Monday, August 10, 2020

What Day Is It?

For most of yesterday, I was convinced that it was Monday when in fact it was Sunday. So things seemed a little off. For one thing, I was not hearing from my friend in Jakarta, who rather reliably chats with me on weekdays (though she is busy with her family on weekends). Also, the mall I went to seemed unusually crowded for a Monday--and in fact I had gone there on this day (which I thought was Monday) because I wanted to avoid the Sunday crowd and of course the greater threat of COVID. It wasn't until evening that I happened to actually look at my phone, and see it, and so discover that the day was Sunday, not Monday. Well, guess at least I was ahead of myself rather than behind myself. That's a good thing, init?

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Losing It

Something has been bothering me about Survivors Song, the novel I've just finished reading, and it's not primarily the zombies (who are not really zombies), the human flesh eating scenes, the desperate journey undertaken by the main characters in search of help--it's none of that at all, and I'm sorry if my blog seems to have taken on a zombie theme of late, but what has been bothering me, as I was able this morning to suddenly determine, is the description of a mind in incremental collapse, because I am sensing day by day that my own mind is sailing a uncomfortably similar course. 

In the novel, the two central characters, Ramola, a young pediatrics doctor, and her long time friend, Natalie, who has just been bitten by a rabid man, find themselves caught up in increasingly desperate circumstances as they attempt to get swift treatment for Natalie, both aware that this particularly virulent version of rabies progresses within just a few hours to violent madness and death. It is an awareness that progresses from what is merely detached acknowledgment to grave reality, from aloof observation to painful experience. 

What seeded itself in my mind, finding a point of personal reference, was not the horror of being bitten or the continual threat of being even further bitten or even of going rabid oneself, but the horror of one's mind slipping away, the irrepressible piece by piece subtraction of one's mental acuity, one's very sense of self until he is left only as a biological aggregate of functioning organic systems without discernable soulfulness. 

What presses itself upon me is a daily awareness of a growing fogginess of mind, an increasingly common habit of having to grasp for simple things, a stubborn retreat of common language production. I've seen all this happen before in my mother, in the rather swift progression of Alzheimer's disease which overtook her and overcame her. The feeling of being able to only helplessly observe was horrible enough. The feeling of having fallen oneself into that relentless torrent is sheer terror. Disbelief, then denial, then terror. 

Am I suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer's? Or is this all part of MS--just brain fog, no worries? Or am I merely insufficiently engaged, my mind lacking exercise? And yet look what happens when I try to exercise it--staring at the screen, consulting the thesaurus, chasing ghosts within a fog, producing gibberish. None of this, as I have said, but none of this, is what I meant to say. 

I remember a little spiral notebook my mother kept in a bedside drawer. In it she had written numbers, numbers and numbers--telephone numbers, I think--and she had written her own name, again and again, in various renditions, various styles of penmanship, various spellings. Desperately clinging to herself. 

Do you know how many things I myself have written down? My address. My phone number. Multiple passwords. And which of these, I wonder, is correct, if any? And which, however carefully recorded, can hope to maintain anything of essential meaning? One tries to save the pieces as if they might reconstitute the vessel. 

Well, maybe I'm just tired, I say. We say. A good night's sleep is sure to do me a world of good, and all will be clear in the morning. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells ...

The dimming or leaking away of who you are is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. 
--Paul Tremblay, Survivors Song

Well, I'm not becoming a zombie, per se. Then again, neither were the afflicted (or, rather, the infected) in Tremblay's novel. But I do have this sense of a 'leaking away' of self, of identity, of purpose. I feel pointless, more to me of mere organism than defined individual. Morning and night perform a mechanical leapfrogging one day to the next and the next without perceptible break in rhythm, little more conscious of moments than a dumbly ticking clock. I wake to the gamelan bells and gongs of the morning call to offerings with a cup of tea, a hungrily inhaled cigarette, a bowl of instant oatmeal. I watch the news, the same news. The world is reported to be outrageous. I am driven to the streets, but they are the same streets, and I stop for the same cup of coffee, sit at the same table, discovering once again that language once lost cannot be recaptured whole but merely reapproximated. It is like trying to reconstruct a lost manuscript. One can recount, one cannot recreate. Again the bells chime and gong at 6. This can only mean that it is dinnertime. This is the time that offerings are given. It is time for the gods to be fed. We are that we are. The day has taken care of itself, it has consumed itself and expended itself, and we, the gods and I, have done nothing. Nor is any of this what I meant to say. The gongs and bells, the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, lead to the usual guttural chant. Ohmmmm. Wahhhhhhhh. The same words in the morning, the same words in the evening, standing in for whatever we meant to or wanted to say.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Speaking of zombies, has anyone been watching this Netflix series Kingdom? Oh my gosh. Best zombie flick ever!

It happens that I got myself onto a Netflix account as a user and straightaway became addicted to Kingdom, which I had actually never even heard of before. It is a South Korean series but comes both with voice dubbing and with subtitles. Curiously, the voice dubbing appears much more reliable than the written subtitles--not that I can speak Korean, but you know when the English subtitles sometimes don't even make sense and the dubbing does, it's pretty obvious that one does best to ignore the subtitles.

But anyway, I was instantly impressed with this classy new take on the zombie drama, which is rendered even more eerie by the strangeness and darkness of the late 17 century Asian setting and its eastern tradition interpretation of how this scourge arises in the first place. Featured as well are some entertaining echoes of classic Chinese epic literature and even of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Of course, as every zombie enthusiast knows, zombie movies are never really about zombies. The zombies tend more to be an expression of seemingly forever undead sociopolitical troubles, racial tension and fears, living humankind's ironic attraction to self destruction, and so on. These are malignancies that not only live, but live again and again.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Survivors Song

The most interesting thing about Paul Treblay's pandemic horror novel Survivors Song is how closely it tracks with the real world horrors of the COVID virus, and the most amazing thing about the novel is that it was penned before the pandemic existed.

In an early passage, one of the novel's two main characters, a Massachusetts doctor, describes the situation in an online communication with her coworkers in this manner:

We need to tell everyone that we have no clue how to handle this. That friggin news conference in Boston was all lies! Homeland security guy said area hospitals all have appropriate staff and equipment. Jackass president tweeting the same.

Sound familiar? There are references to a catastrophic lack of PPE, an overflowing of hospital wards, the setting up of emergency triage tents, the frightening loss of doctors and nurses to the virus along with those thousands who come in sick, and of course the now familiar government ineptitude, and worse yet recalcitrance, in effectively addressing the pandemic. 

Isn't it odd how fiction writers so often outline the shape of things to come well before we actually find ourselves living them?

Outside of the hospital environment, an atmosphere of lockdown is described, streets nearly deserted, businesses closed, only the grocery stores open, and their stocks stressed by hoarding buyers.

After shared, restrained laughter, they drive in silence, passing through this new ghost town, where the ghosts are reflections of what was and projections of what might never be again.

Of course, Survivors Song is not about a respiratory virus pandemic, which though horrifying in itself is not nearly as terrifying as the rabies pandemic imagined in the novel, which is very easily transmitted through both animal and human bite as well as mere contact with saliva. In this sense, Survivors Song becomes a rather common, though well written, well constructed zombie novel (although the doctor already mentioned continually chides others not to call these poor infected people 'zombies'--for after all they are not dead or undead but merely ill).

Having read Treblay's excellent A Head Full of Ghosts, I found Survivors Song, aside from its prescient qualities, weak in comparison and lacking in narrative depth. Nonetheless, it provides an entertaining journey through a panic stricken pandemic land and offers a whole host of Whoa, deja vu moments.

Sunday, August 2, 2020


In the August wind the bougainvillea flowers and petals from the plant at the house front come in through the open window and door. A fine black dust comes in as well from the ongoing construction on the street and the red and pink petals and the black dust swirl on the white ceramic tiles like the fine aluminum powder on the inside of an Etch-a-Sketch screen, endlessly drawing the shape of the days by the unattended  minute and hour. Two little dogs, one white and one black, blow in as well and swirl as well, sometimes resting in the right angle of a corner or beneath the curtain hem at the long back window, sometimes blowing back out again. They always come back, and more flowers arrive, and more dust, and nothing and no one is moving in the house except for the dogs and the flowers and the dust. Eventually someone will discover that no one is moving and they will see the story of the petals and the dust and perhaps the dogs and they will understand that this is all a short history of something and that all that remains is to shake and erase.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Address Change

I finally got around to facing the task of calling Social Security to record my change of address. This is supposedly of great importance because, supposedly, they occasionally send a query just to see if a recipient is still alive and therefore whether they ought to be depositing a monthly payment.

The thing is, as anyone who has had to deal with SSA knows, it is not that easy to complete this simple task. And if you live on the other side of the world, there are extra bonus problems. For instance, you guys in the States are on the whole wrong time and whole wrong day--which means that I must try to call either late at night or early in the morning in order to reach the office during working hours there. And of course once you get through, you're looking at a long period of elevator music while you wait on the line. Sure, you can request a call back instead, but this is really quite an iffy proposition in Indonesia. Better to just sit out the wait.

Sit it out I did, and the wait turned out to be about forty minutes--only to find, when a representative finally answered, that my change of address from last year, which I had also waited forty minutes to record, had not been recorded. (No wonder I did not receive a single piece of mail for more than a year). This address failure caused a certain amount of confusion and I was asked to give previous addresses. Even those turned out to be wrong, but one was just close enough for approval to finish the new change.

Whether this change actually takes will be a question for the future. The good news, I guess, is that I don't plan to move again before dying, so I suppose that if I don't receive any mail for another year I can try again. Something to look forward to (not).