Friday, 25 November 2011

let them eat fruitcake: the confession

So, here is the second part of the Jennifer Egan-ish version of using time. Here's the link to the previous part.

Again, this is from Rosemary Graham's class when we were to write two episodes, each for one character and later reveal the relationship(s) between the two. I've written about the older character, and now here's the younger.


“Craig, I want you to meet someone,” Janice, my boss at De Young Museum said as I was just laying a piece of fabric on my work table.

“I’ve heard great things about you,” an older woman said, extending her right hand.

“Ms... Ms. Marshy,” I said, startled. “How do you do?” and we shook hands, I felt a firm grip for a woman of her age. I looked at Janice who smiled proudly at me.

Carolena Marshy was a legend. She had been the curator of the textile wing at the museum ever since it was opened and Janice was her protégé. I was told that she once gathered 25 fabric restorers, including Janice, to work day and night so De Young could present its vintage French lace and damask collection. The team pulled it off in just two weeks. The mere thought of seeing and basking in the luxurious views of endless rows of antique lace and burnt velvets made my heart flutter. Ms. Marshy was responsible to begin the heydays for fabric restorers. In a recent interview at a local paper, she said that nobody was taking the job seriously anymore and she felt concerned that it was going to be a lost art.

“He’s been working here for just four months and he’s done wonders in restoring the old Uzbekistan Saye Goshas,” Janice said.

“Yes. I saw his work last month when I visited the museum,” Ms. Marshy said, nodding her acknowledgement.

“Oh, God. I don’t know if I can accept that praise,” I said, ironically looking over at Kimberly and Miller, my two seniors who dumped everything on me. They were in it for the galas, free-flow booze, and mingling with the socialites, they said. I was tempted to tell them they should’ve become poets instead, because they would’ve gotten away with less work and more booze, but I just shut my mouth.

“And modest too,” Janice added. Ms. Marshy smiled. I cringed, worried they would sniff a layer of fakeness.

“Ah, Tulle bi Telli. You’re in for a treat!” Ms. Marshy exclaimed as she saw what I was about to work on: a half-century-old Egyptian tulle shawl with bits of silvery and golden metal pounded and woven into it in geometric shapes as well as figures of the sun, the palm trees, and the huts, making the wearer look as if she or he was draped in liquid silver or gold. These days, two yards of this thing could fetch up to two thousand dollars.

“Yes. This one is in pretty bad shape,” I said, pointing at the holes on the ecru colored fabric and some pieces of metals that were missing. “But still, she’s really pretty.” I must have said that sheepishly because Janice and Ms. Marshy chuckled. I could feel the warmth of her eyes behind those thick lenses. The wrinkles around her lips deepened as she smiled.

“He’s restored three so far,” Janice said.

“That’s seventeen more to go,” I sighed. “And we’re only given ten days.”

“Oh, I’m sure you can do it,” Ms. Marshy said. “Well, off you go, then. You need to get this thing finished before next week so we could preview it, yes?” There was benevolence in her firm, commanding voice.

I nodded. I saw Janice and Ms. Marshy walked around the room but didn’t bother to say hi to Kimberly and Miller who suddenly found something to work on to look busy. I smiled deeply at this, suddenly feeling that I had the best job and the boss in the world, even though I was sure I’d go blind in ten years. And this I confided in Ms. Marshy on the opening night twelve days later when De Young showcased its Egyptian Textile collection, including the twenty gleaming Tulle bi Telli. Ms. Marshy had the ecru with the heavy silvery metals draped around her as a shawl. And later, as we took our champagnes to a corner and let the guests mingle, I told her about how my fascination with fabrics actually began when a thirteen year-old Craig O’Reilly defied his father and bought his first Barbie doll with the money he had made from making pencil cases and tote bags from denim pants that no longer fit him.


Friday, 18 November 2011

let them eat fruitcake: closed door

My attempt to pull a Jennifer Egan's Visit from the Goon Squad. In the book, she plays with time to confuse the reader as to when and where the reader is. She does it so well, however.

For Rosemary Graham's class, we were to write two episodes, one for each character, and to reveal the connection(s), beginning with the older character.


Lilian sits at the dinner table. Across her is her husband, Duncan. Their two sons, Craig and Ben, are sitting on each side of the rectangle table. It’s a special night and they’re feasting, celebrating Lilian’s fortieth birthday and her and Duncan’s fourteenth anniversary.

She has cooked her famous Beggar Chicken, whole chicken stuffed with herbs and spices and wrapped inside thick layers of dough that preserves and simmers the aroma of the herbs and spices and forces them to blend and mix with the juices of the chicken. After an hour of roasting, when the loaf is sliced open, it reveals the naked skin of the chicken, glowing with a mouthwatering golden hue that first catches the eyes, then lets the nose agree, and finally makes the stomach demand.

The side dish is slices of Silk tofu with mushroom and thick vegetable broth. Lilian knows it’s Craig’s favorite dish. That’s why she made it. Craig first discovered it while they were at Uncle Tang’s. It was served under a different name, something that promises and celebrates good life with words as poetic as the ones written on the tiny paper inside the Fortune Cookie.

“Honey, this food is just… delicious,” Duncan says as he closes his eyes when the first forkful of chicken and herb and spices and warm white rice melts on his tongue. “Really. I’m at loss for words.”

“Don’t make that a habit. Or you lose in court and we go broke and can’t afford dinner,” Lilian answers with a grin. Duncan laughs so hard that his body shakes.

“I promise I won’t,” he says, and gazes lovingly into her eyes. “So, Craig, how’s school?” Duncan asks.

“Oh, not much. I’m… I’m joining the Sewing Circle,” Craig answers hesitantly. Lilian realizes that he hasn’t touched his tofu. He is just making circles around the broth, tracing the edges of the tofu with his chopsticks.

“Sewing?” Duncan asks, raising his left eyebrow. His smile faded. “For what?”

“Oh, I… I don’t know. Maybe I can patch the elbows of your jackets like the ones in the fancy catalogues, or make my own jacket, or make pencil cases and sell them at school,” Craig says. Lilian smiles softly at her elder son, ready to do business at such a young age, just like his mother.

“Why would you want to do that?” Duncan asks, interrogating Craig, like when he barrages questions into whoever is giving testimonies against his client in court.

“Oh, I don’t know. To make some money, I guess.”

“For what?” Duncan repeats. “So you can buy that Barbie doll? We’ve been through this and the answer is no. Not even with your own money!”

Suddenly, Lilian feels her face tensed and she looks at Craig. His head is bent down. He’s staring at the dish under his nose, still stirring it with detached intensity. She switches her gaze to Duncan. Her husband is still looking at their elder son. She can see rows of emotions flashing in Duncan’s eyes but she exhales her relief softly when she realizes no hatred is emanating from them. Just concern, confusion, and perhaps fear.

Craig sits there in silence.

“Stop playing with your food. Show your mother some respect and eat it. And Craig,” Duncan pauses, “Look at me.”

Lilian sees Craig lift his head and meet the gaze of his father.

“I never, ever want Roger to paint your nails again, do you hear?”

“But Dad, it’s clear polish!”

“Never again, Young Man, understood? It makes you look like a sissy,” Duncan hisses.

Craig nods, but stays silent. In fact, Craig stays silent the entire night, even as Ben exclaims that he was asked to join the Debate Club and Duncan slaps the table with a roaring and approving laughter, high-fiving his younger son who says he said yes. Craig stays silent even after he has finished his meal, even after he has finished helping Lilian wash the dishes. The silence follows him to his room and fades with him as he closes the door behind him.

That night, even through the thick wooden door and layers of blanket and pillow over Craig’s face, Lilian can hear his hiccupping sobs. And with great burden, she retreats her hand, cancelling the thought of knocking on the wood and taking her son in her arms and comforting him. And softly, she moves away from the door, letting Craig be with himself, as he has always been whenever he cries.


Second part will be published next week (it's written and scheduled!)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

eulogy of sorts

"Are you happy now?" he asks.

"Why should I be happy? I just lost someone dear to me," I answer.

"Well, it's not like you did anything to help him. Financially, I mean."

"I was broke. I was piss poor. I was out of the country. What was I to do?"

"Liar. You were neither of those. You had spare money and you were back in Jakarta long enough to do something," he says. That shuts me up. That shuts me up as if someone had his fingers and palms around my neck and gripped it tightly, crushing the bones, sealing the air that fought its way in.

"Yes. So you're right. There. Are you happy now?" I ask him back.

"You know that I can never be happy. Unlike you."

"Damn it. Damn it. Damn it why did he have to die?"

"He had brain tumor. It's probably for the better," he replies as slews of profanities spew forth from my mouth like vomit.

"He was your first friend at junior high. He was your very first crush. He sat there in the library during the orientation, and he was the first person who extended his palm to you as he said his name and you accepted his hand and shyly told him yours," he says.

I nodded meekly.

"During all those hours of lectures and talks, you stared at his brown, sinewy thighs, amazed by the sight, by how strong they looked, how impressive they were, even without him trying to show them off," he says. "But you fell for another one."

"It wouldn't matter. He was straight. They both were. The other one is still straight. He got married a year ago," I balk.

"Yes. The other one. The short, yellow one, whose name echoes yours, who treated you like shit when he found out you liked him. But it didn't matter to you then to sleep with 'straight' people. And this one, your first friend at junior high, he never treated you badly. He always smiled to you, flashing his pearly whites to you."

"It won't matter anymore. He liked girls and he got one before he died. It can't matter anymore to him because now he's dead. It can't matter anymore to me because I have someone who loves me," I say, screaming.

"Are you sure?"

But silence swallows me once more and it looms over me, its dark presence hangs above me as layers of gray clouds copulate with one another in the morning skies of Berkeley.


RIP Temmy Haryono (23 October 1981 - 17 November 2011)

I'm sorry for being late
For not acknowledging the
Part that I needed you to know
For not wanting to let go

This blurry vividness
Like this half-eaten
Sandwich in front of me
Serves as a sliver of memory

If one sorry could take us back
To that day, that afternoon
I'd murmur ten thousand more
Until my lips and tongue went sore

White space and your
Grinning face
As we run and ride and race

Friday, 11 November 2011

let them eat fruitcake: setting sun (spin-off)

This is the spin-off / continuation of the Lady of Two Lands piece that I wrote for Ms. Graham's class. For this assignment, we're told to do yet another Point of View change, so I chose to write it from another time too so it can all make sense.

Please bear in mind that this is a work of fiction. The characters are (presumably) real, but the events depicted are (probably) fictitious.


I watched Amma from the door of the chamber that had been left ajar. She was being helped to lie on her bed after the maids had finished putting on her royal blue crown and scarab necklace. The bed was a gift from a Hittite King whose name I could never remember nor pronounce. It was made of fine fragrant wood, strong and sturdy and never gave signs of tear even after years of being jumped on by her seven daughters, including me. Then from the corner of her eye, she spotted me.

“Ankhsenpaaten,” she said, calling my name. A smile crescented on her full lips. She stretched her arms, calling me inside the room. I pushed the heavy wooden door and strode in. I was no longer a child, for I had been made a woman, a queen, ever since the ruling Pharaoh, my cousin, made me his Great Royal Wife. But then and there, as I half-hopped inside the room, I felt like a little girl. Amma patted the cushion next to her bed, signaling me to sit. I obliged.

“I never really like my new name, Amma,” I said, looking down at my fingers that interlaced on my lap. I felt her steady gaze on me, like Aten shining all over Kemet, our land.

“That is why, when we are alone, I always call you by your old name, not Ankhsenamun. You have always been a gift of Aten, not of Amun. Nevertheless, times have changed. The people have been trying to return to the olden ways, the ways of yesteryears. And your husband has been nothing but very supportive of destroying what Akhenaten, your father, our one true king, had established during his reign,” Amma said.

“I miss Abba,” I replied as I lift my head to meet Amma’s gaze. She smiled, her lips curving like the shape of the scimitar.

“I miss him too. But now I’m taking solace in the thought that we will soon be together again,” She replied.

A soft knock was heard from the door and we saw a hunched figure. It was Ife, our loyal maid. She was wrapped in white garment, her hair covered with white shawl. “It is time, N’abat Imet,” she addressed Amma in her usual greeting: Lady of Grace. Amma and I looked out the window and saw the sun setting.

“It is time,” Amma said, taking my hands and giving them a faint squeeze. I felt the squeeze right to my heart that pumped tears down my eyes. “Binti,” she called me. Daughter. “Mer itin, mer itin,” she repeated. You are beloved to me, you are beloved to me. And we choked in our tears.

“By Aten, we must not cry. Our eye paint is starting to run,” she said and laughed as she looked at my face. I laughed as I looked at her and Amma took a soft papyrus and with her frail, trembling fingers, dabbed at the runny blackness from under my eyes. I gently took the papyrus from her fingers and dabbed at her under eyes, erasing the traces of the manifestation of her sadness. “I’m sure that barbaric whore is laughing at my demise right now,” Amma chuckled, reminiscing of how she had banished Kiya, Abba’s other wife and Amma’s rival back to Mitanni where she came from. “I’m sure that she sent dark barbaric magic that brought me this disease.”

“Let’s not talk about her, Amma,” I sighed.

“My Queen,” Ife said, rushing us. Amma nodded. I leaned over and kissed her forehead. Then, unknown to me, she lifted her arms and placed them around me, drawing me closer to her, and we embraced. I felt our blood bonded, our hearts pulsing of anticipation and anxiety of the unknown future and fate that lied before us. Even when being faced by something so inevitable and so absolute, I knew that we both knew not of the certainty in it. I knew we both knew not if it was Aten, Amun, or Anubis who was guarding it. I knew that we both did not want to let go of our embrace. But I also knew that we had to. And so I let her go.

“Through whatever adversity, whatever clouded judgment the men of the house of Amarna have, remember that they always turn to us for advice, for support, for truly it has always been the matriarchs of this house that rule Kemet,” was the last thing she said to me.

At daybreak when I came to her chamber to mourn, she had disappeared. Nobody knew where her corpse was taken and laid by the few who were loyal to her. My husband became very busy giving orders to destroy all marks of my parents, even when I was sitting beside him, grieving like a cow mad from the rays of the desert sun. He could order the people of Kemet to destroy every statue, every cartouche, every hieroglyphic remnant of Akhenaten and Nefertiti and erase them from history, but he would never burn the temple that I had set up in my heart for Amma and Abba.


Also note that although I'm trying to find the exact words for "mother", "father", "daughter", and "I love you" in ancient Egyptian, I think I may have failed.

The photo shows Ankhsenamun (right) and her husband Tutankhamun.

Friday, 4 November 2011

let them eat fruitcake: n'abat t'awy (lady of two lands)

For this piece, we were to choose a historical figure (non-psychotic, so I couldn't use Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad the Impaler), research the figure to get as much detail as possible about his/her life, characteristics, etc, then to write a scene using the historical figure and the information we had acquired.

I decided to tie in my historical figure with my piece so far for Ms. Graham's class.


There is power.

Do you sense it?

There is power within every inch of this bronze skin. There is power on every end of these long fingers. There is power within the beckoning of your brown eyes. There is power.

Do you feel it?

There is power within every arch of your eyebrows. There is power within every strand of your eyelashes. There is power within every hair on your arms, or on the back of your neck.

You must use that power, exercise it beyond the ability of ordinary woman. You must harvest it, harness it, pull it close to your heart, claim it as your own, and share it among your people.

This power will be multiplied as paint and stones and textiles decorated and draped over your exterior.

Wadj. Green. Painted over your upper eyelids to represent the fertility that your reign will bring. Not just the fertility of the soil and land, but of women and men, to deliver boys and girls that will glorify the nation by being farmers, fishermen, warriors. Aten has spoken.

Shesep. White. Painted under your brow bone to show your omnipotence, over your people, and our enemies. Aten has spoken.

Kem. Black. Painted to frame your eyes to signify death. The death of your husband, your king, the king of your people. Aten has spoken.

Nebu. Gold. Dusted over your face and body, to ensure your people and warn your enemies that this woman is indestructible. Aten has spoken.

Hedj. White. The garment draped over your body to represent purity. For you shall rule with a pure heart of a mother, a daughter, and a queen. Aten has spoken.

Desher. Red. The color of life and victory. Intertwined with Mef’at, Turquoise, symbol of power of protection. Desher and Mef’at and nebu coiled around your neck. For you embody the three aspects. Aten has spoken.

Khepresh Irtiu. The blue cap crown. Placed over your head as a symbol of the righteousness of your title, the queen of Egypt by your own right, the successor of your husband, your king, the king of your people. Adorned by the serpent, Amduat, who swallows the sun and gives rise to night. The serpent ensures your people and warns your enemies that this woman rules night as well as day. Aten has spoken.

And finally, Kheper. The Scarab. On your chest. Your talisman. Your amulet. The symbol of resurrection of your husband, your king, the king of your people, within you, from you.

Now, open your eyes.

“Jesus Christ, Roger!” I screamed as I opened my eyes and took a look at the face in the mirror. I then looked at Roger who was standing beside my dressing table, grinning widely like a sexually-charged Cheshire Cat.

“Like it? I got the costume from a friend who worked at San Francisco Opera. None of that cheap, Halloween-store stuff. Nope. This is the haute-couture of stage costuming.” he said. “Don’t spill wine all over it.”

I didn’t know how to react. Late in August when I went to Roger’s office, he had put up pictures of Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen, on his door. The image of that woman, with her long neck, defined jaws and cheekbones, conjured a sense of otherworldly regality, and I told Roger that I wanted to be her for Halloween.

Then on Samhain eve, there he was on my door, begging me to come to a Halloween party at Limelight, the local gay bar we used to go to, thinking that it might cheer me up, telling me that he needed to get laid. I told him that I’d been cheered up from my recent trip to see my mother and brother. But Roger opened his bag and got out a flowing white toga and a blue tall cap adorned with golden snake ringlet. Then he proceeded to color my face as he told me the story of the great woman whose skin I would be wearing that night. I had become the Lady of Two Lands.

“Now, remember what Salt & Peppa said, ‘Carry yourself like a queen and you will attract a king,’” he winked.

“But I thought my king had died and Nefertiti had been banished,” I said in confusion.

“Well, there’s bound to be some half-naked hunk dressing up as an undead pharaoh,” he suggested. I wasn’t sure of the prospect or whether I would want to look for someone.

“What are you dressing up as anyway?” I asked. Roger took out a false beard and a papier-mache mask from his bag and held them up. I frowned.

“What? Craig, all the younger queens are probably going to dress up as Gaga or Minaj while the older hags will strut around as Barbra or Cher, or worse, Liza. No one will think of showing up as this guy.”

“I thought you said you wanted to get laid. How are you going to get a guy when you dress up as… him?” I asked as Roger proceeded nonchalantly to put on the mask and the beard and a cowboy hat.

“Darling, it’s either him or Gertrude Stein. I would have so much fun being original even if I didn’t get off, anyway. And besides, I’m trying to attract a more intelligent crowd,” he said. But I had a feeling he would get lucky that night. If Roger could find someone to hook up with at the funeral of his own grandmother, he could sure get someone at that cruisy, meat-market club. Even in that Walt Whitman get-up.


Just a little correction that I got from the class: it's actually not a cowboy hat that Walt Whitman wore. Probably a better term would be floppy hat.

By the way, Happy Samhain!

And yes, this guy here on the left is Walt Whitman.

And I believe part of this writing, at least the first italicized part, is inspired by Annie Lennox's "Why" music video. And no, I don't know if the coloring ritual of ancient Egypt is the way I described. I just took the elements of the colors of Nefertiti's make-up and jewelry and apparel.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

and then it sinks in

This frustration, this anger, this feeling of worthlessness, of being told that what you like, no, love to do, what you think you're good at, is actually the opposite, that you're just never going to get it, never going to create a value out of it, never going to show the importance of it, never going to convey it successfully, even if you are trying, attempting to leap over the boundaries, the long hours.

When it's all read and done, it's going to be locked up forever, or worse, thrown into the recycle bin, or the shredder, or deleted, if it's digital.

Where's the value of it? Where's the importance of it?

Will I ever get it? Will I ever succeed?

Do you want to know how this feels? Do you want to know? I've had gangrene taken out of me, I've had my skin slit opened so the pen could be installed to support my fractured bone, I've had my skin tattooed and the needled bored into my bones, I've had teeth taken out of my jaws, none of those is as painful as how this feels.

Do you want to know how this feels? Do you want to know? I've had suffered broken hearts, I've been cheated on, lied on, bullied, locked up, none of those is as painful as how this feels.

Do you know why? Because this feeling is intangible. Because the intangibility of this feeling seeps deep into my heart and rots it from inside, until it's left frozen, withered, barren, devoid of emotions, but not of pain.

But I don't know why, I don't know why this is happening to me. I don't know why I'm inflicting this upon myself and set myself up time and again. I don't know why I open my ears and my eyes to believe in what they're saying (perhaps because deep within me, I know it's true? Perhaps I'm in denial?).

Do you know why?