Notes for a Memoir – Addendum

So far, I have written Part 1 and Part 2 of my notes for a never-to-be-written memoir. Before I hopefully start Part 3, I would like to sketch out a few chapters that either could be slotted into Parts 1 and 2, or that cover recurring themes that might not fit nearly into any linear chronology. In past instalments, I wrote brief summaries of what each chapter might cover. From this point forward, I would rather leave the chapter titles/descriptions even more vague, in the hopes that sample chapters will actually appear in this blog within the lifetime of the Earth’s Sun. And so, with only a little bit of further adieu…

Part 1

  • Going back to playschool after kindergarten, skipping a grade, and “special” classes, or: How to Disorient the Living Shit Out of a Child
  • Mr. Moskalyk, the Visionary Teacher Who Quite Possibly Left No Permanent Imprint on my Life, Because Life Is Pointless and Dumb
  • My violent mother-abusing alcoholic uncle who is totally dead now
  • My many schoolboy crushes (or: A study in proto-adolescent sexual repression)
  • All about autism, and what it can do for YOU
  • Dogs are, and always will be, better than people
  • Almost every dream I’ve ever been able to remember in my entire life has been unpleasant, or: Dreams
  • My A&B Sound Family (In retrospect, I already wrote at least one chapter of my memoir without even realizing it)
  • Temporary autistic obsessions:
    • Catalan music
    • Trains
    • Hip-hop
    • Terrible early ’90s techno-pop
    • Classical music
    • Cinema (As discussed in the newly-added chapter “My Hot Psychologist”)
    • Learning languages
    • [Redacted]
  • My Failed Career as an Early-Teen Filmmaker
  • Johann Sebastian Bach is the G.O.A.T.
  • Staying Up Til 3 AM playing Nintendo 64, Eating Potato Chips and Drinking Pop: A Study in Friendship
  • Beautiful Lady from the Dollar Store, Beautiful Lady from the Coffee Shop, and Other Beautiful Ladies Who I Spent A Lot of Time With But Was Afraid to Kiss
  • Watching Grandparents Die

Part 2

  • Almost getting shitcanned during pre-departure training for Manila because I was a hot, sticky mess of anxiety; bonding with the cutest gay guy ever during a starry post-training night on Parliament Hill
  • The existential rot of the autistic introvert trying to enjoy nightlife
  • Failed Pygmalion: How an eccentric rich Filipina made me her temporary, honourary son-in-law
  • Five Months in a Dilapidated Mansion
  • Living With Two Hot Sisters, Or: The Worst Mistake I Ever Made
  • Computer Programming: The Least Objectionable Profession
  • How I easily succumbed to shitty alpha male mind games, and hope I won’t again: pre-departure training for Vietnam
  • Loneliness – So, So Much Loneliness
  • That Time My Landlord Tried to Entice Me Into A Gay Orgy
  • Filipino Dentists and the Joy of Unnecessary Fillings
  • My five year pseudo-romance and its nightmarish end (related chapter: Breaking Up in Myanmar)
  • Khao San Road, A Beautiful Blond Danish Girl, and the Dying Gasps of My Youth
  • Am I Gay? And Other Conversation-Starters

Rushing Regretfully Toward Ivanovo

What follows is a travel story, about a trip where I took a great many photos. However, I may not post any photos in the article. Why? Well first of all, I am a profoundly lazy person, and the drudgery of digging through thousands of photos to find the least blurry ones, cropping them, and then resizing them hardly seems worth the nothing I am getting paid to write these posts.

And second, because photos would only get in the way of this self-pitying reflection on the bitter impermanence of all things.

I visited Bulgaria for the first time in 2016. I staggered in by bus from Thessaloniki, Greece with few expectations, and was immediately charmed. It was my first time in the Balkans, and I was fascinated by the characteristic intersection of the Slavic and Turkic worlds. I was intrigued by the combination of post-Communist stodginess and Mediterranean warm-heartedness. Also, it probably didn’t hurt that all the women looked like supermodels.

I spent some time in the capital of Sofia, where I managed to destroy my new phone while struggling to figure out the intricacies of a Southeastern European washing machine. (In case you’re wondering, you have to, like, put your clothes inside some sort of suspended cage while water sprays willy-nilly in every direction. And while you’re panicking, the lid comes crushing down and smashes the screen on your brand new phone.) And finally, with my barely operable phone, I left Sofia to continue on my journey. Read More

My A&B Sound Family

The late ’90s and early aughts were a different time. You had to be at home to receive a phone call. Climate change was merely a minor concern instead of an enormous existential threat. Gonorrhea was easily treatable with antibiotics. And Top 40 music was actually a lot worse than it is now, no matter what you may think. (No, really – I’d take Ariana Grande, Drake and Lil Nas X over Matchbox 20, Puff Daddy and “Smooth” any damn day of the week.)

Another difference is that people bought music on shiny discs at stores built from some combination of brick and mortar. And so it was that I, a lonely, depressed, autistic teenager, made my weekly-or-more pilgrimages to the local music store (which also sold books, for some reason), A&B Sound. With a little bit of allowance and nothing better to do, I would wander over from my mom’s apartment to purchase bargain classical CDs, along with a little bit of hip-hop, and clearance Penguin Classics books. The combination of Shostakovich and Sophocles did wonders for my painfully cultivated self-image as a young intellectual who didn’t have many friends because I was, like, totally too deep for people. But more than that, it gave me an improbable feeling of community.

With the trauma of my parents’ fresh separation, going to a different school from my friends and almost getting expelled, and the overall toxic brew of autism, isolation and teenage hormones, I badly needed something to hold onto. Partly I found that through retail therapy – stretching out my allowance money to accumulate almost a thousand CDs, some of which I never listened to, and hundreds of books, the vast majority of which I never read. In retrospect, it was not an ideal method for filling the great black emptiness of my soul, speaking economically, environmentally, or psychospiritually. But the ragtag assortment of regular staff I interacted with during my visits made me feel, however loosely, like a member of my family. Here are the ones I remember:


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Peeing Makes Me Think I’m Dreaming

Dreams are a perfect example of what utterly exhausted cliches we all are. We seem to have so many of the same recurring dreams – being late for an exam, having all our teeth fall out, or finding ourselves in bed with a sexy hippopotamus. And as an avid enthusiast of drinking too much water before bed, I have had ample experience with the great shared human experience of pee-related dreams.

Some may involve being immersed in water, or some other thinly disguised metaphor for urination, but as far as I can recall, most of them just involve me peeing – I am nothing if not literal-minded. I pee, and pee, and pee some more, and the peeing never stops until I pee for real. (And if you’re wondering whether these dreams produce real world, uh, manifestations, I’m proud to say that they don’t.) I am an incredibly deep sleeper, which is both a blessing and a curse; in this case, it means that my body can remain asleep for impressive periods of time with a painfully overfilled bladder.

I’m now a little more careful with my fluid intake before bed – and I’ve had to factor in my body’s freakishly long turnaround time between the intake of water and the output of water byproduct. But I believe I’ve already endured so many of these prolonged R.E.M. pee fantasies that I have finally crossed the point of no return. That is – I’ve peed so much in dreams that peeing in real life will now sometimes feel like a dream.

It seems to happen most often at rows of urinals in public washrooms, at places like restaurants or airports. I may find myself outside with an urgent need to relieve myself, and the built-up discomfort will invoke memories of so many pee dreams from my past. At the precise moment that the sweet release begins, I will be overcome by an unreal feeling, as if I’m not quite sure whether I’m awake or dreaming. The dissipation of such profound discomfort should be enjoyable, but in this context it somehow becomes unnerving.

I’ve recently begun to entertain, more and more seriously, the idea what we are living in a simulation. There are so many nagging, unanswered questions about life that can be plausibly answered with the hypothesis that we are all just variables being endlessly tweaked and re-run inside an alien supercomputer. If the simulation is now revealing itself to me through pee-related glitching – well, at least the simulation has a sense of humour. And if nothing else, every trip to an airport urinal can be a reminder to maintain some degree of detached bemusement and not take all of this life stuff too seriously.

Writing Even if Nobody Cares

Right from the title, this post is at severe risk of descending into a bona fide pity party. (Actually, the title itself may have already reached a point of no return on its own.) But I do want to reflect on why anyone would bother to write anything.

When I tell people I have a blog, they naturally ask if I have a travel blog. “Not exactly,” I reply, with consummate vagueness – It doesn’t always feel like it’s worth the trouble to try to express what this blog is “about”. The next question is often whether I use my blog to fund my travels. I laugh, because this blog is pretty much the least monetizable thing on Earth. It is written without an obvious audience, without any obvious regularity, and without any obvious purpose aside from… writing.

Even though I’m arguably a “creative” individual – putting aside any question of whether the things I create have any actual merit – I’m really much more fortunate to also have a set of bland technical skills, mostly unrelated to creative writing, that manage to keep me afloat financially while I fart my way around the globe. If I were forced to think of a way to monetize my writing, I might be reduced to churning One Weird Tricks, one weird trick at a time. Best-case scenario, I could write that pandering autistic travelogue-cum-memoir that I’ve been thinking about, which… hey, that’s actually a pretty good idea! (I don’t think I’d be very good at talk show appearances, though, so maybe not.)

But for now, I write without any obvious audience or purpose. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t want an audience – After all, I’d keep these posts as drafts (and also not occasionally spam links to my Facebook friends) if I genuinely had no interest in being read. But since I also make pretty much no concessions to any common notion of readability aside from kinda bothering to string together grammatically correct (run-on) sentences, I can’t want it very badly, can I?

As I reflect on the purpose and meaning of shouting into the void, I naturally contemplate the folly of wanting anyone to appreciate one’s creations, anyway. Whether one person reads your writing or a million people do, at the end of the day our creations will be dead, and so will we. In that case, the only possible benefit of writing is the brief pleasure it gives the writer – the pleasure of self-expression, of externally organizing one’s thoughts, of catharsis, and maybe – just maybe – of receiving appreciation and validation from the outside world. A totally-not-a-Buddhist Buddhist like me has to dismiss the final motivation as a petty and self-defeating one, even if I do devote about half of my waking actions to seeking out the most shallow forms of validation. And so, all that’s really left is the pleasure of putting one’s thoughts and feelings into a concrete form. And once they have been formed thusly, they have already served their purpose, and it would only be vanity and self-absorption to dwell on them further. Of course, I’ll still obnoxiously send post links to my friends every once in a while…

So why do it? Well, today, it’s really just because it’s an incredibly slow day for work. Anyone need a web developer/programmer/business analytics guy?

Egg All Your Hash

Egg all your hash
Or sniffle that groffle
Mandle those bandles
But don’t piffle those poffles

Tickle your scripples
But don’t kipple those griffles
These bayziks are basic
But snooks come in triples

Quadruple those stooples
Or pazopples by halves
Take quarters of splorters
Or six-sixteenths of splafs

All fractions of dakshins
But whole numbers for glumbers
These rules I share with you
To slug up your trumblers

Snork eggs by the snorkful
Eggs laid by the dorkful
Hash inside your splash
Makes all eggs kazorkful

So egg all your hash
Split, spacker and smash
All goods and services
To be purchased with cash

In Praise of Pimple-Popping

WARNING: Some people may find the topic of this post to be gross, obviously. You may prefer to not read it. I certainly wouldn’t blame you!

As I get older, my biggest regret – aside from all the missed opportunities of my youth, the slow breakdown of my body, and the grimly inevitable march toward death – is that I get fewer pimples. Or more precisely, that I get fewer rich, creamy whiteheads. Now, I may still get ugly red bumps on my neck from overzealous shaving, but that brings me no pleasure. On the other hand, those white gold-filled fun nuggets are becoming more and more rare, and I’m really starting to miss them.

When I started getting acne, as a teenager, it was nothing to enjoy. It covered my face and added greatly to the toxic cocktail of psychological issues that ground my teenage self-esteem down to a fine powder. I took Accutane, the horrifically strong anti-acne medication that can cause birth defects in pregnant women, and it bludgeoned my sebacious glands to within an inch of their life. I emerged from this, somehow, with fairly clear skin.

After that, acne became, well, fun. Whereas my face used to be covered with painful red lumps that would have to slowly heal on their own, my adult experience with acne was more like an exciting game of whitehead whack-a-mole. Whiteheads could be squished and squirted to death in seconds, and a dab of isopropyl alcohol would dry them up into a tiny red dot within a few hours.

With my face finally clear, I would mostly get acne on my neck – it’s taken me 20 years to learn how to shave properly, and I feel like I’m just about there. As a younger man with whiter heads, the aftereffects of a rough shave were far more enjoyable. When I popped the whiteheads on my neck, their proximity to my ears rewarded me with an extremely audible glorp! sound. I’m not sure how anyone could miss it, but some have assured me that they know nothing of the vivid auditory sensation of a popping pimple. I pity their lives of emptiness and drudgery.

And then there was that greatest of all portmanteaus, backne. The whiteheads on my back were always the most special. They were awfully painful to pop, but the pain somehow just increased my satisfaction – like I had overcome a fearsome obstacle and received a creamy white reward. The fact that they seemed to contain a larger volume of the white stuff didn’t hurt, either.

Sometimes I’d get them somewhere unusual and unexpected, like on my finger. Not much satisfaction in terms of volume, perhaps, and also quite painful, but still memorable in their own way, like receiving a three-legged dog for Christmas.

For as long as I’ve been popping acne, I’ve been warned that my hobby was a dangerous one. It can lead to scarring, they’d say. It can lead to infection, they’d say. Well, the only acne scarring I’ve ever gotten was around the corners of my mouth, and I don’t think I was popping many pimples there. I’ve received permanent scars from a cheese slicer and two scooter crashes in Southeast Asia, but not too many from acne.

I’ve also gotten an infection after staying overnight in a house with nine dogs, with the environment triggering such a ferocious allergic reaction that I scratched my foot raw. I had to take antibiotics for a week before it would close up again, but I’ve never had an infection from popping a pimple.

So, to hell with the pimple-popping party poopers! This life is filled with suffering and spectacular feats of cruelty, but there is one small consolation: our body can be a funhouse, in so many ways. Between the end of traumatic teenage acne and the middle-aged dessication of the sebacious glands there is a brief period in life when pimples can brighten your day and put a smile on your face. Embrace it, love it… and pop it!

Cat and Car: A Study in Ethics

Last night, I went hunting for a late dinner in Mexico City. It was a Sunday night, so most of the food shops in my neighbourhood were closed. I decided to roam a bit more than usual, and had to cross a busy main road. While waiting at the light, a black-and-white cat ran recklessly into oncoming traffic. Before it could go past the midpoint of the road, it got knocked flat by a car.

A local man waiting at the light with me glanced at me with shock and horror. We watched the cat lay limply on the road as cars continued to zoom past it, their tires coming horribly close to its immobile body. The seconds I spent waiting for the light to change felt like hours.

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A Thousand Extra Lives, Please

With just over a month left for me in Manila, on the tail end of six very happy non-consecutive years, I find myself panicking.  It’s not the worst kind of panic – not, say, the panic of realizing that you’ve lost all feeling in your legs. It’s the panic of feeling like I’m about to lose a happy life I’ve taken for granted, and that I have to scramble to squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of it. I want to meet all the people I knew before, meet wonderful new people, go everywhere, and do everything.

The problem with the panicked rush to enjoy as much as possible, though, is that it ends up not being very enjoyable at all. Because I’ve also enjoyed the comforting sameness of my daily routine – the lazy morning coffee sessions at home, the ambling trips to the market, and the simple joys of spending an hour on Facebook messenger before I even start pretending to work. I want to squeeze out of every last drop of this serenity, too, but the problem is that aggressively relaxing to the max is a pretty nonsensical concept. And then again, every day spent drinking coffee with my dogs is another day I can’t spend rushing around the metropolis in search of one last dizzying adventure.

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Reflections on the Eve of 2017

With 4 hours left before the inauguration of the new year, I have opted out of all social activity to spend my night at home blogging and cooking Kerala egg curry. This is partly because my original social plans got soured by a personal boondoggle; partly because of my fear of losing a finger or two if I venture outside into the war zone of Manila on New Year’s Eve, with DIY firecracker launches taking the place of the heavy artillery; and partly because I’m just an antisocial old grouch.

A New Year’s Eve spent at home is also an ideal time for reflection, assuming one does not pass out from the firecracker smoke coming in through the window. I do not wish to reflect too much on the fact that 2016 was The Worst Year Ever, even though it indisputably was – from climate doom to the death of the most famous of all Jehovah’s Witnesses to Donald Trump and, perhaps most incredibly, the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother one day apart. No need for another thinkpiece on that topic when everyone already knows it’s absolutely true, anyway: 2016 was the worst year ever. At least, until 2017.

And so, notwithstanding the fact that 2017 may yet bring horrors so appalling that all else will fade into insignificance,  I would like to reflect on the lessons that I hope to apply over the coming 365 days. Some of these are lessons that I only recently unearthed, while others are things I’ve known for a long time but had trouble actually applying. Either way, I believe these are principles that, if put into practice, could help me have a happier 2017 – That is, if I don’t die from a climate change nuke explosion with its ground zero located at a crowded Annual Convention of Beloved Celebrities.

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