Smoke-lady. In color and black and white.

A messy attempt at something new.

Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years, which leaves them soggy and tasteless and inert…”
– *The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows*

Smoke-lady in black and white and pencil.


A portrait of the artist as a self-absorbed obsessive with existential angst

This is what happened when I was too anxious to go out all day and the power kept going off so I couldn’t work.

Anxiety day me in colour

The original is more purply than blue. Something happens when I photograph it that distorts the colour. That’s why I like the black and white version better.

Anxiety day me black and white

A life well-lived

Story vaguely prompted by:

When the old lady looked back on her life, things didn’t seem so bad. It seemed a life well-lived.

She had enjoyed her school-years, though not necessarily her school; worked for a while and lived alone; fallen in love; studied society and given it up to study nature which had at first seemed more predictable but had then betrayed her with it’s uncertainties.

She had married the man she was expected to and had never regretted it but always nursed a secret curiosity about life with the one she had fallen in love with. She had had a child, refused to leave her job to care for it, and had had another.

She had buried her headstrong daughter after a freak accident claimed her life in adolescence, and had proceeded to protect her son till he resented her for it. She had lived with her son and his family long after her husband had died and watched her granddaughters grow up. She had managed to maintain a relationship of minimal friction with her daughter-in-law.

She had believed fervently in the God of her religion, lost faith and then later, had unexpectedly stumbled upon it still within her.

She had been a revolutionary in her own little way, though not many would remember her rebellion and had eventually become a fractious part of the establishment as was expected of her. She still treasured the memory of her rebellion, and every time she held it up to the light of her own experience, she was reassured by the rightness of it in her world-view.

She had experimented with the fashions of her age, rejected some and adopted others as her own. She had enjoyed alcohol and flirted with marijuana but had not taken to either very strongly. She had dressed in severe minimalist black and then in explosions of colour and eventually had ceased to think so hard about her clothing. Her hair had grown to great lengths, been shaved off, coloured outrageous colours and had now slowly turned white.

She had acted in plays, written poetry, painted canvases and had refused to ‘judge’ the work of others because she did not believe that art could be judged until she was no longer taken seriously in those circles, though she continued to paint and write sporadically.

She had loved passionately and without reason and it had never faded though the object of her love had ceased to reciprocate. She had loved very differently along channels of respectability, and this love was not hampered by the other, nor was it in any way less.

She had risked her reputation on an idea that quickly went out of fashion and had carefully built it up again according to the rules of the world, though she never lost faith in her idea.

She had had her spells of being unreasonable, and had contributed her share of scandal to the world though both were quickly forgotten against the respectability of the life she had lived.

She had carved a life out in a world that was at times hostile to her, and then had become such a part of it that she had to guard against being hostile to those younger or more invested and intractable in their idealism than her.

It had been a full life. She had lived vigorously all the roles available to her at the time. Dutiful daughter; rebellious student; hard worker; loyal friend; passionate lover; daring daughter-in-law; loving wife; responsible, grief-striken and finally possessive mother; interesting colleague; doting and then forgotten grandmother… she had lived them all to the hilt.

And now, her days had fallen into a rhythm of basic needs. Food, sleep, exercise and the occasional conversation with a dwindling number of contemporaries. The conversations sometimes dwelt on the eventuality and inevitability of death though more often they distracted themselves from it with reminiscence, faint sorrow and laughter.

From time to time when they visited, she would remind her granddaughters that she too had been young once, and they would respond with wide-eyed interest, respect, mild amusement or embarrassment varying with their age and mood at the time of the conversation.

The old lady smiled vaguely as she tried to collect her increasingly scattered thoughts. Her pale veined hands shook slightly as she ran the wide-toothed comb through her white hair. She glanced again at the mirror on the colourful wall opposite, which her artist granddaughter had finger-painted for her, last summer.

She had never really thought of herself as an old lady, even though her hair had grown thin and turned completely white. Was that what made one old, she mused, or was it the smile-wrinkles around the eyes and the frown wrinkles on the forehead? Was it perhaps the slowly increasing folds that hung between one’s neck and one’s chin? Was it the veins that showed blue-green and the gradual fading of colour from the skin? Or was it the tendency to live more and more in one’s head, dwelling on memory and forgetting to see the every-day?

She often thought of her contemporaries as old, but herself… why she did not feel much older than nineteen. Perhaps that was vanity. She was much slower, now; her mind wandered more and she had many aches and pains that one simply did not have at nineteen. Perhaps age had more to do with a state of mind, than of body? She smiled to herself at her wishful thinking and watched her hand shake as she ran the comb slowly through her hair. Why should she wish to be something that she was not? She was eighty-seven, and proud of it.

She tied her scant hair into a bun and crouched down to a squat in the gateway, dressed in her comfortable faded white nightie. Her daughter-in-law often complained that she dressed this way and sat at the gate in a way calculated to embarrass the family. Sometimes her granddaughters agreed with their mother, so she would go back inside, change into newer clothing and bring a chair out. But sometimes she forgot and sat there, gazing down the road.

Perhaps one of her granddaughters would visit today.

When the old lady looked back on her life, things didn’t seem so bad. It seemed a life well-lived.

Awe and Ankh

Blearily, I surveyed the photocopied articles lying strewn across my desk. Crumpled pieces of ruled paper with my sloping handwriting scuttling across them, punctuated by pencil shavings peopled the spaces between the articles and my laptop. The laptop’s screen glowed the familiar shade of meaningless procrastination. A cup of erstwhile cinnamon coffee, now a watery brownish liquid with a struggling insect drowning in it stood proudly in the midst of the verbose carnage. The insect’s desperate pointless struggle rippled the steady reflection of the tube light.

I dipped my plastic spoon into the ex-coffee carefully, so as not to splash the insect. I waited, till it struggled onto the spoon, and then shook the insect off on to the windowsill next to my desk. I half-hoped and half said a self-conscious-skeptical prayer to the higher powers I wasn’t sure I believed in that when it’s wings dried out, they wouldn’t stick to the grainy cement of the sill.

Insect rescue complete, I rubbed my eyes, forcing myself to read again the words on the paper and comprehend them. My unobliging mind reeled across landscapes of words, reality, colour and emotion, desperately seeking the ever-dwindling hope of sleep. Finally, I gave up, switched off the laptop’s eerie glow and climbed into bed.

The darkness washed over me as gentle as a moth settling on my eyelashes. I sank slowly and heavily through layers of consciousness dusted with memory. Down and down, I sank, through so many gradual rewritings of my soul.


Little flecks of colour, strands of music, rainbow bubbles of joy, the heavy-evening scent of loneliness, shards of pain, earthy coffee brown of love, warmth of moments as precious a firefly’s light… I sank down through it all, until I saw her.

Tentatively eager and naïve as I still am, she gazed at me in awe. The same awe she served out with unabashed awkwardness to so many, and for so many reasons, eyes shining with a desire to measure up. Measure up to a skill with words, or numbers, a versatility in ideas, use of colour or lines, a sense of music, a kindness, an honesty, a confidence, a thoughtfulness, a gesture… a deep desire to be part of a world peopled by those in whom she saw reflected, the endless possibilities of excellence. And she looked at me, as though I was one of them.

Hi,” I said, a little at a loss. Around us, the looming Teak and Eucalyptus trees swayed in the heavy breeze, exquisitely silhouetted against a pinky-blue sunset sky. The air was thick with the scent of evening, washing over us in heavy waves of that pinky-blue wash of colour. It was like inhaling the colours of a painting, fluid and magic in their mixing.

Dressed in her customary black T-shirt and tentatively new purple harem pants, she looked surprised and inordinately pleased that I had spoken to her.

Hi!” she replied.

The occasional bat flapped across our little patch of clear sky as it stretched wider and wider. The faster it stretched, the more it seemed that we were hurtling upwards into the vast expanse of endless sky. The clouds did not grow any closer, though. So I knew we weren’t actually falling into the sky.

That’s so clever! I wish I could make connections like that and figure things out.” she said, gazing into my eyes. And I wondered how she knew what I had thought. Had I spoken aloud?

You can,” I told her, enigmatically, “Just don’t think too much about how to do it, and you’ll find yourself doing it.”

Lightning lit up the thick layers of clouds, revealing for a moment, the complex shapes they formed. Each time the lightning flashed, it lit up a different part, and cut through a new angle of the dense clouds. Colour, light and shadow danced an exquisite dance in each moment of illumination.

What’s that?” she asked curiously, pointing to my neck.

I reached automatically to hold what she was pointing at. I did not remember having worn a necklace. As I felt the cold metal of the Ankh, though, I remembered how it had come to be there. It had floated down to me on the mingled strains of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat and Joan Baez’s Love Song to a Stranger, and become hard and metallic when the lightness of that rewriting of my soul touched the steady flow of who I had been until then. It glimmered sharply with the light of the sigil of Death of the Endless.

It’s an Egyptian Ankh,” I replied.

Wow.” she said, “Have you been to Egypt?” I could both hear her speak as a distinct and separate entity and feel the words she would speak forming, like colours mixing in a distant part of my consciousness as it stretched across the temporal space between us.

No,” I replied smiling, “And I haven’t been to Harappa, either.”

“How did you know…?”

That that would be your next question?” I smiled at her, looking into her eyes, searching past the awe and wonder that my reflected image was endowed with.

It felt like falling. Falling through the darkness of her eyes, accelerating past the moments that stretched between her and me. Time sucked me in, like gravity and I felt the flakes of my soul that I had shared with so many, gathering and congealing back around me. Some had been torn off like shards of glass, others given away carefully, wrapped up as precious gifts or woven into the threads of my dreamcatchers, still others had floated away without my realising it. So many pieces of myself that I had left behind came hurtling back to me with sudden force, making my soul heavier, so that I felt I would drown in myself as I fell. Faster and faster, I fell, as the rejoining flakes obliterated the slowly emerging contours of my marginally more experienced soul. As they clung to the spaces from where they had been gently chiselled or violently ripped out, they dislodged the little fragments of other souls and the hues of moments that I had absorbed and collected over the years to colour the shadows and add depth to the still nebulous shape that my soul was beginning to take.

Abruptly, I jerked to a halt just above the ground, as one does in dreams. Instead of waking, though, I looked out at myself through her eyes. My heart felt emptier for all that re-agglomeration of myself that had taken place as I fell. Emptier, smaller, more unformed and surer about life in general, I stumbled backwards and broke eye contact with myself.

When I regained my balance, a few seconds later, I looked at the older girl with the Ankh around her neck and the fondly amused expression in her eyes as she held out a hand to me. She looked casually self-possessed in her harem pants and cotton shirt tied at the waist. Her eyes were dark and I wondered at her daring, somehow knowing of things she had done with such ease, the very thought of which made me deeply uncomfortable.

I did not quite understand, but I knew that something had passed between us. A nameless, shapeless understanding had pierced from her eyes into mine. And I could feel echoes of so many paradigms that she had traversed resonating within me. The more I tried to understand what had passed, the murkier and more confusing it all became, so I stopped and felt it come to a sharper focus in the back of my head.

I took her hand shyly, and we stepped off our little rock and into the waters of the lake that surged whisperingly around us. For a moment I wondered how we had arrived at the rock, but then I remembered the bats in the sky and it all made sense.

The water was cool and fresh on our skin as we swam side by side. We could feel the different currents washing over us, some gentle, some strong. Sometimes the waves were fierce, and so sharply cold they cut our skin, but another wave would follow, warm and soothing. Then some would scald us with paralysing fear, and buffet us so that we would struggle to hold on to each other, until the healing chill of the next wave took over and we could swim together in peace.

We passed a submerged White Maruti Car, with beady headlight-eyes and a radiator moustache. It reached out to grab one of me, but we swerved to avoid it’s grasping arms. And the other me flashed her Ankh at it as it dwindled into the distance of experience and we sped away in a nervously exciting underwater auto.

The Walrus arrived with strains of music entangled in his long whiskers. I played with him for a while, until his Egg Man arrived with Julius Caesar’s singing mushrooms and we found ourselves on the pavement by the beach. The me with the Ankh found this incredibly funny, and I knew that if I searched the back of my head, I would understand why, but the little turtles distracted me and sobered her down.

When we walked up to the clearing, she took a long drag and passed it to me. I stared, confused, and she smiled a kindly smile, with drum beats reverberating in her long hair. The ants scuttled away from us as the first droplets of rain began to fall, and I opened my enormous multi-coloured umbrella for us. The local train pulled up with announcements in three languages and we climbed in to the ‘ladies’ compartment, to watch an embarrassed girl sing her songs for us.

Why are we here,” I asked finally, though I was happy to be there with her.

She smiled, a little sadly, “We’re catching glimpses of the pieces of your soul that I left behind. Not all of them. Not even the most important ones. That’s not how it works.”

How does it work?” I asked, as a sack-cloth coloured striped cat rubbed itself against my legs. I crouched down to scratch it’s neck and a dragonfly-lie hovered by my ear buzzing annoyingly.

Strangely”, she said with a little laugh. I looked up to see her in the arms of an older balder man than the one I believed myself to be in love with. The focus in the back of my head suddenly became clear, and a shard of fear pierced something within me, as I saw the Ankh with them. But he smiled reassuringly. Both of them seemed to know about the Ankh, and her eyes were sadder.

We walked on a bit, after he dissolved into the darkness around us. There seemed to be a peace between us, that I did not want to disturb. Eventually though, I asked, “What happens?”

She walked alongside me for a while, in silence. The darkness stretched forever on either side. “Life,” she said, finally. And there was a sigh around us, like the breath of mingled regret and hope.

It began to rain again. A rain that washed away layers of what I tried to portray as myself. And she smiled at me, as though there was something special about my naked self. I looked at her in the rain, and saw that we were alike in many ways. There were many things different about her. Deep scars and fragile beauty that I was yet to know… but there were strains of who she would be, present in who I was. As I thought on it, my head felt heavy in the glow of the buzzing dragonfly-lies that hung around our heads, unaffected by the rain.

She took both my hands, and looked into my eyes again. And a feeling of racing through infinity at warp speed caught me like a hook at my chest and pulled the rest of me along. When the hook set me down, I was myself again, staring at the younger girl.

I gave her a hug, as bemused by what we had experienced as she was… but I knew that she saw me again as a coming together of all the things I had done, rather than a paring away of a soul as she experienced life. And as she stumbled away from our little bubble outside time in the Dream, still gazing at me in her awestruck way, I felt profoundly alone.

Abruptly, the feeling of being two people simultaneously came to an end. The sudden severed connection left me feeling raw and bereft. I took a deep breath to collect my senses into one person. I peered out of our fast-shrinking bubble, and saw her drift away from our timelessness to her sleeping present. She waved to me, her forehead wrinkling as she tried to remember who I was and what had happened… but dream-logic is like water in your hands. The harder you try to hold on to it, the faster it seeps away.


As I pre-emptively snoozed my phone’s alarm a second before it went off, I wondered what I had been thinking of when I drifted off to sleep. There had been a walrus. And a rainbow. Water. And an Ankh. I wondered whether there is a place in the dream world where you can go to remember dreams.

I squinted my eyes open and wondered why there had been a walrus in my dream. And who I had dreamt of, for I distinctly remembered that there had been another person. Hunger gnawed at my insides, so I forced my eyes all the way open and headed to the wash room with my toothbrush. I hoped I had some biscuits left in my cupboard, or I would have to wait until lunch time.