Poems : Haiku

Feeling inspired, I wrote these :

 

(1)  Outside I am calm,

Inside butterflies abound,

Waiting to emerge.

 

(2)  Alone and lonely?

Read a book, play the piano

Or watch a movie.

 

(3)  Take a good deep breath,

Anxieties have anxieties,

Relax to stay calm.

 

(4)  Once upon a time,

Being a concert pianist

Was my biggest dream.

 

(5)  What is in a song?

Chords, key change and harmony

With a nice melody.

 

(6)  What is happiness?

It is a clean bill of health

right up to the end.

 

(7)  Sudoku is fun;

The puzzle that changed the world

Knows no boundaries.

 

(8)  Scrabble’s a delight

To fans young and old alike;

Nothing’s quite like it.

 

(9)  Music calms the soul;

Words and numbers fill the brain;

Love is above all.

 

Book : All The Words Are Yours

This book of Haiku on love by Tyler Knott Gregson is the result of six years and more than two thousand heartfelt poems posted online.

Traditionally, haiku are about the natural world. While some in the book do not have a seasonal or natural theme, Gregson believes there is no force more natural, or fully unexplored, than love. Here, he challenges himself to notice the smaller, subtler manifestations of the emotion.

Some examples are:

(1)  We are a sad song

Sung in a beautiful voice

Haunting but hopeful.

(2)  Houses are not homes,

We’re not made of bricks and stones,

Home is you and me.

(3)  Living is a choice

And we must make it each day

The moment we wake.

(4)  Let’s grow like the trees

So when we fall like the leaves

None will question us.

(5)  Love me as I am,

See me for who I will be,

Forgive who I was.

(6)  I want to be loved

As intensely as I love

With the same passion.

(7)  You are more than words,

And the letters that make them,

You are poetry.

 

Such beautiful words!

Book : Pimp My Walker

The full title of this adorable little book by Mike Slosberg is Pimp My Walker : The Official Book Of Old Age Haiku. It contains 73 Haiku poems that celebrate the irony, the humour, the rewards and the occasional unhappy aspects of aging.

Writing Haiku poems is a quick and interesting way of expressing our emotions, feelings, attitudes and foibles. Words are fun to play around with. Old age can be depicted as funny, sad, ironic, painful, satisfying, frustrating or challenging and hopefully filled with laughter.

Two poems in this collection I’m particularly fond of are:

(1) Love retirement:

Going to the movies, alone

In the afternoon.

(2) Money’s got to last

As long as me. But if it

Doesn’t … do I die?

Movie : Home Wrecker (DVD, 2010)

This movie tells of the chaos a sinister character brings to the home of a newly married couple. If it is supposed to be scary, then it has failed; the plot is predictable, and the music is a lot of trumpety and metal stuff which do not contribute to the atmosphere.

Jen and Mitch are newlyweds who are mired in debt – student loans and mortgage loans. It is a bit weird that they would choose to buy a big double-storey house with a huge garden, garage, porch and swimming pool. On top of this, they invite Mitch’s best friend Danny to live with them. And Danny gets his new girlfriend Blair to move in too.

At every opportunity, Blair blantantly seduces Mitch – whether it’s because he has had a busy day at the hospital where he interns, or is upset at losing a patient, or because he has had a little tiff with Jen, or simply because Jen is not around.

Not surprisingly, Blair kills Danny in the bath tub by dropping a wired portable radio into the water. Yet she feigns sadness for this ‘unexpected’ death and tells Mitch she wants to continue to stay in the house. A mystery woman appears at the funeral and identifies herself as someone who has worked for the family whose children were murdered by Blair while under her care.

This woman pays an impromptu visit to Blair alone but ends up being killed. When Mitch returns home unexpectedly early, he is attacked by Blair when he rebuffs her seduction. Jen returns to an empty house and starts to search for Mitch but is also attacked by Blair. After several struggles, Blair ends up dead and Jen finds Mitch alive in the swimming pool. The police zoom in and the movie ends.

How melodramatic.

Movie : Temple Grandin (DVD)

This biopic, based on the books Emergence by Temple Grandin and Margaret Scarcaio and Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin opens with Claire Danes (the lead actress) declaring:

My name is Temple Grandin and I’m not like other people. I think in pictures and I connect them.

Then the opening credits came on. I noted that Alex Wurman was in charge of the music but I became so engrossed with the rest of the story that I didn’t pay any more attention to the music!

The story starts with Temple arriving at her aunt’s ranch in Arizona in 1966. Temple is autistic, and Danes did a really good job portraying this. (Having taught an autistic boy before, I could recognise all the gestures and mannerisms as realistic.) For example, to make sure that she knows the room is allocated to her, her aunt has to write “Temple’s Room” on the door (but Temple herself added the word “Grandin”) but when one day the housekeeper accidentally let it fall off, Temple becomes agitated and gets a panic attack.

Autistic people are also particularly observant. Temple is able to separate all the cutlery items and categorise them neatly in the kitchen drawer when neither her aunt nor her uncle has been able to do so all these years. She also knows when the horse is looking (“by their ears”).

Temple did not want to attend college because of “People. I don’t uncerstand people. At least some of the people in schoool know I don’t understand them and some of them are my friends anyway. Girls get goofy over boys. they talk about silly pop groups and clothes and say things like “You are so grumpy” when I’m happy.”

Another characteristic of autistic people is that they are highly intelligent and precise. Soon after arriving at the ranch, Temple invents a brass bell which would open the gate so that the driver/passenger need not get out of the car to push it open. Her mother is pleasantly surprised to see a sign that reads: “Pull Brass Rod/ Gate Opens/ You have 47 seconds to drive through/ TG” which Uncle Mike declares: “Ain’t that the darndest thing? all these years Ann’s been bugging me, like I could ever come up with that!” Aunt Ann also says: “You won’t believe the things she’s fixed. She’s been wonderful with the cattle,” and “She has set her mind on staying.”

At this point in the movie, we get a flash back to when Temple was only 4 years old. She still had no speech at that age and would often rip things up, so her mother took her to a doctor who suggested putting her in an institution as autism could never be cured. But the mother refused, as Temple “was a perfectly normal baby and then she changed. We have another child and she is not like this.” The mother painstakingly taught Temple to read.

When Temple was in Boarding School New Hampshire in 1962, she had to change school mid-term because she had been expelled for hitting another child with a book. I could understand the agony of her mum when she told the principal: “I have never seen her strike unless she’s been provoked. And other children had taunted her and bullied her constantly. They make fun of her because she doesn’t understand their jokes. She spins to comfort herself. She talks fast, often too fast, and she talks repetitively, and then the children called her a tape recorder. Then she’ll go into a panic attack, and then they make fun of that too. If it isn’t good enough, it isn’t good enough. but you can’t imagine the chaos, the upheaval, the tantrums and the pain. Her pain.” Only the new school’s Science teacher, who once worked with NASA, thinks that mum is terrific, and tells her “As a parent, you want to protect her. But at some point, she’s going to hit life head on. And trust me, we know how different she is.”

Temple has an amazing mind. When the Science teacher asks, “Can you bring everything you see in your mind?”, she immediately responds “Sure!” “Even if it’s an everyday object like, say, shoes?” “I see all shoes I’ve worn, my mother’s and other people I’ve met. And you have three pairs, one needs a new heel. And I see the newspaper ads and TV ads and… Can’t you?”

Some of her teachers disagree: “Try teaching her Algebra. Or French. She’s hopeless.” This is because Temple thinks in pictures. That’s why she does so well when she can see the things that are discussed, like biology. Or shop. Those are concrete things. But language or algebra? It’s just gibberish to her. She’s an amazing visual thinker. Eventually this Science teacher convinces Temple to go to college by telling her to “think of it as a door – a door that’s going to open up a whole new world for you. and all you need to do is decide to go through it.”

At Franklin Pierce College in 1966, Temple finally has a blind girl to be her roommate and they become fast freinds, having a lot in common, such as: (TG- “Do you remember a lot of voices?”; Girl- “Of course, I see through sounds. But I remember the sound of a lot of places too.” TG- “We’re the same. Only you see sounds and I have pictures.”) Temple later tells her: “Other people will be overwhelmed by what they are seeing. But you are the only one who could feel and sense what I was trying to accomplish. I know there are a lot of things I can’t understand but I still want my life to have meaning.”

In 1970, Temple is the only female graduate student at Scottsdale, Arizona State. On her first day, she already decides to do research on cow’s mooing and write a thesis on “Agitation in Cattle”. By 1975, Temple has obtained a Master of Science in Animal Science at Bronxville, New York, and produced two articles in The Arizona Farmer-Ranchman : (1) On good moos and bad moos and (2) On head restraints in cattle chutes and killing pens.

At the National Autism Convention in 1981, Temple explains to the people gathered there that “Most autistic people are very sensitive to sounds and colours. Over-stimulation hurts. People talking too much at once can cause us to panic.” Then someone in the audience asks, “How did you get cured?” Temple’s reply is touching and heart-warming: “Well, I am not cured. I’ll always be autistic. My mother refused to believe I wouldn’t speak. And when I learned to speak, she made me go to school. And in school and at home, manners and rules are really important. They were poured into me. I was lucky. All these things worked for me. Everyone worked hard to make sure I was engaged. They knew I was different but was not less. I had a gift. I could see the world in a new way. I could see details that most people are blind to. My mother pushed me to become self-confident. I worked summers at my aunt’s ranch. I went to boarding school and college and those things. Those things were uncomfortable for me at first but they helped me to open doors to new worlds.”

Today, Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University and lectures worldwide on autism and animal handling. In North America, over half the cattle are handled in humane systems she has designed.

Book : Loving Amy

I was instantly attracted to this book, Loving Amy : A Mother’s Story by Janis Winehouse because I wanted to find out why she (Janis) had so little screen time in the biopic ‘Amy’ I watched at the cinema recently. I did not get an answer but I learnt a few more things about Amy.

From the movie, I had the impression that Amy was not very close to her mother. I was wrong. Amy would often cling to her mother, even as an adult. She wrote little notes for her mother, some of which were reproduced in the book.

After reading the book, I got a better insight into Amy’s growing up years, her personality, her feelings of insecurity and depression, despite her tremendous gift and talent, and her addiction and growing dependency on hard drugs and alcohol which eventually killed her.

The only thing in common between the movie and the book is that Blake (Amy’s husband) was a great (negative) influence on Amy. If Amy never met Blake, would she still be alive today? Maybe not, since Blake could not be held solely responsible for her behaviour and addiction.

From the book, I learnt that Amy lacked self-confidence and had low esteem, and chose to hide her insecurities behind drugs and alcohol. I was shocked to read that she regularly cut herself. She was bulimic and had problems with her hormones. I was not surprised that she had many tattoos but I wondered why she had ‘Blake’ (above her leftbreast) and ‘Daddy’s girl’ (on her upper left arm) tattooed but not ‘mummy’ anywhere.

The last words Amy said to her mother were : “I sorry mummy, I love you mummy.” It was such a great shock for Janis to find out the very next morning that Amy had died and she “couldn’t make sense of anything. I sat suspended in time, the life draining away from me”. Amy was 27, “exactly the same age I was on the night I gave birth to her”. Yet “There were no tears. All of my energy went into holding myself up in the face of the shock. In spite of everythin that Amy had been through, I couldn’t have been less prepared for this day”.

 

 

Movie : Staying Alive (DVD, 1983)

What enticed me to pick up this DVD was the fact that it featured music by The Bee Gees, one of my favourite groups.

John Travolta played Tony Manero, a wannabe dancer who went from audition to audition and got rejected so often that it became a ‘hobby’. He tried to get into TV or Broadway but ended up becoming a bartender besides being a teacher at a dance school to make ends meet.

The plot is thin, but there are plenty of dance sequences and music and songs. The only messages put across are: “Everybody uses everybody; don’t they?” and “When you step up in front of the audience, you’re not one of them. You dance for them, not for  yourself.”

I love all the songs written, produced  and sung by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb: “The Woman in You”, “I Love You Too Much”, “Breakout”, “Someone Belonging to Someone” “Life Goes On” and “Staying Alive”. My favourite is “Someone Belonging to Someone”, though I think “Staying Alive” is generally more popular. I wonder why neither won any prize, like the Oscar or Grammy.

Additional music and score were adapted by Johnny Mandel, and there were lots of lovely ones: “Devils and Seducers”, “Far From Over”, “Moody Girl”, “Finding Out The Hard Way”, “Look Out For Number One”, “Royale Theatre Show”, “Hope We Never Change”, “Waking Up”, “I’m Never Gonna Give You Up”, “(We Dance) So Close to The Fire” and “The Winning End”.

I can’t imagine John Travolta in a role like Tony Manero now.

Piano Recital : Clarence Lee

Last Wednesday’s Masters’ Recital at the Concert Hall of the Yong Siew Toh Consevatory of Music, National University of Singapore by Clarence Lee could well be the last time he performed for free, so I made sure I attended, despite feeling a bit under the weather.

I was really glad that I did. The four pieces he played truly showcased Lee’s mastery and proficiency:

(1) Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849) : Ballade No 4 in F Minor, Op 52

Despite this being the most complex, difficult and profound of the set of four ballades. Lee was clearly in ecstasy. The piece is in variation form, and each time the main melody returns, in whatever way it is decorated, the sounds were pristine and crystal clear. The use of pedalling was skillful and rubato was subtle yet effective. I admire Lee’s ability to portray the epic piece as something deceptively easy. Fiery passages are Lee’s forte and the audience were swept up by the passion and emotion towards the climax and the calm after the storm.

(2) Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) : Estampes

I Pagodes

This pentatonic sounding movement was played with a gentle touch. The left hand notes were striking against the shimmering sparkles of the right hand.The musical colours and textures were magnificent.

II La Soiree dans Grenade

Both the steady Habanera rhythm and melody in the left hand against the melody in the right hand were clear and strong. I enjoyed watching Lee’s adept juxtaposition of both hands while he was clearly enjoying himself playing it!

III Jardins sous la plule

It was again amazing to see Lee’s seemingly tireless fingers up close throughout, whether he was playing cross-hands or producing a harp-like cascading effect with one hand while the other hand sang the main melodies.

(3) Franz Liszt : Transcendental Etude No 8 in C Minor “Wilde Jagd”

Here is another piece that truly displayed Lee’s mastery of the piano. He was able to create maximum effect with seemingly minimum effort. I was enthralled the moment the first note was struck. There was excitement galore in tonight’s performance. From the thundering octaves to the ‘over the top’ emotional outpour and the technical challenges including octaves and chord leaps spanning two to three apart and yet being able to sustain a cantabile legato melody over a detached and light left hand accompaniment, Lee again exemplified the consummate pianist of great stamina and worthy of the international stage.

(4) Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) : Fantasie in C major, Op 15 “Wandererfantasie”

Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo

II Adagio

III Presto

      IV Allegro

Regarded as one of the mose difficult pieces for solo piano, this fantasy is in four parts, with each section linked together without break. Each time the well-loved motif (made up of the first eleven notes of the melody) reappeared, it was played in a fresh and contrasting style (for esample, simply majestic or wonderfully melodious). The quiet moments were haunting while the fast passages were bursting with boundless energy.

Overall, Lee gave an impressive performance. The thunderous applause from the appreciative audience was testimony of a great pianist in the making, one who may one day put Singapore on the world map, like Lang Lang did China.

Book : The Meaning of Life

I was very excited when I chanced upon The Meaning of Life by Bradley Trevor Grieve on the shelves of the Book Exchange Corner at the Bishan library. It is compact and full of beautiful photographs. (There is a photograph on every page, even the Prologue.) It is as close to a ‘picture book’ for adults as you can get.

Instead of answers, as one would expect from the title, it is actually a book about questions. Some of these are:

#  Why are we so overly impressed by and obsessed with objects and achievements of immense scale,      when it is actually the tiny little things that, when put together, make big things possible?

#  Why do we try to create our own little worlds so we have the illusion of being completely in control         of our entire existence, when we know with absolute certainty that we are not?

#  Why do we go on and on about individuality being the very essence of who we are, and then accept a      degrading level of conformity in virtually every facet of our lives?

#  Why do children believe in fairies but “grown-ups” don’t?

#  Why do we get so hung up on what we don’t agree on, when in fact it’s our differences that make life     interesting?

#  Why is it that when passions are inflamed we choose to argue and fight, when dancing the cha-cha is     less injurious, far more enjoyable, and equally effective in resolving the tension?

#  Why exactly are you here? What is it that you truly love?

#  What are we actually doing?

#  What is your life’s passion?

The author acknowledged that all the photographs were sourced from various individuals, agencies and libraries (in Australia) and he thanked them for allowing him to merely “piggyback on their immesurable talent”. However, I think the author is talented and creative in his own right by putting   very apt words and using interesting photographs on such a profound topic.

I was surprised to discover that this svelte volumn was published in Singapore!

 

Movie : Spectre

Just when I thought I’ve had enough of action-packed movies, something new and different cropped up that enticed me to watch Spectre, the latest Bond movie: actor Ralph Fiennes as the new M, and an opinion piece in The Straits Times written by an Adjunct Associate Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, and Non-resident Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute based in New York.

Ralph Fiennes has been one of my favoutite actors for a long time, and I try to catch every movie that he appears in, whether at the cinemas or on DVD. I was disappointed that as the new M, his role was not as memorable as when it was written for Judi Dench. Perhaps that is something to look forward to in the next installment.

I quote from The Straits Times article:

The continuing success of the James Bond franchise over five decades is commonly attributed to its universally appealing cliche: femme fatales, glamorous locations, fast cars, over-the-top villians and.of course, the lone secret agent with the license to kill, whom every man wants to be and every woman wants to be with.  There is another often overlooked element that has contributed to the success of the series: its representation of people’s innermost geopolitical fears.  Terrorism, organised crime, weapons of mass destruction, economic crises, environmental devastation: The list of international threats in the Bond world is at least as long as that of his gadgets and lovers.

Spectre stands for special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

Two things I liked about the movie are the music and the scenic shots.

I liked how Thomas Newman orchestrated and conducted the music. The use of full orchestra, or just a piano or a clarinet at the appropriate scenes enhanced the emotion it was trying to evoke at particular scenes. There were shades of Rimsky-Korsakov (most famous for The Flight of the Bumble Bee) to bring us from a boring meeting to sudden excitement. With helicopter chases and street races came tutti (where all the instruments play together) from the orchestra, but rescue scenes were depicted by the calming and soothing violins and harp.

A lone bassoon and some small percussive instruments in the background conveyed the serendipity of a single wooden house among the lovely and neat rows of pines trees in the mountains covered by glaciers; whereas a sudden clash of dissonance was heard when a swarm of black flying creatures (crows? moths?) abruptly disrupted the quiet and peace. A gradual crescendo of cymbals was heard when Bond unexpectedly stumbled upon a room full of monitors and other gadgets.

It was significant that the only time we heard the London Voice Choir was in an aria sung at the funeral of an infamous criminal, and the only instrument accompanying it was the clarinet. The aria, sung in a foreign language (Italian?) aptly conveyed the message that his widow perhaps had secrets, and the atmosphere was made more dramatic.

At crucial scenes, for example, when serious or important dialogues were taking place, and even at a crucial human combat scene, there was a marked absence of music. This was indeed very effective. The rhythm became lively when the scene got more exciting; for example, the helicopter chase was given greater prominence with the interesting dialogue between the different sections of the orchestra. In the fight scene, the crashing of objects, the punches and the grunts were loud and clear and all the more devastating. This is especially felt when the aftermath is accompanied by soothing solo piano and violin passages.

Another aspect of music worth mentioning is the theme song sung by Sam Smith: Weeping on the Wall. I am sure it is going to be a great hit, if it isn’t already is.

I guess it is to be expected that any Bond movie would have the budget to include numerous wide-angled, paranomic and picturesque shots of far-flung places. Here, Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Tangier, Morocco and the deserts in South Africa are feasts for the eyes. How else and what better way to enjoy all these wonderful sights at different times of the day (especially beautiful were the snow-capped mountains and glaciers in Austria and the African desert at dusk), all within 148  minutes and for only S$4?