Discover more from half-baked stirrings
"into this or another interminable kissing"
Midway through reading Harry Dodge's brilliantly webby encounters in My Meteorite, I was moved to do a little swim in the patterned waters of apophenia and other cosmic collisions.
(i) Sight-sensing: When a glimpse becomes a gaze
I was four. We came home to a house that had been empty for a week. A long hospital stay due to my chronic asthma. My eyes kept tracing the corner of our living room in the first few days that we were home. Gaze held, mesmerised by something unseen. Transfixed. Frozen. I do not remember this although my mother has told this story to me several times. A man, an exceptionally tall and towering man in a cowboy hat was standing there gazing back at me, at us. Some ghostly panopticon, observer, godlike. My parents cleansed the house and he was gone.
These beings or kelibat, continues until today. Glimpses caught at the corner of the eye, not quite a mirage, but refraction of dimensions. Disappearing when a glimpse becomes a gaze, I no longer possess the ability to hold it for long. These kelibats carry different qualities, some more distinct than others, more intentional. Some seem to be there throughout, occupiers of the space. Penjaga rumah or guardians of the house. My mother’s house, an old man in the bedroom by the window. My Maklong’s house, a man and his child by the staircase, a small girl in my cousin’s bedroom. Sometimes the figures are flimsy gauze, caught between stratospheres. Older spirits with no shape or gender, ethereal biome of marine or forest. Animal spirits that jump into view, evanescing into wetness, a humidity, before anything
is can be retained.
It was our second trip to Japan. My daughter, Inaya was about a one and half years old. My partner was part of a group exhibition in a gallery inside some fancy bougie mall with a bougie name, Otemansando Hills. As he was putting up the installation leading up to the opening in the space, I spend long days with Inaya during the tail end of winter. It was a beautiful apartment with wooden floors and ample space for us to lizard around in the mornings before heading out for lovely afternoon walks around Shibuya. The house had a kelibat, gargantuan in size, propped between the living room and kitchen area. I could not tell what they were other than their bulbous slowness and warm disposition, already a pretty uncanny combination. A little bit Totoro, a whole lot of Radish Spirit since these were my only references but much much older and imperceptible.
I kept the house clean and tidy, which was also uncanny especially left alone with a child who is at the cusp of baby and toddler, still needy with a developing mischief that was surfacing in her toy-throwing and unrestrained explorations around this new temporary world we were occupying for close to a week. My partner came home on the second night and said confidently after dinner that he was not informed that there was housekeeping in this apartment and I replied with annoyance that I was the housekeeper.
Trust me when I say it’s not like I needed to but genuinely wanted to. It was a paisey feeling, a need to be respectful to the space, as though we were guests to this otherwordly host and a lot of being humbled by their presence. Don’t get me wrong, this big and beautiful being was not at all malevolent. In fact, their energy was rather maternal, like an old grandma and Inaya loved playing at that very spot. The reverence for this unknown creature spirit have made me turned my gaze elsewhere each time I passed by the area.
On our last night, Inaya had trouble sleeping and we had an early morning call to the airport. She’d fall asleep in our arms, sleep for about fifteen minutes to half an hour and wake up screaming. Disturbed sleep was a prerequisite on all our trips overseas but this happened only on the last and only pertinent night of all that it was hard to kind of grit through. In the middle of the nervous soothing and the night growing slim from any chance of getting a solid few hours of rest, a glass pitcher broke into pieces scattered the wooden floor, wet and gleaming. A crack and a schwing that broke the silence. A cold feeling.
My partner tried to read me in the moment, wanted to ask but hesitated. We were brought up to not tegur, to not imbue any spiritual peculiarities with the animus of words spoken out loud in case that small tear between dimensions gets tangled up, grow large, acquire flesh and bone. Saying something aloud is hardening the glimpse, holding on for too long. The glimpse is then a gaze that penetrates and bridges into these thresholds as they make their way into ours. A merging, an emergence. It was only when we have arrived back home that I told my partner that my sense was that this spirit being, this reverent creature had taken a liking to Inaya and was finding it hard to say goodbye. That the breaking of the pitcher and the crying was some collision of some quantum emotional surge beyond my understanding but we all felt it that night, and in the morning, the heavy trudging as we took our bags and left.
(ii) “When you get there, you will already be there**”
(** taken from a scene in Twin Peaks: The Return)
In My Meteorite, Harry Dodge describes his unfastened searching for his birth mother, Donny, at different stages in his life. This includes drunk flipping through telephone books or imagining her in unremarkable women who fit her age group. One in particular, is a trip to an old area in San Francisco in which he came upon a bar called THE LOST AND FOUND, the same title of a book he read at 13, LOST AND FOUND: The Adoption Experience in which he echoed into his own report on the psychological stresses which follows adoption with he titled with no irony, you guess it, LOST AND FOUND: A report by Harry Dodge. He imagined Donny to be in this bar in particular.
On another tangent which seems completely unrelated until much later, he shared his earnest habit as child to record all the books he had rate, registering them in chronological order, with title, author and an endearing rating system of up to four stars. One book however, Theodore Sturgeon’s The Dreaming Jewels received five stars and marked with THEE BEST, his favourite book of all time. Unsurpassed by other books that came before and after this one, Harry took note of this each time a new entry was made.
Many years later, upon his first meeting with his birth mother, in what I imagine to be a dimly lit Chili’s in San Jose, they spend three hours catching up on each other lives and likes, a seemingly casual back and forth. In one instance, Donny mentioned her regular drinking joint, “Pearly and I drank at the Lost and Found — a bar called the Lost and Found — that was our place…for decades”. Unwillingly Harry recounted how he had stood outside the same bar years ago wondering if she was inside. Well I probably was. We all but lived there, hon.
Ok then this part really hit me hard because like wtf guys.
“And then I see Donny’s mouth say, My favourite book is by this guy Theodore Sturgeon who no one has ever heard of. It’s called The Dreaming Jewels. She pushes her glasses up on her nose and says I love that book.
Here is a fold in time and I cross over, touch the little paperback, the pages. The back cover says, They caught Horty eating ants under the bleachers at the high school stadium. I become a time-snake, a cylindrical thing, fat and quaggy, matting down grass in a meadow made of time. I remember the marginalia, THEE BEST, I had written and the stars crowding the box and how vital and tender, but also repulsive — I remember how at home that book made me feel”
This part hit me really hard. I’ve encountered this Rube Goldberg effect described as, a fantastically complicated improvised appearance", or "deviously complex and impractical" which begins harmlessly with some random seed rolling through non-related series of events or experiences, conversations, moments. Not growing in size, but density and gravity accumulates and saturates towards some cosmic endpoint, some ahhh, wtf goosebumps all over my body how did I get here, I have always been here I just did not know it then and I know it now and now what of it, feeling. Gah. And unlike the linearity of the Rube Goldberg with that epic finisher of cheap homemade confetti or something of that degree: this thing, this mad collision of series of unrelated events is more complex, a kind of feeling right before it happens that whatever that follows has already happened elsewhere in a different form, time, space.
I was twenty-two, hand in an oversized tote rummaging for something to read as I am taking the biggest dump. A toilet at Wheelock when Borders were still around, the best toilet for a dump because it’s always empty. I found the book that my then situationship, now partner has passed to me a few days back. Something he had been reading he told me. I flipped to the first page and saw a handwritten inscription, the handwriting scrawl so vaguely familiar. I read the note, a nitra-high led to a five finger discount at (some cosmic dust grain collides with another) Borders, the only one in Wheelock. What are the odds. This person felt bad for stealing the book and gifted it to the owner, who was not my partner but someone else. The note signed off, (these dust grains intensifies, stick, separate, stick, separate), Rock and Roll Jihad.
This phrase was only used by a group of boys I had house parties with, in a three-room old estate in Toa Payoh. I had my first house sesh on stale old E’s I’ve pocketed from some other leftover party with S just about two years prior and it became a sorta escapism ritual we’d indulge in. The monthlies we’d call them. I’d bring the stuff and he hosted, music, house and safety. Just the two of us at first and then somehow this grew from two, to four and then up to eight on busy nights. Always boys, the same group. Rock and Roll Jihad they’d say across the room when a guitar phrase fill up that dank living room and merged, a wet open mouth, with the chemicals. (these dust grains merged, growing in size and the attraction palpable, almost a thing now, its own creature)
As you guess it, that night was going to be our scheduled session. What a strange thing this inscription. When I arrived at S’s place, I placed the book on the coffee table next to a small thumb sized ziplock bag with six E’s nestled in a cuddle, milky white with an embossed chick on one side. White Chick we’d call it, the good stuff always with that residual powder making the clear bag slightly translucent. S saw the book, stopped, flipped it and asked in bewilderment, how did this get here? (cosmic grains morph into dancing globs, branes beyond space time striking against the hardness of rationality with some kind of force, some mutual gravity). What are the odds huh?
I was there that night when S stole those books, with a lowlife over-the-counter addict, L who likes to befriend people so they’d get him some Nitra. These sleeping benzos makes anyone super cocky and utterly annoying if they consume more than what’s needed. I had urged S to continue on with our usual sesh of E’s and the combination had caused him to have such a massive bad trip. The book that was in my possession was given to A, who joins us for sessions on occasion, who had passed it to his brother to which my partner’s brother had borrowed it. I found out much later that my partner grabbed whatever cool book he found at home to pass to me. With that cryptic inscription to be read at the same place it was taken from, only to be returned back in that same house making a loopy passage twice. Round and round and round it goes. (an unruly conjunction, a shedding, slithered out snake white and skinless, monstrous)
Our time snake is thick and knotted into itself, unfolding and folding. Years later, my friendship with S had turned lukewarm. We weren’t as tight as before, had several falling outs that loosen the bond that was build purely on chemicals and shared family traumas, a kinship of misery, some warm feeling that has diffused and grown slightly bitter, some nostalgic grip rather than true connection. The year I met Z, they were 21. We had gone to screening at some art space in Geylang. Knowing they stayed in Toa Payoh, I’ve asked them as we were taking a lift down together, which block? A new knot formed in the time snake. That block. Haha what are the odds? I asked Z if they knew their neighbours well and hesitated to asked which floor they had stayed on because that would have been such a weird question.
On a different night in the following months, S and I did a catch up to which he was bitching about his cousin who has been staying at the same house we partied at, about the mess and the utter disregard and blah blah, and I interrupted with, how old is your cousin. Only 21 he replied, and I felt the time snake tighten and release their grip. Shedding skin. I laughed. Why he asked. Nothing I replied.
The time snake is still very much alive now. There is much more to this story and the entanglements are much deeper than what I can share now. S and I are no longer friends. But there was no way I could cut that cord finding myself replicating the same loop with Z, though much different. And if I manage to free myself momentarily and stretch this creature out to trace its linearity, out of sheer curiosity but also wtf universe, I find the start of it all. The beginning. S and I became friends under such bleak yet divine circumstance was some unseen force bringing me closer to Z many many years later. A brighter spark and natural kin, waiting in concealment under the layers of time for me to arrive. When I got there, I was already there all this while. It’s all rather romantic, don’t you think?
(iii) It’s not just a hunch baby, it’s synchronicity: On apophenia as a process of wayfinding amongst other magical things
And so in this glimpses and gazing, this complex coiling, reticent in nature, this unfathomable flow has been, trust me when I say this, causing me to convince myself that most times that it’s nothing really, just my highly imaginative mind-space making these connections, these feelings because to acknowledge and decipher a sort of higher power beyond the temporal or physical, this divine largeness of the universe requires an
understanding undertaking that is pretty close to going mad.
“When the universe, our 14 billion-year-old universe was just a baby — say for the first tens of thousands of years after the Big Bang — everything was just a field of plasma, an almost homogenous field of matter except for the lightest scattering of little tiny quantum density fluctuations, or slightly thicker plasma, called random seeds.
Cosmic dust grains started to find each other, to stick. And though they were first moved by a type of Brownian motion, the globs — after they have reached a certain size, begin to attract each other via their mutual gravity. (In this manner , legions of planetestimals formed.) Growth compounded — density created more gravity which produced more density — and eventually, each random seed grew into a galaxy”
4th July 2022, I stumbled across discarded guzhengs somewhere along Jalan Besar. They looked like cadavers of rotting wood, splintered in some shared grave hole that’s not a hole but a curb on a busy street. It was easy to miss it but my gaze seem to fall directly upon it. I thought of M and snapped a photo on my phone. Hesitating to send it. Not today I felt. It’s not the right time. Felt too ominous, insidious in nature. I have to be there in person, I thought and not remotely in case M felt it too and we can hold that feeling together, black beam of light, a churn in the gut, fickle omen.
Months later, after an opening and over prata at Maxwell, M recounted having to carry a couple of broken guzhengs she found at the roadside. She had burnt them and was going to use the ashes to draw. No way. I saw it too. No shit. I took my phone, fingered down the screen at lightning speed trying to find the photo. Here it is, I showed her. Here is that moment I was made to wait for. She had stumbled upon these guzhengs only a few days later, at night. Spotted by another friend, N. They had carried it back to some alleyway and left it there before she burned it months later. How beautiful I thought.
This year, M did a wonderful performance recounting this. This hunch I felt, a message for her and not for me became a synchronised bind, leaning in, into this or another interminable kissing of sweet revelation. Can this be considered intimacy, these banal encounters accumulating into depths unseen, our bodies afloat upon its surface carrying us away as cosmic floatsam, mirroring those guzhengs but very much alive? Light from this knowledge, almost freed by it.
I think too of this directed gaze, to zero in, to that quantum point, so minute that it is barely there and acting on a hunch, a glimpse. I’ve seen this before somewhere, somewhere else, felt it, maybe in a different life. How I knew to stop a car and approached a stranger who brought me to meet the head of an organisation in charge of struggling fishermen in Tanjung Uma years back, visiting his house for the first time when he was in the midst of compiling their identity cards and writing up the report, how I returned again and again several times to encounter other epiphanies, other cosmic floatsam, marooned bodies waiting to collide.
And the gaze is not just gazing but sensing and deep attunement beyond the hunch a mutual gravity that makes its way through an aqueous unearthing, formless, dense force pushing us all into different directions until we find each other again and again, human, non human, kith and kin, beyond temporalities and space-time.
Of apophenia, Harry Dodge wrote:
“Apophenia has been defined by German scientist Klaus Conrad as the pervasive tendency to see order in random configurations, an unmotivated seeing of connections, the experience of delusion as revelation. Okay. But apophenia —the propensity of human individuals to see meaning in random pattern — is also a constituent slice of intelligence itself, once that has helped us survive, make language, technology (even the most primitive of technologies), civilization, family, friends, physics, footballs. At what moment this “hunch-making” careers into leaky, shameful, masturbatory fondling of the irrational is, in some instances hard to pin down, so frequently does it ride alongside its classically beautiful (and therefore much wealthier) fraternal twin sister, Ephiphany”.
K and I were by the water at Jenal jetty about two years ago. She told me about her three year old nephew growing up in a mono-cultural, Christian household and how she wanted to expose him to much more. We climbed down on the ground during low tide and walked across the squishy bank of moss. It was low tide and some folks were fishing, knee deep in water against the setting sun. We approached a group of men, sons around their 20s and 30s and their father, a shirtless man probably in his early 50s with such joyful energy.
He taught us the basic lesson on how to swing a rod in the air and launch the bait fast enough and trick the fishes to believe that the bait was alive. I made a catch on my second try. I forgot what the fish was called but it was apparently abundant in these waters. He told us, without any reason that he was a Muslim convert and used to be Hindu. Islam is beautiful he kept saying over and over again to K especially. I found myself tuning out, always wary of highly religious outpouring of any kind. In the midst of it, I overheard an uncomfortable remark made on the maintenance of deities God is everywhere, why must we believe they are only in these statues. I cringed and shrug and disappear even further away. Turning my gaze, tuning out, my eyes watery from staring at the setting sun. Deliberately blinding myself. As we climb up the water breaker, K made an alarming sound. Concealed in the sand, near where she stood, was a smiling Buddha.
Months later, I met the cleaner at Punggol Beach. He has been working there for years. Finally I had a chance to talk to him. He had been known to rescue deities that are in the water and placing them on the sides. Sometimes arranging them nicely on makeshift shelves made of wood. These displaced deities disappear, probably disposed by NEA or something. I’ve been documenting them for close to two years now. He was sitting on the shore, taking a quick rest after laboriously trying to sweep up oil-slicked seaweed from the sea.
Later we never do, they say we never do our job. But you see, it’s really impossible. Oh these, I pick them up because it’s not nice to see them in the water. It looks like they are drowning. I can’t bear to see them like this. So I picked them up and offer a prayer and continue on. I don’t know where they end up. They are here one day and gone the next.
For most these two encounters seem to disparate, separate, running on their own tangents. For me, I see them as layers, folding in and out, pluming vapours from the same source. Glimpses to be gazed upon again and again in other things, from other encounters, other moments unbeknownst to me. Harry Dodge describes this phenomena as a kind of agentic assemblage. “This web of pressures, situations and collisions saturates (and produces) the cosmos; along these lines we’re able to reconfigure our understanding of self as something that is not unitary but as being made each moment by uncountable collisions in a complex, open system. In other words, all things including bodies are perpetually changing, being formed and affected by the force of every legible and illegible collision (from intestinal bacteria to heritable traits to a cold breeze…”.
And so what ila…I really don’t know folks. So what indeed? There’s secrets from the cosmos in all of us…As Harry Dodge wrote…”we all have the knowledge of the universe inside us already — (that we just need to glean it from our own flesh somehow)”.