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Not an indeterminate gruel / Which is partly somewhere else

February 18, 2012

windy afternoon in Cambridge, Nov '09

Tomorrow is my parents’ birthday — one of the many cute things about them is the fact that they were born exactly nine years apart. They are fabulous human beings, and I’m so proud of them. Haha. But really.

And because typing that paragraph triggered déjà vu, I stalked my old blog and found this. And in the process of looking for that I found this, which prefigures an amusing volume of stuff I’ve read and thought and said over the past few days.

I thank my parents for their generosity, humour, faith, and love. Any remaining instances of me sounding like a record on loop are my own.


One of the many gifts my parents have given the four of us is the ability to translate. There’s my oldest sister, a brilliant biomedical scientist who reads a wider range of social science than I do and gets in productively colourful Facebook debates about all of it. My other sister is a gracious and hilarious social worker who makes friends with everyone, and then makes them friends with each other. And my younger brother is a dancer who is fifty times cooler than I will ever be, and is adored by a ridiculous range of people, including the preadolescents he choreographs for and middle-aged church ladies.

I was recently thinking (again) about how pompously I used to judge interdisciplinary work, until I had to concede that my own mode was interdisciplinary by default: my confused interests/personal history/strange mind all make me greedy for the intriguingly messy interactions I had trivialised. But still.

I’ve always joked about how I know enough to accidentally convey the impression that I know a lot more than I do — I feel like a dilettante by trade. Evidence suggests that I’m half-decent at being a dilettante, but that doesn’t forestall sporadic jealousy of people who are sufficiently equipped to navigate their fields with supreme certainty. I instead traipse around arbitrary territories, picking out patterns while being dogged by the lonely fear that I cannot be taken seriously. But often enough unexpected affirmations drive out that fear — and often I’m having too much fun to entertain it at all.

Which is not at all to suggest that I necessarily translate well. At one point in Morocco I convinced myself that the Arabic for “camel” was “ديك رومي”, which really means “turkey.” And the other day I was trying to remember the other word for “collarbone” and got stuck on “autoclave” before eventually coming to “clavicle.” (Both of those words entered my vocab through my biomedical scientist sister, who’d tried to give me bio lessons when I was in kindergarten and hasn’t stopped since. Although my discovery a few days ago that there is not, in fact, a herb called “enchinea” was entirely my own.)

And sometimes the translation does go well. Like the other day when the six-year-old Sudanese boy whom I tutor concentrated long enough to show a knack for spelling, and his nine-year-old brother was bold enough to grin while making sentences for me. Alhamdullilah.


On Wednesday evening I went for a presentation in college about the question of Shakespearean authorship. The two speakers brimmed with expertise, dry wit, and unshakable conviction about their case, and I left with cheerfully convoluted thoughts about creative processes and intellectual ownership (and dinner).

Later on (draining the dregs of my 25-and-under theatre discounts) a friend and I went to see Vivienne Franzmann’s Mogadishu. The plot and dialogue were raw and wry; the acting and set design impeccable. Watching people a few years younger than me portray people a few years younger than themselves in an onstage concentration of lies, hope, prejudice, loyalty, education inequity, and familial brokenness, I got emotionally entangled and finished the play drained.

Then I realised I’d lost my scarf, which had been a Christmas present. And my bruised knee and scraped foot were still sore from my first real bike injury that morning — I’d fallen off my bike while getting off it, c.f. my numerous fake bike injuries from walking into it and/or dropping it on myself — so for the first time in a while I wanted to cycle slowly. And then a car U-turned into my lane without signalling, and I had to slam on both brakes. And then I got home and one of my feet kept cramping. And I still had reading to do for the next day.

But then I thought, so what if anyone hears, and sung a few Malay songs in my room, and was content. And the next day I found my scarf in one of the three libraries I frequent.

And I don’t remember what the point of that story was, but time zones suggest that I should be calling my parents now. Yay.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 19, 2012 2:41 pm

    Thanks for the call, dearest #3 daughter. Sorry that I was in a rush. Had to go for choir warm-up and final practice before the 9am service. We appreciate your call. All in all, it has been a most memorable birthday–received greetings here in Penang, then in Ipoh, not including the many sms greetings. Thanks to God for giving us life through our earthly parents and His Son. And many thanks for what you wrote in your earlier blogs. We love you. Sorry to hear about your bicycle “accident” though. Take care.

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