Funny Ha Ha
Alms, Ants, and Amusements

In case you thought, because I hadn’t been writing much about bugs, that there had been some appreciable decrease in the verminous population of my everyday life, you were wrong. Ever since the move to the new place (three months already; hardly new any more) there’s been a change in the regularly appearing cast, but no apparent trimming of the budget for extras in the obviously in-progress movie of my life.

Inventory: could do this as an In/Out table, a la fashion glossies, but I can’t figure out how to put a table in Blogger and the formatting of a properly aligned pair of lists makes my eyeballs hurt just thinking about it. Simple comma-offset elements will have to do.
Old house: punctual slugs, tiny black ants, one-time-only praying mantis, nasty biting no-see-ums, swarms of bumbling buzzing winged termites.
New house: punctual mosquitoes, tiny brown ants, one-time-only mouse, giant spider (since deceased) and her somewhat less giant but still menacing babies.

Good thing I’m not scared of bugs!
Lately, though, the large red ants that live outside in the compost bin have begun exploring the whole drain/sink area, using the windowsill as a staging ground. I wouldn’t mind so much except that they don’t follow proper ant protocols, so the usual dissuasion/elimination tactics are useless:

1. They don’t eat sugar or little specks of food. They don’t care how diligently I wipe up the counters. Corollary: the super ant killer, imported from Florida USA (reputable sources report: ants git on ya), and formulated for sugarlovin’ arthropods, is not interesting to these buggers.
2. They are big, about ¾cm long, and bitey-grabby. Thus they are not easily sponge-away-able, because they’re not tiny and they just stick to the sponge and can’t be rinsed away. Corollary: they bite me.
3. They don’t travel in lines or clumps. They’re sort of lazy ant tourists—ooh, look Marge, there’s plates drying over here!—and thus can’t be traced to food sources, perplexing the anti-ant-antagonist (that’s me) as to what the bloody hell they’re looking for. They seem to spend a lot of time waving their butt segments around and twiddling their antennae together. Corollary: they have no strategy, thus there is no logical counterstrategy.

In sum, what to do? They’re not really hurting me but I did have a dream two nights ago that I opened the faucet and forth flowed not water but red ants. I also dreamed that I was shopping for a suitable (modest, light-coloured) outfit for Kamini’s one-month almsgiving and all they had in the shop was stretch lace undergarments. Remember, this is my teacher who told me to button my shirt all the way to the neck. The saleslady suggested I go for red hotpants under a black slip/teddy thing—the layering, she said, made it “elegant and classy” and certainly enough covered-up for visiting monks. Ha. I woke up quite nervous that I had in actuality already gone to the almsgiving thusly attired.

The almsgiving itself, though not exactly jolly, was rather ungrim. The ISLE staff (Rosemary, Sumanasena, Herath, Violet, Maya, Rupa) and the available former students went to a little monastery above Trinity College. Someone said this monastery was affected by the Maligawa bomb blast of some years back, but I can hardly imagine how, it being so far from the temple. We gave a nice batch of lunch to the monks—the active part of course was giving a tray of curries to the little Buddha shrine there. (While we were doing that, the other monks put their lunch into their dishes so that we could take our Tupperware off with us: how considerate!) A smiley cheerful monk chanted some Pali and some Sinhala; we kneeled, listened, and sadhu’d appropriately. Then we went back to the ISLE center for our own lunch, the same as the monks’ minus fruit plus ice cream.

The weather has been lovely, cool to cold and windy-rainy. Like spring in Swarthmore! It was hot for about three hours today. Nice for sunset jogging. Very pleasant for sleeping though it verges on being cold enough for socks or, heavens, a blanket. Yesterday Jill and I went (bravely it must be said) to town to get fruits for the almsgiving: one pineapple, two papayas, six mangoes. Rosemary was precise! We did take the bus, so the bravery was more in the intention to do anything while it was raining.

Fruits procured, we went to tour Haakon’s new house and to plan for the ball which must obviously be thrown there—they’ve got patios and verandahs and balconies and turrets and a formal-ish garden. I finally met the minorly legendary Stuart, Virginian student of Tamil popular religion. He plans to conduct a “cock sacrifice” for Haakon’s birthday, which is even funnier if you say it out loud. Among sundry treats we had perfect rainy-day Ghirardelli hot chocolate: chalk another one up in the chocolate supply department for Jill’s mother. (Not that mine is behind on this count, I’ve got Scharffen-Berger.) I spent quite a while poring over a giant fakey new-agey book of horoscopes and relationship analyses based on same, getting nervous as I always do over the dire predictions of interpersonal aggression they’re always lobbing at Leos. Apparently my birth week is the “Week of Leadership,” the Leo-est of the Leos, the flamingest of the fire signs. Watch out!

Didn’t have time to look up all the fascinating relationships I wanted to (you know who you all are) because the other people there wanted to read about themselves too. Tough cookies, plebes, says this lioness. I dragged the book out. Interpersonal aggression be damned, I want to read about me. (Kidding: I know how to share, sort of.) I did learn that had I been born on my due date, I’d be in the “Week of Theatre.” How gratifying.

Bed! But first: minor ha-has:
“Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.”
—Stubb, Moby-Dick, which is so good and you should read it

“standing next 2 rotting fish head that droppd out of sky jst now. also jst got shit upon. on my way if ever get 2 front of this line”
—Jill, waiting for Colombo bus; text message of supreme pathos


You put the load right on me
procrastination, love, and personal worth

What is procrastination for? Lord knows we spent enough time arguing this out (usually in the middle of the night, while practicing it) during college. Until just recently I had concluded that it derived from perfectionism and its corollary, fear-of-failure. As an unrepentant perfectionist whose friends are too—there you go, community of junkies trying to support each others’ ‘recovery’—this explanation is simple and useful. Let go of one’s internalized demands for superiority, and the work will seem less daunting and thus do-able. If it doesn’t have to be perfect, it isn’t such a big deal.

One of the most difficult hours of my life (in the last, say, five years… let’s not go as far back as middle school) was a private breakfast meeting I had with the head of my high school during the early winter of my senior year. A formidable and brilliant woman, she inspired in me (and many other students) a curious blend of scorn and awe. She had a knack for scaring the shit out of students over small things—talking loud outside her office, playing a misogynistic song at a school party—which came down to a basic intolerance for inconsiderate people. The pettiness of some of these issues (and her obvious oldfashionedness about haircuts) contrasted strongly with her vast personal, professional, and intellectual depth. I can’t really do it justice here—suffice it to say she’s an enigma. She’s read everything and been everywhere. She sees all the sides of an issue and still knows exactly what is right and can argue you into the ground for her side. She will listen to anyone with half a brain, and make them smarter. I’m a little afraid she’s reading this.

Anyway, the breakfast meeting invitation was, although levied in a kindly fashion, terrifying. She asked me to come to her house before school one day to talk about my work—we would eat, and talk, and walk to school together. Of course I would go; there was no refusing. Standing in her hall early that morning, I was shaking, sweating despite the icy Boston November outside. She made tea and toast, fruit and yogurt. I struggled to not spill things and not gawp at her house. My back hurt from all the good posture. What were we talking about, did it turn out? Procrastination.

She told me that she was concerned about my pattern of handing in everything late—all my teachers were. She wanted to talk through it and, in a respectful way, give me a warning: learn not to cripple yourself through this perfectionism thing, or you will seriously fuck up your work life. I made it through the breakfast still talking, acting reasonable—at the edge of tears for the dual reason of her being so right and her being so respectful about it. It hurt to have someone see my faults clearly and despite that want to help me fix them.

I had a similar conversation with a college professor last summer—after I graduated. This is someone for whom I have little love (though I respect her) and from whom I learned little important. She put it a little more starkly: having conferred with other professors of mine, she noticed a pattern of stubborn refusal to do what was important, regardless of the incentives and motivations that might be present. She wanted me to promise that I wouldn’t do this in the future; otherwise she could never write me a rec letter or get me an interview. Harsh. I promised, but how can you promise something like that?

I wanted to promise it to myself, and believe it, but I don’t believe it. While doing a self-driven research project I have observed myself over the last eight months doing not-what-I-planned; yes I am working, no it’s not always the most important stuff that pulls my focus. Also, I am always late, and I am terrible about planning things; to wit, the six-hour trishaw ride necessitated by not getting to the Kandy bus stand early enough, etc. Perfectionism isn’t a satisfying explanation for this.

Here’s an alternate one: I am constantly and in general over-ascribing positive and negative value to acts in the world. That is, everything is good or bad: there is nothing that I do (or don’t do) that doesn’t get noted as gold stars or X marks in my mental accounts books. I procrastinate, or under-plan, because it strains the achievability of the gold star and thus makes it more valuable; no matter how many Xs I get along the way (made tea instead of doing work, read a novel instead of calling for a reservation, etc.) the ultimate triumph of overcoming more, bigger obstacles is enough to make me feel good about a last-minute save.

It’s a risk behavior—the further out on the limb one can go, i.e., the more time without doing the right planful/diligent stuff, the more desperately difficult it is to survive, to pull off the event or project anyway. It’s dumb, too, because for me the ultimate payoff isn’t so much thrilling as a relief. Then the regrets and frustrations of having been irresponsible (up to the last minute) mount and crest, and I’m left feeling guilty, admixed with that same reaction I had in grade school when the report cards always said “Rebecca is not working up to her potential.” Yeah, sure, says my eight-year-old self, but who are you to say? Maybe this is the best I can do. I refuse to prove that I am better than this.

The greater emotional strategy at play here comes, I think, from the desire to have all my blackest thoughts about myself definitively proved. It’s the solo version of having a nasty fight with your lover or your mom: you fling all your worst traits at them, daring them to love you in spite of all, daring them to find you unlovable by rejecting you amid the torrent of your failures. Either you get to be redeemed of your flaws through love, or you get to be right about being generally worthless and despicable. There’s a certain satisfaction and stability both ways.

The hardest thing to admit, and the only solution to this cycle, is the bland fact that really most of us are okay and we all have our faults. Some would say that it’s inimical to passion to recognize that we’re mostly all love-worthy mediocrities. I’m just a regular person, so when someone’s really enchanted with me I’m both ecstatically gratified and subtly suspicious. Idealization and a dose of blindness are required for passion. And yet, I’m good at that—seeing beautiful wonderful things in other people, loving them, forgiving them. That’s the other end of the spectrum from my parsimonious grade-school model of self-esteem, with the Xs and the gold stars. It would be good to take more interesting risks, and lay off with the miserly accountancy of feeling proud that I got out of bed when my alarm rang.

This all plays into the sense of being responsible for everything that I mentioned in the last entry about the failed Jaffna trip. As Jill noted today, most people who are as un-planful as I am are also not so upset when things don’t go well. It’s neither logical nor remotely wise in a country with lots of wackiness—and where isn’t?—to expect the same slapdash knack-of-time shit to work out. And yet I see myself wedded to the emotional highs of almost-failing all the time. Some of my work-related ennui is no doubt related to there being no one requiring anything of me. Nothing required, at no specific time, means no chances to almost-screw-up, means no rush of stress and satisfaction in not-screwing-up. Authority figures just up the ante: if I can sufficiently threaten to crash’n’burn to attract someone’s attention, I get more props when I save myself. This act, however, wears thin once you’re out of college.

Wouldja look at the time! Back to real work. Maybe some dinner first though. Cooking: the first best greatest form of not-quite-wasting time. Except I’m not properly hungry, due to (as Jill wisely diagnoses) some nebulous combination of stresses professional, personal, and physical. There is one more caramel fudge brownie left…

On the reality side. I had this chill game of darts (501, involving having to hit doubles or triples, a problem for lucky-to-hit-the-board me) the other night at IOTG and lo, after trailing for most of the game and not caring at all, I won! I knew I would when my score was 22 and then 8, both lucky numbers for me. I doubled out on the 4 and got mild congrats from my vanquished rivals. Then I wandered around Galle Face from midnight to 2am with, we estimated, 3000 people. Kites aflutter, drums abeat, waves rolling in, children played soccer with beachballs. It was stunningly beautiful.


Grougle; Loaf
minus the punctuation, the actual name of a cake/pastry I saw in a bakery here

Guess what? We're not in Jaffna.
Argh, argh... after a long day of errands and pleasant hedonism in Colombo (bus-ticket wrangling, embassy whatwhat, minor crucial shopping, movie/beer/cheetos/swim at pool) we were finally at the departure place and time. Half an hour before the bus leaves we hear there's been a hartal (general strike) called for Jaffna.

Oh no! We asked lots of people, through several communications media, what was up. What, then? A hartal today and tomorrow. After some agonizing (I'll spare the details; painful enough for me to rehash) we decided it was a bad idea to start a trip with possibly two days of staying inside. I almost cried, after all the insanity with the trishaw and meeting up and so on. Today I found out that the hartal was cancelled after all and we should have gone.

These kinds of no-win situations (especially when hidnsight is involved) make me really upset. I can't distinguish between intractable/hard choices and things that are my fault. Sometimes can put on a brave face, but often it just wears me out and I need to get rid of excess bad energy somehow: cry, yell, etc. I question my levels of risk-aversion and control-taking, and I alternately feel worryingly fraidycattish or virtuously responsible. Ah well; left to my own devices I make some stupid choices and some wise ones. This one, of course much driven by Jill's and Lisa's desires, looked wise but with later information was stupid, if not stupid.

Anyway I had a good sleep last night, which I wouldn't have gotten on the bus. Today I've been watching TV (so entrancing!) and reading Melville and being happy with good conversation. Also having a stomachache. I should write some about the process of understanding reality as meaningful--i.e., is it wise to continually believe that things happen for a reason?--which has been a major topic lately what with the whole several-iterations-of-blockage-to-travel experience. But now I'm going to go out.


Well that didn't go exactly as planned

I arrived at the bus stand in Kandy to find about 300 people in line and literally no buses. I waited an hour, getting mildly frantic, calling various advising-type people, and decided (on the advice of the nice guy behind me in line) to take a trishaw to Colombo.

Yes: a trishaw. Usually this is a three-hour bus ride. We found a willing guy (who, surprisingly enough, didn't think we were bonkers) and set out. We saw pretty lanterns, lots of free-food-booths, picturesque lighted temples, crowds of gawkers, and most prominently, the taillights of ten bajillion other vehicles. I haven't got a lot of time right now, but let's just say: seven hours later and with a hanky tied over my face bandit-style, I finally made it to a friend's house, where I downed a large whiskey and collapsed into bed. This, I think, is an adventure I will remember a long time. More later... after my 12 hour bus to Jaffna. Tonight we will ride!

I crack myself up sometimes.

buddha shazam!

buddha shazam!
Originally uploaded by
That's the newborn baby B popping out of the largest of a series of lotus-flower-lanterns. This is a recurrent lantern motif, here executed in traditional wood-and-tissue but elsewhere seen in cellophane and beautifully cut stiff paper. BB seems to be giving us a thumbs-up: don't worry, everyone, I am going to explain everything!
Eating My Words, Part the Second

I stand corrected, major big time.

After all that bellyachin’ about the lack of public whatnot, oof! We went to “look at Vesak” (as it is put in Sinhala) and gawd if half the island wasn’t in downtown Kandy, noshing on the free food and drinks, buying tacky balloons and noisemakers, and rushing around in conga-line style groups. That’s so they don’t get separated, but it’s cute how they squiggle past the lantern displays like a choo-choo train.

It is like First Night (New Year’s Eve in Boston) and the Fourth of July put together: string lights all over town, streets arched/draped in the classy Olcott Buddhist flag, candle- and bulb-lit lanterns hanging from every shop and house, tons of ice-cream vendors playing the ever-beloved Cargills theme song (with break-beat second verse), the Temple illuminated and jammed with whiteclad worshiper/gawkers. The lake looked stunning, reflecting the lights of the hotels and homes up the sides of the valley, and the Bahirawakanda Buddha (or “Smugface” as I call him) was easily visible from town, decked in the aforementioned flags, lights, lanterns. The streets were crowded and noisy, thus startling the lakeside tree-roosting birds, who were shitting everywhere—including on me, ugh. It was beautiful.

Jeremy and I arrived downtown around 6 and the joint was beautifully deserted. I’ve never seen it so empty. Thus we had some nice chill walk’n’gawp time, including free cool-drink (stickysweet cordial with pineapple and cucumber flotsam) from a big bunch of thirteen-ish boys and their sports-coaches. I explained about the free-food thing? Right? They set up little booths and serve food, drinks, etc for the holiday. Later we were aggressively solicited to have a rice and curry supper at the Central Province minister’s big free-food booth, but the line was long. Looked tasty, though. We opted instead for Pizza Hut because Jer has recently exhausted his rice-eating capabilities and there ran into Haakon and met up with Gavin, Kristen-his-visiting-girlfriend, Janaka Billy kids family etc etc etc.

Got to jet to Jaffna so I’ll keep this brief—the lanterns, and decorations generally, were stunning. Some of them were like the giant openwork birdhouses they used to show on the sides of giganto-packs of popsicle sticks; I could only imagine how long it took how many people to glue all those little tiny things together. Will post photos later, but—the lanterns are more like giant elaborate candelabra/diorama/sculptures, made from anything (Styrofoam, paper, grasses, leaves, coconut fronds, cellophane, papier mache, punched metal…) and usually with many elements and parts, some moving or lighting up in different colors and patterns. Ordinary ones are the size of a breadbox, and the biggest are 12’ tall. They have a huge competition for the designs and so some are really incredible--think cake decorating meets parade-float-construction. I kept thinking how great a Sarah-and-Tim creation would be… next year, I guess.

All in all, it was glorious and beautiful. We chatted with nice people, got ice-cream bought for us by Hindu priests (who were joyfully drunk and living it up!), and saw gorgeous things. Friendly, frenzied, art-full, public: what more can I ask for? America needs a holiday centered around elaborate craft projects.


Eating my words in the form of a Maliban Biscuits Gift Pack
the need for community, and how I’m going to make one using wine women and song

Jeremy has come down from Nuwara Eliya for a Vesak visit. This of course means good times: a Royal Mall hopper feast, banana french toast for brunch, long conversations about books music and politics. He arrived at the end of my long hard hot day, during which I barely went out but nonetheless managed (through work and contemplation, etc.) to arrive at a state of exhaustion. At such a time, it’s a pleasure to have company!

Whilst consuming light refreshments and observing the lovely sunset (and swatting the ravening mosquitoes) we bitched about the manifold deficits of life in Sri Lanka: political, artistic, social, meteorological. It was pleasantly cleansing to have a good long joint rant. We settled for a while on the subject of community and civil society, how void these are in providing (to us) enjoyable experiences of public solidarity and simple co-presence.

At this point what I miss about life in the States is things like picnics in parks: casual opportunities to see lots of other people enjoying themselves in their various ways (with Frisbees, dogs, babies, books, sunbathing, junk food) or to loosely share artistic or cultural experiences, like free concerts and bad movies. Sure, there are opportunities here to be out in public and around other people, but there’s a distinct sense that the public sphere is not properly a recreational or social one. Even public spaces are controlled or socially ‘owned’ by distinct groups in a way that suggests insularity and mild aggression towards outsiders.

For example, there are basically three open spaces in Kandy town where one might pause and chill: a sort of plaza above the clothing/goods market, the wide pavement by the lakeside, and the Dalada Maligawa grounds. Of these three, the first is controlled by beggars and street people, and someone like me would immediately get hassled if I hung around. (I get stared at just walking through.) The lakeside is thronged with touts waving coconut-shell monkeys and ugly necklaces, and otherwise peopled by groups of leering young men. The temple grounds are a better option—actually a nice place to sit and eat lunch or whatever, provided the cops will let you. The Peradeniya Gardens, way out of town, are a happy exception to this paradigm, with families, friend-posses, and lovers doing their various thangs. However the Gardens are a destination and not a casual dropping-by spot.

Central Colombo has three public spaces as such; the Beira Lake park, the Galle Face Green, and Viharamahadevi Park. Of these, the first two are dominated by the aforementioned leering-guy-posses, and the last by beggars and drug dealers. (Some families with kids in the kids’ section, and some kissin’ couples, and sometimes big scary political rallies.) Of course Colombo is beastly hot and no one wants to hang around outside, but even indoor spaces are minimal and unwelcoming: MC’s population of bad-attitude teenagers, coupled with no decent places to sit, makes it a bad candidate. All the cafés and bars and shops are scenester-filled and/or expensive.

I realize, of course of course, that being white and foreign makes it impossible for me to feel anonymous. I’m acutely aware of being watched, my actions noted and my affect judged. I hate that. It’s something I love about Boston and New York (more even than other US cities): people ignore each other, which to me feels safe and respectful. You could have green skin and two heads and cartwheel in a sequin tutu through Union Square and no one would notice. New Yorkers are rude, but at least they let you go about your business!

So, Jeremy and I fantasized our way to, through, and from dinner on this subject—the market for and usefulness of some kind of establishment as antidote to the above. I would love to start a bar or a club or a restaurant, one that would be unpretentious and unhip, just a nice place to chat or eat or dance. Jeremy argued for the inclusion of good breakfast foods, Western and Sri Lankan both—why can’t they serve a decent pittu in a restaurant? And what’s with the awful pastry in hotel breakfast buffets? I imagine a sort of Beach Wadiya meets The Commons (unpretentious but expensive beachfront seafood joint and calm but slightly posh café) with cheap decent beer and good vegetarian food. Lebanese. A wood dancefloor and a sand overflow dancefloor, and a projection screen for movies, and a stage for live jazz and chamber music, preferably rigged with a light-grid setup and a good backstage space for my inevitable theatre biz. DJ Ross on the speakers and Koluu not in the kitchen (but who?) and banana kithul french toast and definitely no “Chinese food.”

Of course the problem would be making it not-too-posh. Therein lies the problem: I can’t force Lankan society into being more publically-social, thus inevitably such a space would probably just end up a Barefoot clone. The desi elite and the expats and the tourists are the people who people these places, because these places and the ways of being in them are foreign to the social culture. Ordinary people of non-elite classes socialize in gender-segregated groups and ways: women at home, doing domestic and personal things like cooking or beauty stuff; men out in dive-y bar-cum-‘Chinese’-restaurant joints. Who’s going to come to Sri Becca’s Lebanese Dance Theatre Beachfront Jam? The same elite and expat folks that make me feel creepy, rich, grungy, fat, and uncool when I see them at Delifrance and Odel and The Gallery and Glow. I mean, I loves yall, but I want not to constantly recognize you. I am tired of these categories, and of being in one of them.

Right. So: around 10pm, Jeremy and I approached the bo tree junction on the way back from dinner, stuffed with egg hoppers but eternally hungry for some casual community. We came upon a strange spectacle: what appeared to be a Dadaist performance piece was being enacted in front of the little temple by the grassed-over former garbage heap. A crowd of about 150 of all ages sitting in metal chairs and standing in bunches, silently watching as a small man in national dress chants amounts of money (Rrrrrrupiyal haetay! RupiYAL haetay! Rupiyal haetaaaaaay!), bangs a giant tambourine, and randomly bursts into incomprehensible Sinhala songs. He stood under a makeshift plastic awning, in front of a series of benches holding a great jumble of various bagged and tagged items: a set of flowerprinted glasses, a pineapple, a brass tray in the shape of a sun, five kilos of rice, a scary pink hard-plastic baby doll. Several other men sat behind a desk arrayed with ledgers and notebooks, busily noting the proceedings, and one guy walked the open space before the audience showing off lumpy bags of indistinct stuff.

Aha, it was an auction. We determined to hang around a bit, and attached ourselves to Nilantha, my doofy trishaw-junction pal who is in love with my mother. (“I can tell from how she talked that she has a beautiful soul. Has she called you recently? Tell her I say hi.”) He had already purchased two pineapples, twelve bars of laundry soap, and an ugly ceramic vase. He offered that he might start a little shop with this booty; I suggested he start a laundry business. Jeremy and I were near-hysterical with the surreality of it all—almost no one was bidding on anything, the merch was cheap and tacky, and the crowd looked grimly bored. Some fantastic deals were going down, though, like 10 coconuts for Rs170 (market rate: Rs250ish).

The money raised, Nilantha said, would go to build a bigger temple at the junction and a local preschool. We thus concluded it was for a good cause. Jeremy was taken with desire for a large festive box of biscuits on offer and quickly got into a bidding war with a genially smiling shill, who was clearly bidding up everything he could, and paying for his wins with bills peeled from an enormous wad. The crowd was thrilled at Jeremy’s valiant and generous efforts and the air became electric. Finally Jeremy gave out at Rs150. Now Jer says “I could just tell he wanted it more than I did” but I disagree, because the man, upon receiving the prized box, immediately opened it up and grinningly handed it around. Delicious chocolate cream biscuits ensued.

Then, lo! another identical box came onto the block and Jeremy nabbed it at the much more reasonable price of Rs100, discovered upon later inspection to be the item’s actual retail value. We hung around a bit more, chatted with some other neighborhood figures, and left—seemingly to the disappointment of the assembly. I felt the happy glow of a genuine, if surreal, community event. Arriving home, we discussed the obvious irony of our earlier plaints, and then moved on to more fascinating topics. I talked briefly with my beautiful-souled (and how!) mother, then fell deeply and instantly asleep without even getting under my sheets. The auction, audible over ratty PA, lasted well into the night and was apparently still going strong at 1:45am when Jer went to bed.

Today it’s Vesak and we’ve celebrated by staying in and reading, and trying to take care of illin’ Jill. Poor girl. Soon we will go to the temple, and see the lanterns, and get some free food. (Vesak, for the not-in-Sri-Lanka-ers out there, is the poya day on which the Buddha was born, attained nirvana, and died—not the same year, duh.) Tomorrow I’m off to Jaffna, unless there’s a bombing or a hartal. I can’t decide whether this trip is research-oriented, a vacation, dangerous, an educationally important moment, or what. Some of all, maybe. I hear it’s very hot up there.


sitting on the sofa on a sunday afternoon

Returned yesterday afternoon from a 48-hour Colombo trip: two nights, several dam-project meetings, one new friend made, one ‘old’ friend reacquainted (from November, but whatever), one eerie deserted-pool swim, one lovely posh dinner, one movie (Million Dollar Baby: Not All-That, But Okay), one Bistro dance session, one beautiful late night at Galle Face in the sea spray, countless sweaty rides up and down Galle Road, three bus tickets to Jaffna purchased. One bagel.

Got some difficult news late last night, past my bedtime, which probably made me more emotional about it than I should be. Well, what to do. I should be busy busy busy today, starting-finishing some work before Tuesday’s Jaffna departure, but eh, I feel ill and pensive and petulant. It’s hot out and I want to be in the ocean, or in Central Park. Am thinking about moving to Colombo and asking myself, why would I want that? Reasons are many and perhaps not unmixed with bad motives like “I am lonely in Kandy.” (For the record that’s my own damn fault.) Colombo is hot and expensive and what would I be doing there, exactly? My research, right, but after that: do I really want to be living here any more?

Whinge, whinge. Nothing is really all so bad; I should go write all this business in the private journal and not all over the web. There is a giant bug on the window. I can’t write here about the two things I’m really thinking about, so.

On the other hand: there are exciting things happening out there in the media: here is a BBC.com article about Companions on a Journey my new favorite (only? one of three it seems) gay Lankan support and advocacy group. Given that recently I had started being really frustrated by the straightness of, you know, everything here, it is so good to read about it. I am sick up to here of thinking and talking about straight relationships.

Listen up, people of Sri Lanka: your romantic problems are starting to seem boring to me. I want more complicated thinking, more lurid scandal. Actually, no: romantic problems of any kind are starting to seem boring, or rather exhausting, to me. My work is running out of new things for me to get intellectually hot’n’bothered about. One possible cause of this: no advisor, thus no one with whom to talk seriously about it-all. Also, I am tired of no one caring where I am and what work I’m doing (or not). Desk jobs suck, so the possibility of finding something else to be doing, come July, isn’t high. How’s that for unfair: in America, I’m barely employable in any kind of officey/businessy environment; here I’m overqualified for anything else.

Ennui: gah. I think this is what “feeling sorry for yourself” is about. Right now, it’s either that or be uncontrollably, pointlessly angry.

as Ross would put in his blog:
if someone said i would succumb
if someone said i'd be so dumb
after all the sleepless nights when i turned on all the lights
i would have hit them


Intrigue and Rebuttal

The quoted paragraph below is from Nittewa, a blog consisting of fun/paranoid journalism and slightly wack theories from Morquendi (not his real name), a Lankan blogger-of-note. Now that I'm following more local blogs, [no] thanks to Indi, I'm a) spending more time online and b) spurred to write more local stuff. I posted a slightly different version of this as a comment at Nittewa, but figured that 500 words merits its own push-button publication.

Right, so:

Why didn't the JVP make a noise when the US marines came to Sri Lanka, supposedly for Tsunami aid work? I'd have expected them to fight it to the bitter end. And in their anti-NGO propaganda why isn't the JVP targeting anything remotely connected to USAID? Why don't they talk about the American Imperialists in their speeches? Doesn't everyone (including myself) love to bash the Americans for all the world's evil? And didn't the JVP openly bash the Americans in the past? Why this sudden change of heart? Why is the JVP putting up with USAID's involvement in SLBC (the State Radio Broadcaster?)

Is the CIA paying them something to destabilize the Government of Sri Lanka?

Don't everyone get your sarongs in a twist. It's really quite simple; let Big Sister American Escapee explain it all for you.

The JVP is trying to appeal to the American government because they think that the US 'War on Terror' could be expanded to include/squelch the LTTE. Whether or not the US Government (not "Americans" but our wacko leaders) is "anti Tiger" isn't, I think, debatable. Among developed nations the US has one of the strongest political anti-Tiger stances and lists them as a terrorist group; my experiences with the US-SL diplomatic corps underline this stance.

In other words, it's not that the JVP are pro-American, not at all. They are just looking to fuck up the joint mechanism process, make the LTTE mad, provoke greater violence, and thereby justify getting US armed forces to violently quell the Tigers. The JVP has not figured out that a military solution to the conflict is neither possible nor morally tenable at this point—as evinced by their obvious bloodlust.

Is their reasoning flawed? Yes, for several reasons. The US Powers That Be are smart enough (though not very, it must be said) to see raw, power-hungry protectionist/socialist nationalism where it thrives, and to not militarily support it. These are not values that endear a political group to the [economic-]freedom-lovin', Marx-hatin', multiculturalism-lip-servicin' red-white-and-blue polity.

Secondly, the US-PTB (vide supra) quite openly state through their representatives here—for one, their official military attaché*—that they believe a military solution to the conflict is untenable. They're not going to send in the Marines unless it's for more tsunami rubble-clearing, school-buiding, and giant-amphibious-vehicle-driving.

Thirdly, America is in a precarious position in international politics. Bush and his gang have destroyed whatever economic and military respect we [might have] rated, turning the country from a world policeman and world business leader to, basically, world bully in both realms. In addition to that, the American military itself, despite being grossly overproportioned to begin with, is currently weak. Here you don't so much hear about it, but it’s front-page, head-Newsweek-article stuff over there: enlistment rates are way down, desertions are way up, and they're having to put active-duty folks on involuntary service-reassignment plans. Therefore: a weakened bully, more dangerous in some respects but certainly unable to take on more victims/terrorists.

Q.E.D.: the JVP as usual are (albeit pseudo-sophisticatedly) kidding themselves. This time, however, it has extremely sinister implications for the UPFA coalition, the peace process, the local political scene, and the international image of Sri Lanka. Not to mention actual people's lives.

*His name is (Col.) Rich Girven, and if you ever get a chance to meet him or hear him speak, go. Brilliant I say.

A bleeding heart for a dog-eat-dog world

Sleep is a problem. I sleep too long and too hard. Waking up is like climbing out of a well, and it's always happening later than I wanted and planned and set alarms for. Thus it's a real mental treat to tell myself to just sleep in as late as possible, and not curse myself for waking up well into the double-digit hours. That was the plan for this morning.

I was having a crazy dream about steerage ships and Coney Island, somehow tangentially spurred, of course, by the iPod having woken up at 9 and started Shuffling its darling heart out in the living room. 50 Cent and A.C. Newman make for strange halfsleeping dreamfodder. My dreams were getting tension-filled and scary, and I was curled into a ball gripping the pillow, when I woke up to realize that Mia, the road-dog-next-door, was under the window outside crying shriekily and pitifully. I wrestled off the twisted sheet and groggily stumbled to the window and told her, in Righteous Anger Dog Voice, to be quiet and go home. Then I turned off the iPod and went back to sleep.

After getting up some hours later I heard the sweet tinkle of the gate-bell and came outside to find Jill grasping Mia, who was still whimpering. Her left eye was swollen shut and oozing. Jill asked me to come help her take Mia to the veterinary hospital, as she (Jill) was worried about holding onto the dog in a trishaw. I agreed. We went.

She was a very good girl, thus giving me much occasion to make up for the 'early' morning scolding by sweetly pacifying her in Gentle Coo Dog Voice. I was quite pleased to spend time with a nice doggie. Jody, the pooch-in-residence at my place, is sweet but pushy and if I give her an inch (pet her) she'll take a mile (come into my annexe and whine at me to pet her while I'm working). Thus I must maintain a casually distant relationship: we talk, but we don't pet. Mia is more retiring and anyway a road-dog, thus without a sense of settling down and squeezing her way into one house and one heart.

At the vet's, they looked at her eye and decided it was mild trauma needing only anti-inflammatory drops and some looking-after. They also noted a small non-recent wound on her back that wasn't healing well and prescribed Betadine and some antifungal cream. Jill and I held Mia, told her how brave she was, and generally tried to make up for stuffing her in a loud bouncy vehicle, driving her further than she'd probably ever been in her life, and then dragging her into a scary place filled with sad, sick doggies on metal tables.

The attending vet was a little perplexed by our having brought 'a stray' into the clinic (though the treatment itself was free! hard for me and J to consider quality care though it seemed exemplary; clearly an example of our capitalist consumption psychology) which didn't surprise me. There are two kinds of dogs: the ones that people care about, and the ones that people don't. By and large the former sort are purebred and live in houses, and the latter are mutts and do not. Plenty of people have a guard-dog in their yard who never comes in the house and who probably isn't very well-looked after.

The excluded middle, I suppose, is these kinds of guard dogs, but more crucially dogs like Mia, who have clear haunts and homes, habits, personalities, patrons (Mia doesn't like plain rice, only with curry, or plain Cream Crackers), and names. The vet told us, "better to keep her in the yard," which obviously Jill isn't going to do for lots of reasons, first among which is that Mia is a free-wandering dog who wouldn't know what to do with herself if made to stay put. She'd probably end up crying more.

Is it so hard to justify taking care of autonomous road dogs, investing love in something you don't own or control? Understandable, to benumb oneself to the typically everyday sadness of mangy skeletal dogs and puppies whose mothers are too undernourished to give milk, especially when there are similarly suffering people about. This quotidian callousness is both lamentable and indicative of a more sinister lethargy. People unwilling to take small actions of lasting good (like taking a dog to be fixed: not expensive!) are certainly not going to care much about bigger, more intractable problems.

I suppose this is another sad example of a Western imperialist wringing her hands over something irrelevant. I was certainly incredulous when after the tsunami I noted Sarvodaya blog commenters wanting to donate money for animal relief/rehab; weren't there people to be cared for? The same is true in Kandy or wherever. Road dogs, however, live everywhere around and with us.

Most people can more easily extend their radius of care commitments to their immediate surroundings, than to the larger world... we start out, morally, as self-centered beings, and (ideally) gradually develop ever-widening circles of moral obligations. First I look out for #1, then for my family and close friends, and so on outwards. Sure, it isn't practical to care for every stray, but as the cliche goes, if everyone did it... in any case, one can think of loving a mangy mutt (or another person, really) as a tragically Nietzschean act: you know he will someday die, or run away, or break up with you, but you love as fully as you can and accept the bathos and beauty of the fleeting experience, the wagging tail, the smile.

Definitely don't want to come off here as demonizing the vet. He was a good guy and not at all rude or dismissive of our actions; seemed really to care for the pooch and to be amused (not insulting) about two whitey girls and their scruffy friend. He's on my side of the fence.

PS: Mia's eye is somewhat better now though she keeps crying. We think this is merely for attention, now that she's gotten an hour's worth of gentle hands and sweet words out of us. Beware the beloved: s/he will become demanding!


Is this the beginning of the end?
Not to be overdramatic, but

Did everyone read the front page of the Mirror (and the other papers, but why would you) today? This ‘mysterious group’ claiming to have killed Sivaram is using some bloody scary language in their letter: “…all those who are doing harm to the motherland, while being nourished by the motherland, should be ready to become manure to the motherland soon.”

Indi has of course much more to say (and more people commenting more intelligently) than I do, so go see him, but for those not paying attention, recently a well-regarded LTTE-favorable Tamil journalist was abducted and murdered; a group that no one’s ever heard of has two weeks later claimed responsibility in the worst possible Sinhala nationalist, anti-peace, anti-Western rhetoric. I mean, “motherland.” Folks: the motherland is Russia, the fatherland is Germany, the homeland is not America for pete’s sake. Other lands may claim other family structures as necessary.

And what I am worried about: the PA government isn’t being referred to as such in the press any more. That’s probably because the SLFP and the JVP (for those not up-to-date: the 2 major elements of the PA coalition majority) are at odds these days, with the JVP threatening to leave the coalition over every little thing but especially the LTTE-cooperation joint mechanism for tsunami rebuilding. Thus, there is nothing to report about “the PA” and everything to say about the two parties feuding like a pair of second-graders would fight over a sparkly pen.

Meanwhile the UNP is pretty much sitting at its desk there in the corner, with spokesguy Peiris (not the G. Peiris of the ISLE Program, sadly) madly waving his hand to get called on so he can say “the peace process is in danger!” In reality, where some of us live, there is no peace process going on right now. Chandrika was actually sort of right about that—after the tsunami she said the country would have to focus on rebuilding and thus the peace process would be on hold. I was mad then, but hey, at that point there was some hope that there would be a focus on rebuilding.

Now this feels not like “on hold” ie the nice lady lets you listen to elevator music (and live in a tent, and eat shitty rice for six months), but like “on hold” wrapped up in brown paper, tied tightly with string, addressed to Timbuktu, and posted with not-enough-stamps so that it sits on a back shelf of the Kandy post office while the ‘foreign parcels’ guys watch teledramas and eat biscuits on the job. Or on hold in a morgue. Luckily people had been too busy being traumatized and not-rebuilding to start up with the violence again. That is changing.

Today on the way home from the movies Jill noted that the Heerassagala junction checkpoint on Peradeniya Road, usually just a little empty booth thing (sponsored by Soorya wax matches, thus ordinary and domestic) was actually manned with two cops, one with a semiautomatic rifle. They had one of their rickety roadblock fence-on-wheels things across the middle of the two lanes, to make drivers slow down. No one was getting stopped but understandably people are nervous—checkpoints have been fired upon and burned in the North; there were hartals in the North and East early this week. That junction isn’t a place of importance (just a railroad crossing; lot of traffic) so the presence of the polisaya isn’t encouraging; why are they clamping down?

Vesak is coming, which means increased crowds and increased aimless loitering, to see the traditional lanterns and decorations. Also Vesak is specifically a Buddhist holiday (birth, enlightenment, and death of The Man Himself) thus definitively sectarian, unlike New Year. The combination of these pragmatic and emotional/cultural factors should obviously make security personnel nervous. Still, the checkpoint violence elsewhere hasn’t been well reported or dealt with. Big shock.

I don’t want to scare anyone in the States (or elsewhere) but what the hell are we seeing? Is this the disintegration of ‘no-war’ that has, for about three years now, been the minimally livable alternative to a negotiated and settled peace?
on the lighter side: audience participation
  1. Mahangu, are you reading? There is a guy in one of the psychiatric-ward scenes in “Guerilla Marketing” who looks just like you! You do a good crazy/catatonic role performance.
  2. How many people get the reference of the title “Ceylon Silver Girl”? Despite/because it’s a minorly obscure pun on a majorly well-known song lyric, no one seems to know what it means. May change if that wouldn’t cause aesthetic pains to the so-called readership. Seriously, comment if you know.
  3. Both Dhanasiri and the Royal Mall are selling Arnott's biscuits (imported from Oz! highly yum!) for half price. Not even old or stale! Also, they are now stocking normal-size bars of Philadelphia cream cheese. Run run as fast as you can.


Becoming a Less Better Person
requisite weekly ennui; now, with more free-association

Pursuant to a phone call with Indi, I realize that my slow blograte is not entirely due to dial-up issues (as I’d like to believe) but rather because I write too carefully and thus too slowly. I have to have a fascinating idea (ha) first and given my confusion about audience this is hard to judge… things that yall family care about are probably not things that the Sri Lanka blogworld cares about. Some of them are reading me now (ta!) but that makes content selection harder.

In any case, volume is good, in some media—am going to try to do something every day and reduce the novella-length introspection a bit. It’s pretty dumb to write about writing, but these days I am always making myself promises (more meditation, more jogging, more studying, more interviewing…) which I generally don’t keep so perhaps a public forum will provide the necessary shame-quotient inducements.

Dad, I am starting to really understand your practice of not making personal resolutions. It’s just too depressing when over time the unmade plans and unmet goals pile up like recalcitrant dustbunnies or unwashable laundry, sort of emotional kipple cast-off from the twined streams of good intentions and self-disappointment. I am glad not to be a smoker.

Now that I know I have (some) co-time-zonal readers it’s not really possible to post gripes about my close friends. Not that I was, before, but hey. Nor do I have any in particular at the moment, though I’m experiencing one of those emotional hallucinations where I’m back in middle school or even before, and hanging out with people who really don’t seem to like me, and I have to constantly remind myself not to be paranoid. Am I just exquisitely sensitive to (probably nonexistent) signals?

Was talking about this with Jill today and feeling sort of situated on the subject—as in, I could observe the behaviour and sort of absent myself from it—but then we got to the movies to find Lisa and not the movie I wanted to see. I was mad at myself for not going earlier, as that film has been playing for like three weeks, and ashamed for disappointing them, and just straight out guilty for not having gotten much done in the morning. Had a Sinhala lesson at which I functioned incredibly poorly. Stupid day, I guess. In any case the film debacle just wound the ol’ springs that much tighter. So much for my cool, calm appraisal of little psychic screens.

We decided to see the new film, a rather incomprehensible one (in Sinhala, no subtitles) called “Guerrilla Marketing.” After seeing it, I thought it was about national politics, Lisa thought it was about spirit-possession, and Jill thought it was a fatalistic romance. It was all those things, and more… nice musical sequence with tuxedo’ed guys doing Kandyan dance in Anuradhapura. I look forward to discussing it with someone who, um, understood.

Yesterday I fell asleep on the floor at ICES (luckily with my book on my chest and not on the floor—that’s a cultural no-no) in the midst of a hot hot afternoon and after a giant rice packet lunch. Had failed to eat brekkies properly, most notably not consuming any tea at all. Don’t try this at home, kids: major caffeine withdrawal equals abject floor-sleeping squalor.

Also: Tonight I made slightly unorthodox, very delicious borscht. Two batches of adorable puppies in the neighborhood make me coo goofily when walking-past, and sad that I can't have one (or five). My neck is rather badly injured from something (sleeping?) and will be Ayurveda-fied on Monday. The only piece of mail I got was from a research contact in Ampara with whom I’ll be doing some fieldwork. New haircut behaving a bit better than in its first few days.

Funny story, actually. I went to a small cheap salon, recommended by a friend, and for Rs 200 bought myself a slightly harrowing experience. I came at 6:27 or something like that, was told that (despite the reasonable sized crowd in the place) they close at 6:30. Turned to leave and one of the ‘stylists’ (girls in smocks with scissors) was like, oh, you just want a haircut, whatever, we’ll do a dry cut. I flinched visibly as they dragged me into a chair and wrapped me in a sheet. The girl, energetically spritzing away with a bottle of water, asked me to slouch—the salon chairs here are all not-low-enough for the combo of Tall Me + Short Stylist. I blurted out some directions—tapered short to the nape, fix worst shaggies all over, leave as much as possible—which she promptly ignored and proceeded to give me the haircut sported by, like, three-year-olds. As in, I should have a bow pinned to my hair to denote “girl.” Alternately I can style it in mini-backswept-bouffant as do the middle-aged women who have given up on having an elegant bun. The whole haircut from walking in to walking out took maybe twelve minutes. After it I went outside, did some deep breathing, messed with the style in a car window, and went clothes-shopping at Romafour, home of cute clubby clothes, to calm myself.

Right. Enough. Big day tomorrow—Mina’s ballet show and Billy’s kids’ play! Beauty sleep, here I come.
reach out and touch, er, smack SLT

More phone woes… if anyone is trying to call, know that the land line is pretty much unreachable. It can’t figure out to hang up without being unplugged and replugged, so once I plug it in and wait 30 seconds it thinks it’s off the hook.

I foresee that this is a hardware problem and I may be able to fix it by buying a new phone-set. (Ooh, could get a mobile and not be forced to sit at my desk/table all the time on the phone. Posh!) Otherwise it’s going to take dealing with SLT and lord knows that it’ll never get done if it’s their problem. Annoying. Anyway, call the cell phone, peeps.


Cultural Sensitivity Only Goes So Far

It's getting to be time for a change.
I have lost patience with a few things:
1. being a giant, pasty-assed female who can't do anything herself without getting harassed
2. ...and anyway there's nowhere to go in kandy: no movies, no cafes, no decent restaurants
3. ...but if you manage to have social obligations anyway, when you go to visit someone, you cannot leave until you've been force-fed
4. ...and thus you miss your preplanned, pre-ticket-bought colombo train
5. ...which didn't go anyways because of a strike.

I don't really care about the strike, could have taken the bus. But I resent being captive at someone's house, and I resent myself for not having the patience to chill or the nerve to just pack up and go. On top of that, I'm not really psyched about Colombo and my plans there. Not enough thinking ahead, therefore I have not enough work to make me feel it's justified. Anyone out there in the blogosphere want to be interviewed on Saturday?

Nalani, whose lovely birthday party I was more or less stuck at today, told me I work too hard. I started explaining the 'yankee mentality' in Sinhala and then realized, no I don't work too hard, I just worry too much about it. I should work more and worry less.

I need to plan a trip, go someplace else. India, anyone?


The Phone is Working Again

Yup! But it makes weird noises sometimes.

Still: call me!
Pistol-Toting Lesbian Opium Queen Social Anthropologist

The above, minus the social anthropologist, is from an article about women guerrilla leaders of Southeast Asia. It will replace my earlier bosom-related title. Must have that put on my visiting cards… along with “Fulbright Scholar.” I only wish I could do research like this:

“I had neither the wealth nor the power to start a small war and
motivate people to take part in it…creating my own terror group would not have
produced [useful] data, because my terror group would not have been the same as
the ‘naturally occurring’ ones I wished to understand.”
This is the stuff I live for: reading A Very Short Introduction to Sociology on the local bus; one side of me being sprinkled with rainwater, the other smashed up against a person who didn’t wash properly today. Can you believe that Middlesex won the Pulitzer? I thought it was middlebrow boilerplate. As gender crit, shallow; as family narrative, not nearly tense or weird enough to hold my attention. Mrs. Dalloway is much better. I ended up liking the Rushdie a lot. I have new history research to do. So many books out there...

I’m not adjusting well to the monsoon timetable, which is to say: I keep trying to get things done after the daily rains start. I become wet and irritable. My ballroom dance teacher kept stopping class to make me switch partners, because no one is tall enough to dance with me. Our photocopying-girl at ICES hasn’t finished a not-very-big batch of stuff I needed last week. I have to go to Colombo tomorrow and I don’t want to. My hair is getting really long and shaggy and curly, which is annoying.

My life is so hard.

What is really hard, and making me tangentially very crabby (as a grief response), is that my dearly beloved Sinhala teacher of ISLE days, Kamini, was killed last Saturday. I’m a bit in denial about it—freak bus accident, terrible thing, incomprehensible—and without anything useful to do. There’s nothing to protest; the funeral already took place; I didn’t know her family. She was an amazing teacher, an extremely accomplished person, and a great lady with a proud strong funny graceful personality. She told me in the first week of ISLE, on my birthday, that I often dressed like a loose woman and should cover my cleavage better. Later on she told me I had a great Sinhala sense of humor. Her death, it’s horrible. It’s not something I can really write about—what is there to say?

If there is an afterlife, Kamini is tearing it up, putting everyone in place and teaching them to behave. Slurping her tea and mocking, not unkindly, someone’s pronunciation. Reiterating the need to use a rising-falling tone while bargaining, to emphasize the import of the transaction. Loving England, and Sri Lanka. Calling us ‘ugly Americans’ with half a smile on her face. I hope there is an afterlife.

I had seen her only twice since coming back to Sri Lanka and I regret, so much, not seeking her out more. But who can count on a bus accident? There are at least two or three fatal ones reported in the papers every day since the Alawwa train one last week, but we don’t know whether it’s just been an unlucky time for buses or if this is the status quo and now everyone in the media is jumping all over it.

I am taking the train to Colombo.


Type A Negative
the worst kind of navel-gazing: you’d think I’d learn something, living in a Buddhist country

Yesterday evening the Kandy Gang (Pvt. Ltd.) went up to Helga’s Folly, the wackily decorated posh hotel above the lake, for food and conversation and some enriching experiences. Ask me later about the enrichments: not a lot of effect for me, but Lisa was sure having fun. The gang, at this juncture abbreviated of key members (Jill!), consisted of Lisa (Fulbright), Gavin (Fulbright), Haakon (Norwegian social anthropologist at Peradeniya [SAP]), Julia (Austrian SAP), and Sarah (ISLE ’02). In several permutations the gang was together at the Kandy seder on Friday—a success, mostly—and Herath’s amazing dinner and boozing and betel party on Saturday, so it’s been a klatschy couple of days.

Helga’s is a great place. The food is excellent (and expensive) and the décor beyond description. The whole place is painted with murals and papered with family photos and news clippings—Helga’s daughter is the fashion designer Selina Blow, and lots of her family are married to royalty or prominent European and Sri Lankan aristocracy. There are statues and sculpture and scary candelabra and rich draperies and mirrors and throw pillows all over the place. It’s sort of Kandyan-crafts-meets-satanist-bordello; rather unusual in a country where the prevailing standard of decorating calls for kitten posters and plastic flowers. It’s a good place to be in an altered state—they have soft things to sit on and weird stuff to gawp at.

It’s a bit of a walk from town—20 minutes if you keep moving, more if you stop to take in the lovely views as the street winds among the quiet guesthouses above the lake. The return trip always feels faster, though at 10pm one wants to get home and not dally in the dark. As the posse was walking down to the road (where five well-fed butts, as well as the rest of our bodies, managed to fit in one trishaw) Lisa was talking about how most of her friends are really Type A personalities… somehow I was accused/described as such. Mercy!

I replied that I’m not Type A like Lisa is Type A. To this Gavin smirked as he is wont to do, and so good at: Gavin Irby = Gavin Smirkby. With great finality, he said oh yeah you are. That stung, somewhat, though I’m not sure why. Is that generally considered a dirty word, an insult, or is that just me being sensitive? That I know I am: overly aware of perceived slights and insults.

I thought being Type A meant being organized, outgoing, a leader, controlling, and productive. I am sort of halfway some of those things, eh? I like the accoutrements of organization (notebooks, stickers, pens) but that’s classable with my love of stationery and office supplies generally, and I am not really planful in the way I’d like to be. Though I like being around people, I’m desperately shy to start off and have real trouble feeling comfortable around new friends. I’m bossy, but not a natural leader, at least not since high school. Controlling: yes. Absolutely. But I want to be less so. And productive? No, no no no, to my great chagrin and disappointment.

In short: I am too down on myself to be really Type A. Gavin would say that being so down on myself is just a further symptom—if it’s not crucial to be perfect then why care?—and would probably further note that this dissection of the subject is classically Type A. Okay, fine, I don’t know enough about this theory-of-personality to argue back. But I don’t want to be like that, or like this. My disillusioned, depressive periodic yearning and striving is probably the best (worst) possible indictment of my personality flaws.

It’s pretty futile to want things to be different, eh? Such is the teaching of Lord Buddha. The unplumbable paradox is that by developing one’s willful ignorance of the broken state of self and world, those flaws are diminished, rendered impotent. When I get really stuck in a period of hateful navel-gazing I start feeling like self-improvement is a Magic Eye trick. One concentrates on something (work, friends, etc) outside the frame of the problem (me) and somehow meaning emerges from frustration.

Yet I can’t figure out whether I am frustrated with myself because I fail to do the things I want to do, or because I am the kind of person who fails at things—am I an essentially okay but lazy/undirected being, who should concentrate, or am I a catastrophe of self-centered torpor? This is a very American problem—Yankee work ethic meets overeducated, spoiled only-child-hood, meets culture of critically-introspective individualism. Bottom line: all this thought-proliferation is pointless.

I’m not depressed, don’t worry, just annoyed with myself lately and feeling that time is running out. I need to get up earlier in the mornings, write more, change some habits. Eat more leafy green vegetables, do more aerobic exercise. Does everyone else feel they are living in a perpetual present? I have trouble believing in and envisioning the future. Years ago my father told me that I was a more creative person than he: he can’t do things if he can’t imagine them, and he can’t imagine a lot of things. I think I’ve become that way too (if I ever was different). At the same time I have plans and hopes I never anticipated. What it boils down to is this: can one manage one’s own growing-up, one’s future, or does it just happen? I’ve heard the message that life-course is subject more to Serendipity than Intent so many times that I have practically no attachment to Intent any more. That seems like a bad thing, no?

I don’t want to later look back on my life and see only accidents and happenstance. It would be better to have passions and goals to start from, discover, return to, develop.


Obage SLT Durakatanata Pratichariyak No Mata

My phone line is down. I think the landlords didn’t pay the bill on time. It was acting funky before that, perhaps because I dropped the receiver on the floor several times, but now it’s really not working at all. When I pick it up I hear wistful elevator music and this gentle, liquid, soothing Sinhala voice telling me that my SLT (Sri Lanka Telecom) service is not available. She’s very kind about it, a little sad perhaps, and the recording is tinged with hope—someday your service will come!

But what a colossal pain in the ass! Now I have to revert to the old style of internet use—write everything on disk, schlep said disk to café, sit among tourists and high schoolers in airconditioned splendour (fresh Nescafe available) and use the “café@internet” hi(gher)-speed connection. Hm. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe a paradigm shift is in order. It is cheaper, for sure, than doing this at home.

In any case, I wanted to call several of you this weekend but that wasn’t possible.