Thursday, March 16, 2017

Writing and Brick Laying

So yesterday I had a bit of a conversation with a friend and we talked about writing and stuff. This friend has a short story published in a FIXI book as well as a few other short stories floating around the internet. On top of that, he has written and shot a couple of short films. Additionally, he writes and performs some poetry every now and then. He wouldn't identify as a writer writer, but he writes from time to time.

We talked about writing and how he wrote was that he needed a story first, before he can write. He has to already have an ending in mind in order to start and finish writing something. The downside to that, he told me, was that it takes months and months before he gets an idea of something to write about, so he'll usually spend months just not writing anything because he's waiting for something to write about.

I introduced the analogy of a house. He needs the already finished house in his head first, before he can start laying down bricks. And when he finally does, he tries to build the house as closely as he can to the vision of the house that was already in his head. And I think that that's a good way to write. Already have a finished story in your head, and type out whatever words that most closely resembles what is in your mind.

Thing is, I think that that's how I should write as well. I think that I need a vision of a finished house to pop up in my mind before I can lay bricks if that house is going to be any good. Tapi masalahnya is that I've been waiting years and years for that vision of a house to come, but it has never come, so I shouldn't start writing yet. But on the other hand, I feel like if I don't write at all, then absolutely nothing can be achieved. Waiting won't do me any good. And by the time the vision of the house finally does come to my mind, I haven't laid bricks for so long that I'll be rusty by the time I do start the process.

So what I do is that I try to lay the first brick first. But then the thing about me is that once I lay down the first brick, I scrutinise that brick so intensely that I end up throwing it away. In writing terms, I write the first hundred words, and allow myself to attack that hundred words until I believe it sucks and is not worth building with and end up deleting that word file entirely. Which doesn't help getting anything done either.

My friend asked me why I even bother laying bricks in the first place, and my answer was that it was because of my desire to be a writer. I want to be a writer so bad that I do it anyway, even though I suck at it every step of the way. Writing is something that I want to do consistently, and well, at the same time if possible. And he nodded in understanding.

Here's to brick laying.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Faris (Part 1)

The azan woke Faris up. "Astaghfirullahalazeem!" he said a little too loudly and quickly made his way to his locker and put on his jubah and kopiah. "Mandi japgi ajelah!" He rushed to the surau, took his wudhu' and tiptoed into the prayer hall, hoping nobody would notice his tardiness.

He got as far as three steps into the surau before Abang Firdaus turned around and made eye contact with him. Faris averted his gaze to the floor while proceeding to pray solat sunat rawwatib qabliyah right where he stood, a little further back than his usual spot, but this was an extenuating circumstance.

I'm in for an ear-full this time, not to mention having to skip breakfast later. Allahuakbar, why didn't Omar or Faizul or Amsyar wake me up? I always took the trouble to wake them up. Ukhwah konon. If this is how it is, don't expect me to wake you guys up anymore in the future. Faizul can forget about ever getting to use my toothpaste ever again. Omar can stop using my comb after this. And Amsyar, well, I'll stop eating next to him. There. Assalamualaikum warahmatullah, assalamualaikum warahmatullah.


After the morning's Subuh prayer, all the orphans in Teratak Nurul Solihin gathered as they always did in their respective usrah groups with their respective naqibs. Abang Firdaus was Faris' naqib, and he started the session as he always did, with the al-Fatihah and by thanking God by blessing them with a beautiful morning, even with the rain, which might have made it a little more tempting for some people (at this point, he tried to make eye contact with Faris, but Faris was looking downwards) to sleep in, but with iman, we were able to gather here in this surau today.

He continued by asking everyone in the circle to turn their Quran translations to Surah al-'Isra, ayat 79 (which was on page 290 on their copy). "Faris, tolong bacakan terjemahan ayat tu."

Faris kept in the sigh he wanted to exhale. "Dan pada sebahagian malam, lakukanlah solat tahajud (sebagai suatu ibadah) tambahan bagimu: mudah-mudahan Tuhanmu mengangkatmu ke tempat yang terpuji," Faris still refused to make eye contact with his naqib.

"MashaAllah, okay, dalam ayat tu kan, menerangkan kenapa pentingnya solat tahajud ni kan," Abang Firdaus started his lecture. "Kalau kita tengok apa yang Allah cakap disitu kan, Allah tak cakap, kan, 'kalau boleh, buat lah', tak kan. Allah cakap 'lakukanlah' kan. Allah cakap buat je, lakukanlah, kan. Kat sini kan, Allah suruh kita tunaikan solat sunat tahajjud, jadi, kan, pentinglah sebenarnya solat tahajud ni kan? Walaupun kita panggil dia solat sunat kan, tapi kalau kita baca ayat tu kan, lebih kepada suruhan kan? Ha, jadi nyata lah disini, kan, yang kita sebagai khalifah Allah, kan, kena lah tunaikan, kan, solat tahajud ni, kan? Tak boleh miss. Kan? Kena pentingkan dia, sama je macam solat fardhu, kan? Haa. Itulah kenapa di sini kan, kita bangun awal sikit daripada orang lain, kita qiyam dulu tiap-tiap pagi sebelum subuh, kan. Tak lama pun, sejam je pun kan? Haa. Ada apa-apa soalan tak?"

As usual, no questions were raised that morning, even from Faris, who was on the brink of tears.

Friday, March 10, 2017

"Bad" Pieces of Writing

So I am currently sick. I've got a flu situation going on and a headache that won't go away, so that's a thing. I started noticing that my nose was running yesterday while I was teaching in class, and today it seems to be building towards a climax. As I'm typing, I feel like it's already at the climactic point of the sick day, but the thing about sick days for non-doctors is that we never really know when it's over until it's over. So I'll just have to endure it.

I wanted to start typing a monologue just now, and I got about 100 words in before I gave up on it and started writing this post instead. I didn't know how to start writing the monologue so I watched Mike Birbiglia's My Girlfriend's Boyfriend to listen to how he started his hour. After the welcoming applause died down, he started with "So about five years ago, pretty much everyone who I knew started to get married". So he started telling his (true) story by clarifying the context of the story. He wanted people to know that it was in the recent past, and it was about people getting married.

He continued to explain that he didn't believe in marriage, saying that it was insane. And having watched the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute thing before, I knew that by the end of the story, he said he got married to his current-wife, Jen. So what happened within that hour-and-fifteen-minutes was a journey of a guy who didn't believe in marriage to finally getting married. The main character goes through some trials and tribulations, overcomes some difficulties, and finally develops into a person who can accept being married to the person they love. So there's a very clear "from here to there" story type of situation going on, and I like that structure a lot.

And when I was trying to figure out where the story my character was trying to get to from the first hundred words, I couldn't come up with an answer. Trying and failing to figure out a story is no fun. Add a headache and runny nose to the equation and the result is even less fun. So I ended up bailing on the story, because I felt it was too tacky. I was trying to pull a lot from my own experiences as a teacher, but still trying to make a work of fiction. And sometimes that helps, but in this instant, it didn't because I feel like I was trying to inject some drama into a story that didn't have any. At least that's how I view my own experiences as a teacher. Lots of perceived misery, but objectively rather smooth-sailing all around.

I had the thought of "maybe Mr Birbiglia's story was so interesting because his life was an interesting one and he thus had interesting stories to tell, and mine isn't at all interesting, that's why I can't put down anything even half as interesting on the page". But then I am reminded of a screenwriter I follow on Twitter's advice, which was "just finish that first, bad draft, because you can't fix something that isn't there to be fixed."

So maybe it would be in my best interest to write that uninteresting thing first, and then after I've finished it, figure out how I'm going to turn it into something interesting? It sounds like a lot of work, and I'd be putting myself in a vulnerable position by making a "bad" piece of work. I don't want to finish something I would consider bad. I'd much rather have not made anything at all, instead of having made something "bad".

But of course, that works against my interest, because at the end of the day, everything I write is bad, if not to me then to someone else. And because I think I have real good taste in writing, it'll be even harder for me to finish making something "good enough" for me, because the bar's set so impossibly high. I want to achieve what I wrote in one night to be as good as what somebody else took a long long time to perfect and edit many many times. Memang susah la kalau macam tu.

So let's try writing that "bad" piece of writing, Anwar. That's your first step, okay?

Here's to finishing "bad" pieces of writing.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Maybe I'll Write A Monologue

So yesterday I watched a couple of short 20-minute plays at Revolution Stage. The first one was a monologue entitled "Menanti Datangnya Tuhan", and the second one was an ensemble piece called "Boneka Betina". I liked the latter more than the former, both because I felt like it was a more interesting performance both in content as well as in delivery.

Menanti Datangnya Tuhan was the second monologue I have watched this year. The first one was Every Brilliant Thing, staged by TheatreThreeSixty. It was an hour long and addressed how the protagonist dealt with depression (which was by keeping a list of the things that made him happy). As he developed his list, he grew up and we got an insight into this person's life story. It was funny at times, heart-breaking at other times. I liked it very much.

The other day, I had a conversation with Sharifah Amani, and the conversation got to a point where I told her that I wrote sometimes, but not scripts or stories or anything. Just blogposts. And she said that that's okay, you can turn those blogposts into monologues. All you need is to just recompose the entries for the stage and you've got some pieces on your hands. And that idea has stuck with me.

To the point where I keep going back to my experience of watching Every Brilliant Thing the other day and figuring out ways in which I could pull off something as interesting. It's been on the back of my mind for about a week now, but I still have no idea how to pull it off.

But after I watched Menanti Datangnya Tuhan, the thought of "hey, maybe it doesn't have to be gr8 m8 8/8 for me to start writing something for the stage?" Maybe I just have to start writing something, or at least pick a thing I have already written about and re-write it for the stage, as Sharifah Amani suggested. Can't be too hard, kan? Takkanlah among the 433 posts I have written so far, takdak satu pun yang worthy of rewriting?

Then I think about what kind of performance I would want to watch. It's not something like Menanti Datangnya Tuhan, where the protagonist would pretend to talk to themselves. I don't find that interesting to watch. I liked Every Brilliant Thing because the protagonist was addressing the audience. He was telling his story to the audience, who were very involved in the telling of the story (to the point where some members of the audience received some items on his list and were asked to say them out loud during the performance). I think that's a more interesting angle to approach a monologue.

I've also been watching a comedian named Mike Birbiglia on Netflix. I like him very much. He has two specials out, and I've watched them both. How he approaches his specials is very story-telly, very much like a monologue. Like, "here's a thing, at first this happened, then another thing happened, it reminded me of this other thing that happened, but getting back to the story, this thing happened as well, don't you think it's funny when you're in this kind of situation you think about xyz? Anyway, afterward, this other thing happened, and I guess that's that."

Wow, I've never actually tried to write a whole monologue in that form before. That was a weird experience. I think I've just made a monologue structure for myself to follow. And if I know me, I love having structures to follow. It's a pretty cursory structure, vague would be an understatement, but it has provided me with a vision of a skeleton of a monologue. Now that I've made a structure template for myself by trying to impersonate Mr Birbiglia, maybe I can start writing my own hour-long monologue? But what story would I want to tell? That's another thing I have to dwell on.

At this point I'm feeling like I just come up with these questions to answer before I get to writing just to procrastinate from actually writing something to perform. In my brain, it's equal parts "I have to solve this problem, or else how am I supposed to write?" and equal parts "Don't worry about it, just write, man." And it's tiring having to deal with these inner battles while still needing to worry about going to school and having your lesson observed by another teacher and having to write a minit mesyuarat for the PIBG and all these other things that I wouldn't mind not having to worry about. But there I go creating excuses for myself again. Sigh.

Here's to Mike Birbiglia. If you have Netflix, check him out. He's nice.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Saving Up

So I had a little conversation with a film producer the other day. I told him of my intention of being an actor one day and he said that's cool, but he advised me to be prepared financially before I take the plunge. He found it helpful himself, because before he was a film producer, he was an engineer. He was on his way to the HR office to hand in his resignation letter when he thought to himself, "Eh, lepas ni aku nak survive macam mana?" so he put the letter back in his pocket and gave himself two years to get financially ready for resigning. Two years later, with enough money stored in the bank to sustain his life for a whole year without making any extra income, he did just that. And today he's doing okay for himself. He's not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but he has enough, and enough is good enough for him, especially when his day to day consists of focussing on doing things he loves doing.

I am doing that right now. I want to be financially ready for myself and for my family, so that I won't have to stress about how to pay rent for a whole year, because I have already thought ahead of time that transitioning between jobs will not be the easiest thing in the world. I'm glad that circumstances has allowed me to be frugal in spending and my upbringing has equipped me with the foresight to be prepared for the worst while still hoping for the best. Because honestly, leaving a steady job with a consistent paycheque is scary. To not be certain of where next month's money for rent is going to come from is super stressful, and is way out there in terms of me being in my comfort zone.

But I feel like it's something I have to do. I don't actually have to, but then of course I don't actually have to continue working for a monthly salary, either. I only actually have to survive, and take care of those who depend on me to survive, I think. And to that end, I have put in a lot of work already, and will continue to put in the work necessary to make ends meet at the end of the day. I guess it just comes down to me being a dreamer. A person who feels like a life not spent doing what one loves doing is a life less lived.

Or maybe it's just curiosity. I want to know what would happen if I were to pursue acting full-time. I want to know if I have what it takes to do it, and keep doing it. I would like to find out for certain, instead of just wondering about it in my car for five minutes after I've parked it before clocking into school. And whether I succeed or fail, it doesn't matter. What would matter is that I found out what the answer was. I already know what the answer to me being a teacher is. I don't like the answer, but that answer remains unchanged. I just want to know the answer to the other "what if?" in my life that I haven't been able to shake off for years now.

Here's to dreams. Or curiosity. Either one, doesn't matter.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Of The AMUK Preview and Revolution Stage

So this past week has been an interesting one. For starters, the AMUK play team finally staged a preview for the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC). Our director told us that our performance was "in no way bad," so that's okay. All four of us stumbled with our lines at some point, but we got through it and delivered the story that we needed to tell. It was a bit of a relief that we got through it, but now we wait to hear back from DPAC to see whether or not we get to stage our play there for the public to watch and scrutinise.

It was the first time I staged a play in eight years, so of course I wanted to do a good job at it, but at the same time I also think that in reality, I delivered a really rusty performance (at best). This might be because of the sheer amount of time I have spent away from stage acting. Not to say that I was any good at all eight years ago, but I felt more comfortable on stage back then than I did the other day. This could probably be attributed to the difference in the amount of time we spent to prepare for the respective plays. In Lela Mayang, we practiced for around five months, contrasting with the less-than-one-month of practice we spent on AMUK. So comparatively speaking, it makes sense that I was more comfortable staging Lela Mayang as Andak than doing AMUK as Michael, as I spent more time as the the former than the latter.

But even knowing this, I still feel like I should re-train myself as an actor. The last acting class I took was eight years ago, so it makes sense if I have lost touch with some of the basics. In an effort to re-learn those basics, I shall be attending an acting workshop that shall be conducted by Fauziah Nawi tomorrow. I am feeling nervous for it, both because it'll be my first time in an acting workshop in a long time, and also because it's Fauziah fudging Nawi, man.

After registering, they gave me a script and said that seven pages had to be memorised for the purposes of the acting workshop. I've always thought of workshops as people going to without having anything with them, and the teachers/facilitators will provide the knowledge one needs on the day itself. This is the first time I've ever experienced a workshop that asks their participants to memorise something before getting there. And I'm not the best memoriser (said the person who wants to be an actor), so it's been a struggle for me so far, and I haven't even gone to the workshop yet. Having said that, it's a challenge I welcome. If I can get through this and put the work in to be okay at this, then I might convince myself that I'm not making a huge mistake here, that me pursuing acting is something substantial.

Also, I've have attended career talks by Sharifah Amani, Sharifah Alesya and Bront Palarae. All established actors within their own right, and in Amani and Bront, people I have been looking up to for years now. A performance space called Revolution Stage organised these talks where these people who have been in the world of acting for a while come and share their stories as well as what they know about how things work in the scene. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend these talks and listen to what they had to say in person. Overall, it seems that it isn't easy being an actor that wants to do Good Work in Malaysia, because great scripts don't come by very often, and when they do, they might not be the actors that the directors have in mind for the roles, so it's tough.

In the Bront Palarae session, he was surprised to learn that I was interested in becoming an actor. Somehow, he knew that I wrote things here and there, so he recommended that I became a writer instead. He said something to the effect of "Malaysia needs more writers, not actors". And after listening to what he and Sharifah Amani had to say about the "industry" (as they put it), I can't help but agree. Looking at the kinds of stories that are on the big screen as well as on TV, one can't help but wonder if quality writings for the screen only come by once every five years in Malaysia. I'd love to write for the screen, but I don't really have a story to tell quite yet. Plus, if I'm being honest, and this might just be my vanity talking, the desire to be in front of the camera is currently stronger than the urge to be behind it.

I'm glad that I found the Revolution Stage. I now know of a space in which I could try out stuff for the stage. Maybe I could start writing things for the stage and perform it to a small audience there. The people behind Revolution Stage have invited me to do so, if ever I write anything I want to stage. Maybe I can try churning out a monologue and see where that takes me. It would mean I would have to change up my writing style a little bit for the stage, but it's an intriguing idea. Maybe I will. I most probably won't, due to my track record of procrastinating everything to the end of time. But maybe I will.

I recommend you guys try and check out Revolution Stage to see what's going on over there, if you have an interest in these sorts of things, of course. They're @RevolutionStage on twitter and facebook, so give them a search if you want.

Here's to taking steps in a new direction.

Sunshine Blogger Award Tag 2k17

So I was tagged by a certain Nurul Afifah to do a Sunshine Blogger Award tag thing. I thank Nurul Afifah for tagging me, and I shall answer the questions that you have provided. I am reminded of how fun it was to do these things. However, I don't think I'm going to abide by all the rules in this post, mainly because I am a super lazy human being. I apologise for that. I will, however, list down some questions that you may want to take back with you (person who is reading) and maybe write your own answers to. Tiada paksaan, of course.

Here are the questions from Nurul Afifah and my answers to them:

1. Introduce yourself in five words.
Person who doesn't know anything.

2. If you never have to work and never have to worry about money anymore, what will you do?
If I don't have to worry about money anymore, I would still work, I think. Just a very different job, though. I would want to act in as many Netflix Original series' as I could. And during intervals when I don't want to do that, I would write and perform my own rap songs. And during intervals when I don't want to do those two things, I would write short stories and novels. And during other intervals, I would take up improv comedy classes at UCB Los Angeles and teach what I have learned to Malaysians.

3. What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
I don't know how to quantify crazy, so I can't really be sure what of my answer here. And I don't know what qualifies as crazy, either. A lot of the things I do make sense to me. I reason things out with myself before taking decisions. Some might turn out to be bad decisions, but that's because I was, at the time, misinformed or under-informed about certain aspects of a thing. Also, because I allowed biases that I have to take over the decision-making process. I really want to answer your question though. So, what would I consider crazy? I think it was pretty crazy of me to rap on stage. Like, kurang siuman jugaklah for me to think my songs mattered enough to have other people listen to them live. So yeah.

4. Favourite movie of all time, and why so?
I keep going to Toy Story 3, because I can both cry and laugh within the same amount of time. I also love I Am Sam for the same reasons, but a lot more crying too.

5. Share with me your quirkiest nickname and how you got it.
I don't have any nicknames other than Abang, really. A fellow teacher once kept calling me Ibrahim, because of Anwar Ibrahim, but that's about it.

6. What is your greatest weakness?
My self. But oh what a boring answer that is. What about my self is the weakness? I don't know. I feel like I have bad thoughts from time to time, and those thoughts make me weak-willed. Super-low self-esteem stops me from doing things that matter to me. Ego makes me not show love and affection to my loved ones when they need it the most. My bad bad memory makes me forget important things. My desire for certain things stops me from living a fulfilling, guilt-free, meaningful life.

If the question was fruit-specific, the answer would probably be buah mata kucing.

7. What is your greatest strength?
My desire and ability to sleep lots and lots.

8. What is your best childhood memory?
One of the best that I can remember at the moment was a time when I was seven, we were in Dunedin, New Zealand at the time. I don't know how exactly, but my brother and I got our hands on one of those toy soldiers that had a plastic parachute tied to it on some string. I remember us going a few floors up of a nearby building and releasing it to the ground. I remember having a lot of fun. Our fun was cut short, however, when the wind blew the toy paratrooper into a nearby tree. We never reclaimed it from the tree, unfortunately.

9. If you can only keep five possessions, what would they be?
My phone, my laptop, both their chargers, and my wedding ring.

10. What is the biggest character turn-off for you?
The inability to admit when they are wrong, or even entertain the possibility that they might be.

11. If you could have any superpower (must be a skill, not something like time-travel or immortality), what power would it be and why? 
I think it would be the ability to read a whole book just by touching it for one second. I think that would be pretty cool.


So those were the questions from Nurul Afifah. Thank you again for the questions. Here are some from me:

1. If you had a time-machine, and that time machine could travel both backwards and forwards in time, when would you travel to and why? What would you do there?

2. What's one thing you've spent too much money on but don't regret?

3. What's one thing you own that you should probably throw away but never will?

4. What's something you thought was true for a long time until you found out that you were wrong?

5. What is the best possible future discovery or invention?

6. What is the worst piece of advice you have ever received?

7. Do you think you are "weird"? Why or why not?

8. What was the last question you answered "I don't know" to? Did you ever try to find out the answer?

9. If you were forced to work a job that you're not passionate about for 20 years, but you get to choose what that job is, what would it be?

10. What has art (paintings, literature, movies, songs, etc.) taught you that nothing else has ever been able to?

11. Nak makan kat mana?