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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Buying Books and Writing Lyrics

So today was a particularly free day for me, and I don't have much to show for it. I spent a lot of it watching Youtube videos. I also wrote a new song which I dislike, so I don't think it'll make it out of Garageband. The song isn't a rap song, because I've been listening to a lot of rock lately and am reminded of how much I love the genre and how much I desire to make rock-sounding songs.

A struggle that I've found from trying to write these more rock-sounding songs is in finding what to talk about in the songs. I don't want the song topic to be clich├ęd, so I thought I'd just talk about everyday life, and it's tough to sing about everyday life without it coming off as mundane and uninteresting to me. So I ended up writing about everyday mental struggles, and the way I wrote it sounds rather melodramatic. I guess I'm having some trouble owning up to my melodrama and think that I should try to write about something better.

Then before dinner I went to a nearby MPH bookstore to get some books that I shall review throughout 2017. I bought three books in total. The titles are Gantung, Alif Lam Lam Ha and Anarkis. They're from three different publishers, two of them are fictions and one (Alif Lam Lam Ha) is non-fiction. Added to that shall be three books I already have, which are Sekolah Bernama Kehidupan (fiction), Brave New World (non-fiction) as well as Young and Malay (a non-fiction which I'm currently in the middle of reading). Maybe after writing this post I'll go ahead and type out the script for that video.

I made it a point to have three fictions and three non-fictions. I wish not all three of the non-fictions were essay compilations, but as I've found from that MPH, it's tough to find Malay works of non-fiction that aren't about making money or religion-related, two types of books that I have a disdain for. Not because I don't believe these books don't have value, but because more often than not, they come off as preachy and are instructive, and I hold a general distaste for things/people that tell me what to do, a character flaw that I am open to admitting.

Just because I'm at a loss about what else to write, I'll rewrite the lyrics to the song I made today below.

Here's to sucking at stuff so that you may improve.

Opposite the steering wheel
we're having a staring contest.
I inevitably lose and
make my way inside my mind.

I never remember to bring
any matches. So the dark is familiar.
I walk into its arms and
sit until I fall asleep.

Oh, what joy it is to be uninformed
of the pain and suffering.

My eyes crack open. It's revealed
that my ceiling's full of cobwebs.
Too many dirty clothes occupy
my sleeping surface.

Again and again I refresh my feed
for a glimpse inside your thought;
so that I don't have to pay any
attention to my own.

How I miss the bliss of ignorance granted me.
Now I just wait to go.

Having Short Film Ideas

So currently it is within my ambition to make a couple of short films within this year. I already have two ideas that I'm attracted to, but they need some flashing out and some serious producing in order to get done. I wish to write down the synopses of both here, but for some reason I am paranoid of the thought that some people might lift the ideas and pass off these films as their own. It's rather arrogant of me to think this, because I think my ideas are good enough to be taken and carried out, but I've grown a certain amount of attachment to them, so I don't have it within me to put it out there quite yet, unless they're in the form of completed short films.

I will share that they both involve children. In both films, 8-9 year olds are the main protagonists and I want to explore their worldview and conflicts they face through moving pictures. I think being around kids so much allows me to observe them and then have an urge to share their stories from the way I see them.

But like I said earlier, they require a bit of producing. There's a lot of work that has to be done before I could actually make these two short films a reality, so until I have those resources ready, these ideas will have to rest for a little bit. Also, maybe write the scripts first, Anwar.

I guess I'm not enthusiastic about writing those scripts right now because I know that in their current forms, they can't be executed easily. And because I think the jobs are going to be difficult, I guess I shy away from working towards getting them done at all, because resting and trying to think of something else to do is a lot easier than going through with an idea. That way, I avoid failing by keeping the short film ideas in their perfect forms in my head. Plus, nobody can give a bad review of the short films if no one even knows they exist, so I'll always be able to rest in the fact that these ideas have received no negative reviews from anyone. 100% success rate, in my head, and that feels great.

Putting it out in the world means exposing it to negative reviews and the possibility of people not liking it. That's a tough thing to do, and more than anything, takes courage to pull off. I need to gather enough courage to make those sucky scripts so that work can start on making those sucky short films. And once they're done, I can start improving and be less sucky at it.

So here's to courage.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Discussing Wills

So it's been a busy day. We went to my uncle's house to celebrate the arrival of his first grandchild. Pretty much the whole extended family was there and we had nice food and took nice pictures with the baby.

My aunt's best friend was there too, and I hadn't seen her in quite a bit so we sat down for a bit of a chat about life and what the future held for us all. I like her a lot because she takes the time to listen to what I have to say and cares about what I think about certain things. It's rare for me to find a person who already has a 19 year-old child of her own still willing to listen to and hope to learn from a person significantly younger than herself, so I commend her for that.

Then my uncle came about the dining area and had a conversation with her pulak, and since I didn't need to be anywhere else, I stuck around. They talked about being organised and how one person was more organised than the other, and then they started talking about wills and about needing to write it.

It was the first time I had ever heard people discussing their need to write down their will in front of me. And I guess because they were of that age, it was natural of them to have that on their minds. I felt like I was watching something authentic in daily human interaction, something that I would have to address not too long in the future as well.

They way they talked about it wasn't with weight or exceeding amounts of pressure, even though the topic of discussion was of life and death. They were talking about it as if it were just another thing on the to-do list and the nonchalance of the interaction felt particularly refreshing to me. It is of people who aren't surprised nor afraid that the day that they will leave this world is drawing closer and they have nothing within their power to stop it, and so they accept it and get on with what needs to get done.

While witnessing this conversation, I imagined that I would be as off-handed about my own mortality, but only time shall tell how I react to that reality. Even if it has and continues to stare at me on a daily basis, I've never felt within myself to take it all too seriously. At least not as seriously as making up a will. Drafting that sounds a lot more concrete than long shower contemplations.

Here's to taking life and death seriously and lightly, at the same time.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Theatre Audition

So earlier today I was privileged enough to attend an audition for a short play that shall be staged at the end of February at Damansara Performing Arts Centre. I found out about the call to audition through twitter and decided to give it a try.

That decision was made, however, rather late. Like 24 hours before the auditions were held was when I told myself that I would give it a go. After recording the book review I wanted to record and uploading it to Youtube, I looked for monologues to use for the audition.

The poster for the audition asked for a five-minute-long monologue, but after googling monologues for an hour, I found out that most contemporary monologues last 1 minute, 2 minutes tops. The longer ones come from Shakespearean plays, something I wasn't too psyched about having to read and perform with less than 12 hours to practice.

I settled for two one-minute monologues, and hoped that the people on the other side of the audition table would understand. The first one I settled on was a monologue from the movie V For Vendetta, when the masked character, V, introduced himself to the lead female character. I chose it because it seemed challenging to execute, but at the same time not too tough that I would struggle too badly with reciting it. I wanted to showcase my ability to articulate and enunciate dialogue clearly.

The second one I chose was from the movie Dead Poet's Society. I chose that one because Robin Williams is great, I love that movie and I was already a full-time teacher, so to put myself in the shoes of a teacher being in front of a class would be easier for me and I thought I could pull it off convincingly enough, given the limited time I had to practice.

I spent an hour or so going over the lines of the two monologues and tried to determine where the louder and quieter bits were so that my reading would seem dynamic and look more like a performance than just a plain reading of text. I listened and adjusted for pauses while doing the monologues and went to bed really sleepy.

This morning I woke up and went over my lines again. I recorded both the monologues before going out of the house so that I could listen to them during the drive there. That helped a lot, I think.

When I arrived at the place of the audition, one other person was already there, a person I knew from programmes with EnglishJer. He was a cool guy that was inclined towards the arts as well, so I knew he liked this sort of thing. I had to wait for his session to finish before going into the audition room. I was given the play script in the meantime by a producer and was asked to pick a scene to read for the audition later.

By the time the other guy's session finished, I heard claps and cheers from the people on the other side of the table. They seemed to like the dude's work, so that added pressure in my mind. I had to calm myself down by saying to myself that it's okay if I don't get this thing pun. Just give it a shot and leave the results to those who were supposed to make that decision. I told myself that I just had to do what I had prepared to do, and that was it.

When I went into the audition room, the producer was cool enough to have a short interview session with me to know me and my background in theatre a little better. He asked questions that were pertinent to the work such as "why do you like theatre?" and "how did you prepare for the audition?" I think they were good questions because from the answers they would get a feel for my attitude towards the work and how dedicated I was or wasn't in trying to pull it off. They needed dedicated people in their team, so asking these questions were important to understand the people that they were going to potentially work with.

After answering the questions, I performed my monologues and did a scene from the script they gave me. I think it went okay. The people on the other side of the table thanked me and I thanked them in return for the opportunity. They said that they would contact me in a couple of days if there were any updates. I left feeling alright. Credit goes to them for making me feel comfortable doing what I had to do. They were welcoming and warm. They put on a serious front, of course, but made it clear that they wanted me to be as comfortable as I could in order to execute the monologue and scene the best to my ability. I have to remember to do the same if ever I am in their position in the future.

And now I'm at a coffee shop typing all this out. Getting hungry. Kena pi cari makanan.

Here's to being warm and welcoming in a serious environment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Knife's Got Reflections by Mia Sallehudin [Book Review] [Vlog Script]

Assalamualaikum and hello there!

Been a while but here’s the review!

[what is the book about]

The Knife’s Got Reflections by Mia Sallehudin published by Terfaktab Vine is a story about an a very talented young chef named Nuha who has a love interest in the form of an already established cook named Zef.

Their relationship seems to drift apart when Nuha goes to Dubai to work in a restaurant over there, and this is when she befriends Laith, thus starting a LOVE TRIANGLE!

Nuha comes back to Malaysia, and resumes her relationship with Zef, gets engaged and gets stood up on her wedding day. She gets sad for a while before opening her own restaurant, and then Laith comes and proposes to her.

Cool? Cool.

[what i liked about the book]

I like that I got an insight into the life journey of a chef. I got to find out what it’s like to be a chef in real life, the struggles of a chef, what chefs tend to think about and all that jazz.

Since I am not a cook nor do I have any friends who are cooks, I appreciate being able to read about what being a cook entails.

And the scene where Nuha has to salam cium tangan her makciks and call off the wedding, that was something new that I appreciated. I’m a sucker for localised narratives, and the cium tangan scene was really something.

[what I didn’t like about the book]

Having said that, it still is, at the end of the day, a love-triangle story, and in that story I was able to salvage very few bits that I found interesting.

It also sounded rather preachy in what Nuha has to say about cooks, likes she’s defending the profession from critics that existed only inside her brain, but not inside the story. 

One particular passage highlights this point, in page 154 when she seems to be addressing the reader directly by telling us, “cooking with passion will take up most of your heart. You may not have much left to do anything else. Some of the people I knew didn’t even have enough left for things like personal relationships and family. So you better make up your mind.”

Thing about it is, the story itself shows that you can be a highly successful cook while having a fulfilling personal life, so this ranty paragraph becomes moot. 

A big chunk of the first few chapters were explanations of cooking techniques that wouldn’t interest a noob in cooking such as myself. Have a pause here to read part of a paragraph from page 37. I understand that some people might find all that interesting, but I’m reading this book for a story, not ways to prepare food.

I guess I would have appreciated more restraint on behalf of the author in regards to this.

I wish I liked the main character more, but I just didn’t. There’s this one bit where she admits that she was not most people (I wasn’t most people, page 50), but then buys an I-Love-Budapest t-shirt as a souvenir literally two pages later. Somebody has to tell her that “most people” buy that shirt as souvenirs.

[nak rekemen buku ni kat sapa]

I would recommend this book to anybody who wants to gain a better insight into what the journey to become a chef might look like. I think aspiring chefs would appreciate this book a lot more than I do.

Overall, it took me a long time to finish this book for a reason. I just didn’t find it very page-turning. I think that the story at the crux of it is meh and the storytelling is similarly meh.

I think the author can write. They just have to find a more interesting story to tell, in my opinion.

If you’ve read the book, what did you think about it? Leave your comments below, especially if you disagree with what I had to say about the book! I’d love to read what you think and or feel about the book.

The next video will be a list of books that I’ll be talking about in 2017, so look out for that one.


And I think that’s it for this video, until next time, may peace be upon you!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Problem Of The Ego

So the more I am around on Earth going through this human experience, the more I realise that I have an issue with managing my anger which comes from my ego. I have an ego problem and I don't think it's at all healthy to have, so I'll have to examine it and think up of ways to better deal with it.

I think the first time I realised that such a thing existed within me was when I watched a Nouman Ali Khan video a handful of years ago. He talked about ego within the people in the Muslim community, and I find it to be somewhat applicable to people in general, although that might take a bit of a reinterpretation of what he's saying in the video. If you'd like to watch it (and I highly recommend that you do), please click here.

In the video, Mr Khan talks about certain people who tend to develop a certain way of viewing the world in which they take offence to other people all the time for the smallest of reasons. The example that he gave was when a person who is being a makmum in a congregational prayer hears that the imam is mispronouncing certain parts of a surah or the tajweed is off, and they'd dwell on it and resent that that person is saying it wrong or saying it not the way they would. This becomes one of the identifiers of an ego problem within oneself.

One with an ego problem feels like they are more knowledgeable and worthy than other people, regardless of what that thing may be, be it material possessions or religious positions. There is an undeniable paradox that exists when a person gets egotistical about their religious knowledge, when religious knowledge was always meant to humble those who receive it.

And I know that I have that problem. I've known since I watched that video all those years ago, and even though I try to manage it, it comes up and messes with my brain. I'd get angry for no good reason, such as when a person talks to me certain way, a way in which I wouldn't. I would get all muddled up inside dwelling on it, thinking that on the one hand, I have this feeling of superiority against this other person, but on the other hand trying my best to not let that feeling manifest itself in my actions. At the same time I'm conflicted and feel guilty for feeling superior and beat myself up inside my head for ever thinking that I was better than anybody else in anything at all.

And in those moments, I grow silent and go peak introvert, because I'm having these conversations in my head that say "Ugh, I'm angry!" and "Ugh, I shouldn't be angry!" and even "Ugh, I'm such a terrible human being for feeling angry in the first place!" at the same time. I never know how to deal with these thoughts, and I don't know how to lower my ego to a point where I don't get angry anymore about such trivial things.

Some would say that I'd have to go on a spiritual journey, like read the Quran more, zikir more often, solat sunat tahajjud and whatnot. And they might have a point. Maybe the solutions to my problems lies on outward expressions of faith instead of inward introspection. Or maybe those outward expressions of faith may lead me to a more guided and well-built inward introspection. One can only try to see if it works. But will I? There's lies the question.

Here's to Nouman Ali Khan for being a great guy.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Listening To Debbie Millman

So before writing this post, I was running. Running is a thing I have wanted to introduce as a regular feature in my life for quite some time now, not because I particularly enjoy it, but because I believe in its health benefits. I would much rather play rugby for my health, but my current schedule won't permit it. And even if I did have the time, there is the added burden of looking for a new bunch of people to play with, since I've moved. So I'm stuck with running for now.

But as with any other of my endeavours, they fail to have any sort of longevity. But I've been doing it for three weeks now, so that's something. And in that time, I've realised something about myself: the last thing I want to think about while I'm running is running. So I get to choose between three things to distract me from the fact that I'm running while doing it which are: podcasts, Netflix shows and songs. What I end up choosing depends on what mood I'm in on that particular evening.

Earlier today I chose podcasts, and I listened to The Tim Ferriss Show, more specifically to one of the more recent episodes in which he talks with Debbie Millman. Debbie Millman is a writer, designer and the host of the podcast "Design Matters". This episode was the first time I had ever heard of her, and I'm glad that I did because she is such an interesting person to listen to and hear the life story of. The episode is called "How To Design A Life", so if you're into design or just interesting people in general, I highly recommend it. If you want to give it a listen (it's a long one, just so you know), click here.

I want to talk about three points she made in the conversation that I found remarkable. The first one is her realisation of what she really wanted in life. For decades, she had thought that what she really wanted was financial stability and being self-sufficient. But within this past couple of years, she has realised that she had been lying to herself all this time. What she really wanted was to stay in Manhattan, the most expensive city in the world. Everything she did, all the decisions she made was based on that condition. She did everything she could to be able to stay in Manhattan, even if it meant living in deplorable conditions in a rented room four flights of stairs up.

What astounded me was that it took her all those years to realise that she had been lying to herself and to finally find out what her true motivations were. So she asked into the microphone, "have a think about the one thing that you truly couldn't live without," and it prompted me to have a think about my answer. And at this point in my life, I would want to answer self-sufficiency. I want to be able to provide for myself and the people I care most about, no matter where I am or what I do. But because I am a product of privilege, in my mind I am always not too far away from being able to move onto something else that might pay the bills if I didn't like what I was doing at any particular moment in time. Because of the incredible luck I've had throughout my life, I've been able to get to where I am and aspire to go even further in the future. So I still have doubt over my answer of self-sufficiency being what I truly need. Maybe I'm too young to discover the truth and to look beyond my own lie. Only time will tell, but for now that's what I feel like my answer is.

The second thing from the podcast episode was a piece of advice that Debbie gave the listeners, which was a piece of advice that one of her teachers gave her. She instructed the listeners to imagine that the date was exactly this day, but ten years in the future (so as of writing this piece, 20th January 2027) and imagine what an ideal life of yours would look like. If you had the option of never failing anything ever in anything that you choose to do with your life, what would it look like in ten years. Debbie asked us to be as specific as possible, from the moment one wakes up to the moment they go to bed again, what does that ideal, completely successful version of future you's day look like? Once you've written it, keep it safe and reread it once a year every year.

She said that all the things she wrote 12 years ago have come true today, and it was surreal for her to go through. She also says that she tells her students to do the same, and students from a decade ago have sent her letters saying that the things they wrote had come true too. So it's proven to be a very powerful thing in quite a few people's lives. I wish to take on this exercise one day in what remains in January 2017. I'll most probably put it here for safekeeping.

The third thing was the story of the hardest decision she had to make in her life, which was to turn down the offer to become CEO of a company that she had worked for for decades. She said no to it ultimately because she felt like that would be going down the same path in life as she had already gone for so long at a time when she felt like she needed to switch paths. It was a hard decision for her because the job was a comfort zone for her, since she knew the company and what the company needed and how to do the job properly. Plus, she wouldn't have to wonder how to pay the bills if she were the CEO for a while.

But she said something to the effect of, "people often look at an offer and become afraid to turn it down because they somehow, in their brains, dismiss the fact that other, different offers may and do come in the future. People think that by saying no to this one thing, no other thing is going to pop up, when in reality, loads of things always keep popping up. Some things need that initial offer to be off the table first before presenting itself to you, so we have to keep that in mind when making decisions." I paraphrased super-heavily in that quote, I apologise.

But it reminded me of what video-maker Casey Neistat once said about life's progress being akin to Tarzan swinging from tree vine to tree vine. He can't move on until he lets go of the previous vine and starts reaching for a new one. He'll stay in the same place forever if he doesn't learn to let go of the tree vines.

So how these two quotes relate to me is that (and I think this is no secret) I'm going to have to let go of this tree vine that is being a school teacher in order to pursue other, more interesting things to me. And it's a scary decision to want to make, since there's no safety in that. There's all the safety in a government school teaching job. The pay's good, it's noble work in that teachers help mould the future generations, all that jazz.

But I don't feel fulfilled. I don't feel like I'm growing. I always feel like I'm stagnant. I even sometimes feel like the more I stay on as a teacher, the more I become this person I despise. A person that's egotistical, lacks integrity, demands respect when he hasn't earn it, looks down on other people. Maybe that's just a flaw in my own character, and it doesn't matter what kind of work I do. If I'm a douche, I'll be a douche doing anything. But because I've only ever been a full-time teacher, I can't say for certain that I'll stay the same doing something else.

At the same time, I see people that become the best versions of themselves because they are teachers. The profession brings out the best in them. I feel like I need to go on a journey to find what that profession is for myself, because I'm pretty sure it isn't being a primary school teacher.

The other day I scolded a kid because they hid a book from me. It was petty of me to do that, to feel slighted by a nine year old who didn't know any better. I left the class feeling as disgusted with myself as I had ever felt. I keep thinking that the sooner I'm taken away from these kids the better. They deserve better than me. So much better than the piece of trash that is me.

Here's to letting go and moving forward.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Being Rear-Ended

So while I was driving to to school earlier today, I got hit by a car from behind. I wasn't hurt or anything, but the dent that collision left on my car's rear bumper was a bit of a doozie. As I realised that I got rear-ended, I looked to see who had done it by examining my rearview mirror. It was a grey Unser, and it signalled to the left to pull over by the roadside. I was thankful that they didn't decide to drive away and make it more complicated than it had to be.

I pulled over too to allow other cars to pass us and go about their day. In my teacher's attire of long-sleeved button-up shirt and slacks, I got out of my car and reminded myself to be as calm as I could, given the circumstances. The main goal was to settle what had to be settled as quickly as possible, and go about our day. I still had school to go to.

The driver of the Unser was alone, and if I had to guess, was about my age, if not slightly older, since he had more of a stubble than I could ever pull off with my current facial hair situation. He was apologetic and acknowledged that it was his fault for hitting my car. I asked him if he had ever done this before, as in hit another person's car before, and he  answered in the negative. I whipped up my camera and took a picture of the damage to my car and the Unser's plate number. I then asked him for his licence and ID and took a picture of those. He did the same for me, after my insistence.

As calm and level-headed as I tried to be, I wasn't very experienced in handling road accidents myself. I knew what to do in case of car breakdowns, but not vehicular collisions, so I asked my mother-in-law (who happened to live 2 minutes away from the incident) by calling her. She told me what to do and I set in motion her plan, which was to tell the driver of the Unser that he was to pay for the damages, or else a police report had to be made.

The driver of the Unser complied and was happy to do what he needed to in order to get the thing settled so that the both of us could move on from what had happened. We shared the same goal, which was to get it over and done with as quickly and as painlessly as it could be, and for that I appreciate him. He gave me his phone number and I made sure he gave me the right one by calling him on the spot to see that his phone was ringing.

Before we parted ways, he apologised again, and I said no worries while getting back in the car. It wasn't the warmest of goodbyes that I could have given, and in hindsight I could have been a little warmer to receive his apology properly. He seemed genuine in his sorries and seemed like he really wished he hadn't hit my car (but of course, who ever wishes otherwise?).

I think the way the Unser driver handled it was exemplary and made the effort to seem like he was sorry for what he had done and cooperated with me to get what had to be settled done. He made sure that it was all over within a day so that we could both move on with our lives. He was very calm and was as warm as one could be given the situation at hand. I have a thing or two to learn from that person, and I hope that if the roles were reversed one day and I were the one in the wrong, I would be strong enough to deal with it the way that he did. He made a mistake and owned up to it, took responsibility for it and made sure I was compensated for the damages.

Here's to that guy, for being a nice dude.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

People Still Blog?

So about a week ago (week ago) a friend asked me if I was writing anything new, so I told him that I was writing semi-consistently on my blog, and the friend said, "wait, people still blog?" and I was like, yeah no, most don't anymore, I suppose, but it's a place I go to get me writing, so I do it for that.

Although it has to be said that I cannot empirically prove my answer because I just don't and never had the interest to research this question. The basis of my assumption comes from the lack of updates from the bloggers I used to read consistently. Some still do update from time to time, but I have to admit that the number of updates have dwindled significantly.

A reason for this could be the availability and the simplicity of facebook status updates. Why write on a website and post a link to that website to share it with friends when one could just make the piece of writing available to friends where they already are, right? The influx of wordy facebook status updates strengthens this thesis of mine.

Plus, writing on a blog is less gratifying because of the lack of the "like" function which is available to facebook users. So when one writes on the blog of blogspot, one gets little to no acknowledgement from the people that read them, unless of course those people choose to leave a comment. The comment section of the facebook page also looks more accessible and easy to use than blogger's, so it's no surprise then that writing on facebook becomes more attractive.

But I guess I like writing on blogger precisely because of those reasons. It makes me feel like I'm a hipster, in the sense that I don't do what everybody else is doing and am doing what so few are engaging in. I also appreciate those that come here to read a lot more, even if they do so silently without leaving a trace. People that take the effort to come here and read what I have to say show more sincerity in their interest in what I have to say, so I appreciate that a lot.

I also like writing here because I feel like I'm freer to let loose all of what goes through my brain as they go through it. Seldom is my writing here cohesive and it's almost never proof-read. What I get to read on this blog is a representation of what's going on in my head as closely as I can get it on paper without being a big pile of gibberish.

So here's to blogspot for still being a thing.

Monday, January 16, 2017

To Achieve What No One Else Has

So in the shower this morning I was thinking about a quote that I'd read some time ago that went "to achieve what no one else has achieved, you have to be prepared to do what no one else has done". And I ended up spending quite some time in the shower with that.

Since I've moved to the Klang Valley, I've found myself closer to some friends of mine that live and work around here. Being in closer proximity means that I am able to hang out with them with less of a hassle than when I was in Penang. I wouldn't have to travel 400 kilometres just to have a drink, basically. Trips to Klang Valley were more often than not, work-related, and we got little hangout time.

But moving has also meant that I have now a home with my wife. Back when I was in Penang and it was more of a long-distance kind of thing, I found it tough to stay at home and do stuff. This could be because there was no internet at my rented Penang apartment, but it was also because I didn't feel at home there. I felt like I didn't belong in the apartment, like I was menumpang. And to a certain extent, that's what it is if you live in rented property. I would go out consistently, every night, for dinner and for coffee by myself. I would only go back to the apartment to sleep and shower.

But now that we've moved into this rented apartment, it feels more like home and less like menumpang. Maybe it's because we've installed internet here, but I also feel like it's because I get to hangout with my wife here on a daily basis. It's because my wife makes it a point to cook as often as she can. It's because we can watch Netflix on the couch together. So I feel like going out less and less.

So here comes the paradox (if I can call it that). On the one hand, it's been more convenient for me to go out and meet friends to catch up. On the other, I don't feel like going out as much anymore. This sounds like a thing old people think about, and I guess I haven't escaped the clutches of such basic modern-life dilemmas.

Another thing I've been seeing around me is that some older husbands I know tend to want to lepak outside until as late as they can. They seem to enjoy the freedom of being away from their home, wife and children to the max and seem inclined to put off going back home until as late as possible. This makes sense to me in the sense that they've been spending a lot of time fending and providing for their family for a long time, and when moments that afford them the freedom to not have to think about those things for a little bit, one would want to be in that moment for a while. Raising a family is stressful stuff, and opportunities to destress become valuable in stressful environments.

As much as I put an effort into trying to understand their position, I still do not wish that upon myself. I don't want to feel reluctant to go back home to my wife. I want it to be an alright thing for me to just kick back at home and not go out. But at the same time, I also understand that I'm still on the younger side of things and I have so so much to go through still in my journey as a human being in general and a husband in particular. I am not immune to the weaknesses of man, and I should adjust my expectations accordingly.

Bringing it back to the quote earlier, what I'm trying to say is that I have certain things that I want to achieve. I want to be a good husband, absolutely. I also want to be a good son and brother, because my parents and brothers also mean the world to me. I also want to be a good friend who makes time for his friends. I also want to be a good writer and spend enough time reading and writing. I want to be a person who consistently makes songs as well. I also want to be a person who starts thinking about, writing, producing and making (short) films as well, and maybe full-lengths in the distant future. There's more to this list, but I think you get the point.

So I have all these aspirations, but these things won't be achieved without some sacrifices. For example, if I want to make it a point to be a person who reads and writes a lot, then I have to allocate the time for that, time that could have been spent hanging out with friends, maybe. If I want to make songs, that takes time, so time will have to be taken away from watching Netflix shows, maybe. If I want to spend more time with friends, then I would have to make time for them, and that means taking time away from sleep, maybe.

Trying to manage the finite amount of time we have here is a big struggle, I don't have to tell you that. I guess I just have to determine what I want for myself and stop looking longing for what other people have. I look at some people that seem like they have all the time in the world to hangout until late at night and desire it sometimes. I think to myself, "I wish I were able to go about my life in that fashion." But life and aspirations take sacrifice, and to get what they don't have and probably don't want to have, I have to do what they're not doing and what they're not willing to do.

That means staying at home, writing, reading, making songs, hanging out with the wife, working hard to get better at what I want to get better at and eventually be able to do for a living. At the same time, I do want to maintain good friendships, because they're valuable to me as well. It's about finding that balance, I guess. And it's always a struggle.

Here's to the struggle for balance.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Thoughts on KL24: Zombies

So yesterday I watched a Malaysian-made movie called KL24: Zombies. It's only available on Youtube, so if you want to know what I'm talking about, you can click here to watch it before reading any further. You can also continue reading if you don't feel like sitting through an hour and 16 minutes of whatever that movie was and don't mind spoilers.

The movie's basically about a set of related people (some loosely, some not so loosely) who find themselves in the middle of Kuala Lumpur during a virus outbreak. The virus turns people into zombies, and this set of people have to deal with their immediate situations however they see fit. In the end, one of the lead roles (played by Sharifah Amani) finds a cure through a chance encounter with a scientist (who gets killed) and gets rescued by a military helicopter.

I didn't enjoy the movie, for the most part. Straight out of the gate, the acting was really poor, and the writing was almost as poor (which might sound like a compliment, but really isn't). The actors looked like they rehearsed close to zero times (and hey, maybe that's what really happened) and all the feelings and dialogue felt contrived and delivered with the bare minimum of acting required to make it on (a Youtube) screen. Sharifah Amani sure has chops, and she showed some flashes of it here and there, but overall I got the feeling that she wasn't really sold on what she was doing as an actor and thus couldn't deliver her lines with sincerity (or at least something that resembled sincerity, for that matter).

Because it was a made-for-Youtube movie, the thing did not have to go through any national-level screenings, so they were free to disregard any boundaries and limitations that might have been set by the censorship board. The film-makers took advantage of this and maximised their usage of f-bombs and other bleep-worthy words even early on in the film, to the extent that it felt, again, contrived and insincere. Like they were doing it just because they could, instead of making each swear-word count.

I only appreciated one part of the movie, which was the part when Fatimah Abu Bakar was involved. I like that they explored the dynamics of a polygamous marriage, asking questions as to why a man would want to marry multiple wives, and why any woman would enter such a marriage. Fatimah Abu Bakar's performance was easily the best in the film as she played the role of "the old, cynical wife" so convincingly and with such nuance that it was a joy to be able to witness. Apart from a couple of cringe-worthy lines here and there, the writing in this particular section of the movie stood out as being a lot better than the rest of the film. I honestly would have liked the film a whole lot better if it was a short-film involving this section and this section alone. They would have saved so much money and end up with an immensely better piece of work as a whole.

I commend the production for being brave in making this movie. A lot of socio-political critique was going on in the movie, but they didn't overdo it, so thank you for not being preachy about it. It's just that I felt that, for the most part, the movie was a first-draft, something that was made to be re-written and rehearsed better to get some inconsistencies in check before shooting it and putting it out there.

Here's to better local movies in the future.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Post-Editing Micro MalaysiansThoughts

So yesterday I finally finished reading and editing all the entries for the MICROMALAYSIANS short story anthology for Fixi. In all there were 1,163 submissions, and out of that, 100 made the cut. I wish I could have included more, but that would have meant compromising the quality of the final published book, and we all know how we don't need any more subpar books out there.

The whole experience was a challenging one. I learned that writing a compelling and engaging story in 150 words or less is a lot harder than it sounds. Just about any literate person can write 150 words, but to write something that is memorable, affects and/or entertains the reader within that short amount of time? Tough. I wouldn't be able to do it myself, really. So I have a lot of respect for the ones that got published because they stepped up to the plate and delivered.

I also learned that for a lot of the ones that didn't make the cut, their focus was misguided, in my view. What I received more often than not were what looked like middle-of-the-line, ranty 150-word tweets, when what was asked for were short stories. I'm not saying that what they wrote was wrong. Everybody has a right to write whatever they damn well please. But I guess what I would say to most of the people that didn't get published is: read a whole lot more published short stories. Read a whole lot more published anthologies. Read contest-winning short stories. Analyse and think about what makes them good stories, and take that lesson to guide your own writing.

Another thing that peeved me while reading the submissions were that a lot were very eager to ask rhetorical questions. Here's a definition of rhetorical questions, if you're not familiar:

rhetorical question is a question that you ask without expecting an answer. The question might be one that does not have an answer. It might also be one that has an obvious answer but you have asked the question to make a point, to persuade or for literary effect.

There're times and places for rhetorical questions, and what I've found is that a 150-word short story is not one of those places. More often than not, they came off condescending to the reader, even if the writer meant well. So I guess these are notes for me as well, as a writer: lay off the rhetorical questions, and you can never get enough reading under your belt.

There are also some things that I have learned about myself throughout this process. I've learned that it takes me about 10 minutes of reading before I start dozing off now, which is an improvement from the 3 minutes I could hold back when I was still a uni student, so improvement yay!

I've learned that I'm a lot more strict with written pieces than I thought. Approving 100 out of 1163 means that for every story I approve, 10 stories do not. I guess having read what little I have read so far has informed me of what short stories should be and what they should give the reader, and I looked for those things in the stories that were submitted. Unfortunately for many of them, what they wrote did not have enough of those elements.

I've also learned that I don't hate editing. This comes as somewhat of a surprise to me, because I have once declared to myself that I hate proof-reading. I guess there's a difference between the two processes. In editing, I could choose what I wanted to proof-read and what I didn't. If the content was good enough to me, then I would proof it. If I didn't like the content, I didn't need to edit it. In proof-reading, there's no such option. What the client sends is what you get, and you have to make the best of what they've given you. Also, I think that in editing, there's a creative element to it, where one can tweak certain aspects of the story in order to make the story pop better. In proof-reading, it's just grammar and sentence-structure, for the most part. A proof-reader has little say over the creative content of the piece, or at least that's how I see it.

Overall, I'm glad that I got the job done, and I'm eager to see how people react to the book. The publishers are currently in the process of looking for illustrators to introduce a visual/graphic element to the anthology, which I think will only enhance the readers' experience of the book, so I'm excited to see how those turn out as well.

Here's to getting more stuff done in the future.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dangal

So last night my wife and I went to see the movie "Dangal", starring Aamir Khan. Short verdict: we enjoyed it very much. It had humour as well as sad parts, and any movie that can make me both laugh out loud and cry is golden in my book. So anyone who feels like watching a family docu-drama can watch that one and be pleased. I highly recommend it.

What was astonishing to me was that the movie was shot in about a year. When I was watching the movie, it looked to me as if it might have taken three years to shoot. I am astounded by the speed in which they were able to complete and release the movie. Within my limited knowledge of film-making, it takes a lot of time to complete a movie. I've always thought of it as a long and gruelling process. But knowing that this movie was done at such a speed, it made me want to be on a Bollywood production set and just learn how they do things and are able to achieve so much within so little time.

Another bewildering thing about the movie is that all the actors and actresses learned to wrestle like real competitive wrestlers. They went for months and months of training to be able to get the right wrestling technique and form. Aamir Khan put on and lost 30kg, all within the span of a year. It takes dedication, hard work and passion, and Aamir Khan certainly displayed that in his preparation for his role.

Some of my favourite parts of the movie (or of any movie, really) is how the filmmakers explored the father-daughter dynamics present in the story. The way they interacted with and reacted to each other seemed genuine and came off as shedding light to what many might be able to relate to in the real world. I say this because I saw my own father in some scenes. The love and support. The determination to help. The knowledgeability in the sport they were most passionate about. The difficulty to communicate at certain points. It touched a place very close to my heart, as a lot of father-child stories tend to do for me.

Of course the movie had its flaws. The establishing parts were rather uncreative with how they wanted to communicate to the audience that Aamir's character was super passionate about wrestling, by telling rather than showing us that fact. At certain points it did get a bit message-y too, where the movie was trying to tell its audience what was right and what was wrong. Not a lot of grey areas to explore, in that regard.

But overall, it was a crowd-pleasery movie, and I left the movie as a pleased member of the crowd. I hope to be able to learn how to do what they achieved in this movie some day.

Here's to learning how.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Interpersonal Growth

So the honeymoon week of school (which is the first week in the new school) is quickly coming to a close, and I'm getting a sense of what's in store for me in the coming year and four months, and even though it's not bad, I can't say that I'm all too thrilled about it.

As I type, I still have school-related work to get done, work that I'd rather not have to do if I'm honest. A whole lot of documentation-y work, and that is the part of the job that I sigh the most loudly to. Alas, work is work, and teachers have to do what teachers have to do.

Yesterday was the teacher-band's first practice session, and I was assigned as the bassist. We shall be playing for a wedding, if I'm not mistaken, in a couple of weeks' time. In the band is also a full-time professional guitarist who mostly plays hotel and bar gigs. He has a degree in music and has been playing for many years, and watching him play was mesmerising.

He would almost never hit a bad note/chord, and the types of chords that he was playing all look made up, but sounded so good. If he did hit a wrong note, it would be like one in a thousand notes, and he seems to be able to play at 100 notes per second. I exaggerate, but this guy was really something on the guitar. I can safely say that I will never in my wildest dreams be able to play as well as him.

After the practice session I went up to him and asked him about stuff, like whether or not he was a professional guitarist (he was), whether or not he had a band (yes, but they're not very active), and how he got to be so darn good (diploma and degree in music as well as years and years of daily practice).

And in my approaching him to talk, I realised that I had grown in one specific sense. I have developed my ability (and confidence) in talking to strangers. This guitarist was a stranger to me, and we had established nothing in common except for the fact that we jammed together for a couple of hours (no talking though). As far as I've known me, I would never go up to a stranger and start a conversation with them. That's just not what I do. I've always identified with being an introvert, and introverts don't initiate conversations with strangers.

But I somehow mustered up the courage to go up this guy whose guitar-playing I admired and ask him about just that. I was genuinely interested and had thought about talking to him about it throughout our practice session, but I never thought I'd actually do those things.

And in this anecdote, I thought to myself that in 2016, I grew in terms of interpersonal ability. Just the sheer amount of conversations I listened to and participated in via podcasts made me a better conversationalist (at least to myself, compared to the me of the past). I'm glad that I was able to talk to that guitarist and get to hear a bit of his story. It was a concrete display of growth in my books, and being able to see progress in my own self is a great thing to be able to acknowledge.

OF COURSE I have a long way to go. I'm still super awkward and not anywhere near as fluent as I want to be. But I think I'm on my way.

Here's to more conversations with more interesting people.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

An Ustazah And Hijrah

So I had this conversation at school yesterday with an ustazah who had moved from her hometown to the big city. When I asked her why she moved, I was half-expecting work-related reasons, or maybe even family-related ones. Her answer was neither. She said that they needed to "berhijrah". I like that answer very much.

It showed that she recognised that she was in a certain comfort zone in her hometown, and as much as she might have liked being comfortable, she didn't like being stagnant even more. She said that when she looked around to see what there was for her to do and to achieve, she didn't feel that it was much at all. She said that she felt like her surroundings wouldn't allow her to grow, so she needed to move to somewhere that would allow her to learn new things, meet new people and ultimately grow as a person.

She also said that her feelings of being able to grow came immediately after moving, and she's currently taking big steps to improve herself as a teacher and as a person. It was inspiring to see a person so motivated to learn and become better. It was almost contagious, her enthusiasm for learning and improving.

I should be wary of making generalising statements, but her outlook and the steps that she has taken to get out of her comfort zone and continue to pursue what she feels is important makes me feel like anything is possible. Relocating isn't easy. Learning and getting better at a foreign language isn't easy. Saving enough money to pursue one's studies isn't easy. But this one person has done that, and plans on doing a lot more, so it gives me hope that maybe I'll be able to be brave enough to take those steps that I feel are important and worthwhile. 

It was also interesting to hear about how something as simple as a change in surrounding can affect a person so deeply. Just by being in a new place and surrounding oneself with new people, we are opened to a different outlook on reality. The ustazah was, as far as I could tell, affected positively by her penghijrahan. Of course not everyone is affected by the same thing the same way, but to know that positive outcomes exist in real life in the same immediate space as you brings with it a sense of comfort and hope.

Here's to the courage and hard work that is required to hijrah.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New School, New Plans

So tomorrow is the first day of school of 2017, and I shall be teaching 8 and 9 year olds in a middle-to-high-income area in Shah Alam. I've met and talked to some of the teachers from the new school, and so far they seem like a cool bunch of people. The majority of the male teachers play some form of musical instrument, and they even have a school band made up of teachers, so that might be something to look forward to.

I'll be teaching in the afternoon session and the afternoon session teachers seem pretty cool so far. They've treated me well and one particular teacher even told me that I could be friends with just about anyone in the staff room and not fall into a clique. I hope I'll be that confident in conducting my social interactions in and around the school compound to be able to be friends with everyone.

It's a big school with big classes, averaging about 40 pupils in one classroom, so that'll be a bit of a challenge for me. The biggest class I've ever taught was 33 people, and I'm way more comfortable having around 22 pupils to teach at any one time, but I'll persevere and learn how to cope and make learning happen. It is my job, after all, to ensure that happens.

The school also has a different way of documenting their lesson plans. It's totally foreign to me, as I'm used to having the big book to write everything in by hand. In this school (and in the whole state of Selangor, apparently) lesson plans are typed out and put into files. I have no idea how that works, so tomorrow I shall have to pester the other teachers to see who would be willing to walk me through the whole process.

Because I'll be teaching in the afternoon, I'll have mornings to do or not do stuff relating to non-teaching endeavours. I have a rough plan in mind of how I want to go about it, but I'd rather see if it works out or not for a couple of weeks before saying anything here.

I hope I get to establish productive habits that develop into routines that I can depend on to help me be more productive in things I want to pursue. It'll take a lot of effort and willpower, not to mention focus, but I'll have to tackle these issues on productivity in a systematic and thoughtful manner to come out of the process with any form of success.

Here's to trying.

Achievements, Failures and Rethinking

So goodbye 2016.

This blog has always been used by myself to write letters to myself (when they're not fictional pieces, that is). So I guess in this particular post, I want to talk to both my 2016-self as well as my 2017-self, if I am to be so bold.

What were your biggest achievements of 2016?
I've always struggled with coming up with my own list of achievements. It feels like I'm stunting too hard for my liking if I were to even recognise that I achieved anything. Maybe also because I feel like if I recognised any of my past/current achievements, I'm going to close off any opportunities for myself to be proud of bigger and better things. Sort of like a "eleh, takat benda ni ja pun nak bangga buat apa?" kinda feeling. It doesn't make a lot of sense, me thinking that way. Just because one feels proud of a thing doesn't mean anything bigger or better cannot be achieved or be then proud of in the future. Bukan nak stunt pun, really. It's just a matter of listing the things you achieved this year and keeping it to yourself. It's not stunting. It's keeping track. And I'm terrible at that.

But this year, I'm glad to be able to say that I have things to be proud of. Top on my mind is starting and maintaining a podcast with my wife, as well as participating heavily in another with a friend (which, through the podcast, I've grown closer and closer to). That's a thing. Cue the negativity in my brain saying "eleh, takat buat podcast siapa pun boleh! Ada emel akaun, bukak soundcloud, siap. A ten year old could do just the same," to which I have no response. I guess I like that I've been able to post for twenty weeks (and counting) straight. I rarely am consistent with any of my endeavours, but these podcasts have been a great experience so far. I think my wife played a big role in keeping the podcast consistent. More often than not, she's the one who remembers that we have a podcast to record every week. So kudos to her.

I think another thing that I can say I did in 2016 was the book review thing. I posted a video at the beginning of the year, saying that I'd make book review videos about five specific books in five months, and I did just that. Not only that, I also made videos consistently as well, the most consistent I've been since, like, 2011. So that's a thing.

I also continued my stint as an almost-monthly columnist for The Star newspaper. I guess that's a thing not many can say. It's also a thing I've always wanted to be able to say. But now that I am able to say it, I don't feel that sense of exceeding joy that I thought I would have. I think this is mainly because I can't say that my writing there is among the best of my pieces ever. In that column, I'm mainly limited to talking about social media-related things, when I am growing more and more tired of it myself. I only check Twitter and Instagram regularly (more regularly than I'd like, if I'm honest) and my Facebook account is "hidup segan mati takmaw" at this stage. I'm not on Snapchat, Whatsapp tires me, everything else seems irrelevant. So I struggle with each and every piece, failing to pay attention to what's trending, because for the most part, they're just that: trends. And I have to admit that I am not the most trendy person around.

At this point in this particular blogpost, I decided to go back to my first blogpost last year and read what I had to say. I have to say, I sounded a lot more cheerful and optimistic in that one. Maybe it was because I was super excited about 2016 and all the things that I intended to do. A year later, I achieved some, failed at achieving the others. I'm writing in a more sombre mood right now maybe because I'm a tad tired. Been driving all day to attend kenduri kahwin. Also, my wife's unwell right now, so I'm a little worried about her well-being. And, I've just been listening to Swain's The Long Dark Blue. It's a grunge-rocky album, and although I've only listened to it a couple of times, I really like it. It's also really sad to listen to, so I guess that's why I'm a tad sad.

So what did I fail to do in 2016?
I failed to write anywhere near as consistently as I wanted to. I got in 19 posts in January, 14 in February, 8 in March and slipped right off the horse afterwards. Some months I even leave having written absolutely nothing, so that's terrible. I guess because it wasn't enough of a priority to me to write consistently that I didn't find myself on the keyboard typing as much as I want/need to if I am to call myself a writer. Writing needs to be a priority activity in my life again.

Reading has also been a habit unmade. It's like after the five books were reviewed, I stopped reading books entirely. Not a thing I am proud of in the least. Songwriting took a big-time backseat. I have just not been making songs. At least not in the frequency I want to.

So what's in store for me in 2017?
I don't know, man. My wife tells me I fail to be consistent with the things I want to do because I write them down at the beginning of the year. I beg to differ though. I think it's just plain laziness and slacking off on my part. It's a lack of focus.

I think the problem with having yearly plans is that we rarely live a year at a time. We live a day at a time, an hour at a time, a moment at a time. So yearly plans are great big picture things, but we need a clear idea of what we're doing on a day-to day, hour-to-hour, moment-to-moment basis for us to be able to do those things. And those moments, to me, should be split into 20 minute blocks of time. At any given twenty minutes, I should be focussing my energy on doing one thing and one thing only. Because, I think, it's much easier to stay focussed for twenty minutes than it is for a whole year. So for every twenty minutes that I find myself with free time, I should make a conscious effort to be very clear about what I want to do in twenty minutes and just do that one thing. Living life like twenty minutes at a time. It's a different frame of mind to be in, but it makes sense to me, since twenty minutes is enough time for some work to get done, but not enough time for me to get bored and/or sleepy. a twenty minute nap is also brief enough to not eat too much of my time, but long enough for me to refresh and be re-energised. I don't know if this is going to work, but I think it's worth a shot.

For now, I'm going to go ahead and read FIXI book entries for twenty minutes followed by an episode of the cartoon Archer (I'm only on the first season, so no spoilers please). It'll alternate that way until I get sleepy.

Have a good 2017 everyone.