mental indigestion

Efficient Zen June 29, 2008

Filed under: Life in general — mel @ 5:23 pm

Unfortunately, I realised that the only way I can get some breathing space, is ironically, to be a lot more disciplined/ industrious/ nazi about things:


2. Do the things I said I planned to do (even if everywhere around me, people are changing their minds).

3. Exercise at least three times a week – it is natural prozac and it clears my mind.

4. MAKE myself do something fun at least once a month (such a fuddy duddy I am these days).

5. Pray in complete sentences (not 10 word per second request lists in bullet point form)

Call me Meticulous Mel (it will remind me about this in case I forget while being overwhelmed again).


XXX June 26, 2008

Filed under: Mopey mops — mel @ 9:24 pm

Yesterday, I was reading a book that’s being distributed as part of the National Library Board’s Reading Campaign .

While reading Wena Poon’s “Lions in Winter” (by far the best story in there), I was interrupted during a particularly intense moment taking place between the protagonist and his sister. (see picture above)

Immediately, I was jolted back to reality and thought about the the poor hapless library person who had to stick thousands of “xxx” bits of paper over that damning word.

There’s also a CD with the audio version of this story. I wonder how the narrator would read that part out:

“…would call a mind-f-triple-x”? or  “…would call a mind-tooooooooooot”?

Even government-sanctioned local literature also kena censor. Sigh, and they want us to get interested in reading.


Was it just a dream? June 16, 2008

Filed under: Life in general — mel @ 10:57 pm


I did get back home with a record time of not bathing for three days. It was not pretty.
But I slept so incredibly well on the plane, undoubtedly pooped from the previous days’ drama.
I am back now, facing two laptops, trying to deal with the work-that-needs-to-be-done and wondering how long the surreality of 1) going to ulu Iowa 2) getting caught in a catastrophic flood 3) surviving hellish flights to and fro 4) being surrounded by people who actually respect writing will last.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of my happiest moment there – 11th June, Wednesday on a sunny part of the day I was walking around the town on my own just taking in the protons and finding refuge in a bookshop with character, Prairie Lights. What a chair.


Airport refugee June 14, 2008

Filed under: Mopey mops — mel @ 4:36 pm

Since the last post, the gears have changed somewhat from literary to aqua. More specifically, the water finally overflowed from the Iowa river, buildings were evacuated, events were cancelled and roads were closed.

During this short time frame, I have had two close shaves:

– I was initially posted to a hotel that eventually got flooded the following day. How I made a narrow escape from  it is largely due to the ever-fluid arrangements of staying with people who had rented apartments around the university and eventually settling for sharing a hotel room on a hill (key word) with a kind, kind classmate who gave me and my luggage a lift up to the new accommodation.

– After the workshop officially ended on Friday afternoon  I went back to the hotel and was just about to transfer my luggage to another kind, kind classmate’s room at the hotel on the hill. While making small talk with the concierge, they conveyed to me the word of mouth advice they had picked up – all but one roads leading out of the campus will be closed by 6pm so if I want to make my flight on Sat morning, I really had to get out of there ASAP because that one open road might get closed as well. I ditched the originally-arranged airport shuttle service because they sounded so forlorn and  non-committal (that company was based in Cedar Rapids – which has half its town totally under water) and managed to call a Don from Black & White Cabs who said he would try his darnest to get there. While waiting for him, there were many other workshop participants also having the same idea as me and waiting for various kinds of transportation. Don came first to get me though, and from there, I was taken on a two-hour whirlwind tour of rural Iowa (very pretty I must say) trying to find alternative routes to the airport – most of the time, we were on gravel roads and met with countless road blocks. However, we met a family having a BBQ outside their farmhouse and they gave some insider directions which led to the airport minus the crazy jams and hurdles. I gave Don a huge tip, what a trooper for trying so hard to find a way out. What was a little sad though is that the rest of the people at the hotel I was waiting with never made it to the airport.

Of course now I am here with nothing much to do, thank God for free wireless internet and the company of a poet couple (they had escaped even earlier than I did, straight after lunch after they talked to one of the National Guards) to make things just a little more bearable. People here have been so helpful and good-natured about things even though the situation is worrying. Which is why perhaps I am not so pissed off and miserable about it. And I really hope things look up somehow, some way or another for the Midwest flood situation, which seems almost Noah-like.

But yes, I do want to go home. I wish I had shiny red shoes like Dorothy.


Time Lag June 12, 2008

Filed under: Life in general — mel @ 6:07 pm

(workshop assignment on experimenting with structure)

12th June, 2.45am
I wake up without knowing what day or time it is. But the first question that pops in is, “Am I going to write in the dark again?” I have been writing a lot in the dark these past few days.

6th June 5.30am
I wake up before the alarm rings. I have to pack for Iowa. I have to write to-do lists. I have to take deep breaths before opening twenty office e-mails lined with “Can you pleas-es?” “I am expecting to receiv-es” and “Please inform me ASAP-es” But first, I mentally craft my automated “out-of-office” reply. “I am out of town and I will ONLY reply you when I get back.” If only.

10th June, 8.15pm
I am awake, but just barely. I am drunk with fatigue and a little giggly while talking to Nam Le, an Australian-Vietnamese writer reading at the Prairie Lights bookstore.  He’s from Melbourne, my soul mate city. Melanie from Melbourne, he calls me, in a comfortingly familiar Aussie lilt. I almost forget to pay for his book. He makes me feel 25 and in the year 2005 again.

7th June, 4.00am

I am awake, but just barely. Darren is driving me to the airport. It feels awkward, because I am usually the one sending him to the departure terminal as he jet sets around taking fancy pictures of beach resorts and boutique hotels. “Now, I know how you feel when I go away,” he says, squeezing my hand. We’ve always had this dream that someday, somehow, we’d travel all over the world together – me writing, he shooting.

11th June, 6.00pm
I am sipping pre-dinner cocktails with a bunch of people I don’t know. But alcohol has made us intimate confidantes, and we are talking about reproductive organs, adultery and other non-sober topics. I sit between Chilean guy and Filipino guy and they tell me they find it strange my three-month-old spouse would let me come here for this writing workshop alone. “In one week, so many things can happen, you know?” Mr Chile rhetorically asks, swirling his hands through the air of unknowingness. “But don’t mind us, we are such chauvinist pigs,” he qualifies, before remarking that the newly arrived beef kebabs mounted on a pineapple slice look like four dicks sticking out of a vagina.

14th June, 4.45am
At this point, I would have packed and be waiting for the airport shuttle. I would be praying that the weather would not be pre-menstrual and I would be dreading a twenty-hour flight back.  I would return bearing stories of angry rivers and Midwestern women who actually live in farms. I would be a slightly different person from the one that came. Yes, many things can happen in one week.


The Boat by Nam Le June 11, 2008

Filed under: Kay poh recommendations — mel @ 11:51 am

the boat

I really needed not to sleep at 7pm today so I went for an evening book reading by Australian Vietnamese author Nam Le. His first book, The Boat, has already won some pretty impressive reviews in America and Australia.

In any case, I went there without any prior knowledge of him or the book (was actually expecting long-haired Vietnamese girl), and I also got to the bookshop late given that both me and my Filipino “classmate”, Jaton, are equally hopeless with directions. There was a huge crowd and our view was blocked by bookshelves. But immediately, I was hooked to this guy’s recitations – firstly, because his Aussie accent just sounded so comforting (for some strange reason, I felt homesick for Melbourne) and secondly, he writes bloody damn well and is refreshingly different from the usual cookie cutter “ethnic”/minority literature.

I knew I wanted to get the book after hearing just one chapter. And when the crowd cleared at the end of the reading, I was surprised to see this rather dishy young man (turns out he’s my age) who’s immensely polite and friendly. I ask him what footie team he supports. For that moment, Nam loses that placid writer demeanor and snorts, “Of course it’s Collingwood, what else is there?” he says, exactly like the way Cami’s Michael (also Magpie fan) says it. And we talk a bit about life in Melbourne just like the way I used to do with random tram strangers. Which I thought was extremely down-to-earth of him considering he’s all set to becoming a great and famous writer.

His inscription: “To Melanie, fellow devotee of the greatest city in the world!”

An excerpt from his book can be found here:


Flooding June 10, 2008

Filed under: Life in general — mel @ 4:49 pm


There is supposed to be a very bad flood happening in Iowa soon. The river that faces my hotel/hostel is on the brink of spilling over and people have been putting sandbags at the edges with hope the waters would not reach the campus. The sandbag people look grim – they say it might be as bad as the flood of ’93 where a bloated body of a grandmother was found in the forest.

A Filipino participant that I’ve met thinks Americans make a big deal out of everything. “In Manila, during floods, people will paddle around to get to the cinemas or shopping malls. Life still goes on.” Also, given his rich experience with floods, he doubts the sandbags will hold. “How can you have faith that it’s just going to reach your knees?” I am watching the Weather Channel right now with jetlagged anxiety, am so unused to this unpredictable climate thing. I only know that things are hotter and rainier in Singapore. But now, seeing a heatwave in New York, tornadoes in Indiana and winter in Colorado all at the same time really boils down to the fact that this earth is spiraling out of control.

Meanwhile, people here seem big on rivers and mountains. Hearing lots of stories about such pursuits with nature. I am lapping it all up. New Yorker Fresh Grad in my class smirks and says his story about the Gay Straight Alliance is so out of place with these “geriatric reflections” (most of them have children above thirty but oh, how rich their writings are because of all these experiences, am currently in love with the description “root beer eyes”) – my writings are too, but they lap it all up because I far exceed their expectations of writing a grammatically-correct sentence.

Top three Midwest myopically cute questions of the day:

– “Do you actually think in English?”

– “Honey, would you be offended about my story about my mother referring to the Japanese as ‘Japs’? I know it’s rude but it was such a long time ago y’know? You ok with it?”

– “Could you tell me why Filipino men are so giggly? My gynae was Filipino and he just laughed like a girl!”

I am also being flooded with ideas right now, which may explain some of the insomnia. I feel guilty for being so methodical with my students . I feel like there’s so much more I should have done. I feel I have feared too much. I feel my words are lame. I feel I should stop writing for money or for other people.

But this could all be just jet lag.


Personal Information from the US of A June 9, 2008

Filed under: Life in general — mel @ 7:14 pm

I have forgotten how friendly and forthcoming Americans can be. It’s at once disconcerting, slightly annoying and kind of touching.

En route to Chicago, John from New York tells me about his company, his state of origin, his job scope, which parts of Asia he’s travelled to, his sister’s name, how airport dogs like to smell his agricultural scent, where he stays just out of Manhattan , which Bill Bryson books he’s read (I was reading one while trying to hint that I needed silence) and I barely said more than 20 words throughout this 15 minute “conversation”. On a happier note, he thought I was still from college.

John from New York later swapped seats with Alicia from Boston so she that she could sit next to her “friend”. It was weird, I don’t think they knew each other well because she asked “So could you show me a picture of your son?” but they were certainly quite cosy with each other physically. She was on a three-month Asian work trip with her company and kept telling me how “magical” her “first Asian experience” was (judging from her digital pics, it seemed to consist of a lot of cheap drinks in Shanghai). Her “friend” was a lot more private with his personal information but felt the need to educate me on how to conduct oneself on a flight. This includes “Hey, you know that you can put your seat down after the seat belt sign is off?”, “Don’t tell me you are not going to pile yourself up with drinks?” and “I hope you washed your hands” after I came back from the bathroom. Perhaps I gave off Chinese provincial villager vibes to him.

The connecting flight to Iowa was pure hell with cancellations due to severe storm warnings. This meant a lot of time overhearing people’s conversations at the domestic terminal. It was amazing, people would just plop down on their seats and just ANNOUNCE who they were, where they came from and giving extremely personal anecdotes of their lives. Tammy from Iowa declared without any kind of introduction: “McGridles makes a girl happy” while chomping on one. My airport shuttle driver pronounced, upon picking up my luggage, “The Good Lord is punishing us with bad weather all over the world. By golly.”

This has made me realize what a private person I’ve become (at least in the face-to-face context) to think of all of these encounters as alien.