Rugged up

Where could I possibly have been going dressed like this? Cosplaying a penguin? No, ice skating! It’s been a while. Took about half an hour to get my ice legs back — more or less, anyway. Some things I actually managed to do better thanks to YouTube videos. My clockwise skating was always pretty shit, but the technique pointers helped.

It’s so much fun. Gonna see if I can make the time to go once a week and get back into it. The clothes were overkill — one furry thing would have sufficed, and even that started feeling a bit warm.




I was making banana fritters for breakfast this morning and burned my hand. Specifically, I was carrying the used, still very hot oil back to the kitchen in a glass cup, which fell apart and shattered on the bench, splashing the oil over my hand, mainly the palm and side, and a bit on the back.

Cue scream and much immersion in iced water.

Note to self: do not pour hot oil into glass containers.

For while it hurt like hell, now it just hurts enough to be a pest. I think I’ve avoided blisters. Might be getting one on my palm. I went and bought some aloe vera burn gel, which has helped. This isn’t good timing, as I’m trying to get a wriggle on with those waxes and a couple of new pieces — though it hurts whether I use it or not, so I might as well use it.

Some may say it only goes to show that deep fried food ain’t good for you…

Anyway, I guess it could have been worse. I was wearing safety glasses, at least. I’m new to deep frying — it all started when Stu told me there was tempura batter at a local store. Best successes so far have been banana fritters and cauliflower pakoras. It’s also quite a good way to eat cabbage. And crab sticks. And yes, I deep-fried a Mars Bar. It was quite nice, but probably not nice enough to justify the calories. M&Ms weren’t so successful.

It’s kind of addictive watching things turn golden-brown and crispy before your eyes. Then eating them.

I’ve just reapplied the gel. It’s pretty good stuff. Think I’ll let myself sook for the rest of the morning, then see about wriggling this afternoon.

ETA: the gel is really good. The pain has almost gone.

ETA2: looks like a couple of blisters coming up, including a biggish but shallow one on the side of my hand. Hardly hurts, though. The big one trails off into a sort of bat-eared red mark. If I end up with a scar it might be Batman-shaped! Or it’s an owl, or a bird with an open beak, or maybe a slug…


Unexpected side-effect of meditation

Late last year I decided to make a proper go of a daily meditation practice, in order to try and cure or reduce an already fairly mild case of OCD that I’d had for a while. I had tried meditation before, but always got bored and gave up quickly. This time I stuck with it: half an hour every morning of concentrating on my breathing and bringing my mind back to my breath when it wandered – which was a lot.

It didn’t do much for the OCD. It did, however, do something else: it took away my appetite for chocolate. At some point, I can’t remember when, I not only stopped wanting to eat chocolate but felt vaguely queasy at the thought of it. Ditto all other candy. I hasten to add that I didn’t lose my appetite for cookies, cake (including chocolate cake), or desserts in general; just the highly concentrated sugar hits of chocolate and candy.

This effect was entirely unexpected. I wasn’t a chocoholic beforehand, but I certainly liked chocolate and had some most days – usually a couple of mini bars. I didn’t see this as a good habit, and I’m not complaining about losing it, but as I said, I was looking to change something else.

I gave up the meditation after two or three months, but my appetite for chocolate hasn’t come back. I’m currently staying with my parents, with access to the chocolates in their pantry. I haven’t even felt tempted.

I have no idea what actually happened. I figure something must have altered in my brain – but what, I don’t know.

Anyway, just putting this out there as an anecdote. Would be interested to know if others have had similar experiences. I know that meditation and spiritual practices can cause people to lose interest in meat, but I haven’t heard of it happening with chocolate!


Gary to caster

Or, the last remake of Gary…

I gave the Bauta ring to the jewellery caster today, and also gave them Gary. He’s a small, fiddly piece more suited to the jeweller’s equipment than a foundry’s, and while it will be more expensive I think the result will be worth it. He’ll be bronze, and I’ll do the patina myself. I’m heading back to Australia soon, so they should be waiting for me when I come back.

In other news, I’m now the proud owner of a mini trampoline. It’s better exercise than I expected, and of course less jarring than working out on a hard surface. And it’s fun. Probably the closest I’ll ever get to having my own bouncy castle.


The plastic unheimlich

I spend a fair amount of time in, or else revisiting, a state of mind whose exact definition I grapple with, but which might be called an Edward Hopper state of mind. I associate it with plastic, gas stations at night, childhood memories of Barbies and Intellivisions, brick bungalow houses in the dark with life boxed in window lights. It is least associated with environments where time, history, and practices invested with imaginative meaning are visible, so I’m not likely to feel it in a church, or in an old house full of the souvenirs of someone’s life.

I don’t think I engage with this state very much — if at all — in my work, either in writing or art. I’ve tried writing it, but can’t find narratives for it (though, heck, I can’t find narratives for lots of things). It’s a boring state, yet one imbued with a lurking, immanent frisson. Silence, or minimal speech, is one of its typical qualities; conversation tends to dispel (literally dis-spell) it.

I doubt it’s a sculptable state. Installations might be able to convey it, but not body-oriented sculpture, whether figurative or abstract. Bodies, figures, characters, are if not incidental to it then subordinate to it, absorbed by it, like debris inside an amoeba. Painting and photography, media with capacity to depict rooms and buildings and effects of light, convey it best; the flatness of these media is also an advantage, flatness being one quality of the state itself. Even if figures are a focus of the composition, they will be anti-portraits, possessing some kind of charge, but not the charge of warm-blooded life.

Trying to describe this tate without resorting to images, I come up with “tension between the homely and the unhomely.” But “tension” isn’t the right word, although tension is present. It’s more like coexistence, which is interesting in the context of Freud’s “uncanny”, or “unheimlich”. I assumed “unheimlich” simply meant “unhomely, unfamiliar”, and so it does. However, “heimlich” doesn’t only mean “homely”; it also has a second definition, which can be found in Freud’s essay on the uncanny:

Concealed, kept from sight, so that others do not get to know of or about it, withheld from others. To do something heimlich, i.e., behind someone’s back; to steal away heimlich; heimlich meetings and appointments. … The heimlich art’ (magic). ‘Where public ventilation has to stop, there heimlich conspirators and the loud battle-cry of professed revolutionaries.’ ‘A holy, heimlich effect.’ … ‘learned in strange Heimlichkeiten’ (magic arts).

As Freud says:

among its different shades of meaning the word ‘heimlich’’ exhibits one which is identical with its opposite, ‘unheirnlich.’ What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich. (Cf. the quotation from Gutzkow: ‘We call it “unheimlich”; you call it “heimlich.”’) In general we are reminded that the word ‘heimlich’ is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet very different: on the one hand it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other. what is concealed and kept out of sight. ‘Unheimlich’ is customarily used, we are told, as the contrary only of the first signification of’ heimlich,’ and not of the second.

Is this hypostatic binary un/heimlich just a German linguistic accident, or is it a fact that the known is always lined with the unknown? Since there are limits to our knowledge of anything, the answer must be yes. Perhaps my Edward Hopper state of mind is the lining showing? Accumulations of meaning — figuration, portraiture, evidence of history and memory — may be the fastenings that hold the garment tight and stop it from turning inside out. I want a more nuanced word than “meaning”, too — weight, soul, story, substance? — but maybe that’s just my prejudice against the kind of people who go around all the time talking about finding meaning in life.

However, a scene or an object can be utterly unfamiliar, completely unhomely, but not at all uncanny. I seldom experience the Hopper state while on holiday, which I think is because holidays usually take in locations with intense concentrations of meaning — famous, historical, religious. Perhaps one could draw a distinction between the foreign uncanny (when it does occur) and the uncanny familiar. The former tends to be frightening, the latter something like melancholy.

Freud goes on to say:

When we proceed to review things, persons, impressions, events and situations which are able to arouse in us a feeling of the uncanny in a particularly forcible and definite form, the first requirement is obviously to select a suitable example to start on. Jentsch has taken as a very good instance ‘doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate’

My instinctive reaction, the usefulness of which I am not sure, is to think that perhaps my Edward Hopper state is one in which I have doubts (only in the form of uneasy emotion, without accompanying thought) as to whether I am alive. But that isn’t, or isn’t always, the whole story.

For my uncanny example, rather than a lonely urban scene, I’m choosing a bottle of nail polish:


This object has, for me, an uncanny quality. At risk of sounding pretentious, it defamiliarises nail polish. Firstly, the nail polish itself is unnatural, a festively industrial confetti. Still, in an ordinary bottle, it would pass unnoticed. If the makers of the lid had stopped at the embossed rose bud, the effect would have been prettily cheap. But they went and stuck that lurid, electric pink-mauve rose on top. Is it gorgeous? Is it awful? I can’t say. I do like it; yet I find it disturbing. Perhaps it has an aposematic quality, a warning of poison or other danger. Perhaps one of the animals within me is reacting to it; yet I couldn’t describe the disturbance as being anything like fear. I want to call it “misplaced recognition”, or “displaced recognition”, as if I were seeing the bottle but recognising something else.

When we find something uncanny, and can’t say why, are we experiencing the reaction of one of our mute interior animals, maybe not even a mammal, but something older and simpler, whose attitudes are part of us, but inaccessible to the light of our reason, like locked catacombs in our psyches?

Freud chooses Hoffmann’s story “The Sandman” as his example of a stimulus that arouses feelings of the uncanny. He makes the point that it is not the automaton Olimpia but rather the fear of losing one’s eyes that produces the more uncanny effect upon the reader. (But is this really uncanny / unheimlich, or just scary?). He then goes on to relate this fear to the castration complex, at which point his obsessions and mine part company. Still, in relating the experience of the uncanny to this “infantile factor”, he makes the point that the factor in question, in other instances, may not be fear, but a wish or a belief, such a child’s wish for its toys to come to life, or belief that they are alive. As I wrote above, I don’t find the uncanny in its familiar register to be frightening, but rather closer to melancholy. The melancholy may only be an undercurrent beneath fun or pleasure, too.

Nostalgic, maybe? No, not really. Perhaps a shade in the same band of the emotional spectrum, but, if so, a pining without any warmth: an emotion whose colours are neon and whose textures are without, and resistant to, time’s patina.

(ETA: in Part 2 of his essay, Freud writes: “[I]t is possible to recognize the dominance in the unconscious mind of a ‘compulsion to repeat’ proceeding from the instinctual impulses and probably inherent in the very nature of the instincts — a compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character, and still very clearly expressed in the impulses of small children; a compulsion, too, which is responsible for a part of the course taken by the analyses of neurotic patients. All these considerations prepare us for the discovery that whatever reminds us of this inner ‘compulsion to repeat’ is perceived as uncanny.” Could this be why I find franchise stores somewhat uncanny?)


New digs

So far I’m loving the new house. It’s quiet not just by Bangkok standards but by just about any standards. It’s shaded downstairs nearly all the way around, with a lot of windows, so that it’s light, but with only one room receiving direct light. There’s potentially excellent airflow, but we’ll need flywire first, not only for protection against mozzies but against giant wasps like the one that flew in when we tried leaving the windows open!

Locally there are a couple of excellent restaurants, and also several plant nurseries, where I went on an expedition yesterday for the makings of a potted garden, coming back with a dark red bromeliad, four small maniltoas (ETA hmm…or maybe they’re not… ETA 2 ok, they’re mussaendas), some interesting things whose names I don’t know, and an English rose with a lovely scent. I also found an Easter lily vine to replace the one we had to leave behind at the old house (I took a cutting, but it didn’t work). If the new one grows like the old one we’ll be up to our necks and well beyond in Easter lily in no time.

Today I bought bigger pots for a couple of the potbound things I brought here, including a woody vine — or vine-like tree — that seems scarce indeed in nurseries, and not that common in gardens. I have no idea what it is. It puts out big, whitish trumpet flowers with a sweet scent. The people at the nurseries didn’t recognise it by my crappy drawing, so I must remember to bring a photo next time. I can see why it might not be a popular plant, as the flowers don’t last long and turn into wilted yellow bags when they die — and as it grows big it would be hard to cut away the dead ones. Of course, I don’t mind the look of decay. I like to think it isn’t just morbibity on my part, but an appreciation for signs of age and time passing in a garden. Or maybe it’s just morbidity. Anyway, I’d better look after the one I’ve got, which has been surviving quite well on neglect but has stayed small. Hopefully a bigger pot and some non-neglect will encourage it to grow.

The site I linked to for the maniltoas, Medusa’s Garden, is a wonderful resource for discovering fancy plants, or if you just enjoy garden porn.



If you can’t beat ’em

The new neighbours next door have started their renovations already, and are knocking down interior walls. The people over the road, who have been have been renovating their house for some time now, are also knocking down walls and cutting up metal. We can’t move into our new place for another few days, as the landlord is laying tiles. Meanwhile, I’ve bought a Dremel-like tool and have been sanding off the bumps that were all over resin baby (because my mold was crap), and the casting lines. It’s going pretty well — nearly done, and after this I’ll just need to repair a few bubbles in the resin.

On the subject of sculpture, I got to see that terrific giant horse head, “Still Water” by Nic Fiddian-Green in London, and as a bonus, facing it across the road, a completely badass statue of Genghis Khan by Dashi Namdakov. It was an overcast day, but the sky cleared just long enough for some photos.






Saving face

Dim Sim — now sporting a collar — on his morning excursion across balconies, taking a breather snuggled in the dip of the tiles on a balcony roof, detects the approach of a squirrel two houses along. DS rises, stalks to next roof, assumes hunting stance. His enactment of having a chance to catch the squirrel is poignant. The squirrel hops to a narrow wall; DS remains poised to leap. The squirrel hops to a telephone wire; DS sinks at once into the receptive curvature of the tiles, stretching and rolling with ostentatious evidence of bliss, as if all along his intention had been to take pleasure in that particular bit of roofing.