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.