March 14, 2015 Leave a comment
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.
– Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets
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Matteo Pugliese sculpture

Death need not concern us because when we exist death does not, and when death exists we do not.
– Epicurus

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January 21, 2015 Leave a comment


the altar was laid
silks and velvet
silver and gold
is it a celebration
or a sacrifice
what was once had
or what is to begin
the bells ring
devotees enter
prayers offered
hoping they too
arise as the
clouds of incense
yet pungent
cloy yet
ahh, but wait
what do we see
upon that altar
where did that
thing come from
what is it that barely
makes a move
what are we to do
to make of this
laid on the altar
the constantly
changing, ever
shifting plume
smoke, incense
dreams, pains
shame twisted
with anger
just as the
incense releases
its fragrance
only when it
is lit by flames
this here lies
the sorry remnant
of a life
to be lived
perhaps at last
to be of use
in some
bells clang
from the steeple
the smoke
rises from
the censer
hurry or you
may end up
missing this
the final act
of the final
for a life
to be lived
to be lived.

[image courtesy of william weedon]

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January 13, 2015 Leave a comment

hitler and girl child

a little girl grows up

to find out the man

she had once adored

was a megalomaniac

who snuffed out

six million lives

does she feel the

stain of the horror

he inflicted, now

inflicts her?

does she have nightmares

about choices she makes

and question every pull

her heart leads her to?

we humans are fearsome

we inflict pain upon others

torture body, mind and soul

not for the sake of pure survival

but for power over one another

holding love hostage.

hate becomes emperor

without mercy, ruling with

an iron fist of evil.

i see hate

i see evil

men who behave as monsters

women who kill their young

children who torture another

i question my own existence

i see nothing i can do

feeble attempts laughable

i plead, yell, cry and scream

please, someone help me

cease being human.


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To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This

January 11, 2015 Leave a comment

by Mandy Lee Catron

More than 20 years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. Last summer, I applied his technique in my own life, which is how I found myself standing on a bridge at midnight, staring into a man’s eyes for exactly four minutes.

Let me explain. Earlier in the evening, that man had said: “I suspect, given a few commonalities, you could fall in love with anyone. If so, how do you choose someone?”

He was a university acquaintance I occasionally ran into at the climbing gym and had thought, “What if?” I had gotten a glimpse into his days on Instagram. But this was the first time we had hung out one-on-one.

“Actually, psychologists have tried making people fall in love,” I said, remembering Dr. Aron’s study. “It’s fascinating. I’ve always wanted to try it.”

I first read about the study when I was in the midst of a breakup. Each time I thought of leaving, my heart overruled my brain. I felt stuck. So, like a good academic, I turned to science, hoping there was a way to love smarter.

I explained the study to my university acquaintance. A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony.

“Let’s try it,” he said.

Let me acknowledge the ways our experiment already fails to line up with the study. First, we were in a bar, not a lab. Second, we weren’t strangers. Not only that, but I see now that one neither suggests nor agrees to try an experiment designed to create romantic love if one isn’t open to this happening.

I Googled Dr. Aron’s questions; there are 36. We spent the next two hours passing my iPhone across the table, alternately posing each question.

They began innocuously: “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” And “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”

But they quickly became probing.

In response to the prompt, “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common,” he looked at me and said, “I think we’re both interested in each other.”

I grinned and gulped my beer as he listed two more commonalities I then promptly forgot. We exchanged stories about the last time we each cried, and confessed the one thing we’d like to ask a fortuneteller. We explained our relationships with our mothers.

The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late. With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there, a process that can typically take weeks or months.

I liked learning about myself through my answers, but I liked learning things about him even more. The bar, which was empty when we arrived, had filled up by the time we paused for a bathroom break.

I sat alone at our table, aware of my surroundings for the first time in an hour, and wondered if anyone had been listening to our conversation. If they had, I hadn’t noticed. And I didn’t notice as the crowd thinned and the night got late.

We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.

The moments I found most uncomfortable were not when I had to make confessions about myself, but had to venture opinions about my partner. For example: “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner, a total of five items” (Question 22), and “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things you might not say to someone you’ve just met” (Question 28).

Much of Dr. Aron’s research focuses on creating interpersonal closeness. In particular, several studies investigate the ways we incorporate others into our sense of self. It’s easy to see how the questions encourage what they call “self-expansion.” Saying things like, “I like your voice, your taste in beer, the way all your friends seem to admire you,” makes certain positive qualities belonging to one person explicitly valuable to the other.

It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.

We finished at midnight, taking far longer than the 90 minutes for the original study. Looking around the bar, I felt as if I had just woken up. “That wasn’t so bad,” I said. “Definitely less uncomfortable than the staring into each other’s eyes part would be.”

He hesitated and asked. “Do you think we should do that, too?”

“Here?” I looked around the bar. It seemed too weird, too public.

“We could stand on the bridge,” he said, turning toward the window.

The night was warm and I was wide-awake. We walked to the highest point, then turned to face each other. I fumbled with my phone as I set the timer.

“O.K.,” I said, inhaling sharply.

“O.K.,” he said, smiling.

I’ve skied steep slopes and hung from a rock face by a short length of rope, but staring into someone’s eyes for four silent minutes was one of the more thrilling and terrifying experiences of my life. I spent the first couple of minutes just trying to breathe properly. There was a lot of nervous smiling until, eventually, we settled in.

I know the eyes are the windows to the soul or whatever, but the real crux of the moment was not just that I was really seeing someone, but that I was seeing someone really seeing me. Once I embraced the terror of this realization and gave it time to subside, I arrived somewhere unexpected.

I felt brave, and in a state of wonder. Part of that wonder was at my own vulnerability and part was the weird kind of wonder you get from saying a word over and over until it loses its meaning and becomes what it actually is: an assemblage of sounds.

So it was with the eye, which is not a window to anything but a rather clump of very useful cells. The sentiment associated with the eye fell away and I was struck by its astounding biological reality: the spherical nature of the eyeball, the visible musculature of the iris and the smooth wet glass of the cornea. It was strange and exquisite.

When the timer buzzed, I was surprised — and a little relieved. But I also felt a sense of loss. Already I was beginning to see our evening through the surreal and unreliable lens of retrospect.

Most of us think about love as something that happens to us. We fall. We get crushed.

But what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action. It assumes that what matters to my partner matters to me because we have at least three things in common, because we have close relationships with our mothers, and because he let me look at him.

I wondered what would come of our interaction. If nothing else, I thought it would make a good story. But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.

It’s true you can’t choose who loves you, although I’ve spent years hoping otherwise, and you can’t create romantic feelings based on convenience alone. Science tells us biology matters; our pheromones and hormones do a lot of work behind the scenes.

But despite all this, I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible — simple, even — to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive.

You’re probably wondering if he and I fell in love. Well, we did. Although it’s hard to credit the study entirely (it may have happened anyway), the study did give us a way into a relationship that feels deliberate. We spent weeks in the intimate space we created that night, waiting to see what it could become.

Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.

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January 10, 2015 Leave a comment
My friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear — a care-woven garment that protects [me] from my questionings and [you] from my negligence.
The ‘I’ in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence, and therein it shall remain for ever more, unperceived, unapproachable.
I would not have [you] believe in what I say nor trust in what I do — for my words are naught but [my] own thoughts in sound and my deeds [my] own hopes in action.
– Khalil Gibran, The Madman
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January 8, 2015 Leave a comment
The clouds outside are all fifty shades of grey with some threatening to leave the grey camp for black. It is an almost daily routine of the sky here in Kuala Lumpur. I, for one, love it. It cools down the heat. Granted, just little but it is still most welcomed. Holed up in my bestie’s condo, which has the enviable and rare view of a forest reserve (which used to be an aboriginal settlement), I have been granted sights of a yellow bird swooping down through the verdant trees, right before the clap of thunder heralding the arrival of rain. Rain that has caused so much chaos in some parts of this country – floods, mass evacuation and a few lives lost, some in the floods, others while helping the victims. Babies in plastic baskets, floating down pop-up rivers running through housing developments or town streets ala a modern day Moses. The rain also fills up our dams and reservoirs for the dry season. For those unfamiliar to Malaysian weather, we do get some rain even then but the heat is strong and we need it for agriculture. And the gazillion and four golf courses and resorts! Eye roll. 
Rain also cleanses. And in this new year that’s begun, it seems fitting. To wash off the dust of the old. To be refreshed and renewed. It is something most of us are familiar with and associate with the new year. We make resolutions, we plan. What don’t we usually do? Face what scares us. Light allows us to change the external, self awareness changes us from within. We don’t have to fit in to find home. Is that not the whole purpose of a home? Perhaps the less we try, the less likely we are to lie to ourselves, to others. There can be no untruths when making roots. Is it time we gave ourselves the home we have been denying ourselves? Is it time for us to come into our own? To allow that for which we’ve longed for, craved and needed for years, decades? Are we able to show up with less armor and more amour, not just to others but more importantly, to ourselves? Can we love ourselves enough to allow the unmasking of our original wound(s)? If we don’t heal that, how will we truly be able to live?
These are my own lessons. An art teacher in high school, Mr. Lau, told me to embrace the fact I drew outside the lines. That most crucial advise became buried under constant admonitions to behave and think ‘correctly’. To people please. Then came my Addison’s Disease diagnosis. More recently, Dercums and others. Brushes with death. Losses beyond count of those who share my illnesses. I am no longer ashamed of those experiences. Battle scars. I am stronger and tougher because of them. I have not given up hope of living a full life for however long I have. I choose to see beauty even in the unwanted, the discarded and the shunned. I heard the Dalai Lama on a panel shown on telly say something this morning: There is a Tibetan saying that tragedy should be utilised as a source of strength. He went on to say no matter what difficulties, how painful the experience is, should we lose our hope, that will be our true disaster.
Likewise, I returned to being one outside the dictated line. Where I am comfortable being. Not to say I am uneasy inside the line. Preference, baby! I tell you who and what I am honestly. If I am struggling, I will tell you. I will no longer apologise for who I am meant to be. I will not be sorry for feeling. I know I am no emotional fool just because I learnt to embrace the fact having feelings is a part of our DNA. Feeling does not make one weak. Instead, it makes you emotionally intelligent. You’ve probably heard how close to a psychopath a CEO comes to mentally? What do you think tampers that? EQ!
Creative self expression helps us with the process of unmasking. I have returned to it, I am happy to report! I have been writing, researching, reading, drawing. I am writing a lot more. I realise now it is very much a part of me. I become antsy if I allow the seed of a story hang around in the ever simmering cauldron of my mind. I have also let go of self doubt. Well, as much as I can ;) I accept now that as a writer and artist, I will always have those dark nights of the soul. Darkness lends its own purpose towards creativity as does light. The yin and the yang. The daemon, demon and angel as Edward Hirsch describes. To deny it’s existence will be to deny a part of that particular muse that’s been given me. I also acknowledge not many can accept the mirror my words may hold up to their souls. I admit I still struggle with the wall I built up last year. I took chances, let the wall be taken down brick by brick. It went back up albeit with cracks in the stone where the cement seems to have gone in thicker and stronger. For now, it is necessary. It will eventually come down because I do not want to live in isolated exile. Since arriving in Kuala Lumpur, I am meeting and being reunited with people who remind me of my passions and strengths, who inspire. Doors are opening, collaborations being talked about. It is exciting! And after years of being unable to dance, I am ready to kick up my heels and shake what the good Lord gave me! 
I am thankful for the past. The past brought all of you to me. You have shown me love, friendship and in the case of many of you who are friends I have known for years, we have shared joys and sorrows together. We have wiped each other’s tears and laughed at the silliest of things. We have sat in silence and we have danced. We taken long walks through dark, dense woods, at times stumbling over fallen tree trunks or wily vines to arrive at this point. I thank you for being on this journey with me. 
May light and love wash over you this year. Here’s to 2015!! 
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