On a Recent Controversy

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Brittle leaves, falling to pieces. Crumbling.
What the fuck, seriously, what the fuck?
What kind of professor is he? What kind of irresponsible teacher is he? How can he apply his immense intellect to deconstruct common sense? I wish that I've no scruples. How I wish I can name you publicly and shame your arguments. 
The light plays its golden fingers across a shifting field of leaves.

This tenured professor gave me hope. If those were the best arguments proffered, I could just as readily study for a PhD. Come to think about this, anyone could. Really, Associate Professor from School of Computing-USP? Such foolproof logic.
I still can't believe this. What kind of irrational shirking of responsibilities is this?

What about the ideals of education?

This professor exaggerated the problem. He distorted it and claimed that the administration were not culpable for a series of damning cyberbullying incidents.I had hoped for reasonable people to speak up but none would. What nonchalance, what self-absorption. What cowardice.
How I wish I can make the email exchange public.
Those who spoke up, they worsened the controversy. They polarised it to an either/or division and argued fantastically on very tenuous grounds. Sigh.

It was one of those times that the world seemed more opaque. Devoid of light, of life.
P.S. I really need some encouragement now. If you're reading all this, drop me a message below.

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Of the Spheres

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Galatea of the Spheres by Salvador Dali
Johnson imagined himself disintegrating  - into swirling atoms, into tiny invisible spheres that bounced about in chaotic motions.

There were forces pulling him in different directions. To be, to not be. To do, to refrain from doing. To act upon this first, or that.

In nature, there are two forces - entropy and extropy. The former suggests that everything tends toward disorder and chaos and anarchy. The latter suggests that everything become increasingly ordered, from atoms to molecules to cells to tissues to organs to organisms. These forces are antithetical; they are opposites that define each other. They can co-exist.

At times, he wondered if these two forces - both pushing and pulling in opposite directions - were existing in him.

He imagined himself being turned into a cascade of atoms, mindlessly tumbling in the atmosphere.

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Impossible flights

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"Still life with flowers (cut), fruits (rotting) and a dove (mangled, still and not alive)"

"Grey on grey"

Grey on grey,
he breathes,
a whisper,
an answer lost in the winds.

She puffs,
why?

"Why"?
This word tastes strange,
like the colour of white gone bad
or the touch of solid clouds.
Why "why"?

What "why"?

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The Hollow Victory

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The little boy clamoured. His hands reached out and flailed helplessly in the air while his legs kicked about impotently. The boy wanted to throw a fuss but the clear silicone pacifier was in his mouth. All he could do was to let out a bristling garble.

He wanted to be off his pram, to clutch his latest toy - a battery-powered train which, with its packaging, is about it's new owner's size.

There was a certain irony, one he couldn't really place. A boy clamouring for a toy train on a real, underground train. A potent lyricism.

And there was something painfully banal about this scene. The parents who sat apart from each other. The noisy, self-absorbed boy. The bright riots of green-yellow-blue mass-manufactured toy.

It was a scene that should be poignant. That should raise eyebrows and draw curious looks. But it didn't. For such scenes are far too common.

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Where are you from?

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"Where are you from?'

Often, when people first meet, they ask this simple question, albeit one with no easy answer.

Just half an hour ago, I held the door open for an exchange student. In the claustrophobic environment of the lift, with only the two of us, we looked at each other and made small talk. "Where are you from?" I asked, forgetting all my reservations about questions of this nature.

"Che-pa-sa-ke." Or something which sounded like this. She grinned before exiting the lift.

I smiled to myself, recalling the foolishness of asking this question.

Strangers had probably asked you this question before. They certainly asked me before. Each time, I would pause and think: where am I from?

From Singapore?
From NUS?
From USP?
From Science? From Chemistry?
From Kovan, that little known place near Hougang?
From the North-East? From Xinmin?
From Victoria?
From Jurong? From Signals?
From KRC?

We're from many different places at one time. We carry layers of identity according to our spatial contexts, according to our relative social standing. And I suspect that we'll carry more as time passes. Employee of XYZ Company. Ex-employee of XYZ. Father. Uncle. Grandfather. Godfather. Great-grandfather. And so on.

Sometimes, when someone unexpectedly pops this question, I'll recyle my old joke:
Me? I'm from my mother's womb.

If you ever encounter such a question, try the above response. That's guaranteed to earn you some uncomfortable laughter.

Now, where are you from?
Photo credits: okdork.com

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Upfront! with Jay Bernard, Poet Painting with Words

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The following interview first appeared on Kent Ridge Common. Jay is my mentor for a poetry workshop; she's a very intense woman with a quirky sense of humor. Really interesting person!

Jay is a writer from London, and describes herself as “writer, poet, graphic artist” in that order. She started performing her poetry aged fifteen, after she attended a series of workshops with Apples and Snakes. She then went on to win the Respect Slam in 2004 and the Foyle’s Young Poets competition in 2005. She’s appeared at venues from Trafalgar Square and Shakespeare’s Globe, to the Vienna Lit festival in Austria and Bluestockings in New York. Today, she graciously agrees to our request for a candid interview:

What is it like being on a residency in Singapore? How does it compare to residencies in other countries?

I’ve only ever done residencies in the UK before, so I have no other international comparisons. Doing a residency is hard work, strange and never what you expect. You are essentially saying that you will live as a writer for a period of time. This sounds idyllic, but lots of practical issues come up: how to organise your time, how to create a course, what information you wish to impart, how to deal with your publication / performance obligations. When you are sitting at home writing you do not have to present yourself in a particular way – suddenly, with a writing residency, you do. This is not specific to Singapore, but a feature of all the residencies I’ve undertaken.

In your opinions, what makes a good poem?

Lucid unity of sound and sense. For me, there is also the question of a good performance, in which case risk-taking, rhythm, movement / choreography and voice are all important. It doesn’t have to be a visually spectacular piece, but all the best readings are done by poets who know how to use their own voices and are comfortable with their bodies – or at least aware of them.

Have you ever encountered periods when writing poetry becomes a chore? How do you deal with it?

It is always a chore, because it’s easier to have an idea than to execute one. I don’t deal with it – I seem to prefer suffering and staying up all night to hit a deadline, just as I did when I had essays as a student. Doesn’t matter really, so long as you get it done.

Do you have any words of advice for aspiring poets?

Download a great program called SelfControl, which completely disables the internet for whatever period of time you set.

Are you organising any events and wish to share them with our readers?

Yes, I’m putting on an exhibition! June 12-24th, “I See You: Art and Poetry” at The Arts House, with five other Singaporean / ex-pat artists.

Thanks for the candid interview, Jay!

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The Nature of Journalism

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Time magazines lie haphazardly on the window ledge. They are hours of effort, of research, introspection and careful love. They are physical manifestations of someone's time. Words were chosen to paint compelling stories of our past, our future and our current predicaments.

It is aching, what they've become. Hours of effort, now merely refuse, collecting cobwebs in a corner.

Perhaps, because of these articles, some people gained insights. Perhaps, they contributed to the broadening of horizons, no matter now mild or immeasurable. Perhaps, in their way, they pushed the society forward.

Still, he feels an inexplicable loss. Words, they don't last.

Source: Time magazine

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The Fruit Dove and What I Can/ Can't Offer

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Last night, the winds howled, as though they were desperately seeking their raison d'etre, as though they were in pain. They cried a curtain of rain.

I woke up to find the floor on the 8th storey dormitory mildly flooded and to discover that I've a slight cold. 

While I was collecting pebbles for an artwork, I sauntered past a gesturing French couple. They were pointing to a cluster of feathers on the pavement - about the size of a clenched fist - and shuffling around it.

It was a baby fruit dove. A fluffy ball of feathers. At that moment, I wished for a camera-phone - to capture the enchanting innocence of a fledgling.

The baby dove looked something like this.
Source: wollibirds.blogspot.com
The guy pointed to a branch. Above fifty centimeters above us - quite near, really - there was an adult dove. It has a rich emerald plumage, with vermillion bars across its wings and a dusky violet head. A brilliantly coloured bird. We supposed that it was the helpless parent - able to look at its offspring, yet unable to help.

I wanted to return the baby bird to its nest but we couldn't find it. Perhaps, I should have kept it - at least it wouldn't be under the mercy of the elements, or be vulnerable to the rats.

But what could I offer it?

A life behind bars? Vision past metal grills? A home with a pet cat that carries the occasional dead sparrows back? A life of constant unease?

Yet, a life nevertheless?

The parent dove looked something like that.
Source: pbase.com
Even so, how could I carry the fledgling away when its parent was watching with its beady crystal-like eyes? We shifted the moulting baby onto the adjacent grass strip, away from the pebbled pavement where people might have trampled it.

After an art workshop, after mulling for three hours, I thought that I could offer it a home. At least, hopefully,   what it would consider as a home.

When I went back to find the fledgling, it was no longer visible. Perhaps cowering within the thicket of vines. The adult dove was nowhere to be seen as well.

I wish these birds all the best. Just the other day, I glanced out my windows and saw a flock of flying green doves. Everything seems well.
*
Just discovered, through the magic of Google search, that doves can live up to thirty years in captivity but have an average lifespan of 1.5 years in the wild.

Does this boil down to a choice of a brilliant and carefree, but short, life or a long, endlessly dreary existence?
How To Handle A Baby Bird

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Why are Exams Life's Milestones?

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And, finally, exams are over.

It is weird, how life pauses for exams. These periods of intense revisions become milestones in life, acquiring a pseudo-importance. They stand, atop a glassy edifice, casting an umber shadow on the people milling beneath them.

We plan our lives around them. Meal times after completing 2 chapters on biochemistry. Afternoon naps after plowing through twenty pages of the financial accounting notes. A trip to Bali (or Batam, depending on your budget) to commemorate a successful slaying of the proverbial giant.

They mark an important phase in life - or, at least, appears to.

A director from StanChart recently advised me over an email:
Grades are not the most important, Uni is a time to expand your mind.
Exams. They're really puzzling phenomenon. Most people say that these papers aren't important and, yet, they buckle down to study when the clock chimes. I suppose that I'm one of these people, a Bourgeois tragedy perhaps. Maybe an irony, a paradox and a hypocrisy?

Is it fair or proper or expected that exams have such powers over us? Fair, not. Proper, not. And expected... unfortunately yes.

Source: Echo blog

In these moments, we're reduced to strings of matric numbers.

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Bubbling Joy In Barcelona

Sycophany/ Self-preservation

Romance of the two wisdom teeth

Art Appreciation 101