Sep 222016


Tom Wood

The point of including this photo is to educate Aussie Cyril. Artist Tom Wood, who took the photo, has painted me looking like a boy lots of times. Both of the figures in this painting are me.

A whole week spent by myself. One more week to go. I am pleased with myself that I am managing alone. I have lost 2.3 kilos. I email Mike Little and Fei Mo Di to organize the launch of ‘Qi Qi’s life-room’ before Bel’s return so she doesn’t have to suffer a social occasion. Yes – me, mustering a party! Does this mean I do have friends in Shanghai?

At last I tidy up. Strewn all around the flat are print-outs of articles that Bel has found important. The fuel for her apocalyptic visions. I pile the sheets on her desk. Or should I bin them?
    I skim through the familiar ‘anti-capitalism’ one by Pankaj Mishra.

‘…More and more people feel the gap between the profligate promises of individual freedom and sovereignty, and the incapacity of their political and economic organisations to realise them… Frustration tends to be highest in countries that have a large population of educated young men … find themselves unable to fulfil the promise of self-empowerment… For many of them, the contradiction has become intolerable.’

The next paragraph has China!!! written in the margin:

‘…Xi Jinping and other demagogues of developing countries deploy… jingoistic nationalism and cross-border militarism as a valve for domestic tensions…’

There’s more about the Chinese government’s “self-legitimizing narrative”: a hybrid of national heritage, i.e. Mao-plus-Confucius…

‘…They have also retro-fitted old-style nationalism for their growing populations of uprooted citizens, who harbour yearnings for belonging and community as well as material plenitude.’

This is happening right here, where I am. I look out over the university campus’s high wall, see the bolted-together uniform metal huts along along its perimeter. You see them everywhere. Housing for the new migrants. Dormitories with shared outdoor hot water taps and a toilet block. Country folk who are marshalled into building the new apartment blocks, but can then only hopelessly stare up at them. The ‘good life’ fairytale is far out of reach for so many people.

I can’t read more of this worrisome stuff. I retreat to the bedroom, my makeshift desk, my iPad.
    God. Another email from Cyril. Don’t know if I can bear him any more.

Darling Suki,
a propos your remarks about portraits of you by artists being easier to distance yourself from than photographs: I have been browsing online and found various painted portraits of you by several of your former employers which unkindly make you look masculine. See here, here and here. I do not understand how you can be unperturbed by such as these, while rejecting my photographs in which you look so beautiful.

Sigh. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get me.

Cyril, I like looking like a man.

I don’t send it.
    Ping! An email arriving from Bel!
    It’s sent from her phone. No words, just a link – uncanny, I can hardly believe it – to this same Pankaj Mishra article. Telepathy? At least she’s alive – but still obsessing over bad news.

Hi Bel, how did the funeral go? Are you okay? How are you?



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Jun 302016



Interesting props were provided by Fei Mo Di’s friend Greg-I’m-a-Kiwi for today’s life-drawing session at Qi Qi’s boho café-bar. Greg took this picture himself.

Air Quality ‘moderate’: Unusually sensitive individuals may experience respiratory symptoms and should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion.
    A slight reprieve for Bel.
    On our taxi journey to the life-drawing session at Qi Qi’s, Bel mentions, ‘Lily Hong will be meeting us there with a voice-recorder to get some vox-pops for the sound-track.’
    Hesitation. Then – ‘she confides in me.’
    Is this an oblique reference to their triste or whatever it was yesterday? ‘Good! That’s good.’
    ‘She’s lonely, is Lily Hong.’

After twenty minutes of warm-ups the group decides they want one long pose for the rest of the two hours. And thus I am able to retreat peacefully inside my head in a way that I used to do every day in my former existence, modelling for artists. Without knowing it, I have missed this. A time for swimming thoughts to become ordered.
    On the long Metro journey into the city Bel had shown me a really interesting homily on the Guardian Online’s book pages. Tim Lott – successful writer – warns today’s parents against telling children they can be whatever they want, because it is so difficult to achieve those big dreams, to reach for the stars and attain them – barring a lottery win or some fluke of good fortune.
    He suggests that, given the competitive nature of modern society, it’s better to keep our enthusiasms and passions for our hobbies, claiming he has gained the most joy in his life through the commonplace activities of home, family and hobbies, rather than his actual profession as a novelist. The latter, despite having given him a few particular moments of success and reward, has taken a high toll in terms of effort and struggle and disappointment.
    It’s better (he says) to ask children not what they want to be, but who they want to be. The neoliberal regime benefits from us all believing that it is purely success in the workplace that makes us a success as a person ( – he’s obviously been reading that Pankaj Mishra article). But we are presented with only two alternatives: superstardom or – that loaded term – mediocrity. As such we are all – almost all of us – going to endlessly feel disappointed in ourselves and our achievements.
    It’s good, what he’s written.
    Shouldn’t I aim to be, first and foremost, a kind, generous-spirited person, rather than a writer?

Throughout the session, kind Qi Qi is constantly checking on my welfare. ‘You okay? Enough warm?’
    ‘I’m totally happy thanks!’
    But I’m not totally happy.
    Why can’t I be content with my modest successes – my small online readership, my poetry collections, my novel, my collaborative movies with Bel, my prowess as a doughty energetic model? I already have a legacy to leave to this world. Is it time to just stop questing, stop striving, think small, local, intimate; stop getting on aeroplanes, try settling? Is it time to commit? And thus reap small, satisfying benefits? I am approaching my half-century of life. Is it time to give something back, rather than fret that I haven’t received enough?

I don’t even notice Bel’s camera clicking away. She’s so cleverly unobtrusive. It’s lovely to be working together again on a small good thing.

It’s late when we get back to the flat. I bring Bel hot milk in bed. ‘It’ll already be a little bit spring-like when you get to Antwerp!’
    But she has lapsed back. Face closed. Remote. Incommunicado. A terrible state that is more and more her usual one.
    How could she not have been uplifted by that wonderful session at Qi Qi’s?



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