Do You Swim Free?

Swimming free of the hourglass

Breaking out of the Hourglass

I don’t know about other parts of my life, but when it comes to writing, I hate comfort zones.

I like to swim free, break the bounds of my aquarium.

The minute I’ve figured out a way to say something, a bit of craft or technique, I start searching for other ways. When I think I know enough about a character, I let him or her go in search of new ones.

I’ve read authors who hash the same thing over and over, who keep milking a premise or an idea till I know I don’t need to read any more of their books. I know what their next book would be about, and the next. While there is comfort in familiarity, there is no excitement. And my sedate self likes adventure when it comes to reading and writing.

Sometimes I feel like a particle of sand trapped in an hourglass, rising and falling in the same confined space– and that’s when I break out, write in a different genre, try an experimental narrative structure, read an anthology of poetry from cover to cover.

So do you like breaking out of the hourglass? Do you believe in smoking new words for a different pipe dream?

How Fair is Fair?

I’m not sure what’s with the Asian obsession with fair skin. Fairness creams are all the rage. Fair skin makes you a better person, more successful: Bollywood figures  endorse these creams.

The Asina craze for fair skin

The fairness craze in Asia

This craze isn’t limited to India though, where you do see dark people, but also in Singapore, where the populace is generally fair-skinned. Some whitening creams I’ve seen here cost more than a few months’ worth of groceries. Having never been fascinated by fair skin (quite the opposite in fact), I haven’t tried out these creams, so can’t comment on how effective they are– but as a writer, the  obsession with ‘whitening’ seems rife with fictional possibilities.

Especially when I see the contrast with Caucasians: they throng beaches and swimming pools in Asia when the sun is at its peak, getting their ‘tans’ (for which they use ‘tanning beds’ in their native countries). The Asians emerge only after the shadows have begun to fall, careful as ever of the fragile ‘fairness’ of their skins.

Wherever I’ve traveled in Asia, I’ve seen young women tagging along after a (usually) elderly male gone to fat, pushing prams containing, you guessed it, ‘fair’ kids. (It could be love too, or economics, and I’ll perhaps have a gang of Asian ladies ready to slit my throat for daring to suggest otherwise.)

But the following article in one of India’s leading newspapers takes the cake:

Mayuri Singhal, 36, married into a fair-skinned family. She herself is what is often described in matrimonial columns as ‘wheatish’. When she couldn’t conceive, she walked into an IVF clinic with her demand: a ‘white’ baby. “I had read on the internet that one could access a donor who is fair. I decided to opt for one so that the child blends in with the family.”

According to the World Health Organization, there are close to 19 million infertile couples in India and their numbers are growing. “Couples who come for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) list out specifications — the egg or sperm donor should be educated, fair, have blue eyes,” says Dr Rita Bakshi, an IVF expert. Dr Bakshi says roughly 70% clients ask for fair donors.

Say what? Not happy with the dark skin you’re born with, you actually want a custom-made ‘fair’ baby with blue eyes? I can see a collection of stories set around an Indian IVF clinic, or even an Indian sci-fi horror saga.

Have you ever seen the obsession with a different  skin tone play out at a location near you? What did you think of it?


Have You Kissed a Mountaintop Without Trudging Up Its Slopes? #IWSG

Yaks carrying their burden

Trudging Up the Mountain

The following post is for Insecure Writers Support Group hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

This is a picture taken by my dad, somewhere upwards of Nepal, on some off-the-map stretch of Tibet during his trek in the Himalayas, where the hourglass turns at a different pace, and the air is rare and thin. The Yaks make those bundles look small, but I’m sure they feel the weight just the same. Just as I do, writing chapter after chapter of my WIP. A lot of writers I meet online and off say that they enjoy writing. For me, I enjoy having written. And right now I feel the weight of all those unwritten chapters, and the air around me seems thin.

Prayer flags in the Himalayas where the hourglass is slow

Prayer flags in the Himalayas

What I need, is to let go. Not of the writing, no; but of my ingrained instinct for perfection. I’ve been studying rewrites and editing for fiction classes I do with kids, and that seems to have rubbed off on me. I can let my inner perfectionist loose when I do rewrites. Not now, during the first draft.

Right now is the time to let my soul take flight, like these prayer flags from my Dad’s camera on that same trip. They seem to reach for that obscured peak, losing none of their colorful exuberance in the process. There is more than one way to climb a mountain, they seem to whisper to the winds. On some days,  you can kiss a mountain’s top without trudging up its slopes. Let the breeze bear you up, all you have to do is let yourself float.

Have You Kissed a Mountaintop Without Trudging Up Its Slopes?

What is Normal?

Normal is an hourglass

What is normal?

Normalcy has many definitions— probably as many as there are people in this world.

Recently, I heard a statement: Anything or anyone can be normal no matter how bizarre or extreme, you just have to get used to it.

In some societies female infanticide is normal, in others cannibalism used to be normal, in some societies equality between men and women is normal, in others, patriarchy or matriarchy. For a thief, stealing is normal, for a priest, praying is normal.

Should we define normalcy? What are the advantages of defining it? Disadvantages? Is there something that is normal for you, and is completely abnormal for someone else?

Is ‘normalcy’ the name for ‘what we’re used to’— if not, then what is ‘Normal’?

To Finish Is Also a Painful Thing: Fiction

To finish is also a painful thing

Hourglass Sketch: Photo Credits: Rebecca Rentz.

To start something new and not finish is a painful thing, said Mrs. Winter, her pencil poised above thick, sand-creamy paper.

No such compunctions for Mr. Winter, though, who at that very moment had given up on sawing through the log for the artist’s stool for Mrs. Winter. A ready-made stool would do just as well, and not create half as much work or dust, said Mr. Winter, his gecko hands folded in front of him. He walked through the puddles of half-finished projects he had left in his den, and sought out the fireplace to smoke a pipe. He could wait a few more days (or weeks, or months or years) to meet Mrs. Winter with her new stool.

Mrs. Winter sketched out an hourglass, then added a leak— sand trickling, grain by grain, out of the bowl above into the bowl below, and from the bowl below on to the floor. That’s my life, said, Mrs. Winter, folding her gecko hands in turn, lonely blood flowing out on the cold, waiting snow. She kept sketching, and forgot about lunch.

Mr. Winter fell into a nap by the fireside.

When it was time for dinner, Mrs. Winter got up, tried to stretch out the cricks from her back and shoulders, felt them rise into her head, become an ache. Her sketch was done, the very first draft of her painting.

Getting fitted with a gecko’s limbs was a small price to pay to live longer, to climb out of any disaster, to finish everything that had seen a start.

But just then, the ground beneath her feet shook, the pens on her table rattled, the water in her glass sloshed out, the glass rolled over and smashed on the floor.

Downstairs, the large head of a stag Mr. Winter had hunted many decades ago dropped on his head and knocked him out. He never knew what got him.

Mrs. Winter felt every blow, heard each pot and pan in the kitchen crash, absorbed the thud of something heavy, a tree or a pole, as it flattened her garage, felt the table and then the roof plummet on her, beating her to slow but conscious pulp.

To finish is also a painful thing, said Mrs. Winter, blood dripping on her hourglass sketch with its penciled black-and-white blood. She closed her eyes, and presumably joined Mr. Winter for the first time in years.


A to Z Stories of Life and Death

A to Z Stories of Life and Death

If you’re intrigued by this piece, you can find more of my work in A to Z Stories of Life and Death.

———Fiction authors, take a look at the

Rule of Three Blogfest

The Rule of Three is a month-long fiction blogfest,

The Rule of Three at Renaissance

a month-long shared-world fiction extravaganza starting 5th October— with some great prizes, and of course, a lot of exposure and constructive feedback for your writing. This is one Blogfest fiction authors ought not to miss. Go ahead and sign up!

Do what you do: Another short short!

Do what you do: the Man and his Muse

Do what you do: the Man and his Muse

Every once in a while I doodle on a writing prompt and it becomes a piece of flash fiction, and that is what happened this morning. Without further ado, I give you the result of the timed free-writing I did today:


If Donatella Versace ever needed a double, this one would have worked. She had the fake hourglass figure, the stringy, flat, blonde hair, the bulbous lips, and sunken eyes penciled over high cheek bones. He checked his wallet. After he paid for the drinks, he might have just enough to persuade her.

He gulped down his drink, wiped his beard, and shuffled out to the men’s room, pushing through the crass Karaoke songs in Singlish, the cigarette smoke, the stink of cheap whisky, beer, and wine. She walked past him, almost colliding.

For a moment, he thought she would come undone, her breasts bounce on the floor, each going its separate way, her ass tumble out and rock slowly in its place, her lips splatter on the floor in a pink splotch. But her lipstick held back her lips, her bustier did an admirable job of keeping together her middle, and stockings and stays did the rest. She stayed within her skin and righted herself on her teetering heels.

Back on his seat, he waved for the check, and she came, holding the small black folder with her claw-like nails.  The sight of them prompted him to look at his own gnarled hands, yellow, blue, and green paint cracked under his nails.

When he asked her, she smiled, and said in her nasal, Texan drawl, aren’t you too old to be doing such things?

I’ll never be too old to do what I do, he said.

Afterwards, when he had taken off her breasts, her lips, her ass, her heels, she talked to him of her husband back home who had married again, of her kids who must have grown up by now, of how terrified she was of growing old.

The studio loft smelled of her, her perfume, and turpentine. His hands worked as she talked, and there they were, the swollen body parts she had stuck on herself to become more of a woman, hanging on sticks on his canvas, sailing on strings.  Behind her, from the window,  the lights of the Singapore skyline went out one by one, and the faint gray outline of tall buildings appeared against the dark of dawn.

Do me a favor, he said, come back often.

I will, she said. I love that you do what you do.

And so they came together, the man and his muse.


Bite-sized Short Stories

For those who’ve already read my other pieces,  please help me spread the word about A-Z Stories of Life and Death, my book of short short stories. If this is your first encounter with my work, and if you like it, please check out my book as well!