to jam themselves onto the escalator! Leave work on time! Let your kid do totally unrewarding, unenriching things like, oh, play instead of going for tutoring. Stop caring whether your former classmates are making more money than you/having sex with better looking people than you/live in a bigger or more expensive house than you do. Because you know what? It's not about them. It's about you. How you decide to live your life, what's in your best interest. Is it staying at work until 8 or 9 just to make a good impression? Maybe your boss will love you, but guess what? Your spouse, your family probably want to have you around. That is, if they also cut back on their Pilates/Maths tuition/what the hell ever they're doing instead of, you know, living.

Yah.

coffee. need coffee. Machineboy has turned into a nocturnal creature. Happens every monday. refuses to sleep over the weekend as we are out and about and he doesn't want to miss anything. so on monday he sleeps like a log. and monday night? oh, then it's party time.

He also collected a new girlfriend over the weekend (mokie, see link on right). I warned her that he is not the faithful sort, but does she listen? Nooo...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

B.A.S.S.

So we do the pub crawl, sort of; start off at the Oz Bar, where the beer is relatively cheap but the band's utter crap (they actually did a cover of 'Feelings'). Then we wander over to Anywhere bar, because I remember it as having good live music, but now Anywhere Bar is Marco's Anywhere, and the working girls outnumber the customers. 'Are you Mister Crawford?' the pimp man asks Expat. 'That depends,' Expat replies. 'Do you have a large sum of money for Mister Crawford?'

A few minutes later the Madame decides we're just thick, and so approaches Expat again. Spells it out: 'Would. You. Like. Some. Female. Companionship?' And I'm wondering why nobody ever asks me that. Feeling a bit left out, actually.

There is a band, and they're okay, but we need to get out of there. So I remember there was a nice little quiet pub next to Tanglin mall, and we trudge over there, but now it's some Russian restaurant, so we grab a taxi and proceed to pay for the privilege of sitting in traffic on Orchard Road on a Saturday night.

We muck around Emerald Hill, which I thought was somewhere else, and in Alley Bar I hand over a $50 bill for two beers. I wait for change. And wait. And then a bartender tells me take a seat, it'll come. And then a half hour later Expat corners a manager and two seconds later my change arrives. I guess I should be thankful I got a rebate on the Ang Mo tax.

Then we ended the night at Ice Cold Beer, drinking warm Asahi and splitting a pizza.  The moron next to us is wearing a hideous pink striped polo shirt, collar up (of course), and printed on the back of the collar in gothic script no less is the word PREP. I can only see PRE from where I am sitting, and so assume it says PRETENTIOUS. Look, I am not a fashion plate, but dammit it's not the 80's and even if it were some 80's teen movie, the only person who wears polos with the collar up is the rich boy who everybody hates and who gets his comeuppance at the end of the flick. Just. Stop.

And there were many things discussed, from the inane to the deeply serious, but as you were not there, you don't get to share. So there.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Another Singapore Blog Hacked

So I am surfing, and I stop by Singapore Official Porn Site, and this is what I see (and it's all there is to see):

Thursday, December 01, 2005

HACKED

hahahahahahhaha
noob
posted by HACKER at 4:34 PM

.....Why do people do this stupid shit? First Xiaxue (and no, I was not happy when it happened to her), then Wonkytong, and now this.

Machine. MercerMachine.


Machine. MercerMachine.
Originally uploaded by MercerMachine.
...and here I am in a monkey suit, looking all 'buy this'.

Photographic evidence


MercerMachine Portrait
Originally uploaded by MercerMachine.
So yeah, this is me. In a suit, no less.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

super-duper secret saturday bloggers meeting

That's right. It's a super-duper secret that Expat @ Large (see links on right, I'm lazy) and I will be drinking heavily on Saturday night. Well, it's not so much of a secret that we'll be drinking, as where we'll be drinking. So much of a secret, in fact, that I don't even know. And even if I did know, I couldn't tell myself, because then I'd have to kill me.

So stop asking already. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. And then myself. And it would all be your fault.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Confessions of an Ang Mo, part 1: You will never understand my stomach.

A simple breakfast- two roti prata with attendant curry sauce, an iced Milo. I watch the man knead, stretch and oil the dough, endless rounds of endless rounds (the shop is open 24 hours). They make their Milo with milk instead of water, and the difference is telling. There are big framed phrases in Arabic on the walls, beaten out of copper and tin.There are a dozen fried half-chickens stacked like cordwood in the display window. There are bright plastic yellow chairs and bright plastic green tables and dingy yellow walls, and for $2.45 you can have a quick, simple, filling breakfast.

In San Antonio, on the South Side, the tables would be wooden, perhaps with cigarette-holed checkered plastic tablecloths, perhaps scarred and bare. there might be garage-built benches instead of cheap patio chairs. Instead of prata and curry, there would be refried bean and cheese tacos or egg and cheese tacos; the tortillas and the pico de gallo would be fresh, fresh fresh. Instead of iced Milo there might be fresh squeezed Valley-grown orange juice or lime-aid or drip-grind coffee con leche. For the big spender there might be a big plate of huevos rancheros...

Instead of Arabic proverbs, the walls would be adorned with pictures of the Virgin Mary or Jesus of the Sacred Heart (along with dusty serapes, yellowing posters of Corona girls in skimpy conjunto outfits, and bodega-advertising calendars). Instead of fried chicken stacked in the display window, there would be a feeble attempt at decoration--plastic flowers, plastic fruit, plastic vegetables.

But it's all the same, really. Food for the common man and woman. Deceptively simple food, designed to get you through to lunch. Food meant for those who work with their backs, their hands.

I am, I have always been more satisfied with the bean and cheese taco, the plain prata, at 60 or 80 cents apiece, then I have ever been with the $15 hotel buffet breakfast spread that always has everything you want except what you actually want. It drives [redacted] insane. Mostly we compromise on the weekends, the only time we actually have time to eat breakfast together. Mostly we go to (the original) Killiney Kopitiam, where I have french toast with kaya or maybe the chicken curry, and she has her runny egs and mee siam. I'll drink my kopi ping and she'll drink my kopi ping after protesting yet again that she doesn't want anything to drink, no really.

Food, you see, more than language or skin tone or political leanings is what keps me from integrating more fully into Singapore society. Chilli crab? Too messy, too much work for not enough meat. Fish head curry? I wouldn't want anybody to eat my face, and so I show fish the same courtesy. Sushi? the only thing I prefer raw is wrestling, thank-you-very-much.

In fact, seafood in general is is dangerous territory. I grew up hundreds of miles from the coast, The only seafood I knew during those important formative years was breaded and/or pressed into unnatural shapes. Anything else is just too foreign for me to ever be really comfortable with. Someone who grew up on an island will never understand.

#

God, I miss Tex-Mex. It is a culinary tradition much maligned, much misunderstood. It is the American equivalent of Peranikan food, with as rich a history and as varied a spectrum of influences, and yet too often it's treated as a joke.

[Redacted] has taken me to every vaguely Mexican-sounding restaurant in Singapore now. Inevitably everything is covered in sour cream, which is like going to a Chinese restaurant and having everything covered in soy sauce. It's a travesty. It should carry a mandatory death sentence. For my birthday she took me to Margarita's. I ordered the standard by which every Mexican restaurant is judged in Texas, the cheese enchilada plate.

"Does it come with sour cream?" I ask the pre-teen taking my order.

"No."

"Because if it does, I don't want sour cream."

"It doesn't come with sour cream."

"Okay..."

And when it arrives, it has been drenched in sour cream. Never mind the enchilada sauce is nearly non-existent, or that the enchiladas are sitting in a puddle of grease. Small indignities I have learned to accept. I look up at the pre-pubescent waiter and say "That's sour cream."

"Oh. Sorry ah." and he walks off.

I sit there, stunned. I tell myself the fantasy that he's gone to get me a fresh plate. Five minutes later I see him in a corner, skiving with the pre-teen hostess. I wave violently until he can no longer pretend not to see me.

"Please take this back. I specifically asked for no sour cream." He does so with ill grace, then returns less than a minute later. It's obvious he's just scraped the tops of the enchiladas with a butter knife, or possibly his fingers. He's removed most of the sour cream, along with the majority of what little sauce there was to begin with.

At this point the owner (who I had met previously) returns from some errand, sparing the boy two weeks in traction and myself an unknown quantity of jail time.

And [redacted]? The one who swore in front of God, a priest, and dozens of guests to comfort me? She's laughing.

#

And yet, I know she understands my pain and least to some degree. Spending so many summers in Sibu growing up, a frightening, almost unholy light flares in her eyes when she talks about Sarawak noodles. When she talks about them, she speaks with the conviction of a zealot. And when she found out a couple of weeks ago that a Sarawak noodle stall had opened up somewhere in Chinatown, it was like telling a kid Santa was coming. Finally she rounded up L. and K. and me and MachineBoy to make the pilgrimage. L. drove. We were uncertain of the exact address. Then she saw the sign, and began to cry. Tissues were duly passed over to her. She couldn't bear to wait until we'd found a parking spot, so everyone was dropped off while L graciously looked for parking on a Saturday afternon in Chinatown.

The place was packed. Always a good sign. Hope flared high and bright. Noodles were ordered. People waited with varying degrees of anticipation.

And then it arrived.

"What are these pork crumbles doing in here? Why so many green onions? This char siew is not thin enough! Noodles not correct!"

I didn't laugh, not once. I could speculate that I am simply a nicer, kinder person than [redacted]... but really, I think it was just my sense of self-preservation kicking in. [Hindsight - no, I really was/am a nicer, kinder person than my ex]

Monday, November 28, 2005

Nocturne Parentis

So MachineBoy wakes me up at 4 am, by grabbing my nose. (In the dead of night I am the preferred parent, as [redacted] will only wake if he pulls her hair, and he is not likely to get whatever it is he wanted from her by approaching her in that manner. Nor, for that matter, am I.)

I crack one sleep-gummed eye, and there he is, sucking on his nuk (squik-squik-squik), his little chubby face about four inches away from mine. He sees my eye open, and he smiles this big smile around his pacifier.

"Hello, Ryan-Ryan-bo-Byan," I croak. "Why are you awake?"

"Guh-weh," he replies, and pats my cheek.

"Oh," I say. Then he buries his face in my neck and squirms around until his back is against my chest and his head is on my pillow. I put an arm around his little waist and after a few minutes squick-squick-squick becomes squick…squick…silence.

I lay in the semi-dark, listening to the chuffing of the aircon, watching the slow rise and fall of [redacted] and MachineBoy's chests by the curtain-blurred light of the streetlamp. And I think of all the other fathers throughout the unimaginably long span of human history who have done some similar sentry duty. I think of mr brown, doing it for the third time. I think of my own father, and wonder if he ever did it for my sister or brother (he didn't stick around to do it for me), and I try to understand how a father could bear to give up that duty, to leave his loved ones defenseless in the dark, with no one to make sure that chests rise and fall, rise and fall.

And then I finally fall back to sleep, and I dream that it is the future, and MachineBoy has a MachineSister, and in my dream I worry that I will not be able to watch so many rising and falling chests, and I dream that I must go in search of the monster Argus, to hire it to watch over all of us, a thousand eyes open in the dark, because someone must watch… someone … worry …worry …silence.

And it occurs to me now that, maybe, my father also went off in search of Argus. Maybe four rising, falling chests were too many for one man with two eyes to guard properly. Maybe he got lost along the way. Maybe, for the past thirty-four years, he's been trying to make his way back from that distant place where myths and legends are retrenched to.

It's a pleasant fiction.

Die, die die.

To the sick fucker in washington, michigan, who wandered over to this blog by doing a yahoo search for 'boy nude photo':

I hope your testicles rot off, you sick fuck. I hope you end up in prison, where you are anally raped with broomstick handles before breakfast, and some big fucking biker named dutch knocks out all your teeth so you can service him better on those cold lonely nights. and then I hope you die die die.

Sincerely,

MercerMachine

[At Dr. Lowem's intelligent suggestion, here is the ip address that was listed. I dunno if it's complete; I'm not geek enough to know what to do about this. But if anyone who reads this is...
IP Address: 68.62.89.# (Comcast Cable) 68.62.89.83]

Friday, November 25, 2005

Dear Screwy

Dear Screwy,

You ask why I don't write lit other than fantasy. It's a fair question, and I'll answer it as best I can, though you may find the answer unsatisfying. I know I do.

First, let me say that I do write things other than fantasy. I perpetrate the odd poem, but I'm not as good as him, and I never will be. I will always be minor league, and that on my best day. I will never rise above the level of journeyman in that particular trade.

But why not lit? Why not the Great American Novel, or at least the Great Expat Novel? I know I have a certain facility with the English language. I know this because people have paid me to write, and because people have paid to read what I have written, and most importantly, sometimes people whose opinion I respect (such as yourself) tell me they like what I have written. So why don't I apply myself to something more… substantial, shall we say, than genre fiction?

The short answer, my friend, is that I'm a coward.

I would love to leave it at that. Let everybody draw their own (incorrect) conclusions as to what I mean. But while this is an open letter, it is still a letter to you, Screwy, and I'd like for you to know exactly what I mean if I can express it properly—mainly because I see you as a writer that has at least as much and probably far more raw talent than I had at your age, and without a doubt far more drive. You have a life ahead of you (if you want it; if you grasp it in both fists and hang on) that will in all probability be the life of a writer, and for that I both congratulate you and commiserate with you.

So. The long, messy answer.

Do you remember the first time you read critically? I do. My mother had spent $45 she couldn't afford on an incomplete set of used Hardy Boys hardback novels for my brother. He wasn't interested, so they devolved to me. I was six.

I devoured those books, I read and re-read them. They were mine, all twenty-four of them. Being the youngest of three kids in a single parent family, I was rather possessive about my few possessions.

But the thing was, they were terrible books. I still remember, one of the mysteries revolved around a mysterious guy known only by name, or rather nickname: 'Pop'. And so the Hardy boys are running around looking for some old coot, but in fact, 'Pop' earned his moniker because he drank a lot of soda pop. He was hardly older than they were. Even at the age of six, I curled my lip up at that one. (My math skills truly sucked; I could barely add two and two, but at six I was already a literary critic. So you see, Xiaxue shouldn't really expect any quarter from me. I have a looooong history of trashing bad writing.)

The other thing was, the tone changed from book to book. The Boys Hardy spoke one way in one book, and another way in another. Descriptive passages, even sentence structures were written differently; there was no feeling of continuity throughout the series. That more than anything put me off. It wasn't until years later that I found it was because the books were ghostwritten by a dozen different people.

Be patient, I'm getting to the cowardice part.

I learned from an early age how easy it was to write badly, Screwy. And it put me off writing until I was thirteen. Hormones can do crazy things. In my case, they made me fall in puppy love with Shelley Hodges. I wrote all kinds of bad poetry about her, about love, about life in a little orange spiral notebook. And then at the Spring Carnival she made out with John Martinez (known as Jon-Jon), and rumor had it that later that night they actually *did it*. Crushed, I handed her the notebook at school and wandered off, misery clothed in parachute pants and an OP t-shirt. I only remember one poem from what I like to call my Orange Period:

Secret, secret, we've all got a secret,
Dirty little secrets that we keep.
But soon now, soon there'll be no little secrets
When we cross that border into sleep…

So anyway, I don't remember writing much of anything again until I was 17, and the world did not mourn.

And then I met Jessica.

I'll save the story of that love affair for some other time. All that's really relevant now is that she was incredibly beautiful and something got damaged inside her on the way to adulthood, and we wrote each other love letters constantly, stuffing them into each other's lockers. They were pretty racy. And when one of them somehow ended up in the clutches of the entire baseball team, I shrugged. At least all the whispers about me being gay stopped. And when she went off to college while I finished my senior year, the letters didn't stop, but they did darken. I found a place that would sell me and my best friend beer and a job making pizzas; she found crystal meth and heroin and lots of sex that didn't include me.

I'm betting you're starting to see a picture taking shape, no?

Then there was college, and Lori, who I fell in love with and who fell in love with Stephen. And that was a sad, sordid little thing that lasted far longer than it should have, and involved me writing like a madman, believing somehow by sheer force of words properly applied I could shift the entire universe to a place where I could have what I so desperately wanted, which was her. And you know what? It worked. Sort of. Only I had to make a choice: Accept what she was willing to give me (hint: not all of her and not all the time) or accept nothing. I chose nothing.

And then there was the whole thing with X, and so much just gone, up in smoke out of sheer vindictiveness and madness. It was like losing a limb, or having a stroke. It was debilitating. It was crippling.

Fantasy, specifically Sword and Sorcery, is what pulled me out of that abyss. It allowed me to put form to something that was essentially formless. To paint it with a broad brush, in fiction you can make sense of senselessness. Specifically, by using the formula fiction laid down by Howard and Carter and de Camp and Leiber, I found a way to express all the horrible things that can happen to a person, and yet still have it turn out all right in the end. I found (or rather turned to) a literary value system that didn't ignore the fact that the world can be a sick, deadly place; that the odds really are against you—but you can still triumph if you only use your head and your will like a weapon, and hold back absolutely nothing.

I owe a lot to fantasy.

You see, the strictly literary is chaos. It's an old, wicked, wild, dark kind of amoral magic that has no rules, and damn few conventions. You cast a spell with your words, and either nothing happens or anything can happen, and that anything includes some truly painful, truly horrific stuff. I am afraid of what I might conjure up. I am afraid that it might be stronger than I am. I am afraid that it will defeat me.

Formula fiction is contained; you give yourself over to its conventions and within those boundaries, some amazing stuff can happen. You don't have to believe Genesis word for word to see the power and grace of those words. And if it all goes badly, you can shrug it off and say 'it's only a fantasy story. I'll start another tomorrow.'

With literary fiction, it's like being dropped in the middle of the savannah. There are lions, they are real, and they can tear you limb from limb. I wasn't born with this limp. It's not a game for me, writing; it's deadly serious. I could wander out there and never be heard from again.  

So yeah, Screwy, I don't write the literary stuff much because I'm a coward. Or, to be kind to myself, I've already paid a heavy price in my life for writing the real, and the only return I've gotten were the words themselves, and even they weren't permanent. For some, that would be enough. For some, it would be shameful to expect more than that.

I'm older, now. I'm more canny. I want a better deal.

But you, my friend, should not take to heart too much of my experience. That wild, dark magic never shapes itself the same way twice; everyone weaves a unique spell, every time they put pen to paper. You're young, so be reckless. See what you can come up with. When the magic strikes, it might be terrifying, it might be awe inspiring, but there is one thing it never is, and that's boring.

So write like your hair is on fire, Screwy. Maybe you'll shame me into taking another risk. And just between you and me and the three other people who read this blog, I wouldn't regret that a bit.

Your friend,

MM



Sticky issues #13: A Satisfying Conclusion

Yeah I know this is old news, but hey.

Filed Under: NKF TT Durai Peanuts!

(Pic too small? Click on pic, then click on 'all sizes'. That should do the trick.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Imperial Decree #3


Whereas Sam, the world's ugliest dog, has shuffled off his hideous mortal coil at the ripe age of 14;
Whereas Sam had been feted for his ugliness around the globe;
Now we do proclaim today to be a day of mourning, and decree that all flags are to be flown at half-mast, and toasts are to be made in pubs and bars across the globe to Sam, one truly ugly dog who has left this even uglier world, and may God have mercy on his soul and all of ours.





Signed,
MercerMachine I
Emperor of America (in exile)
Protector and Guide of the 50 United States

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Dear Ex

X,

I am sitting at a cafĂ© overlooking the Singapore River, watching bumboats ferry tourists up and down the green-brown waterway, diesel engines throbbing, tacky red lanterns swaying, eyeball-painted prows neatly slicing the sludge. Conversations in half a dozen languages wash over me. I’m waiting for the rain to come, brief and furious, as it usually does this time of day, this time of year.

I’m on the other side of the world from Texas, from Austin, from you and the Drag and 6th Street and decent Tex-Mex and any season other than summer. It is late afternoon here; there, it’s the hour when drunks make their perilous way home from parties and bars and, yes, strip joints. But even on the other side of today’s date, on the other side of the world, and even six years distant, your words have had an effect.

#

Let us be frank about the past, X, because at this late date there is no reason not to be. Because a dialog that begins with avoidance works quite well in fiction, but less well in real life: You lied constantly when we were together. You slept with other men, including my best friend. You tried to get me sent to prison when it was over. You destroyed every scrap of my writing you could get your hands on. You got me arrested. You cost me thousands of dollars that I couldn’t afford. You hounded and harassed me. You caused me massive shame. You were the physical embodiment of the Furies.

You were, quite literally, the worst thing that ever happened to me.

I learned to endure. I learned, because I had no choice. I learned to be a stone, indifferent to the tempest. And then, after the storm finally spent itself, I had to learn how to be flesh and blood again.

And now, after six years, you send me a few emails to say you’re sorry, to tell me you owe me a pack of cigarettes.

#
You say, “I am not going to lie. I have carried you around with me every where.”

I don’t feel anger, or love, or loss. I don’t know exactly what it is I feel, to be honest, and I don’t have any desire to put it under a microscope, to dissect it, to see how it is articulated or if it crawls, walks or flies. It is something tinged with a mild disbelief, a vague regret. Let’s leave it at that.

Here is the truth of the matter, X: Six years ago you closed the door on any possible future that included us together. You closed that door, and then you locked it, and then you boarded it up, and then you doused the whole thing in jet fuel and then you burned it down to the ground. I need for you to understand this, not because I wish you any suffering (I don’t), nor because I hold any grudges (I don’t), but because it is the plain, unadorned, unvarnished truth.

#

Now the light is failing. Now the red swaying lanterns on the low, wide bumboats come on, making some minor huckster transformation from tawdry to quaint. Now the faces of all the tourists taken for a ride are a dozen different tints of crimson blur. Around me, passing by me, I can hear if not understand snatches of conversations in Mandarin, Tamil, Tagalog, Malay, German, French, three flavors of English, and some Slavic tongue that may or may not be Russian. Singapore is one of the world’s smallest countries, and the world’s biggest transit lounge. It suits me. Nothing is really real, but everything is shiny, clean and neat. Cigarette packs carry godawful photos of what your habit is doing to your lungs, your brain, your mouth, your family. And unless you dig and dig and find the few stray souls who haven’t been sanitized for your protection, no one expects you, as an outsider, to have any answers here; no one cares if you do or don’t. No one cares what the questions are. It’s all just about commerce. And in that vacuum, I am free. Free to create and destroy and work like a dog and slack like a moron; I’m free to write or not write, free to think or not think. Nobody cares. Not if you can’t show them the bottom line. And that’s the most refreshing, the most liberating thing about this place. When everyone is just passing through, when everything is temporary, it becomes so very easy after a while to see and understand the nature of permanence. You learn to infer by the absence of things.

#

So you want to be a writer. You’ve had writer’s block for four years. I’ll give you some advice: burn everything you’ve written to date.

I’m not being flippant. I am utterly serious. Trash it. Those words are an anchor weighing you down. They’re the One Ring, shining in the darkness down under the mountain. Your body of work to date is the thing you keep polishing and admiring and fingering like a fetish. It is the thing that is keeping you from writing.

Get rid of it. And then write. Write until you write something that amazes you, something you can hardly believe came out of your brain. And then keep writing.

Write a quarter of a million words. Then you will be in a place where you are prepared to be a writer.

I don’t want your apologies. They’re no good to me now. I’ve moved far beyond the place where they have any meaning. But I do want you to atone for my words that you destroyed. And the only way to do that is to replace them with your own.

Do that, and we can talk. Maybe I’ll tell you about my life, my wife, my son. Do that, and I can think of you not as the woman who tried to destroy me, but as the writer who earned her place at the table.

Let’s just leave it at that for now.

MM

On prostitiution, loneliness, Asian values, the human condition and people watching

So much of my life seems to consist of sitting somewhere, smoking, drinking one overpriced beverage or another, and trying to figure it all out… whatever ‘it’ is. Mostly I watch people. They’re endlessly fascinating, endlessly complex, endlessly un-understandable. I will never figure out why people do 80% of what they do, but the price of a beer or a coffee is like buying a ticket to the greatest show on earth. It’s always the same, which is to say it’s never the same. The only thing that really changes is the seat I’ve rented.

Right now, across the street at Orchard Towers, one of the clubs on the second floor has just switched on its neon. ‘HONKEY TONKIN,’ it reads, ‘SWAMP ROCK’. ‘LIVE ROCK n’ ROLL’, all in red. Alcohol, women of questionable morals, rock n’ roll, men with too much money and not enough action. I know it’s been said before and better, but Singapore is a strange place – in some ways, self-delusional. Prostitution is legal, but ‘Asian values’ are touted regularly. There is a great uproar over casinos, as they may turn some into gambling addicts – as if Toto, 4D, horse racing etc. aren’t gambling and may not have the exact same effect. I think the idea of ‘Asian values’ is a good one, actually; one of the many sad things about globalization is the erosion of vibrant native cultures across the world. But to be honest, I have no idea what ‘Asian values’ are supposed to consist of, beyond the idea of filial piety. But I’ve gone off on a tangent. I was talking about prostitution.

I may not agree with prostitution (yeah baby, make love to my wallet!) but I understand it. And I don’t disagree with it on a moral or ethical level, as long as it’s two consenting adults. No, for me it’s just a matter of being a little too sordid and sad to be worth whatever brief physical release comes with asking a girl at Top Ten, ‘Have you had your dinner?’ For me, (and admittedly this is just for me, I’m not telling anyone else how to think or what to do in regards to prostitution) if I am hard up for sex, I’ve got two hands, a wide choice of lubricants and a stellar imagination. I can have sex with anyone I want. I can have sex with Helen of Troy if I want, and it doesn’t cost me a penny, and there is absolutely zero chance of catching a communicable disease. Or starting a war, for that matter.

But like I said, that’s just me. I understand loneliness, and I understand desire that blurs into need, into craving, almost into compulsion. I’m a smoker, after all. And while I am not the handsomest of men, I have been blessed (and sometimes cursed) with an adequate amount of female companionship throughout my adult life, making ‘professional’ help unnecessary. I prefer love to be real or wholly illusory.

But I’ve strayed far (and wide) from the topic. I don’t understand people. I never will. I understand some of their actions, their drives but in the end we are all prisoners locked in our own skulls, passing notes to the other inmates by the Morse code of language… and doing it badly. Every man, and every woman, is an island. An island that we can never truly visit. We send each other postcards (weather’s fine, wish you were here) but the interior lives of each of us remain forever locked away, songs without music, music without ears to hear.

And so I sit and drink my coffee or my beer, and I look at the faces of those who pass by, and I wonder what’s going on in each of those undiscovered countries: the beautiful woman whose face is set in stone, just at the edge of a scowl; the child in the stroller riding the edge of sleep; the business man with the dreamy look in his eye; the guy in the wheelchair, slack-jawed and darting eyes… And I will never know those lands, the contours, the forces which have shaped them.

But I want to.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The SomethingSticky Evening Post

Taking a look at some of today's news articles with a Sticky spin

Chan Cheng Khoon, 71, Convicted 3rd time for being an Asshat
Already fined for insulting two neighbors last year, the asshat who's been driving down Everitt Road property values for a decade was convicted for a third time yesterday. After flipping off his neighbors yet again, he was back in the courtroom, saying 'there's no such thing as bad press'.
The last time he was in court, Chan was fined $4,000. He told reporters then the fine was "sup sup sui", Cantonese for "no big deal."
"You know how much a half page ad would cost in the Straits Times?" Chan asked. "With a full color picture, we're talking like $15 k. Hell yeah, four grand is sup sup sui."
When asked why he was such an asshat, Mr Chan said "I'm 71 frigging years old. How else am I supposed to amuse myself? Write idiotic letters to the ST Forum? Fuck that noise."
Bush prods China on political freedom; China says 'Shut up, monkey-boy'
US President George W. Bush, who has pledged to make the promotion of freedom and democracy one of the pillars of his second term, along with making shitloads of money for his oil buddies and lying his ass off, yesterday kicked off his tour of Asia by callingon China and other Asian countries to grant more political freedom to their people.
"Why tell your people that they have no choice and get them all upset, when you can lie to them all day long and the majority will believe you?" said Mr Bush in a keynote speech in Kyoto. "I mean, totalitarianism does the trick, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing like having millions of voters actually give you the power to rape the environment and plunder the economy for your own gain. Not to mention the whole war trip. What a rush!"
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, speaking in Busan, South Korea, brushed off his call toBeijing to "embrace" democracy the way Taiwan did. "Totalitarianism is a lot less complicated," he remarked.
And that, dear readers, is all the news that's Sticky enough to print.

Sticky issues #I-lost-count-oredy: Singapore is pro-choice...


Filed under: Singapore capital punishment atrulystickyissue

The Adventures of Ninja Joe (on the bus!)


ninjajoebus
Originally uploaded by MercerMachine.
pic too small? click on the pic, then click on 'all sizes'. that should do the trick.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

small person humoring big people

yah, it's hallowe'en. hoo-ray. of course you can make me wear pink bunny ears even though i'm a boy. and i loooove the buck-tooth nook you got me. it's great. do i get candy now? no? fookers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

MachineBoy sleeps


MachineBoy sleeps
Originally uploaded by MercerMachine.
Nap time. The pacifier went missing on Orchard Road approximately 35 minutes later. If found, uh, nevermind. I don't want it back.

Ninja Joe vs Busker-Man


Ninja Joe vs Busker-Man
Originally uploaded by MercerMachine.
too small? click on the pic, then click on 'all sizes'. that should do the trick.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Quake Didn’t Kill Him-- But Winter Might


The South Asia earthquake that struck on 8 October 2005 may be over, but the suffering –and dying – is far from finished. Though the death toll has already reached 90,000, more people are likely to die from the harsh winter conditions in the region than were killed by the quake itself. More than 3.5 million people are homeless, and many of these survivors are stranded in the remains of remote villages in Pakistan’s mountainous North and Northwestern provinces.

Without even basic shelter such as blankets and winterized tents, the United Nations has said that many more will die from winter conditions than were killed by the earthquake. With only two weeks left before the onset of winter, winterized tents have run out in Pakistan, and international aid is neither sufficient nor speedy enough to prepare those who have been left homeless and vulnerable to the elements. The situation has become desperate.

The Crisis Relief Society (Singapore) has established a base in a Pakistan army camp in Bagh, North Pakistan. With the help of mules and local helpers, CRS is bringing urgently needed relief supplies and medical relief into the remains of mountain villages beyond the base camp. CRS also has a team of doctors, nurses and volunteers treating those injured in the quake. To date, CRS has treated over 1,000 patients. Together with local partners, CRS is committed to bringing and maintaining a steady chain of urgently needed supplies such as blankets and tents into these remote areas.

95% of all donations go directly to the victims of this disaster in the form of supplies, but these relief supplies will have to get to those who need it--before winter sets in! Once winter comes roads will no longer be accessible and weather condition will render flying supplies in too dangerous. You can help--your donation will go towards bringing in winter supplies straight into the disaster zones. One winter worthy tent costs S$300 and one blanket costs S$25 (current price with transportation factored in).

You Can Make A Difference – But You MUST Hurry
IRAS Public Fund Raising Permit 34/2005
Donate to: Crisis Relief Society (Singapore)
Post to: Tanjong Pagar Post OfficePO Box 057, Singapore 910802
State "Pakistan earth quake relief" behind cheque
Do not forget to include your personal particulars so we can acknowledge your kind contribution. Please note that your donation is not tax exempt.

Imperial Decree #2: Boycott O'Reilly Sponsors


WHEREAS, a certain television and radio personality known as Bill O'Reilly has been recorded inviting terrorist organizations to attack the American city of San Francisco;
WHEREAS, the city of San Francisco is not only an American city under the protection of the Emperor of America (in exile), but also the city of the late, lamented Emperor Norton I, and as such a shrine to the Goddess of Reason;
WHEREAS, the will of the People, of whom I am the humble instrument, demands redress for the heinous, cowardly, hate-mongering statement made by said television personality;
NOW, THEREFORE, do we order and direct any and all Americans and Citizens of the World at Large who find the invitation of a media personality to terrorist groups to destroy a city or parts thereof because the citizens of said city did not vote in accordance with said media personality's wishes TO IMMEDIATELY BOYCOTT ANY AND ALL SPONSORS OF THE O'REILLY FACTOR, be they television or radio sponsors, until such time as Bill O'Reilly is no longer employed in the capacity of a television or radio personality.

We are mightily displeased with this man, and ask that all loyal subjects of the Emperor of America (in exile), by Grace of God and the Will of the People Emperor MercerMachine I, do their utmost to make their Emperor's displeasure known with the full force of their shut wallets and pocket books.

Further, we ask that this decree be circulated and posted in all public places, be they material or electronic, that ignorance of the law may be no excuse!

Signed this 13th Day of November, 2005,

MercerMachine I
Emperor of America (in exile)
Protector and Guide of the 50 United States

Sunday, November 13, 2005

PLUG!

Play KoL. Play it now. It's free, dammit.

I Am The Emperor of America (in exile)

"On September 17, 1859, businessman Joshua Norton crowned himself Emperor of the United States. He quicky issued an edict that dissolved the US Congress, citing its fraud and corruption, and later abolished the Republican and Democratic parties. He created his own money to pay his debts, and called for the creation of a League of Nations decades before that institution came into being. When he died after a 21 year reign, 30,000 people attended his funeral. I urge you to take up his mantle, MercerMachine. May he (and I) inspire you to declare yourself protector and guide of a domain that desperately needs more of your leadership. May you rule with a velvet glove, not an iron hand, dispensing witty wisdom as you promote your vison of utopia."

-God, speaking between the lines of the week of Nov. 11 free will astrology column


When God talks, MercerMachine listens. So without further ado:

To the Citizens of the United States of America and the World at Large:

Be it known that, in accordance with Divine Will and the Will of The People, I MercerMachine, formerly of San Antonio, Texas and parts North and East thereof, and now currently residing in the Republic of Singapore, do hereby declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of America (in exile) on this day, November 12, 2005.

The United States of America, having been bereft of true and rightful leadership since the death of Emperor Joshua Norton on January 8, 1880, has since seen a horrid decline in ethics, morality, and common sense. It is not without reservation that I take up the heavy burden ceded by Emperor Norton upon his death, as I know the struggle to bring the United States back from its nadir of idiocy will be a lifelong one; one that will utterly tax my wit, wisdom, and senses of humor and proportion. Nevertheless, the spectres of bungled History and the ghosts of mangled Futures, not to mention God and the People, demand that I assume my rightful position. I bow to Fate.

As my first Imperial Decree, I renew the call made by the late Emperor Norton for Congress to disband; further, I renew the call for the Republican and Democratic parties to disband. Congress, having been gathering in an unlawful manner for no less than 145 years, and the Republican and Democratic parties, having been gathering in an unlawful manner for no less than 136 years, shall immediately cease and desist. Or else.

Further, it is hereby lawfully proclaimed that all members of the (illegal) Republican Party, humorlesly known as the Grand Old Party as well as every (illegal) Democratic member of (illegal) Congress who voted (illegally) to go to war in Iraq, shall be sentenced to six months hard labor for every American death in Iraq (not to run concurently), and further, shall pay restitution of $10,000 for every Iraqi civilian death since the inception of the (illegal) war.

Finally, I, MercerMachine, your lawful Emperor (in exile), call upon every loyal American Citizen to distrubute and make generally known my will, decrees and commands to all those in breach of these and any other decrees that I, your lawful Emperor, may make in future. Let ignorance of the law be no excuse!

Signed with all humility,

MercerMachine I,
Emperor of America (in exile)
Protector and Guide of the 50 United States