Tag Archives: memoirs of a dilettante

Cummerbund Bandersnatch and the Desolation of Smog

Memoirs

A special guest here today my friends, with a special post. I daresay you’ve heard whispers of mysterious author extraordinaire Helena Hann-Basquiat here before. That’s because she’s a writer worth the knowing – but I’ll let her quirky words speak for themselves. Her Pubslush campaign has 13 days to go, and here we have a privileged sneak peek into the second volume of Memoirs of A Dilettante for your previewing pleasure…

There is a place, a dark place, just outside of the GTA (that’s the Greater Toronto Area, if you’re interested, darlings) where darkness dwells. A place where the smog hangs over Lake Ontario like a malignant force – for the Dwarves that lived there burned the fires of steel refining day and night, pumping their smoke into the sky, leaving a desolation usually reserved for such detestable places as Pittsburgh or (shudder) Cleveland. In the long dead language of the people who once dwelt there, it is called Khazad-dûm, but people today refer to it as Hamilton, and its name is spoken in hushed, fearful tones. Children are warned never to venture north of King Street in the dark, and in particular to avoid the dreaded Barton Street, where all manner of twisted creatures dwell, seeking to prey on any weak straggler who might venture into their path. It is a place of horror, where…

“Seriously, Helena?” Penny interjected.

“What?” I asked, standing firmly by my assessment.

“Well, iss not very noice, issit?” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia accused. You remember Penny, darlings. Tends to talk like a Dickensian street urchin from time to time, fancies herself something of a fashion trendsetter because of a incomparable collection of stripey socks, and is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fan of the writing of one Mr. J.R.R. Tolkien.

“No, Penny, Hamilton isn’t very nice,” I agreed, knowing full well that’s not what she meant.

“You know full well thass not wot I meant, ya daft cow!” Penny protested passionately.

A couple of months ago, Penny and I had moved into her grandmother’s house in Hamilton in order to help look after her, and it had been an adjustment for everyone.

“Besides,” the Countess of Arcadia continued, “I fought you loiked West-day-oh.”

Westdale? Oh yes. Three coffee shops, a bakery, a shitty pub, a Pita Pit and a TCBY. What’s not to love?” I held my hand over my heart, all a-flutter.

“Hmm,” the Countess of Arcadia said, tapping a finger to her lips and looking pensive. “Interesting. How very interesting.”

I wasn’t going to bite. I had an inkling as to where this was going, having just sat through Star Trek: Into Darkness, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and two seasons of the BBC’s Sherlock on the weekend. Neither of us were feeling well, and so we loaded up on junk food and bundled our bacteria-besieged bodies in blankets and binged on Bandersnatch. Cummerbund Bandersnatch, that is, and if you want some back story on that silly sounding bit of schizophasia, it’s simple, darlings. One night, after one too many vodka and cranberries, the Countess declared her undying love for the star of Sherlock, one Benedict Cumberbatch, only in her drunkified state (drunkified is a good, fine, strong word, thank you very much, and seeing as it’s referring to a state in which one slurs one’s speech and engages in such dreadful activities as neologism, I’m standing by my use of it) she insisted (quite insistently, if I recall correctly, and I always do, darlings) that his name was Cummerbund Bandersnatch. It took, and that will forever be how we refer to the man in Casa de Hann-Basquiat.

“Fascinating,” the Countess continued, caressing her mouth as if deep in deductive thought.

“Okay,” I sighed. “What’s so fucking fascinating?”

“You seriously just swore for the sake of alliteration, didn’t you?” the Countess queried capriciously.

“You’re one to talk with your capricious queries,” I quipped.

“You need help,” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia accused, not unkindly.

“Yes, I thought we determined that,” I grinned. “Now go on, then. What do you find fascinating?”

“Ah yes,” the Countess of Arcadia (which is somewhere in the vicinity of 221B Baker Street, it would seem) resumed. “I find it fascinating that you claim to know so much about the village of Westdale, and claim to find it disagreeable and pedantic, and yet the true story of how you feel about it can be found in what you deliberately neglected to mention.”

I was driving Penny to the train station. One of the adjustments that we both had to make when we moved to Hamilton was a longer commute, and while neither of us enjoyed that very much, we tried to make the best of it.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I deflected, and then tried a different tact. “So are you going to go see the Desolation of Smaug this weekend?”

“You’re pronouncing that wrong, Helena, and you know you’re pronouncing that wrong.” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia (which is somewhere in the Misty Mountains) accused.

“How can you tell?” I asked, amused.

“Well, iss all in the bloody title, ennit?” the Dickensian street urchin that contrarily fancies herself a Countess replied. “You’re sayin’ it to rhyme with fog, but it don’t go loik that, does it? And Smaug don’t live in the Misty Mountains, neither. ‘E lives in the Lonely Mountain. And don’t fink I ‘aven’t noticed that you’ve, loik, changed the bleeding subject, you devious dilettante!”

I snickered into my coffee, nearly spilling it and driving us off the road.

“I thought you hated Tolkien,” I reminded her.

“I do,” Penny admitted. “Horrible writing. Archaic, laughable plot devices and in terrible need of an editor – but that man’s voice…”

“Cummerbund Bandersnatch,” I volunteered.

“Thass the one, ‘Elena, my love, my sweet,” she agreed with a lusty grin. “That beautiful man’s glorious voice melts my knickers, it does. And ‘e’s voicing the dragon Smaug, so…”

“I see,” I said plainly.

“Now,” the Countess resumed, composing herself. She may or may not have wiped a string of drool from her lips. “Back to the matter at hand. You deliberately neglected to mention the following bits of information concerning the village of Westdale, which you claim to find boring and uninteresting. One – Westdale has a charming little theatre, which I happen to know that you love, because you have chosen to see not one but three films there lately as opposed to seeing them at the giant cineplexes. Two – Westdale has not one but two comic book stores, and I can’t help but notice that you are not behind in reading Saga or Unwritten – so tell me, Helena – where have you been buying your comics, huh?”

“Well, I…” I began, but was immediately interrupted.

“Three!” The Countess continued presenting her damning evidence against me. “Adjacent to one of these comic book stores is a wonderful little used book store that has the TARDIS-like quality of being much larger on the inside than it appears from the outside. Why, you could get lost in there for days perusing all those wonderful books.”

“Okay, okay, so what’s your point?” I asked, and she ignored me.

“Four!” Penny persisted. “You love one of those coffee shops you so surreptitiously dismissed. Any time we’re even in the vicinity, you’re all Hey, Penny, you wanna go to My Dog Joe? I submit that you are over-compensating, my dear. I have used my highly tuned powers of deduction to see through your ruse!”

“Have you, now?” I replied, amused at her amusement.

“Indeed.” Penny insisted.

“Indubitably.” I agreed.

“Yes. Quite.” The Countess Penelope of Arcadia counted, affecting a posher, more Windsor Castle-like accent. “And we are not amused.”

I laughed. “Oh, you are so amused, darling – admit it.”

Penny smiled at me. “Well, perhaps we are a touch amused. That does not mean I won’t call for your head if you do not agree to accompany me to the film this weekend!”

“So now I have to go with you?” I asked.

“But of course,” the Countess Arcade stated regally. “Who will protect me from the rabid Tolkienites?”

I sighed, “You’re going to wear your FUCK TOLKIEN t-shirt, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes, but only because my TOLKIEN WAS A LAZY, UNIMAGINATIVE PRAT shirt got destroyed during that melee at the Role Playing Gamer’s convention, and I thought you promised you’d never bring that up again, thank you very much for re-opening those old wounds.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said, completely deadpan.

“Apology accepted, Captain Needa,”[1] the Countess replied in her best Darth Vader (which wasn’t very good, and to be honest, still had a trace of the cockney street urchin in it, if you can imagine that). “But just for that, you’re paying for the tickets.”

“Very well,” I complied.

“And popcorn,” Penny amended.

“Okay,” I agreed.

“And ice cream after the show,” the Countess demanded.

“We’ll see,” I said, as if she were four and not twenty-something.

“And then can we go mini-golfing?” Penny asked, deliberately upping the ante. “Or on pony rides?”

“You just keep pushing it, young lady,” I said in mock parental tones, “and we’ll be spending the weekend giving sponge baths at the old folk’s home.”

The Countess threw me a pathetic looking pout, and we both broke out laughing.

All things considered, it was good to be young and insane.

[1] To complete the trifecta, a Star Wars reference. After Darth Vader kills Captain Needa, he then accepts the man’s apology. You didn’t see that kind of badassery in those horrible prequels.

———–

If you want to read more, BECOME A FAN at PUBSLUSH and pre-order Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two and Penelope, Countess of Arcadia

Available now! image06 JESSICA image07

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettanteThe enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE

What Happens Over Coffee With Helena Hann-Basquiat

Chai Latte

Something a bit different again this week! As I invite you to be a fly on the wall. The inimitable Helena Hann-Basquiat invited me for a coffee, and this is what happened… One thing I will say before I hand over to Helena – make sure to click the PUBSLUSH link at the very, very end. Anyone who isn’t yet a Dilettante fan is in for a treat!

In October 2014, Sara Litchfield released her first novel, The Night Butterflies. Helena Hann-Basquiat currently has a Pubslush campaign taking pre-orders for Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two, and is also publishing a Shakespearean-style play, a tragi-comedy called Penelope, Countess of Arcadia. They sat down across International Time Zones to chat.

Overheard over coffee at Helena’s…

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Well, Sara, this time zone thing is quite strange. So I’m going to ask what everyone in the Western Hemisphere wants to know — what are tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers?

me2

I’m afraid I’m keeping that under my hat! I don’t want to mess with the space-time continuum.

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Timey-wimey and all that. I get it. Now, I’d offer you a beverage, but as it’s kind of tea time for you and nearly bed-time for me, I’m not sure what to offer. I did have the very strangest drink this evening, by a soda company called Jones Soda — it was Peanut Butter and Jelly flavoured soda.

me2

Well, with my nut-allergy, I’ll definitely pass on that! Wrong on so many levels! A cup of English breakfast is always my preference, though I do fancy a chai latte now and again as a treat.

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Would you believe that it was NUT FREE???? Worrying, I’d say. I’m glad I tried it, but I never want another again. And Chai lattes are a special treat now and again, aren’t they?

me2

Haha no way – and I’m still not tempted.. But a chai is deeeelicious.

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

So, I confess, I’ve been looking forward to sitting down and talking to you ever since I finished Night Butterflies — but life and time zones, and Pubslushes and such. But here we are.

me2

It’s a pleasure! Sorry I’ve been hard to pin down myself, moving country every two weeks… Congratulations on the campaign being live!

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Thank you – yes, your vagabond lifestyle has definitely kept you in the wind. Did you get any inspiration from travelling? Any new insights?

me2

Definitely – the funniest ideas come to me when I’m sleep-deprived and in transit for one! But I also try and capture the feeling of excitement I get on entering a new country, with the boundless possibilities lying in the landscape, and try to pin that feeling into words – I want people to feel that kind of excitement when they turn a page of my books-to-be.

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Sleep deprivation tends to be an inspiration for me. The last three days I’ve woken in the middle of the night, and after tossing and turning for a couple hours, I start dreaming up story ideas. Sometimes I ask myself the strangest questions – like, “What if Jessica B. Bell had written The Velveteen Rabbit?”

me2

Haha! Gosh, maybe she did! That is one creepy piece of work…

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Wait ’til I’m done with it…

me2

Was your Star-Crossed (People of the Manatii) idea a middle-of-the-night episode?

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

NO… would you believe the genesis of that came from my daughter? She had come to me with a story idea about an island of women, and mermaids and such — and I dumped in a spoonful of Lord of the Flies, an ounce of Heart of Darkness, and just a pinch of Call of Cthulu and Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft, and it became something a bit more mature. She still helps be brainstorm stuff for it every now and again.

me2

That’s amazing!! I wish I’d kept a log of some of the out-of-the-box ideas that came to me as a child – I’m sure I could work with them now! I can see those elements – and having been privileged to sneak a peek at the first part, I am so over-excited to read the next!

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

All good things… now, you and I happen to share a favourite book — do you want to talk a bit about how Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 influenced Night Butterflies?

me2

Well, from the starting line in both – we’re playing with fire. Burning, on so many levels, permeates TNB as well as F451 – burning up, burning out, incineration of ideas and hope.. And there’s a return from an internal inferno – a revolution against turning free-thinking to ash.

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

I saw a lot of parallels in terms of blind acceptance — in Fahrenheit, people voluntarily drug themselves to accept the state of society — it’s a bit harsher in Butterflies. I also saw a lot of Faber — the retired university professor from Fahrenheit — in Butterflies. That sort of shell-shocked, cowardly response. Hiding from the truth of things.

me2

Yes – there’s definitely a retreat and regression, partly-medicated but partly from the loss of a will to fight on. And you have people playing the opposite of their roles – Mothers who are not nurturing, leaders and scientists who are not improving or progressing welfare, just as firemen are starting fires, not quenching them – hurting people rather than helping.

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Oh, what a great way to put it – that role reversal. Forgive me if I’ve asked before, but have you read Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos? (Readers might be familiar with the film version Village of the Damned). The kids in Butterflies are every bit as creepy as the kids from Cuckoos.

me2

No but I know the film! And when you mentioned it, it went straight on my to-read list!

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Brilliant. And Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. Big influence on me – in fact, I once described the whole People of the Manatii trilogy as a mix of Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies and Lovecraft. A strange mix, but I’m a strange person.

me2

Ah I’d agree with that – the description of the book rather than you! Atwood is a massive influence. The Handmaid’s Tale is a story that stays with you. Have you read Oryx and Crake?

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Yes, and Year of the Flood — but haven’t read the newest one in that line. She’s a force of nature. But then, so are you, I think. You, like our mutual friend Lizzi, seem bent on making the world a better place. Can you tell me what brought about this philosophy of yours — the whole Right Ink on the Wall idea?

me2

Ah! To be mentioned like that along with Atwood & Lizzi is beyond compliment thank you! The philosophy of Right Ink On The Wall began as the story behind my editing business. I believe in the power of naming, and I just really wanted to convey in a play-on-words the idea that what we do matters. That the world is like a wall on which we leave our mark. And that whatever we write, whatever we do – we should remember that it is recorded, and aim to leave the right sort of ink behind us for others to witness, encouraging them to live a life of ideas as well – one worth reading. The root is the doom-laden phrase ‘the writing on the wall’, which I reclaimed in a fashion – we may have these short lives, but that gives us a reason to really live. Lots more on the background here if you want to go a bit deeper – http://rightinkonthewall.com/2013/08/whats-in-a-name/

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

I think it’s an excellent reminder. I’ve left such a mess behind, I’m trying to embrace it ironically and hope no one notices. But speaking of the past, I really go into it with Volume Two of Memoirs. I remember you and I just happened to stumble into each other on line when I was writing one of the more painful stories.

me2

Ah yes, but you can really learn something from making a mess. And sharing your past makes one hell of a read! Very excited to receive Volume Two. When I first spied you on that Valentine’s, it was literally love at first read. If I remember a’right, both instalments of the story were freshly-pressed – it blew so may people away. So if that’s the stuff Volume Two is made of, I’ll start stock-piling tissues now!

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

I do feel like I picked up a better stride with Volume Two, as far as storytelling goes. But don’t worry, there are plenty of laughs as well. I can’t stand just one flavour. Always have to keep moving on to the next thing. So what do you have on the go at the moment? Any new writing projects?

me2

I look forward to the laughs as well then! Well, I have a fantasy trilogy in the telling, tentatively-titled The Luminosa… Another dark world where the question is whether hope can win out in the end…

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Well, like Penny says, ‘It’s all about the trilogy, bitches…”

Have you done much writing on it? Or is it still in the brainstorming stage? Part two – how much planning do you usually do before you just dive in?

me2

Well I wrote the first draft of the first book during NaNoWriMo, as I did for TNB – so there’s a hot mess there to tidy up! Parts 2 and 3 require some heavy-duty brainstorming, which will be a departure from my norm – which is minimal planning, maximum pantsing, seeing where the words take me.

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

It can be surprising. I started writing this morning, not knowing exactly where it would go — I just had a scene in my head and about 3/4 of the way through I suddenly realized what I had, and the excitement just took over. But I can’t say any more about that just yet…

me2

Ooh, the suspense! I never know what you’re going to come out with next – you seem able to master so many styles / genres – so it’s always very exciting!

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

You know, I actually don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not working on a project! And I’m thrilled that we’re going to get to work on one together very soon! Sounds like we’re both going to have exciting years.

me2

Absolutely! I can’t wait to see what comes out of it! Thank you for inviting me on board the Dilettante express.

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettante

Okay, a couple of random questions:

a) Blue and Black or White and Gold and b) You go to a record store. You have London Calling by The Clash, Small Change by Tom Waits, Automatic for the People by R.E.M. and Let it Be by The Beatles in your hands, but you can ONLY buy one. Which one do you buy?

me2

Oh lord, that bloody dress – white and gold. And in perfect harmony with my thoughts on a), my other answer is Let It Be!

——

 

me2Born in the English midlands, Sara earned a Masters in Theology at the University of Cambridge before becoming a reluctant big-four accountant in London. She is now recovering in the southern hemisphere, where she devotes herself to all things words and wonderful from her base in Middle Earth (sometimes known as New Zealand). She blogs on happiness and hope at www.rightinkonthewall.com, which is also home to her editing business and publishing division, RIW Press – all aim to make the right mark on the wall of the world.

http://authorsaralitchfield.com/books/

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CoverIt is always dark. Warmer than it should be. The sun is a dull glower of reproach, only sometimes visible through the fallout. A once-majestic university town is crumbled, ashen and divided. The Men have made their home the Facility, where they develop the medication to combat the radiation that would otherwise kill those left alive.
 –
Another day at school for Teacher. Another morning of bullying and torment from a batch of doll-like triplets more violent and unbalanced by the day. They are the nightmare product of Project Eden, the operation devised by Leader for the survival of the community, seeded in the Mothers without their consent.
 –
Teacher has hope. She has a secret. When it is uncovered by Jimmy-1, a triplet who might be different, what will it mean for his future and hers?
 –
Not just another dystopian novel. New author Sara Litchfield explores what it means to be a child, a mother and a monster in a chilling world devoid of comfort.

NOTE TO READERS:

I LOVED this book. I’d go door to door selling this book. Here’s the review I wrote on Amazon:

In a world saturated by Hunger Games clones, The Night Butterflies is a refreshing, intelligent, well written alternative to the pseudo-dystopian novels that currently fill the shelves. This is no teenage angsty love triangle story. The characters in this novel aren’t complaining that their freedom or rights have been taken from them — they are, instead, stripped of their very humanity. In a post-war world where the very air is poison, Men and Women are separated, as a mysterious Leader and his circle of Men seek to develop medicine to keep everyone alive, but also, that thing that is crucial for a species to continue — healthy procreation.
This is where they have gone wrong — as wrong as possible — and the Mothers live in fear of their cruel, compassionless, inhumane children.
But suddenly, something begins to change for a couple of the characters, and a ray of hope begins to shine. Some of the children appear to be different, and some of the Mothers appear to be waking up from the drug induced stupors they usually stay in.

Lichfield uses multiple narrators, each with unique voices, even incorporating a sort of raw patois for one of the narrators, a young man who has not learned how to speak correctly. This was an inspired choice of storytelling method, giving the reader multiple points of view, and glimpses into the thoughts, fears, and motivations of each character.

One of my favourite novels of all time is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, along with Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos, Moore’s V for Vendetta and Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. Sara Lichfield’s The Night Butterflies handles the topic of degradation and fear, and a society that has forgotten how to be human with equal skill and maturity. The rediscovery of the joys of connection with other human beings that happens with her characters is just as powerful as, for instance, Guy Montag’s awakening in Fahrenheit 451.

She is a truly gifted writer, and I will be adding this book to my list of books I read every year or so just to remind me why I read and why I write. To try — to keep trying — to create something as beautiful and inspiring as this.

—-

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettanteThe enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE

Available now! image06 JESSICA image07

BECOME A FAN at PUBSLUSH and pre-order Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two and Penelope, Countess of Arcadia

Postcards from California – Conclusion (Guest Post by Helena Hann-Basquiat)

DON’T READ ANY FURTHER if you haven’t read PART ONE and PART TWO

From Sara: “It’s a delight to have the lovely Helena Hann-Basquiat at Right Ink On The Wall. Her stories have charmed me from the moment I met her and I’m honoured to host her as my first ever special guest. I’m so happy she’s found her way here to make a mark. Without more ado, I’ll let her conclude her journey…”

From Helena: “The honour and pleasure are mine, darling.”

Dearest Helena,

I am very sorry for leaving you the way I did. I was a very selfish person – this is the repeated refrain of my life. I look back at the person I was with loathing, and consider her like vomit. I have spent the last few years doing my very best to kill that person, erase her from my memory, and some days I even feel like it has worked, but then I’ll remember someone like you, or my ex-husband, and know that I have left bodies in my wake, and the ghost of the old me laughs at me from the mirror.

I’m not here to make excuses, Helena, nor to make amends – it’s too late for that and I’ve learned that empty gestures usually end up being just that – empty. No, I’m just reaching out to you as a way to tell my story, and I thought you would be pleased to know that I’m not just flitting from place to place anymore, just taking anything I want and never giving back.

If you don’t ever read this, well, I suppose it is enough that I wrote it down. But I do hope this reaches you, and that some day I can wrap my arms around you and thank you and say good-bye properly. I owe you that, at least.

You may not have realized this, but I was ever so lonely, but I didn’t have the time for making real friends – well, of course I had the time, darling, but I just couldn’t be bothered. And so I collected… pets… like I collected shoes or cars or purses, and when I was bored with them, or they started getting too close, I tossed them away.

I’m afraid that is what happened to you, Helena, but believe me when I tell you that you are not even close to the worst. I have treated others far worse. Ask my ex-lovers or my ex-husband what it is like to live with someone, to wake up with someone, who is cold and dead and self-consumed.

Of course, you’re asking yourself what caused my transformation. Well, I didn’t have a near-death experience or join a cult, in case that cynical mind of yours is rolling its eyes right about now.

I can tell you that it wasn’t just one thing. I didn’t just wake up one day and see things as they really were and do an about face. No, my life was stripped away a bit at a time. What I didn’t realize was that while I was busy playing wife and mother and socialite, people around me were tiring of me. I was too self-absorbed to notice it.

I moved back to Malaysia and was actually trying to play at being settled and domestic – can you believe it? But my selfish excess remained, and I drove my friends and family insane with my whimsical choices and erratic behaviour. I had everything every girl ever dreams of – I had the big princess wedding, a handsome prince, a castle and eventually a family.

I almost lost it all. First, the prince got tired of being alternately abused or neglected by me, and left. But not quietly. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a divorce, Helena, but they are a particularly ugly experience, especially if a child is involved. Mine was brutal, drawn out, and incredibly painful.

Then my grandmother died, and I shut down. I went inside my room and closed the door behind me, and it was there that I began to change.

Go ahead and make all the butterfly/cocoon jokes that you want, Helena, but it wasn’t like that at all. I didn’t emerge a better person. I didn’t suddenly come out with my mind enlightened and face shining like some sort of prophet or saint. I spent that year depressed and suicidal, and forced to face the real me. And I hated her. I began to plot her murder. I wanted to smash her head in and bury her under some daisies; put up a tombstone, reading HERE LIES A COLD, SELFISH BITCH – GOOD RIDDANCE TO BAD RUBBISH.

So no, I didn’t emerge a better person, just an empty, angry person, disappointed in myself – I can honestly say that I am probably the least accomplished person I know – I haven’t DONE anything. You were right about that. And so when I opened my door and stepped back into the world, it wasn’t as a butterfly, but as a prisoner set free. I had come to realize that I’d been living in a cage of my own making – that it was fear that kept me there. Fear of living. Actually living, and forming relationships, and trying to express myself – my actual thoughts and feelings – and having them be rejected. I was afraid that if anyone knew my desires, my dreams, that they would either laugh at me or hate me – a good Asian girl is not supposed to feel such things, not even supposed to THINK such things.

When I opened the door, the one thing I did have was a new credo – that I was going to be fearless.

What a joke, Helena! As if I could just declare something to be so and it would be so. It would appear that I had some growing up to do; some learning. I had some personal issues to work through, and no idea where to start. So yes, I did seek spiritual guidance. I spoke to a great many spiritual leaders, trying to understand myself, and eventually, discovered that I needed to look outside myself for the answers I was looking for.

Don’t get me wrong – a life of asceticism is not for me. I embrace my desires, not shun them – but I needed some sort of balance. I was not prepared, Helena. I fully admit that now, but at the time, I thought that I was ready for anything. I had years of practice showing fake confidence and bravado, and so I charged right in. I began working with non-profit organizations in Malaysia, caring for women and children rescued from the sex-trade. I have seen terrible things, Helena. Things that I can never un-see.

At first I just thought I could throw money at the problem, and that it would go away, thus easing my conscience. I thought I could feel good about myself. But it wasn’t enough to expunge my sense of guilt. I kept thinking how my priorities used to be getting my hands on the latest handbag or shoes, and it made me physically ill. I was in a position, or so I thought, to do something about the things I had seen, and not just by throwing money at it. Someone introduced me to an organization called Gawad Kalinga, and so I went to the Philippines to fight the good fight against poverty.

If you can sense the sarcasm and disillusionment dripping off my words, than my writing is not in vain.

I wasn’t going to change the world. In many ways, this was still my enormous ego acting up. Directed at a noble cause, to be sure, but still an exercise in vanity. It took me quite some time to come to that realization, though.

Don’t get me wrong — Gawad Kalinga is doing great work trying to rebuild a nation — you really can’t believe the poverty, Helena. This isn’t people without jobs, people with not enough to eat, people living in the streets, sleeping in bus shelters. This is people without clothes, people squatting in the mud, entire cities full of people living and dying in the street. Literally millions of people without regular food or shelter – entire generations living out their short, miserable lives without hope of anything close to what we take for granted.

I am no hero. I never was, and I never will be. But I have met heroes, and so I took it upon myself to try to document their work, going as far as helping start a film company to make a documentary about NGOs working to rebuild communities and eradicate poverty – specifically focusing on Gawad Kalinga. I thought that I could bring attention to the work that they were doing, and by doing so, add hands to the cause. It was a good idea, Helena. I swear it was. But again, it was unsuccessful. It seemed that the more I tried to do, the less I accomplished. I realize now that I was trying to wipe out the great debt that I felt I had amassed after years of selfish decadence with a single grand gesture.

In the end, the film industry brought out the worst in me – my vicious ego came forward to insist that things were done my way or not at all, and eventually I knew I had to walk away or again become consumed by that evil, dead thing that once I was.

So again, I went into self-imposed exile. I clearly still needed work. I needed to conquer my ego, face my fears, and battle my demons.

I know, right. Sounds trite, or cliché, but the fact of the matter is, the old Maya would never stoop to something as common as self-examination or self-improvement. I was my own, perfect, flawless goddess, and the world should change to suit me, not the other way around.

So what does that mean, anyway? Battling demons. Well, I cried. A lot. I stopped wearing make up, and tried to accept that I would never be movie star or model beautiful. I started writing. I’d always written poetry – sometimes depressing nonsense, sometimes, erotic fantasies – but I’d never taken it too seriously. I was proud of it, but it was just for me. But that year, I started writing, examining myself, taking a sharp blade to the deepest parts of me. I allowed myself to think about things I’d long buried, and to examine my role in the train wreck that my life had become. I came out of that with a renewed sense of purpose and understanding.

I expect that you’re waiting for the big Hollywood finish here. The story of how I opened an orphanage and saved the lives of hundreds of starving children, or how I became a motivational speaker, taking my story from stadium to stadium and changing the lives of millions.

Sadly, no. The truth is, neither of those things would be a good idea for me. I know how my ego works now, and how poisonous it is to me. No, I’m still just me. I’m still marginally involved with local relief organizations, and I’m still an avid supporter of Gawad Kalinga, but these days I focus on being a mom – my little girl is not so little anymore, and she needs me more than anyone else in the world. If I can instill better values in her, then maybe, through her, I can find my redemption.

Wow, did I really just write that? Sorry, darling, I fear sometimes my poetic nature gets the best of me.

So I’m taking it from day to day, trying to remain free of that cage I spent years creating. I’m writing a blog, and sharing my thoughts, my experiences, and even my poetry. I think you’d be glad that I am actually doing something for a change.

I once told you that I did whatever I wanted – went where I wanted, ate what I wanted, took what I wanted, spent time with who I wanted. That was my definition of freedom.

I know now that was just wild, unreliable and irresponsible. No wonder I found myself constantly alone, cut off from the people I said I cared about. The truth is, I didn’t know how to care for people. When we really care for people, and when we truly learn to care for ourselves, we can never be so wildly careless and casual about our presence and responsibility. To be there – to be really present – for the people we love, and to be reliable for ourselves and for the people that depend on us, we need to rise above our own issues. If I want to be someone who can achieve great things, I have to be able to let go of the pain, the anger, and the baggage of the past.

And how do I do that?

God, I don’t know, Helena. One day at a time? Isn’t that what the alcoholics say?

Anyway, I don’t know if you’re reading this, or if I’m just practicing for my writing portfolio. If this does reach you, and you care to get in contact, I’ve given you my current phone number and email address. I’m actually going to be in Los Angeles in a few weeks – are you still in the area? I really would love to see you, if you don’t think it would be too awkward.

I won’t hold my breath.

I wrote this as much for me as it was for you (see, I’m still a bit selfish) and so as I close this, I suppose I do feel a sense of accomplishment. I wanted to reach out to you and apologize, and tell you what I have tried to become, and now I have done that, and it will have to be enough.

I wish you true happiness, with the admonition to not look for it in fast cars, fancy clothes, and bright lights.

Much love,

Maya

————

By the time I finished reading, I was mentally exhausted. Penny was putting postcards in chronological order on the table, sketching out a timeline out of some sense of obsessive compulsion or else just a natural tendency for finding the narrative in things. There were plenty of gaps – some lasting years. I was a bit flattered that I came to mind at all, to be honest. It seems like she was trying to convince me that she was changing.

Look, here I am in the dangerous slums of Mindanao interviewing ex-rebel leaders.

Here I am clothing children rescued from a brothel in Ampang.

This is me making a movie about relief workers in Tanauan.

Postcard portraits of attempts to prove to herself – and me, it seemed – that she could do something. There was an insecurity and desperate need for approval in it all that I immediately recognized and related to. I found myself hoping that she was further along the path to self-acceptance than I was, because I could echo the last few lines of her letter to the very word.

I don’t know how to let go and move forward.

I just keep trying. One day at a time, like the alcoholics say.

“You should call her,” Penny said, reading my mind.

“I know,” I agreed, but I wasn’t sure that I would.

——-

3eb88ad4-d00b-4cbe-a902-8022a9a45745This is the third and final part of a larger story, Postcards from California, by Helena Hann-Basquiat. It is part of what will become Volume Two of Memoirs of a Dilettante. Volume One was published April 1st, and is available in paperback HERE  (if it’s not available in your region, try HERE) or for Kindle HERE

For more Helena, go to HelenaHB.com

A Post About Postcards And A Very Special Guest

cover“I’d long ago stopped being angry with her, but seeing her handwriting, reading the messages in her delicate script sent me spiralling backward through time.” – Helena Hann-Baquiat

Something rather special is happening here soon. On May 1st, not only am I hosting an enchanting writer, I already know that I’m presenting you with the conclusion to an incredible story. Helena Hann-Basquiat is the author of Memoirs of a Dilettante – and if you don’t know what a dilettante is, darlings, go to her delicious blog to find out.

I love postcards. I hoard them. I also write them a lot. I’ve travelled heaps, so some lucky people have postcards from yours truly from all over the world. I write in tiny script and sometimes send multiple cards to the same person when I run out of room. Do you ever do something *you* love in the belief/hope that other people feel the same way? Receiving postcards is one of my favourite things, so I send them often. Postcards don’t just tell stories – they map out journeys… I’m so glad that I have a collection to dive into – snapshots of different people at different times and places, frozen in that moment.

I hope you’ll enjoy your snapshot of Helena’s journey – and join me tracing back through the blogosphere to find the rest of the tale. As with many things you glimpse – a photograph, a blogpost, a face – you’re probably not seeing the whole story in a postcard. I’m always interested in what came before and what comes after. What really happened? What makes someone the picture they present to the world? History becomes what people choose to write down… Who really knows the truth? But, then, what’s life without a little mystery?