Gaslighter

Over and over again
It goes
In my mind
And my thoughts
My soul

Who was he?
Who were we?

Quiet memories of
Evenings spent watching LOTR
And your favorite animes:
Full Metal Alchemist
Death Note
Naruto

I lived for these
Moments of connection
With you
Where I could catch a
Glimpse of the
Worlds in which you lived
The tropes you operated on

How many times
Did we fight
And all I ended up
Feeling was a sense
Of abject failure?

How many conversations
Did we have
As to where I felt
We were stuck in
A holding pattern?

I got zero no matter
How much
Energy I expended

How many confrontations
Were deflected
And how many promises
Undelivered

There’s a word that’s
Coming up a lot in my mind
These days:

“Gaslighter”

I lived in your reality
For so long
I thought your barbed words
Were ‘cute’
You passed off hurtful words
And actions
As ‘jokes’ even though
They formed a consistent
Pattern

Gaslighter
For nine long years
I lived with
You and endured
So much self-doubt
Shame and blame

You found me when
I was vulnerable
And twisted my reality
For yours

I kept feeling
Afraid you’d
Leave me one day

The day came

You beat me up
And said
“This is it, you fucking
Bitch, I’m getting
A divorce”

As I sat in the
Corner of the couch
In a foetal position
To protect myself
From your blows
Raining down on me

Gaslighter

I loved you

In the end
All of these affections
Ended in such
Violence

Gaslighter

I hurt you

I kept apologizing
For losing my temper
And yelling,
Being controlling,

You called me a bully.

I thought you were joking

Gaslighter
I thought I needed you

But all this while

I was running
Away from Myself

Nice Girl

You try to be kind
You try to be good
But have you been kind
To yourself?

Have you thought
About how much
You can bear
How much you can carry?

The only cross
You ever needed to carry
Was your own
Yet you had no time for that

You see the sadness
And loneliness in others
But do you see
The devastation in your own heart?

You keep walking on eggshells
Believing that
You need you to be
Something you’re not

You try to be strong
Not realizing how
Powerful you are
When you feel weak

Their hurtful words
They don’t define you
Their thoughtless actions
Are not your fault

Their silence
Does not reflect on you
and you don’t have
To live in fear of punishment

Let go and trust
Take all the time you need
To heal, feel and be you

This world is your playground
And you can live in safety
Child, take all the time you need
To grow up

Summer Roses

Pale Pink
Summer roses in the sky
Remind me of
Days spent alone at home
Prepping dinner, playing house
and you’d return
With a bunch of roses

Back then you loved me
Back then you held me
Back then we loved and
Hurt so hard
I couldn’t let go

Now the pink
Has turned to blue
And black
On my body, my face
My eye

Nobody told me
how someone you’d
share your soul with
could ever touch you
like that
treat you like
a filthy rag
and discard you with such ease

Today I seem OK
The bruises have healed
But the hurt goes
Deeper still

Pale pink summer roses in the sky
Remind me of you

How Our Brains Trick Us

If I told you that we all are living in some kind of delusion to differing degrees at any one point in time, would you believe me?

The reality is, each one of us lives in the world of our mind and its perceptions of our personal histories, situations and events; this narrative we build in our minds encompasses stories we tell ourselves about people, and our relationships with them. We make sense of the world and the objects in them through the way we think about them; the bad news is that our minds often trick us.

Yet, Mother nature has her reasons for allowing humans to evolve the way we did. If we lived completely free of delusions, we would either want to end our lives, (just because our brains could not take the painful realities we would need to face up to) or we would be unable to survive and adapt to our environment.

Either way, let me unpack this rather intriguing concept.

Our brains are designed to be efficient, so we expend the least possible energy in making decisions. This is a practical evolution: we make many decisions every single day, so if we had to deliberate over every single decision we would be left completely incapacitated and overwhelmed.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman states that we reason at two speeds: System 1 (fast) which relies on heuristics (or rules of thumb). You make decisions on the spur of the moment with broad strokes, relying on rules of thumb and generalities. This is a rather shallow approach to thinking, but it is the level at which we function most of the time, because it saves us time and energy and is adapted for the hectic pace of life many of us move at. However, the quality of the decisions we make are poor.

Such poor decision making affects our society in profound ways: a 2011 analysis of a thousand decisions made by eight Israeli magistrates revealed that their decisions were contingent on their blood sugar levels.

After a lunch break, or even a short recess, magistrates approved 65 percent of parole applications and gradually became less forgiving until they turned down practically everything. This pattern repeated itself following the next recess where their approval of parole applications went back up to 65 percent. This pattern of behavior was consistent throughout the course of the study. While these poor decisions may not affect those who make them, it has profound implications for the justice system in Israel, the prisoners petitioning for parole and the future of their families.

System 2 (slow) offers a more powerful, precise, and subtle, way of making sense of the world. It is capable of flights of mental gymnastics. It focuses, pauses, and proceeds at a slow pace. It burns up great amounts of energy, and takes a lot more time, but the quality of this sort of thinking is higher and much more precise, so if you are trying to make an important decision it is best to rely on System 2 thinking, even if it costs you more time and energy.

Even then, you almost never come close to pure logic and rationality. Herbert Simon, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978, suggested that while we are rational creatures, our rationality is riddled with bias and limitations, and counterintuitively, this is precisely what has permitted us to survive as a species.

As the psychologist Jean-Francois Marmion states, “If our ancestors had assumed the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker every time they had to decide whether to flee a predator or an enemy, humanity would have become extinct a long time ago. It was necessary for System 1, however flawed, to exist.”

Another strong precursor for flawed reasoning is the drive to conform. The social psychologist Solomon Asch has demonstrated that the impulse to conformity leads us to deny our own perceptions. If you are the only one in the group who recognises that two lines are of the same length, you are likely to go with the group’s perception rather than maintain your own for the fear of appearing crazy or wrong-headed.

If you think this is a purely rational decision and that your actual perception remains unmoved, but is merely kept private, consider this same experiment that Gregory Berns, of Emory University in Atlanta, repeated using MRI scans.

He found that when the brain itself refuses to accept external evidence, the neural area that comes into play is not the specialised section that deals with cognitive conflicts, it is the part that controls spatial perception.

In other words, other people’s judgements transforms our perception of lines. The error is not merely due to superficial thinking, it literally distorts our vision.

How does this happen? It happens because of the need to resolve cognitive dissonance: the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. Our brain is amazing, but it is also lazy, so the easiest way to resolve the difference between our perception and that of the group’s, as well as our intrinsic need to feel a sense of personal integrity i.e. that we are not liars, is for our brain to trick itself into thinking that the two lines are the not same length as everyone else is saying when in fact they are.

In case you are still not quite convinced of the veracity of this claim, I will share with you personally how I found my own brain to be full of biases in the perception of spatial relations and lines. It started last year when I took up drawing.

I was working in a motion graphic company as a Creative Project Manager and had to get hands on with a project as we were short-staffed. I decided to take it as a challenge to improve my drawing. Subsequently, I did some research on Reddit and saw that the book ‘Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain’ was highly recommended.

The author, Betty Edwards, talks about how we are often unable to draw accurately because our true perception of space, lines and the relationships between them have been hijacked by symbolic thinking, a heuristic pattern of conceptualizing the world that is shaped by words. This system comes into place when we are children as we start to acquire the basics of our native language.

Edwards posits the question, “what prevents a person from seeing things clearly enough to draw them?”

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception and says, in effect, ‘It’s a chair, I tell you. That’s enough to know. In fact, don’t bother to look at it because I have a ready made symbol for you. Here it is: add a few details if you want, but don’t bother me with this looking business’

This system of symbols comes from childhood which becomes embedded in your memory ready to be pulled out whenever you chose to draw your childhood landscape.

All of us as children have drawn some kind of landscape like this, representative of a home. The windows, roof and rectangular structure of the home are all symbols, not actual reflections of reality.”

It is this mental heuristic that dominates our thinking because words have reduced our perceptual understanding of houses to that of “rectangular structures” and windows to that of “squares with crosses on them” and roofs to “pointy triangles” – which makes sense, from a simplistic point of view, but this sort of thinking obscures the reality and form of these objects.

One of the exercises she uses to overcome this mental bias and access the right side of the brain is to turn the reference picture upside down when you draw it. This is meant to help you access the right side of the brain more easily, as the logical left side is unable to produce symbols for the upside down picture which looks altogether foreign.

Here is the reference picture:

This is the first time I drew the tiger with the reference picture right side up. As you can see there were many corrections and it was hard for the drawing process to “flow”

This is the 2nd time around I drew the tiger, but with the reference picture upside down. Drawing the tiger upside down “tricked” my logical left brain to cease and desist from ‘fixing’ the ‘problem’ of drawing and allowed my right brain – intuitive, perceiving and in tune with spatial planes and linear relationships to take over.

This time around when I drew there was a natural flow and my drawing and line work was so much more fluid and confident. I was not starting and stopping, neither was I second guessing myself. It is almost as if something took over and did the work for me. I just had to let it happen.

I believe that most of life can be lived in this state of flow. How do we get to it? That is a topic for another day.

But for today, I think it’s enough to recognize that

1) Our brains trick us into accepting false realities because of the mental heuristics it defaults to most of the time.

2) Being aware of this mental pitfall, we can in turn ‘trick’ our brain into embracing reality, so as to work with it instead of against it.

As we ponder all the ways that our brains could be tricking us, here is a little cartoon to enjoy:

The Child

Sometimes I feel like I am drowning Lord. I feel like I am completely overwhelmed by the depths of my emotions and the tears inside that are fighting to come out.

Please help them to come out. I have gotten so used to suppressing my emotions that it is hard for me to cry. Lord! Help me to cry – it would be sweet release.

Every hour and every day I turn to you in the full immensity of my need. There is nothing, no one who can fills this aching hole in my soul. I know this hole far too well – I have carried it my whole life.

I have been defined by it.

I have created things to silence the hole; I have built many things to quieten the pain. I have tried so hard to be ‘good’ so that the pain would go away.

It goes away sometimes.

But when I silence the world. When I sit still, that gaping hole comes back and I am confronted with it.

“What foundation will you build your life on Deborah?” You ask me. “The foundation of the works of your hands, or the foundation of Jesus – your rock, your salvation, safety and peace?

Choose, Deborah”

So today I choose dear Lord. I choose you. I turn to you and offer up this hole in my soul to you.

You created me, you knit me together in my inmost being, you say that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. That, I know full well.

I am yours, fully, completely, deeply. I acknowledge my need for you – there is not a part of me that I am holding back from you anymore dear God.

I am yours. Do with me what you will. I trust you completely.

Your Child,

Deborah

My experience with denial in a 9 year long abusive marriage

I am in the midst of a highly contested divorce. My husband assaulted me violently on the 25th of January this year leaving me with multiple contusions on my neck, head, back, face and arms. It was not the first time he had used physical violence on me, but this time, it had a distinctly different flavour. He kept pummelling me with his fists, and did not stop until I was completely balled up into a fetal position. When he finally stopped, he shouted “You fucking bitch! This is it, I’m getting a divorce”

I had been moving at a hundred-miles-a-minute prior, my husband had been pressuring me to have a child with him for years, and I had held back because of his lack of responsibility with planning and follow through on a myriad number of practical things, from handling taxes, to looking for work, to preparing for home moves and being an equal partner – he was like a little child I needed to drag along in everything. It was exhausting.

I wanted to have fun too, but he was truly cramping my style, and I was getting engulfed by the stresses and emotional strains of the relationship; the insatiable ‘fixer’ in me just did not know how to give up. 2020 was particularly stressful because he had lost his full time gig and was only doing part time work. I was also freshly out of a job as a Creative project manager due to COVID.

However, I knew how much he had wanted to be a father, he had told me once that the thought of not being father stirred up suicidal feelings in him. I have attempted suicide more than once, a couple times in my early twenties and one time while married to my husband, so I understand the depth of pain and desperation you must feel when you are in such a dark place. I did not want to deny my husband and possibly push him into such a dark space. So in spite of my reservations, I decided I would bite the bullet and try to have a child with him, I was, after all, 40 years old, my biological clock was ticking.

This is what women do when they love someone, oftentimes, they throw all caution to the wind and sacrifice their dreams, their ideals, and their sense of safety to preserve the relationship by giving to the person they love everything he wants. Really bad strategy by the way, I have since learnt better. Blame it on the hormones that are released when we ‘fall’ in love and commit ourselves to our partners. It is in our biological blueprint. We must resist.

But the stakes would be completely different if we were to have a child. There was so much to do in order to prepare for a child with him – the top thing on my list was to get off anti-depressants and to get mentally and emotionally healthy and strong. I was on anti-depressants for as long as I was married, but since getting separated from my husband I have gotten off anti-depressants completely; I am now completely drug free whereas I used to regularly take sleeping pills and anti-depressants to manage persistent and pernicious insomnia through the course of my marriage.

I had grown up in a family with a mother who had no self-control and who was always unhinged – she was constantly yelling, crying and creating drama and strife. This left a huge impact on me emotionally, mentally and physically – but I could see myself becoming that person if I did not draw good boundaries with myself and my husband.

I am of the conviction that if I cannot provide an emotionally calm and stable home environment for my child, then I do not want to be a parent. So in order to get into a better mental and emotional space, I decided that I needed to draw good boundaries with my husband and not put up with anymore bullshit. I also had to learn to get my emotions under control and not let them get the better of me.

Interestingly, this is what made him feel like he was losing control, and ultimately led to him assaulting me. Leslie Vernick, an author and speaker who talks about emotionally destructive and abusive marriages in church, describes the covert abuser who appears to be like a cute little sheep, but who sheds the sheepskin to reveal his true wolf personality when you start to call out his covert abuse, and he realises that he can no longer manipulate you.

This is a chilling but accurate picture of my husband. He is such a master manipulator that I, myself, was duped into thinking he was worthy of my loyalty, love and affection.

After the assault and the words he spewed out, I saw the dust motes floating in the air; out of the corner of my eyes, I saw him stretching out relaxedly on the floor in the studio, as if he was recovering from a particularly strenuous workout. My heart did a flip-flop in that moment. Not only did he not seemed lost or afraid, (as he had done on previous occasions when he had used physical force on me) this time around, he was completely collected and cool.

This was definitely not the man I thought I had married.

Well, I have to thank God for finally revealing to me the true person under the good guy mask. This is indeed what you call ‘a blessing in disguise.’ As violently as he exited this relationship, the more loudly and happily I will celebrate his unmasking because now I can finally live in reality. I can finally stop blaming myself and start living without a 243 pound dead-weight on my back.

Of course the damage is there. I am suffering from trauma. When I start to relax, sometimes images of his fists pummelling the left side of my face come back to me. It is really unsettling, and I have set up an appointment with an EMDR psychologist at IMH to deal with these recurring and intrusive thoughts. Apart from that I am seeing a psychotherapist and a solutions-focused counsellor to get more perspective and self-awareness, and to develop the inner strength I need to weather this very difficult time. My husband did not see it fit to merely assault me, victim blame me and abandon me, but now he is going after the inheritance that my father left for me when he passed away in 2015. I was shocked when I first found out, but now nothing he does shocks me anymore. This behaviour is par for the course in the narcissists’ playbook.

I was not actually going to talk about the abuse I went through, and the amount of denial I shrouded myself in for years in order to do life together with someone I had naively believed was my best-friend. I was going to keep my head down and work on my 2nd sing-songwriter album and personal memoir which I plan to release next year.

However, today, I read a poem by Charles Bukowski – I had posted it some time ago on FB, and read it again. It really saddened me, because I know this is the reality so many women live with. These are the delusions they swallow to continue staying in dead and emotionally, mentally and physically destructive marriages.

The assault on the 25th of January was the wake-up call I needed to know that if I stayed on with him, my life would be at risk. Sure, we all will die one day, but in my book, there are better ways to die, and I would like to do a great many more things before the day God rings my number.

One of my top-most priorities moving forward is to keep on talking about my experience of having been a victim in a physically, emotionally, spiritually abusive relationship for 10 years. I will keep on talking it about it, so women know it’s okay to speak up, it’s okay to stop lying to themselves, it’s okay to stop blaming themselves for their husbands’ narcissistic and physically, emotionally and spiritually abusive gaslighting behaviour.

Forget what other people think and say, because your reality is your own.

Abuse is real, gaslighting is real, double abuse from church leaders is real, covert abuse is real, spiritual abuse is real, victim blaming is real, cycles of abuse are real, and the trauma and pain and the years of therapy and healing that you will need in order to heal is real.

Do not worry about what other people think and say; your truth should never be whitewashed; you should never be ashamed of speaking truth to power, and bringing the terrible things that your abuser did to you to the light.

This is how we stop abuse, by giving up the “I am okay” act, by naming and calling out behaviour that enables abusers; this is how we finally start to end the cycles of trauma that are kept alive by our silence, shame, denial, complicity and by our striving to be the nice girls that religion, society and family tells us we need to be in order to find love and acceptance.

Fuck nice.

I have often asked God to give me tears to cry for the things that breaks His heart.

Well, this poem made me cry, and I pay attention when I cry, because my tears are hard to come by – through no fault of my own. I wish I could cry on demand, but unfortunately my tear glands are not forthcoming.

I usually get mad instead of sad – it’s how I am built. People know this about me. It’s like my scorpion’s tail. I rather enjoy this aspect of myself, it’s so much more empowering to get mad, but sometimes tears are necessary to keep your sanity.

A Smile to Remember – Charles Bukowski

we had the goldfish and they went around and around
in the bowl on the table near the purple drapes
across our front picture window and
my mother, poor fish, always smiling, wanting to
appear happy, she always told me, “be happy, Henry,”
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
can be
but my father beat her two or three times a week while
raging through his 6 foot two frame because he couldn’t
defeat what was attacking him.

my mother, poor fish, poor goldfish, poor nothing fish,
wanting to be happy, being beaten two or three times a
week and telling me to be happy: “Henry, smile!
why don’t you smile?

and then, she always did to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw upon the earth, like hell and
hell and hell and hell, and nothing else

one day all the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on top of the water, on their sides, the
eye on each top side still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother
smiled

The Culture and Civilisation of The Merfolk – An Allegorical Tale

One day as I lay in bed I saw a picture in my mind’s eye – I was swimming alone in the depths of an unknown ocean. My hair floated around my head in long and unruly strands, swaying with the currents as I breast-stroked my way through the waters.

Before long, an area of deep darkness appeared out of the corner of my eye; it emanated a sense of loneliness and deep foreboding, like a gaping wound one would normally avert one’s eyes from. However, I was drawn to it; there was a familiarity about it, a sense of something I had always known, but never understood.

Without skipping a beat, I swam towards the darkness, half-expecting to be sucked into the black vacuum. The prospect of being completely obliterated entered my mind; fear was nipping at my heels, but I kicked it away with each frog stroke, and steadfastly pushed forward into the darkness.

Instead of a black hole, I found a cave with strange beings – for want of a better term, I shall call them “Merfolk.” Now you may be thinking of the Merfolk in “The Little Mermaid” comprising of lithe and spirited Aerial, her triton-wielding 80’s muscle-man father and her buxom sisters. That would be completely understandable.

But in this instance, the “Merfolk” as I knew them were a sickly and pallid lot – more akin to the “poor unfortunate souls” that Ursula housed in her dank cave. They appeared to be on the verge of extinction, something I was to learn more about later on, and inspired so much pity in me that I felt it was my mission to be an anthropologist of their culture, a lone advocate for their continued existence.

The resembled humans, or rather the animated and shrunken corpses of humans but with forlorn and pendulous fish tails instead of legs. Their bodies seemed to glow with a greenish cast as they moved about in hushed tones.

Their culture and mannerisms seemed fragile and solemn – I got the distinct impression that I should not seek to know more than what they offered up because it could offend their delicate sensibilities.

I took my time and reined in my curiosity so that they would not feel threatened by my questions. I suspended all judgment – I was here to be a student, not a judge, of their ancient civilization.

Time passed, I do not know how long, because there was no night nor day in their kingdom. These Merfolk were endlessly busy; there were a myriad of rituals and symbolic communications that took place continually. As far as social organization there seemed to be very little hierarchy other than the presence of a Mer-King who sat on his fishy throne but did little else that was different. There were no death rites or birth rituals as there were no deaths or births among them. They simply were. They seemed immortal.

I tried to learn about their going-ons, but they eluded me. What motivated these people? Did they have an economy to speak of? What were their resources and where did they come from? I looked around and found nothing. All the things they needed (they did not need much) seemed to appear out of thin air as soon as they thought of it. These were mostly green stones that they would exchange while talking, yet for what reason? I could not decipher.

They did not seem to eat or need to build or create anything, yet they were endlessly busy and communicating all the time. As I leaned in to listen to their whispers, I learned a bit of their language which consisted both of spoken word and specific hand signs. While the spoken word eluded me because of their garbled and confused tones (further dispersed by the eddies and currents) I was able to discern a clear pattern in their hand signaling over time.

With my limited understanding of their hand signals, I tried to communicate with them, “Why? What? How? When?” I would ask, concerning their daily habits and routines, concerning their words and gestures and endless exchanges of green stones. But the answers were only of two kinds: “You will find out.” or I would be met with a deafening silence as they went about their business – almost as if I were not there.

In spite of the coldness of the water and the harsh and unyielding environment they lived in, they did not seem to be in any state of want or lack. How did they survive the lack of basic needs of all life forms? What was their sustenance? What was their raison d’être?

It was hard to know and understand them, and this fascinated me endlessly. As soon as I was on the verge of grasping the logic of their hand signals, I found subtle shifts and nuances in the way their fins would move and realize that this changed the meaning and import of their communications. It was confusing and mesmerizing at the same time.

One day, I stumbled on a matchstick which seemed impervious to the damp and cold; I struck the match against a piece of white marble lying next to where I found it, and it caught fire. Immediately, a cacophony of the most blood-curdling screeches sent shivers up my spine and made my hair stand on its ends. I froze and saw the Mer-folk that had been no more than three feet away from me suddenly flee with a speed and urgency that I had never before witnessed in their community. It was bewildering. As I stood holding the match with the small flame shifting and flickering in the darkness, I realized that I was completely alone; it all happened so quickly.

I walked around with the match, trying to look for a single soul to talk to, but not one came near. I waited till the match burned out and it became completely dark. That is when a faint greenish glow appeared to reveal Maek, a young Merfish I had become close to, who came to me and said, “Don’t” in a plaintive wailing tone that I had never before heard among them. It was arresting: the depth of expression that I suddenly saw in his usually placid face and his deep round eyes – like two dark oval disks limpid with fear. I had thought the Merfolk incapable of deep emotion, but in that moment I saw something deeply reminiscent of existential terror in Maek’s countenance.

Maek was pleading with me.

I then realized that they were afraid of the fire from the match. Upon further communication with Maek, the only one among them who dared to show up, I learned that they were vulnerable to the light and their entire civilization would collapse if they were exposed to it. That is why they dwelt in deep darkness.

I was stunned. First of all, I realized that I had gotten so used to the darkness that it did not seem dark. The unfortuitous discovery of the match and my lighting of it had been a freak accident.

When more of the Merfolk showed up, they came to talk to me. They were all sad, some were furious, but most of them were fearful. They wanted to know if I had any more matches, where I had found the match, and why I had lit the match. I explained that I had no intention of lighting up another match again so long as they were vulnerable to the light – I begged their pardon and explained fully that I had no idea their existence hinged on avoiding the light.

It was at this point that more was revealed to me about their Kingdom – their civilization had been under attack for centuries, they were the first sea creatures and wanted for nothing and had no natural predators. But between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods, there evolved carnivorous sea monsters with insatiable appetites. They had no way to protect themselves from these creatures except to retreat further and further away from the source of life – light itself. They had evolved to cope without light, even to the point that light would now wipe out their entire civilization.

This was shocking to me; I was sad to hear that what had originally given them life was now a terrible threat to their very existence. But their ability to survive in spite of the insurmountable odds against them spoke to me of resilience. There was something admirable about it, and I wanted to find out how they were still alive in spite of all the threats they had faced.

More time passed, and my hair grew longer. There was no way for me to cut it as there were no sharp objects in the kingdom, so I left it. One day I saw a faint image of myself reflected in a particularly shiny green stone. To my deep shock and horror, I realized that I had developed a greenish hue and had shrunk in size till my body and visage appeared gaunt and hollow; my hair had become sparse, stringy and matted, if it were not for the fact that I was standing in front of the glossy green stone, I would have mistaken my image for one of the Merfolk.

It was in this moment that I looked down at my feet and I realised that my toes had begun to fuse together to form webbed feet. I was in disbelief, how and when did this happen? And how was I not aware of it? As those questions came into my head, I realised that since I had met the Merfolk, not a single morsel of food had passed through my mouth. I had never felt hungry and had completely forgotten the need to eat.

I still had so much more to learn about the Merfolk and their endless communications. While I had gotten a good handle of their hand signals, I had yet to master the intricacies of their spoken language. I felt compelled to continue my co-existence with them as they were, as yet, a mystery unsolved.

But it dawned on me, with the slow horror of innate knowing, that from the perspective of the Merfolk, I was their captive.

I had forgotten who I was because I had become so wrapped up in unraveling the spell-binding mystery of their culture; I had become invisible to myself. But what did they want with me? What did I offer to them?

I could not say.

But I realized that as long as they could keep me searching for answers about them with half-truths and myths embedded in their folklore, I would forever be stuck in their kingdom, learning but never understanding, seeing but never knowing.

Yet, I was loathe to bring the light into these dark places because the entire civilization, which I held so dear —which I perceived as my discovery, so unique and special, would collapse. I had grown to feel something akin to love and camaraderie with the Merfolk, as different and distant as they seemed as a species.

But if their civilization collapsed, where would that leave me?

As I considered their motivation and their raison d’être, I realised that these Merfolk were merely figments of my imagination, they were lies pretending to have a life force, dignity and an internal logic of their own. I kept them alive by listening to them, paying them attention and treating them like they were real.

These were not souls or beings, these were illusions, lies dressed up as sentient creatures to keep me trapped in darkness.

They stayed alive because of my decision to keep them alive, to avoid shining the light on them. It gave me a sense of meaning and purpose, it allowed me to feel special and think of myself as an intrepid explorer, when in actuality, I was just a captive of a Kingdom of Lies – a complicit partner of the darkness.

I realized that if I were to have any chance at reversing the physical changes that were happening to me and returning to the light ever again, I needed to have no part with them. I needed to sever ties completely. I had to disavow their very existence.

I felt a lump in my throat, and my heart, which had been silent for so long, suddenly felt present; it was beating very fast. What did this mean? What would become of Maek and the Merfolk – the community that I had grown so comfortable with? I had come to spend all of my waking moments with them, and barely knew who I would be apart from them.

How could something that felt so real be a lie?

At this moment my heart pounded so hard it felt like it was going to break; what was happening to me? I lifted my hand to my chest which my heart seemed determined to jump out off. To my deep consternation, my fingers had also started to become webbed. That is when I felt a salty tear roll down the corner of my right eye. (How I knew it was a tear when I was completely surrounded by water eludes me, but I just could feel it – tear ducts do not lie.)

As my webbed hand tried to still the heart that was pounding uncontrollably, I suddenly felt something small and thin and wooden materialise in my hand, I looked down; what I saw made my entire being shudder with a deep sense of knowing. There it was, a waterproof match – it had appeared in my hand, just like the green stones that the Merfolk exchanged, without any summoning or bidding, it just showed up. I shook violently… what was going on?More tears came forth from both my eyes, and I sank to my knees, webbed feet pointing out at odd angles and body crumpled into a sad ball as the crying came in violent floods.

When my crying ceased and I felt like a dry husk, but I knew but one thing – this was not reality, and I wanted to live in reality.

So I took the match that lay in my fist and struck it against the nearest piece of marble stone that lay near me. It burst into a steady flame. I looked around, what else could I light up?

Suddenly all around, dark forms came for me; the Merfolk seemed to know what I had in mind, webbed hands grabbed me around my neck and pushed me to the ground – they were trying to extinguish the flame but I guarded it with my body. Webbed fists pounded me again and again, till I curled in on myself in fetal form.

That did not stop them. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Maek glide over – the look of sheer hatred on his face startled me. Here was the one compatriot whom I thought would know and understand me best, but he seemed out to destroy me.

He came over and lifted me up by my neck and kept squeezing it till I choked and felt faint. I was still holding onto the match. Other Merfolk were trying to grab it out of my hands but with the feeble strength I had left in me, I tipped the matchstick onto Maek. He screamed with the keening peals of a banshee and tried to pull away, but it was too late – the flame lit his body up like a rag doused in kerosene – it engulfed him and started burning through his flesh. The fire did not stop there but surged out onto the other Merfolk, swallowing each and every one of them with the relentless rage of a hellish furnace. I stood transfixed as the entire civilisation blazed with an ethereal incandescence.

Eventually the fire came for me too.

I did not run away because I wanted to be rid of my webbed feet and hands; I did not want to live if I had to live like one of the Merfolk.

The sensation of burning was strange – excruciatingly painful, worse than any pain I had ever imagined. It was a pain that demanded all of you; it pervaded your mind and feelings and arrested your soul. I found myself crying out in utter anguish to my Maker for mercy, surrendering every last ounce of my will and my life into His hands, if only, if only He would just make the burning stop.

It was at this very moment when I realized that my flesh had been burned away to reveal new skin – supple, fresh, unmarred skin, like that of a child’s. My body seemed to stretch and pulse and it grew larger with each passing moment.

Over the next few seconds, I found my body pushing past the subterranean landscape of the Merfolk, breaking through the darkness into a layer of water where the sunlight reached. Soon I grew big enough to break through the surface of the water into light and air. I found myself gasping for air when I surfaced.

There were miles and miles of unchartered territory everywhere I gazed and the sheer immensity of life beckoned towards me. The sunlight bounced off the choppy azure blue waters, glinting like jewels studded between the waves.

My feet were still at the bottom of the ocean floor and I looked at how far above I was towering over the water. The sun was burning in the sky, but seemed like a golden coin that I could reach if only I stretched out my arms – I could not believe how long and sinewy my arms were! I was amazed: was this really me? Could this be real?

Suddenly, I understood what was happening to me.

Henceforth, my choices were not going to be dictated by others, or by the needs and logic of any other system or entity. Now there was a blank slate before me and it was completely up to me how I was going to fill that slate.

With my newfound power and strength, I had the ability to build, create and move, instead of merely communicating, adjusting to and trying to understand other beings. I had the ability to dictate what my reality would look like, and no one else would be responsible for it, no one else except me. This felt like a weight that was almost too much to bear, but my feet were still on the ground and my eyes were fixed heavenward.

Endless possibilities stretched out before me in the blank canvas of the sky and the laughing sea. My soul felt light and I burst out into a song of praise – “Amazing Grace”

The promise of hope lay before me, and as I committed myself to my Maker, I knew He was leading and guiding me towards new horizons, to take hold of the abundant life that is truly life.

Too Many Dreams, Too Little Time…

What do you do when you have too many dreams and too little time? You blog and document every small step you take towards those dreams – perhaps those dreams will never come true, but writing about the process makes it all the more tangible and rewarding, regardless of whether the dream materializes or not.

Today I felt inspired by a little recipe book I picked up on a bus-stop in Singapore more than 10 years ago – “Seafood- Recipes from the Cliff” by Shawn Armstrong.IMG_1701

The Cliff, located on Sentosa Island, is an up-market restaurant – $$$$ on HungryGoWhere. It is a restaurant I have never been to, and one which I will probably never go to. Back then, I thought it was a cool book to have and to flip through, but never felt like I wanted to try out any of the recipes, as they seemed too involved for making in my mom’s haphazard kitchen where I had trouble even finding the basic utensils I needed. 😦

Since moving to Los Angeles, where I have my own kitchen, and where I have watched a surfeit of Masterchef for 3 years, I have been inspired to expand my cooking and baking repertoire. Every time I watch Masterchef, I shake my head at how incredibly skilled some of the home-cooks are, and tell myself I need to start experimenting with other types of meat, not just chicken and beef! Sometimes I imagine being a final contestant on Masterchef – how fun it would be to create my own take of a Singaporean favorite for Gordon Ramsey! But then I shake my head when I think about the sheer odds of making it that far, let alone the enormous time and effort it would take to get to that point!

Nevertheless, today I found myself reaching for this recipe book which has been gathering dust for years on my bookshelf in Singapore. And, almost like a nod of confirmation to me to document my dreams, I notice, for the first time, a little note the previous owner of the book left for me, ‘Enjoy The Book,” signed off in a sprawling cursive.

IMG_1702

Then I remembered that back then in 2006, there was a trend where people would leave books on MRT trains and buses for random people to pick up and bring home. This person didn’t just forget the book, he/she left it behind for another person to use and appreciate!

I had always felt a bit guilty about taking the book, thinking perhaps I had deprived the owner of a recipe book he had somehow forgotten at a bus-stop. But now my conscience has been completely absolved. Thus, I have every intent of taking this book back to LA, and working through the recipes in it. I like the plating of the dishes in this book, and am looking forward to creating dishes which are appealing, both to the palette and to the eyes.

IMG_1703IMG_1704

 

Speaking of which, I was recently inspired by a picture of pretty tarts I saw on Pinterest.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 8.57.11 PM

 

I noticed the different components in it, and decided to try my hand at an iteration of it.

 

IMG_1670 (1)

I made some small strawberry meringues by adding a homemade strawberry coulis to a basic meringue recipe (it was my first time making meringues!). I defaulted to Paula Deen’s famous recipe for the tart base, and made basic pastry cream (also for the first time). To the tart, I added raspberries and meringues, as well as fresh cream whipped-up with confectioners sugar and pink coloring. Finally, I plated the tart and included a flourish of passionfruit juice reduction on the side (you can’t see the reduction in this picture). I loved the different textures and complementary flavor profiles of all the various elements! My husband and the two guests we had over enjoyed it so much that they suggested I compete in Masterchef, or, at the very least, Chopped! *lol*

I have to admit that while it definitely needs work in the visual department, the flavor profile was stunning.

It was perfect with a glass of fruity white wine from Trader Joe’s.

Cheers to all the dreams which we cherish and pursue, but may never actually achieve! New ones unfold each day.

 

Happy Pi Day!

Everybody! Happy Pi Day! This is truly a glorious day to celebrate, sadly it often goes by unnoticed and unacknowledged. I never knew about Pi Day until I came to L.A. The first few numbers of Pi are 3.14, which correspond to today’s date in America. Here, the date is written with the month preceding the date i.e. 3.14.17. In Singapore however, the custom is to write it with the day preceding the month, i.e. 14.3.17, which explains why I never knew about Pi day, since there are only 12 (and not 14) months. Thankfully, National Pi Day was brought to my attention exactly two years ago in 3.14.15, which was especially significant because those are exactly the first 6 numbers of Pi!

For this very special day, I intend to celebrate with a post on a delectably tart and crumbly melt-in-your mouth Cranberry Apple Pie that I cobbled together a couple of months ago. But before diving into that, I feel that it is only right to tip my hat towards the very special number we are celebrating today.

What is Pi or rather π ?

π is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, it is also an irrational number, meaning that it CANNOT be expressed as a fraction. “But wait,” you may say if you were paying attention in High-school Math Classes, “isn’t π =22/7?”

Interestingly, the fraction 22/7 is only an approximation of the number, as is 3.142, which you may have used in many of your math calculations as a student. The actual value of Pi goes on with no discernible pattern, past the decimal point, all the way to infinity. Because there is no way to reduce Pi to an exact number, the exact value of Pi is inherently unknowable, and it is this nebulous quality about Pi that has intrigued and frustrated Mathematicians throughout history.

If you ever watched the movie “The Life of Pi” you may recall that there was a scene where the main character, Piscine Molitor Patel, in a clever bid to stop his classmates from calling him “Pissing,” declares to his class his new adopted name, “Pi.” He goes up to the board to explain its significance and writes out the number, starting at the top corner with “3.1415…” and going on and on with a sequence of patternless numbers till the board is filled and the school bell rings, and the students start to get ready to rush off to the next class.

However random the number Pi may appear to be, it is anything but random in its actual relevance and use in life.

The number appears everywhere in the natural world where there’s a circle, and can be used to describe natural phenomena in our physical surroundings, such as the disk of the sun, the spherical design of flowers, and the concentric rings that travel outward when a stone hits the surface of a pond. Pi also governs the mysterious inner workings of our own bodies, from the spiral of the DNA double helix, to the pupil of the eye, to the rotation of our elbow joints.

Because of the prevalence of circles and circular movement in all aspects of life, Pi has many practical applications. It is used in modern engineering and math, in the physics of waves, in nuclear research, probability and statistics, in human biology and even in astrophysics! Imagine, without Pi, we wouldn’t have been able to launch the first man into the moon!

Whichever way you cut it, Pi is so much more interesting (and delicious) that what was taught in most of our high-school math classes. I hope this little piece on Pi has inspired you in one way or another.

I will make that promised post on the yummy cranberry apple-pie tomorrow, but for now, here’s a picture of it!

DSC05456 (1)

 

 

 

 

Cakes.

Since my last post in September of 2015, I took a long hiatus from blogging. Ironically, that last post was also my most widely read post. I realised only today that the last post averaged almost 600 views – a huge leap from most of my other posts which would average around 50 views or so. Since that last post, I stopped blogging for a year and a half because I felt discouraged by the state of political events in Singapore, and burnt out from being overly invested in what I thought could be a real and lasting change in Singapore’s political landscape. I felt defeated, not just by the tide of recent events, but also in my personal life as I grieved over the unexpected loss of my father, and started questioning the path that I had taken in my life. But that’s another story…for another day.

Today’s post is going to be on cakes. While I have never mentioned this before, I am and always have been a huge fan of baking. I’ve baked since I was eight years old, prior to even knowing what a ‘cup’ of flour meant. This was in the 1980s in Singapore, where the only measurement standard I was exposed to was the metric standard. It was also before the advent of the internet which would forever put to rest any confusion I had about measurement standards in baking. I remember many failed attempts at chocolate chip cookies, some being too chewy, and some being too floury or salty. They never did look like the picture in the recipe-book I followed. Of course, it was because I never did have a standard set of measuring cups and spoons and would use my mom’s tea-cups and cutlery instead to measure out everything, from flour to sugar and butter. Thankfully, today I have a few sets of trusty measuring cups and spoons.

Since my amateur attempts at baking in the 80s, I have baked hundreds of times for different occasions. These ranged from fundraisers to Birthday parties, to social gatherings and tea-parties, to “just because I’m craving a chocolate chip cookie.” More recently, I have even baked Pineapple Tarts because I felt homesick, and wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year by baking Pineapple Tarts with a fellow Singaporean friend, Dora, who lives in L.A. Dora suggested baking the tarts and I gamely went along with the idea. Surprise, surprise! I never would have imagined myself baking Pineapple Tarts or any kind of local confection that can be easily bought in Singapore, but that’s what happens when you live overseas long enough and don’t have access to the usual goodies. This little baking experiment with Dora will be featured in next weeks post along with a video.

Today’s post is going to be on the German Chocolate Cake. Let it be said that I am not a fan of ugly cakes. This cake is, in my humble opinion, a pretty ugly cake.

 

I have never had any desire to make it and for the life of me, never even knew much about it, except that it looked dull & brown, (strike one)  and had coconut in it (strike two). However, my friend was getting married and I offered to make her a cake for her wedding. She told me she’d love to have a German Chocolate Cake, so I did a little research on the cake and found a good recipe to follow. When I made it and tried the final product, I was surprised by a few things about the cake:

  1. The texture is amazingly soft and fluffy, yet the taste is still rich, decadent and complex.
  2. There is nothing German about the cake. It is a totally American created confection, so named after Samuel German, the English-American creator of the particular type of dark chocolate that was used to bake the cake. German created the chocolate for the American Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852, and 105 years later in 1957, a Texan home-maker, Mrs George Clay used this particular chocolate to come up with a recipe for a chocolate cake. Since then the recipe became an american favourite, and sales of the dark chocolate created by Samuel German increased by 73%. Soon after the cake’s name has changed from “German’s Chocolate Cake” to what we now know today as the German Chocolate Cake.
  3. It is possible to make a German Chocolate Cake look decent, if you have the time and patience for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t really! But the next time I make this cake, I will plan to ice and ‘pretty’ it up.

I used this recipe from allrecipes.com after reading quite a few comments and reviews on the different recipes of German Chocolate Cake available. The only thing different I did was to double the ingredients for the filling by 1.5 times and to also toast the pecans and coconut as some of the other reviewers suggested. It turned out great, and my friend and her fiancee loved it, and I I learned how to bake a whole new type of cake in the process!