Selected Ambient Work #3

In which I can’t figure out whether I’m a conformist or a contrarian.

2 months into Malaysia’s third movement control order. All economic sectors are (allegedly) closed except for essential services. 

I turn 25 this year. Since the announcement of this third iteration of a full MCO, I have, for some reason, just conformed and followed all of the government-issued directives not to leave my house except for essential matters. I’m so busy with work – it would be more accurate to call them “tasks” – that I’ve just lost the will. Most days, I feel bewildered and confused and tired. 

I’ve not really been in physical contact with anyone for months now. I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that I’m so willingly conformist, maybe it has something to do with my childhood. I think that I’m still a child, and I’m scared that with this lockdown in place I’ll never grow up. Something about the atmosphere is weighing me down, telling me it’s not the time. Something about the world outside seems bizarre, freakish, and out-of-bounds; it seems stranger than what I thought I knew. 

I’m not used to rebelling, and I don’t know how to do what’s right or how to act in a crisis. I’m scared of Twitter and scared of the news. Each new piece of information does not seem to make sense with the existing pieces; I have no idea what’s going on. These days it feels wholly possible for people to just drop dead. There’s a sense that time has run out. Somehow, I’m still alive. 

Am I the only one who feels embarrassed to be working during this time? Whenever people ask me whether I’ve been busy I say yes in a vague way, I tell them I’ve been “getting jobs”, but that could mean anything. My approximate schedule these days, for anyone who’s been trying to reach me: 

  • Wake at 12pm 
  • Get out of bed by 2pm 
  • Fix lunch by 2.30–3pm 
  • Idle from 3–6pm 
  • Have dinner at 6pm
  • Idle at 7pm
  • Work from 8pm to 3am–4am 
  • And then I sleep. 

I don’t like people knowing when I’m working or what I’m working on because I’m embarrassed by all of it. I’d rather they think I don’t work than know what I’m working on. What is it that I do? Well, most days I struggle with myself, I berate myself, I push things too close and I miss deadlines, miserably, pathetically, childishly. On Instagram, I only post about movies I’ve been watching. I’d rather let people think I’m caught in some state of suspended childhood, whiling away my time watching movies, listening to music, and reading books, than for them to know that I’m actually trying to be an adult and trying to work. So, I tell people that I’m OK, just chilling at home. Why would I want to advertise how much I am struggling to grow up. 

One thing that never fails to surprise me is how willing and polite most artists are when you ask them for an interview. The ones who are willing are always polite, and the ones who are unwilling just don’t reply to my email; nobody is ever mean or contemptuous. I have one of those temperaments that flinches in the face of friendliness, that always lives in anticipation of being shouted at and cussed out despite never, in fact, having been shouted at or cussed out in my life. Knock on wood. Most artists are so kind and gentle, they never want to do anything wrong by you, they treat each interview like it’s some big opportunity. Yeah, an opportunity for me to make some money. I always felt that interviewees should be paid, especially for pieces that are almost entirely dependent on them. But the people in art are so good-natured. They congratulate me, tell me that people like me are “necessary” in the art world. I flinch. “Necessary” is not a word I’d ever use to describe any piece of culture writing. What I do is an elaborate and subtle form of – more or less – lying. 

Do I ever dare hope that they need me as much as I need them? Highly unlikely, but their compliments give me brief moments of gratification.

Art has taken a serious L this time round. I’m not sure whether it’ll recover. Everyone is just off doing separate things. Anyone writing about art during this time is just telling bold-faced lies. 

The premier art institution in our country, ILHAM Gallery, launched an open call for their inaugural ILHAM Art Show 2022, a triennial open-call exhibition programme.  

During the application period, I helped four different artists to prepare their artist statements. This made me feel like a sort of contributor for once, rather than a talentless leech on the art world. Of course, artist statements are mostly also a form of lying, but at least I’m servicing artists this time, and not using them to service a pay check for myself by writing some article that maybe 12 people read. Throughout this lockdown, I’ve been both anxious and relieved about the state of the art world – nobody has asked me to write any art-related reviews or articles for over a month now. Anxiety: Nobody in the art world wants to hire me anymore. Relief: Considering the (non-)state of art these days, I don’t want to write about art-related matters anyway. These four artist statements allowed me to feel some kind of relevance. Either the art scene is ending, or I am. Worse, both.

I find out through secondhand sources that a local artist who seems to be going thru it has started a new series of works in which he makes wojak memes out of local art world gossip. Coincidentally, I had just a few days ago noticed that this artist had unfollowed and removed me as a follower on Instagram. At the time I thought it was weird and I felt a stab of guilt at having potentially committed some unknown wrong against him, but in the end I figured that, whatever his reasons were, at least he had the decency to remove me as a follower too. It is surprisingly rare for people to display this kind of courtesy. After this new piece of information though, I’m thinking that maybe he’s going to make a meme about me, or about people close to me. This is somewhat titillating to think about, but I can’t know, since his profile is private. The plot thickens. I guess this is what idle people in lockdown occupy themselves with, him and me both. Then again, one of my favourite celebrities is Azealia Banks. It could be interesting to watch this play out. 

There’s movement in the streets. For a long time now, discontent has been brewing. People are losing their jobs, small businesses are closing; there are maybe more fundraisers than operational businesses now. I can’t fathom how anyone is still alive and, of those alive, still working. 

A young woman got put in police lock-up. For 5 hours. She posted a testimony about its traumatising effect on her. She was advocating for a mass gathering during a pandemic when new cases are nearing 20,000 per day and the Delta variant is rampant. The youth vanguard up and down the nation is making TikToks to recruit new cadres and explain why protesting now is good, actually. The young activist leader who got put in lock-up for inciting an illegal activity during a pandemic said that she was traumatised from spending 5 hours in lock-up. Said that the police made her strip down to her underwear…to change into their lock-up clothes. 

Forget Netflix and chill, it’s time for TikTok and trauma. It’s not fair to compare, maybe. I can sympathise with her; the concept of the police just generally scares the shit out of me (look, artists already scare the shit out of me, and they’ve never even done anything). But I’m not a leader and I’m not telling anyone it’s their civic duty to do anything. I think I’m going to die alone and I’m trying very hard to live with the fact that I may never be more than a depressive, weak, lying loser. In some other parts of the world, in a different era, people trained their cadres to go on hunger strike, to take beatings to the face, and to withstand torture. In a different era, pity was not equivalent to respect; in fact, it was the complete antithesis of respect.

I’m sorry for her, sorry that she was launched into something she wasn’t prepared for. Sorry that everyone around her kept making her out to be something that she perhaps wasn’t able to be. Sorry that she wasn’t able to handle 5 hours, because she was raised and surrounded by people who operate on emotions like pity and anger, rather than cold nerve and respect. 

It can be just as useful to assess what the police don’t do as it is to notice and pick apart everything they do. The fact that all this was allowed to proceed, the fact that the police stood silently by and followed basic procedures, the fact that they did not implicate themselves in any way at all is probably significant. The dialectical relationship between the police and civil disobedience – between the activists who need the police to ‘take the bait’ and react in order to justify their cause, and the police who need activists to wild out so they can depict them as troublemakers or snowflakes – is probably significant. For better or for worse; till death do us part. 

If you want to silence a movement: let them do what they want, and ignore them. This is a proven parenting method that has led many children to grow up into troubled individuals. 

The other day, in a casual Zoom call, I got carried away. Got heated up about something and felt this burning need to keep defending my position to the four other people there, who all could not find any sympathy with my position. I got carried away, I could feel my adrenaline pumping. Threw off the Zoom call’s entire vibe. 

The problem with me is that I’m obsessed with words. I can’t go along with things if I don’t understand what someone is saying. And I can’t swallow contradictions, I can’t ‘go with the flow’, because I cannot feel the flow for all my brain is trying to process the words. Some people would say that some things don’t have to make sense, that regardless of all its internal issues, some things are absolutely good. That you should just support the movement anyway, because it is more conscionable than doing nothing. 

In a time like this in Malaysia, where despair is rampant and cabin fever has reached itchy levels, people have started saying that it’s our civic duty to protest, and to donate money, and to get vaccinated, and to etc. etc. etc. Every act is charged with a political and moral weight. Among my friends, the people who signed up earliest for the Astra-Zeneca voluntary vaccination programme are the same ones who say the world is overpopulated and that they’d rather kill themselves than get old. Many of my younger friends cannot wait for the loosely-defined “boomer” demographic to die off. 

There’s a difference, I think, between free thought and being a contrarian, but I’m unable to see it. For some reason, I enjoy pushing back against everything. When I’m the only one in a conversation persisting with an unpopular position, I feel my adrenaline rising. I have to keep pushing it until it makes sense to me. Maybe, when I was younger, my father entertained me for too long when I played the “But why?” game. Maybe that is Why. 

They are thanking them for protesting, they are calling the protestors brave for taking on the risk of contracting Covid-19 in order to fight on behalf of the country. In a news reel I watched, the protestors mostly seemed lost. They peacefully sat in socially-distanced rows on the road by the Masjid Jamek train station, since the police had closed off Dataran Merdeka, where they were initially supposed to gather. People were turning their heads, looking around everywhere, photographing things. They had their funny placards. Cars passing through the road were made way for, and the protestors shouted at these cars as they passed. It seemed like everyone left when they said they would. 

My friend who had been idling around the protest area texted me at the time, “I’m getting food and going back. Peaceful protest is for pussies. I’m going back to eat and nap and will wake up if I smell burning cars” 

Maybe I am not alone? Will God grant my misery company?  

A vow of silence doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, as far as ways to honour the moment go. 

I’m a cruel person and I will die alone. Last year, after a very brutal takedown on my part, the same friend had told me, “It has been taking a toll on me to tell you how I feel since yesterday, and your message successfully killed any possibility for me to be able to look you in the face again. Thank you ellen.” 

I feel very cold and detached sometimes. The videos and photos of the protest make me want to cry, in fact, for some inexplicable reason. I feel like things will never get better. I feel that I will never understand what people really want. I feel like I grow further and further each day from the people who could save me, and once this distance reaches a certain limit, they will simply stop caring. I always have the feeling that I’ve misplaced something, like I’m going through life forgetting to do something very important and urgent, but I can’t remember what it is. 

It’s too late for anything, it’s always been too late. 

Header image: Lynn Davis, Iceberg #23, Disko Bay, Greenland, 2000, gold-toned gelatin silver print

Selected Ambient Work #2

Day 4 of Malaysia’s third movement control order. All economic sectors are closed except for essential services.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes (including boiling the pasta)
Movie run time: 2 hours
Eating time: < 5 minutes
Cleaning up time: > 5 minutes 

And so it goes, the interminable self-subsistence that will last for at least another two more weeks (most likely longer, perhaps months longer) as the nation enters its third (or is it fourth?) “full” lockdown.

Well, it’s not all bad. I get more time to sit in bed reading before I start work for the day. (If I do indeed start work at all.) I get to watch more movies and amuse myself with little new interests like, for example, Shakespeare. I’m currently reading James Shapiro’s The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, after having watched Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, Ian McKellen’s King Lear by the RSC, Roman Polanski’s and Orson Welles’s productions of Macbeth, and a local production of King Lear on Zoom by the KL Shakespeare Players. I like to watch interpretations of these two stories over and over because their poetic violence offers so much for actors, directors, and stage designers to work with, and I also tend to like things where everyone ends up dying. One interesting thing I discovered from reading the Shapiro book is that, even as late as the 17th century, people were still disembowelling traitors in public and sticking their heads up on stakes, exactly like in Roman Polanski’s production. I had thought that his version of Macbeth, made in 1971, was just particularly violent because the 60s was over and his wife and child had just been slaughtered, and that Macbeth’s 11th-century setting had offered him an excuse for barbaric catharsis, when in fact people still retained all these medieval rituals even up till the 1600s. Next on my watch list is Throne of Blood.

I was never taught Shakespeare in school, and I’m discovering that Shakespeare is one of those perfect things to get lost in when you’ve got way too much time on your hands, because there’s already such a glut of content related to him, from the extensive original source material to the ever-expanding amount of interpretations. When people ask what I’ve been getting up to, I tell them I’ve been watching movies. When they ask what sort of movies, I say samurai movies. Saying that I’ve been watching a bunch of Shakespeare productions sounds not only nerdy but also kind of juvenile: oh, you’re only having your Shakespeare phase now? 

Anyway, aside from that I just bought one of those ergonomic laptop stands, the ones that will prop up your laptop so that you can look straight at the screen instead of bending your neck too much. I got it in pink, just to feel something. It cost RM 7 on Shopee, it would have been more with shipping but I used one of Shopee’s infinite free shipping vouchers (their vouchers are an entire stable of gift horses, and it feels immoral). It hasn’t arrived yet, but, buying it, I felt like a total loser — buying anything ergonomic feels like a concession to techno-capitalism’s global enslavement. I wish I could be a hot underaged TikTok star and never send an email or open a laptop ever again.

Two weekends ago, I ordered fried chicken and it arrived in an oily mess, the fries had spilled out of their fry holder and gone everywhere, they were crushed. I didn’t ask for a refund, but I did write a review on Grab: “Received in an oily mess. Fries everywhere. Unsure whether fault of driver or vendor.” It doesn’t and won’t do anything, but I am running so short on feelings that I just pick up on any little thing, just to hold on to it for a moment. Just to talk to someone, maybe. The other day, I sent an email to an editor of a newspaper, which I’ve never done before. I feel like a deranged castaway, marooned on a desert island, turning over rocks to talk to the insects. 

People have written about the depression of lockdown, the one that stems from being separated from the emotional support of your friends for a long, unnatural period of time, and people have also written about their experiences of paranoid anxiety at the thought of re-entering the world again after lockdown, but I haven’t stumbled upon an article yet that combines the sentiments of the two to talk about how lockdown, whether you support it or not, actually creates a depressive ecosystem that makes you never want to re-enter the world again. Not for fear of the virus. I guess a separate article doesn’t need to be written about it, because this is an obvious defining feature of depression, which is a dull cycle. All it takes is not leaving the house for a few days for you to never leave the house again, to not even be capable of imagining leaving the house again. It’s as if you’d been born here, and you’d always been here, really: everything else, all the other moments had just been lies, fantasies to help you cope, when the truth is that you’ll always be here even if you’re somewhere else, and eventually you’ll realise this, stop chasing all those illusory elsewheres, and give in to your fate, which is here. Sometimes I feel bad because I haven’t made any effort to check up on any of my friends since this lockdown started, not even by replying to their stories. But then I realise that nobody’s asked for me either, and I feel a sense of relief.

I actually like lockdown, I wanted it. When the cases were climbing up to 5000, I echoed what many people in the comments section on The Star’s Facebook page were saying, that the country should go into lockdown until the case numbers come down. Isn’t it the case that you always want things to be another way, and then when things go that way, you wish they could go back to the way they were before, etc. I never learn from all this. But I’ve experienced enough lockdowns to know by now that I’m an inconsistent dumbass and I should just admit that I like lockdown, and I enjoy this stagnant depression too, it’s calming and mechanical. Days pass without event, sometimes I go an entire day without saying more than one or two words. My brain is a gentle confused fog. I have more time to read books, watch movies, and to just spend time alone with myself. I don’t feel anything towards any piece of breaking news or fresh conflict happening around the world, I don’t have “takes”. I’ve really cut down the amount I post to my Stories now. There’s not much I care to say. 

Before the lockdown, I went for a last cycle with P — gentle P, another friend of the abyss. We get along well because, at the end of the day, we’re both very lonely. Sometimes a successful relationship just depends on understanding that, and not asking anything from each other beyond that understanding. 

I arrived late, I left my house at 10 when I said I’d arrive at 10. When we set off, it was probably already approaching 11. Right behind P’s house is an entrance into the sprawling Kwong Tong cemetery compound, and we walked our bikes up because the incline of the hill leading there is way more than I’m capable of. Sun was out, no sign of rain on the horizon: a late morning that’s testament to how nice the weather must have been just a few hours earlier, if only I’d bothered to wake up earlier. 

The cemetery is the biggest Chinese cemetery in Malaysia, acres upon acres of headstones as far as the eye can see; and then the Kuala Lumpur skyline beyond a horizon of trees, with the awkward, brutish PNB and TRX buildings sticking out. Yap Ah Loy is buried here, and he has a great big black marble commemoration plaque where his grave is. The graves have pictures of the deceased on them, some have many Chinese words on them, some have illustrations that represent the Twenty-four Filial Exemplars. Some of the graves are larger than others, practically pavilions really, and better maintained. Some other sections are just thickets of tall grass and weeds that scratch you when you try to walk through. There’s a narrow road for cars, and it’s fringed with a number of interesting trees and shrubs. Frangipani, hibiscus. I’ve been to the cemetery multiple times with P, but each time I feel like I discover some new section of it that I don’t remember noticing before. Near the edges of the cemetery, where it opens up onto the Japanese War Memorial and Alice Smith School, there’s a building that looks like a ramshackle old mini mansion, seemingly unoccupied, except that there used to be a little cafe operating from the corner where some friendly Chinese folks would sell you cold beer in bottles. It was called the “Graveyard Bar” on Google Maps. That bar is closed now though the building still stands, and dogs fill the compound, barking at you if you cycle too close. I just followed P blindly and I still don’t really know where all everything is, and we were the only living people around except for the occasional Foodpanda rider. 

It’s hilly and bumpy up there, with a bunch of minor potholes. Each time I pushed myself up a slight hill I would be rewarded with the smooth decline on the other side of it, and then P would turn around because we’d reached some dead end, and the decline that had been my friend now became an inimical incline. We made a few circles before I ran out of breath, and the entire time P hardly broke a sweat. I love cycling, and up in that cemetery among the mottled sunlight and the rows of still grey stone, utterly alone, I felt like I was in Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo when the moon-change of tides turns the entire city into a Paleolithic forest. It was peaceful and regenerative, the breeze upon my face felt clear and pure. 

To tell the truth, the intermittent lockdowns have hardened my heart, and I go through the days not feeling anything except boredom and some low-level despair. I don’t miss seeing my friends much, my soul is too tired to miss anything or to hope for anything. But I miss cycling. 

Signing off for now, ‘As a cyclist’,

Selected Ambient Work #1

We’re in the evening of the vaccine, which, like every palliative gesture before it, we’ve been quick to equate with full freedom. I think this shows how desperate we’ve become, and just how silly humans are, that we just rush right into every glimpse of freedom we get. When the CMCO and RMCO were announced last year, we returned straight to acting like things were normal again, like waking up from a bad dream and forgetting all about it by the time you’re brushing your teeth. As such, everyone who’s been cautioning that the vaccine may not be the end of the pandemic we hope for is just stating the obvious fact while ignoring the obvious pretence, which is the definition of being a party pooper.  People will believe whatever they want to believe. We are all such silly and stupid creatures who never really learned our lessons, not after burning ourselves on the hot stove-top the first time, nor the second time, nor the tenth or hundredth time. Throw us in confinement and when we come out, we’ll still be the same unrepentant, juvenile children who just want to run around and be free. So let us be free. 

The weather has been unrelentingly hot lately, washing everything in bright white. A few weeks ago, I bought myself a bicycle off a friend, and I’ve started going cycling with P in a local park during off-hours, when everyone’s at work and it’s too hot to be out anyway. I barely have a job now. I’m just hanging real loose, but of course these types of people are the ones most tightly-wound, but more on that later. The more spiritually anxious I am, the browner my arms get. 

Cycling has been a great respite, I mean insofar a respite as a novice like me can get from cycling around and around the same park a couple times per week. Since I never really cycled before, my skills are still pretty rusty, and I can’t go up slopes yet or make very narrow turns. Sometimes when the sun feels like it’s hanging right above me like a personal vendetta, and my sunscreen starts melting into my eyes, and my legs get like jelly, sometimes I still lose control of the bicycle and swerve into a DBKL-tended shrub. My legs are now a constellation of bruises. Soon enough, I’ll just turn yellow-green from the waist down. But when I’m cycling, I get to enjoy the freedom of acceleration (all the kids out there who grew up riding their bicycles will read this and think, “duh”) in a way that’s different from being in any other vehicle, where you’re just transported along without having the direct bodily connection to the accelerating energy. It makes me think that the real fusion of man and machine happened way before the advent of modern technology, and that the Futurist perfection had already been attained in the form of the bicycle. (This also reminds me of that Black Mirror episode with Daniel Kaluuya where they have to power their Matrix by cycling on a stationery bicycle.) But I suck at driving anyway, so it’s not like I would know about being “at one” with one’s car. 

Even though we start our cycling sessions early in the morning, it always turns into a whole-day affair. Once we’re done cycling, I’m famished and lightheaded, so we go get lunch somewhere and end up drinking a lot of mango milkshakes and talking and just existing outside of normal time. The stragglers we encounter at the park in the noon sun, the people dining alongside us at whatever odd hour we’re eating, I imagine they’re all strangelings like us, lost in time and untethered from society. I usually get home around 2pm, and I shower, and then I have a nap, and before I know it it’s already evening time, even though my day started at 8am. 

I know it’s very uncouth to say as much, but the truth is that I haven’t been making much money lately. It gets so tiring to answer when people ask how I’ve been doing and whether I’ve got any new work on the way, because the truth is that I don’t, and I could just be honest about it when people ask me, but the problem isn’t that I think people will judge me but that I just don’t want to talk about it. I can’t stop thinking about money, I’m obsessed with money. The other night, I saw someone I hadn’t seen in a long time and the first thing I blurted out was, “Hey man, how are your stocks doing!” To which she replied, “My stocks are not doing too well honestly, but my crypto’s pretty good right now.” I have no idea. A few nights before that, I was with a group of much older, approaching-middle-aged men who were playing cards and talking about their Stocks and it made me really anxious; one guy was like, “Hey, there’s this stock I think you’d be interested in. It’s called Fuho.” [Fito? Futo? It was called something.] And the other guy took his phone out to look at it on his stock app, and said, “OK, I’ll buy it when I get home,” like he was talking about making a ciggie run to 7-11 or something. The only people I talk to regularly are all unemployed or freelancing unsuccessfully, like me. These are the only people I can have sustained conversations with. Right now I can’t relate to employed people nor care about what they have to say, since I’m too anxious that they’ll start talking about stocks or some other topic that reminds me of how ephemeral the value of money is. It’s not them, it’s me: if your stocks fluctuate that much, then I, who can barely even understand what you’re talking about, must be some worm.

One day, a friend called me while he and his friend were tripping and asked me to come get him because he was feeling really uncomfortable. I went over and got him and his friend and we all went back to his friend’s place, where they just lounged about while I walked in and out between the balcony and the living room, smoking bored cigarettes. It started to really pour, with great cardiac-arresting thunderclaps, but my friend just stood out contemplatively in the rain, getting drenched, in a meditative pose with his hands clasped behind his back, while his friend just laid on the floor tapping his feet vaguely to the music playing. As someone who’s basically only a conservative when it comes to sex (I’m a monogamy supremacist) and drugs (they’re a social menace!), I didn’t find this even an iota enlightening. One of them told me to go buy them a “vegetarian soup” and I went to the restaurant downstairs and bought them a noodle soup with fish and chicken in it because that was the only thing around, and when we got back to their flat, he poured it all out in a bowl and took one sip of the broth, without touching the noodles, before going back outside to stand in the rain. Lately, more and more of my friends seem to be on substances. I can’t remember the last time I talked to a sober person. Well, and also a few nights before this incident, my lockdown-sobriety low-tolerance ass got drunk way too fast off Tiger and this Malaysian whiskey called Timah, and I started yelling at a guy almost twice my age. It’s a good thing I’m surrounded by people who are mostly better people than I am. I had to go walk up and down a few flights of stairs until I cooled it. Anyway, lately more than usual, everyone is getting drunk and getting high to unknown ends. 

I had ordered them the soup noodle, and a tray of pai tee for myself. When we got back to the flat, I motioned to my friend’s friend to come eat, and I said to him, “Hey man. Look. Pai tee,” and he said, “Ok,” and just laid down on the floor next to the food without touching any of it. And I just ate all the pai tee for myself — it was really good, with a warm, savoury, umami taste. We stayed in our respective positions for a long time. I just sat on one of those colourful tiny IKEA kids stools and read a book I’d brought, and intermittently texted with another druggy friend to ask his advice on how to deal with druggy friends who are having a weird trip. I just shuttle from one druggy friend to another to ask them to explain the various mysteries of human behaviour to me. One thing I can say for drug users is that pretty much all the ones I know are really kind and understanding people, maybe even the kindest out of all my friends. Not like me at all, with my boozy jokes and outbursts. 

Eventually, one of my friend’s friend’s housemates came back from work, and I took that as my cue to head out. Another sober guy was finally in the joint and everything was cooling out into a soft balmy mist, the rain had stopped, and it seemed like the high was making its slow way out of their brain-fog. I stood up and announced my departure and everyone thanked me. Later that night, my friend texted me to say, “You’re my saviour.” I literally had not done anything except for everything they’d told me to do, like buying soup, which they only sipped at once. The part of me that’s a sneering, conservative old man was thinking, “These drugged-up hippies, man” on my way out, but the part of me that’s the nice old lady keeping the old man in check was thinking that these times are so shitty and all drug users are really just vulnerable children who want to lie on the floor all day and tap their feet to some invisible beat and look up at what their inner vision is projecting onto the ceiling. 

I find myself these days getting more and more absorbed into the minutiae of capitalist variety. You know like how one of the “checkmate, communists” arguments for capitalism is that it promotes diversity and “innovation”, an argument that commonly uses food as an example, like how we have so many cool restaurants and ten thousand fast food chains now under super cool capitalism whereas the stinky Soviets only had their workers’ cafeterias where they’d eat their daily rations of the same un-branded bread. These days, I’m so bored out of my mind that I allow myself to be absorbed by these detritus of capitalist “innovation” which are like a child’s idle imaginations — strange but nonsensical things that just float up out of the ether, but which, unlike a child’s imaginations, actually materialise themselves as commodities. My infrequent grocery store visits are prolonged by the time I spend just looking at all the weird and unrecognisable things on the shelves, like multicoloured vegetable pasta, or durian-flavoured milk tea, or “health chip” flavours in lentil, kale, black bean, and quinoa, and all the kinds of cereals and peanut butters that exist. Except it’s not really like a child’s mind at all: when a child daydreams, they imagine seeing dinosaurs with swords terrorising the skyline outside their window, but when adults daydream they just try to fit all the pegs into the same hole, like any health food just gets turned into a chip flavour now. I bought a bag of kale chips, because I am such a gullible loser, and they tasted so bland and awful. I’m hypnotically drawn into watching the surreal grotesquery of capitalist variety play out, like when I was a kid and found out about medieval torture devices or the Bermuda Triangle for the first time.

At one point I got really bored and just downloaded a bunch of phone games and deleted them after playing a few minutes of each, but I kept two idle games which have long lost their fun but which are alright to distract myself with every few hours or so. You realise real soon that the whole point with these games is just to watch ads and click a few things, and each ‘gaming session’ really only lasts 10 minutes max. before you run out of things to do (another thing to add to my intermittent “phone breaks” which I imagine as taking just 5-minutes — just enough to watch a couple Instagram Stories — but which inevitably turn into an hour-long affair). To get money on these games, you literally just have to watch ads. So maybe about 1.5 minutes of every 5-minute fidgeting you waste on the game is just spent watching advertisements; that’s the real point of the game. Advertisements for phone games/apps are also another world unto itself, another hamlet of surreality and bewilderment in the slums of capitalist variety. Most of the time, I click on the button for free coins and once the ad starts playing I leave my phone to go pee or something, but sometimes I end up watching the ad and then, if the game seems really weird, clicking through onto its app page to read the reviews about it. I do all this for no reason. When the world is caught in limbo and there’s nothing to do, all I have left to explore are these corners where dirt has piled up. The Internet allows you to go fast while staying in the exact same spot for months on end. I’m just like some guy turning over all the dead leaves on the road hoping to find some interesting garbage; a lumpen Adam Curtis. 

In the same vein, I’ve also started reading more human interest stories in The Star and tabloid outlets like, whose articles make everything sound so simple and straightforward. The other day, I read about how a guy in Labuan started seeing blood dripping from his ceiling, and when he called the cops, they discovered that his upstairs neighbour had died, and that the decomposing body was leaking fluids, including blood. In The Star, there was a really grisly picture where you could see blood and pus in thick swirling pools all around the dead man’s apartment. It gave me this creepy feeling like those experienced by the protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, who comes back home from his elite boarding school and spends the summer reading creepy articles about violent murders and accidents up and down Los Angeles. I read articles about husbands who strangle their wives and them hang themselves, about pedophiles, about bizarre car accidents that happen in the dead of night the same way I watch the advertisements for random phone games, wondering about the type of people who’d make these games or commit these murders, and then the people who are drawn to them, and how boring or bad things would have to get before something would happen to me. The real trip is realising that you live in a world full of other people who are also grotesquely alive.