Archive for October, 2008

Being Broken

“I am an empty dream
Like snow left in the mountains in summer
I feel my warm blood moving inside of me and I am reminded that I am living
My soul will have its home in the rising of the sun
If you feel sad, look at the dawn with all of its beauty
You will find me there”

– Ennis

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The Isolation Chamber

TGIF Today God Is First Volume 1 by Os Hillman
Sunday, October 26 2008

“Be still and know that I am God….” Psalm 46:10

“There is a time and place in our walk with God in which He sets us in a place of waiting. It is a place in which all past experiences are of no value. It is a time of such stillness that it can disturb the most faithful if we do not understand that He is the one who has brought us to this place for only a season. It is as if God has placed a wall around us. No new opportunities–simply inactivity.

During these times, God is calling us aside to fashion something new in us. It is an isolation chamber designed to call us to deeper roots of prayer and faith. It is not a comfortable place, especially for a task-driven workplace believer. Our nature cries out, “You must do something,” while God is saying, “Be still and know that I am God.” You know the signs that you have been brought into this chamber when He has removed many things from your life and you can’t seem to change anything. Perhaps you are unemployed. Perhaps you are laid up with an illness.

Most religious people live a very planned and orchestrated life where they know almost everything that will happen. But for people in whom God is performing a deeper work, He brings them into a time of quietness that seems almost eerie. They cannot say what God is doing. They just know that He is doing a work that cannot be explained to themselves or to others.

Has God brought you to a place of being still? Be still and know that He really is God. When this happens, the chamber will open soon after.”

*

And an answered question, after another sleepless night.

Gila Melaka

I’ll see whether I can write a coherent post about the Malacca trip – we hit the Tanjong Pagar train station an hour late due to some track delay, and had our lunch/dinner/supper combination having porridge, raw fish and horfun in Chinatown.

Most of time was spent in Jonker Street and eating, eating, eating. Whatever Malacca’s famous for in the food categories – chicken rice balls or chendol, you name it – we’ve eaten it. Most of the time I trudged behind the pack with my stomach churning but happy. I also managed to use an astonishing seven rolls (that’s a full load of film for my camera bag) of film in essentially less than two days, which is pretty exciting for myself.

We stayed in a quaint guesthouse at RM16 for the night, the co-owner of the place a quirky dude called Howard with wacky hair who always had on a faded t-shirt and boardshorts. He carried this tiny woven sling purse which I suspected carried several joints, which I imagined he would take out to smoke on the rooftop during the afternoons when all the guests were out.

Yosh and I spent a lot of time trying to tune the two guitars that the place had, which were essentially classicals with metal strings slapped on to imitate the acoustic sound (which was precisely what I did for my previous one), but since our combined musical experience and talent amounted to essentially nothing, it was no surprise that we didn’t succeed.

It’s rather ironic considering the previous post in which I wrote about praise and worship, because when the group of us went to the rooftop after returning back past midnight, braving the mosquitoes and the humidity, I tried playing the two songs I knew by memory (or so I thought) and ended up singing off-key and forgetting the chords and lyrics! This ego-destroying moment made me realise only God can put up with my playing and singing and only God can call it beautiful. Heh.

It was too funny as well, when yesterday I was crashing after a night of no sleep and three hours of interrupted dozing on the bus to Malacca; the rest could plainly see the desperate look in my eyes for caffeine. Then it was walking around Jonker, surrounded by dozens of food and drinks stall and cafes and not being able to find one that sold a decent cuppa. Finally arrived at this place called the Limau Limau Cafe where the iced mocha with a dollop of ice-cream made me a new man again, allowing me to make the long walk to the pier.

Last night, I had the best sleep since I could remember, on a thin foam mattress bought from a Salvation Army thrift store (as were everything else in the guesthouse) after reading the foreword of Kerouac’s On The Road. Six hours of sweet, dreamless sleep before Alvin got up to open the door after Yosh’s incessant knocking. Her bright chirpy face was a blur through the opening of the door, and I absently wondered how on earth could Yosh be up so early as Alvin and I sat up on the bed in the familiar daze of nocturnally-inclined creatures who’d been woken up too early in the morning.

Malacca was a fun little diversion using ringgit I still had left over from my sojourn to JB last year – I probably spent only around RM120! I’d write more, but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves when they’re developed.

See another world for fifty dollars. Wouldn’t you?

Morning Music

You know, I’m really gonna blame Rob for hooking me onto music like never before. It never ever occurred to me that I could ever become an inkling of the audiophile like him or Joni (I wonder how she’s doing, that high-flying legal eagle), because I’d always considered myself unable to appreciate the intricacies of various instruments melding into a harmony of pure aural pleasure. Well, my tastes might never become as diverse, and I might always have this weird obsession of only enjoying listening to music that fits the moment, but now I’ve been skulking around on eBay for record players on the cheap.

The most ironic thing is that I can recall one of those things in my house for a number of years, in addition to the gramophone that still exists in our living room, and in my childhood curiosity kept playing with the glass lid because I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what it was. I think it’s gone now, and now the desire to own one has come ten years too late.

To be honest, it’s just the idea of lying around in the living room listening to the vinyl play that’s really appealing.. add in the rich imagery of living out a scene from Murakami’s books, like Hajime and Shimamoto playing a record of Nat King Cole’s or Lizst’s suites for hours on end, during quiet afternoons after school.

My parents kept all these vintage treasures in the house, even old Chinese records with actual album art like those you see reproduced to death in poster form by hipster flea market stalls, and I thought them old fuddy duddies for doing so. But the truth is that they really were, all along, the bees’ knees! I am truly repentant, Mom and Dad!

I haven’t slept as per my original intention after writing the previous post, which I suspect is the beginning of a worrying trend. I finished packing fifteen minutes prior to my “waking” time for the Sydney trip and lay in bed with eyes wide open for ten. Before I left for the airport for my USA trip, I hadn’t even touched the bed at all. Now, I was in bed for half an hour, tossing and turning; I gave up and slipped downstairs to have coffee amongst ah peks chatting loudly over bottles of Tiger and teenagers having supper after a night of partying.

Then I came back upstairs, picked up the guitar. Played the chords for Where The Love Lasts Forever, and got swept up into a beautiful, almost timeless moment of pure worship. And I could hear Him say, the first utterance of your voice in the morning is praise. And it has never sounded as beautiful as it does now.

Morning, and a quiet revelation of worship. Tithing the firstfruits of praise. What a way to begin the trip.

Heading Across The Border

Off to Malacca for a weekend trip, markets and chendol!

Looking forward to another train ride. No music this time so it’ll just be tunes in my head and watching the sun set from the window.

Watched Tokyo! just now with Yosh and Alvin – a portmanteau of three short films by Michel Gondry (‘Interior Design’), Leos Carax (‘Merde’) and Bong Joon-Ho (‘Shaking Tokyo’). It was pleasant to catch something slightly more intellectually stimulating and visually palatable than the usual vapid Hollywood fare. Bowled over by the cinematography in Shaking Tokyo – discernibly much closer to the classic Japanese style, and even if the ending was a tad too contrived for my tastes, the visuals more than made up for it. Yu Aoi in a pizza delivery helmet a tad too big for her head – too darn cute.

Carax was a tad overindulgent, but Gondry delivered with offbeat humour and quirky music that had me tapping my fingers on my lap and bobbing my head with the beat.

And I miss talking about films and listening to each person about what certain parts meant to them. Breath of fresh air to hear these two with their talk about post-modernism and form and psychoanalysis and French philosophy and mirrors and religious imagery/references without the accompanying snobbishness. I can feel the little cranks and wheels in the brain turning. Which is probably a good thing.

Back on Sunday!

I Remembered The Skies

I stared at the clouds and the sky beyond the canopy hanging over me. Brilliant blue streaked with wispy white, and I closed my eyes, feeling the sun that sneaked past the leaves and branches in streaks on my face.

It must have been noon. I placed the back of my hand across my eyes to shield myself from the glare. Breathed. And the darkness crept in slowly.

“Dude?” a distant voice flickered in my head.

“Huh?” I sat up from the bench I was lying on.

“Looks like you drifted off for a moment there.” It was Dee. He sat diagonally across from me, the wooden table between us. I noticed he didn’t have on his usual funky-shaped metal framed glasses, and in its place was a wraparound that looked like goggles, lens made from superhard plastics. The ones that sportsmen typically wore. His hair, like always, looked perfect even though we hadn’t showered in days.

“Yeah..” I unbottled my canteen and took a long drag from it, washing away that dry and bad taste you usually get when you’ve just woken up. Even though we hadn’t had fresh water in days, and the liquid swimming in my battered canteen had been warming and cooling during all that time, it tasted sweet. Delicious.

“Game for a round, then?” I looked across from where I sat up. It was Kai, with that deck of cards he’d been carrying ever since that firefight we had in that small town more than twenty klicks away. By now it was tattering at the edges, over the dozens of games of daidee we’ve had since then.

“Uh, no, thanks,” I glared at him. “You took my last stick of gum the last time we played. Unless you let me use these socks I’ve been wearing ever since the start of the campaign as stakes.”

Kai put up his hands in mock surrender and laughed. “I fold. I’d have a better chance surviving an artillery attack.”

“You’re a smart man, sir,” I grinned. “Coulda fooled me.”

“Wish you’d told me earlier our platoon commander was such a damn card shark,” Dee grumbled. “Took my last two granola bars while you were dozin’.” He gazed longingly at the best things in our field rations as Kai slipped them into his right breast pocket.

“Live and learn, Pretty.” Kai smirked as he patted the bars, which were each covered in thin green foil, sitting in his pocket. ‘Pretty Dee’ was what we called him, because he looked like he had just stepped straight out of the fashion pages in GQ. And he was the best damn marksman in the entire battalion too, his four hundred degree astigmatism notwithstanding. He could shoot a 5.56 hole through a golden dollar two hundred yards away without even nicking the edges.

“And the best way to learn, my four-eyed friend, is the hard way.” I sighed and leaned back onto the bench, laying my head on my hands.

“But they were granola bars..” Dee opined.

I heard a soft rustling noise then, and I craned my neck for a better look. And saw four people in dark blue uniforms crawling around in the vineyards.

Raising my voice, I said, “Gotta try harder, boys. Those uniforms make y’all stand out a mile away.”

The four figures stood up, grumbling, and further back I saw the rest of their section standing up amongst the trees.

Semula!”

One of the four figures took off their helmets, and my eyes widened when I saw it was Denise, Dee’s girlfriend of four years. We all knew each other, back in a different life.

“Whoa!” I exclaimed. “Since when did you join the SWAT teams?” S.W.A.T – Special Weapons And Tactics, the elite aggressive unit of the police forces. Back when before the world changed, Denise was a childcare teacher, and to see her here, in a uniform even, was a truly monumental discovery.

“Just a couple of months ago. Figured I should do what I can to help in the effort. Hi, Kai! My mother was asking about you.” she smiled sweetly, like she always did. Just beautiful, like Pretty Dee, and I wondered, what kind of world allows two people like them to walk in a life like this?

But who knew, when the bombs fell? When the walls came up? Who ever thought that that could ever happen in our lifetimes?

But I didn’t speak those thoughts out loud, I merely smiled. “Well, who would’ve thought even you could make the grade for SWAT..”

I laughed, and Denise glared at me. “Don’t mess with me now, Jay. I’m armed and officially dangerous.” She swung her H&K MP5 at me and I stepped back in reflex. Kai laughed.

“That’s better!” she beamed. She walked over to Dee and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Be seeing you, Dee. Bye, Kai!”

“You’d never have sneaked up on us, ya know. You’ve got to get out of our field of vision, divide your team, and hit us on the flanks. If you came from this direction,” I gestured about forty-five degrees south of where the three of us had been sitting. “You would’ve been shooting holes through us before any one of us could’ve had a weapon in our hands.”

Denise squinted at where I was pointing. She nodded.

“And you really need some urban camouflage gear, these blue threads make y’all standing bullet magnets.” I said, tugging at her sleeve.

“But we’ve only had these, even before the bombs.” Denise wrinkled her nose at me.

“Things’ve changed, babe.” I looked at her straight in the eyes. “And if you want to survive and live for the day you can hold a child in your arms again instead of that cold metal you have there, you just have to change with them.”

“If that day ever comes. Stay alive, Jay.” she walked off with the rest of her squad.

“Well, aren’t you all bright skies and sunshine today..” Kai said.

“Bringing you smiles and giggles. That’s what I live to do, sir.” I grinned and went back to my spot on the bench.

“Another game, Dee?”

“I’ll have to refuse, sir. I’m hungry.”

“Well, take one of those sorry excuses that we call a ration pack and fill up that ravenous cavern of yours.”

“Got a granola bar, sir?”

I glanced again at the skies, still that bright blue with the clouds drifting through them. If you had only looked up the past three years, you’d never have guessed what sort of madness was going on for the rest of us who were gravity-bound to walk on God’s green earth. Maybe that’s why the flyboys always dreamt of the air, always craving for the freedom of flight, that next rush of adrenaline and the gee forces pressing on their skin, so that they could be far away from where the rest of the world lay. Far from the madness, the blood, and the screams. Hard to feel anything or look into the eyes of the dying when you were unleashing hellfire from five thousand feet above.

But I pushed those thoughts out of my mind. And the sweet dark took me.

– excerpt from the first chapters of Little Red Gods

*

Inspired by this dream I had on Tuesday night, but couldn’t write about due to events like the revelation of Bon Iver’s music, and Josiah’s arrival.

The title Little Red Gods was something I thought of a while ago, while the premise danced in my head, refusing to be written down. Not sure if you can figure out what it’s all about from the title, but I think you can get the idea.

Then as I tried writing this out, it kinda fit into the premise, so I just went along with that. But the dream was real, as were some of the conversations, and so were the characters whom you can probably recognise pretty easily!

This is just part one of the dream.. next part coming soon!

Written while listening to Fleet Foxes’ Your Protector and Aimee Mann’s Freeway on repeat

The Writing On The Wall

I was so engrossed in Ender’s adventures that I skipped dinner and fell asleep on the floor of my room. Thought I could sleep all the way until morning but I woke up at midnight wide awake, with fears creeping in once again in the dark. This sort of thing, seeing myself falling into some hole in the darkness, or getting knifed while asleep, never ever happened until that epiphany last night. Then everytime I closed my eyes and waited for slumber these images would play out in my Technovision imagination with startling vividity.

But they’re not real, nor will they ever be, so here I am, enjoying peanut butter sandwiches at 2 in the morning. This may sound surprising to many people but I’ve never really been that much of a foodie; most of the time I see it as a great complement to more important activities such as reading or television. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I’m more particular whether the food fits the setting or vice versa. For example: fresh, hot toast with honey in the mornings of church camp is like the most perfect thing in the world, or dipping creamy kaya toast with melted butter into soft-boiled eggs mixed with the right amount of dark soya sauce and pepper in a kopitiam with marble tabletops and wooden stools, accompanied by a cup of rich, dark coffee on a saucer, sleep still in our eyes. Or a small guys-only barbecue with roasting steak and sausages where no one thinks of getting anything remotely vegetarian; loud, messy, greasy with Dennis’ college rock in the background, cold beer and divvying up the food so everyone gets an equal share.

It’s as if everything must have meaning. If not, without meaning, it becomes pointless. Without worth and devoid of purpose. Just like all of us, who cannot live without knowing that kind of direction from God.

Ender Wiggin, Bon Iver, and Jesus in the wilderness. If this is what You are speaking to me Lord, then I am listening.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:2-4, 12)