They never miss my heart.

I’m beginning to forget things.

The feel of ice beneath my heel, the titles of songs which used to move me, the way it felt seeing the sky turn pink from the window seat of an airplane, the catharsis of writing, how I used to fall in love with strangers during my daily transit to campus. That lady with the crinkly smile in the yellow coat, the baby with that strange wisdom in its eyes.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with ideas. These motions happen mostly in my head, because it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. Terse arguments happen daily, most thoughts as overgrown as a bunch of neglected weeds. And yet, the paper remains blank. Should I try? Should I approach this idea? And on most days: should I say anything at all? Would it matter if I said anything at all?

The older I get, the more I am able to understand the beauty of writing without dread or anticipation of how things should be. Before learning structures, methods, formulas, character limits or the feeling of disillusionment sinking in.

There are days where I wonder if anybody still frequents this space, in hopes of finding something. Let me know if you do, because I’m in need of discovery too.

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00:03pm

There’s a certain beauty that is what it was, while it lasted, never to be had again.

Back then, I used to pray for an unconventional love. The type that’d never fit within the span of a song or book, because its beauty would be too raw, too real, too much to fit into simple shapes. Too far from common clichés. The type of idea I don’t believe in or think about anymore.

These days, things can get too much. When it does, all I hope is to slip into the mood of a song like this one. To forget and feel what’s wonderful and gentle again, even if just for a little while.

2017: A Reflection on Writing

It’s been a long time since I’ve written for myself. So much so that whenever I get asked about my writing, I can’t help but to feel a tinge of guilt and embarrassment.

2017 has been a far bumpier ride than I hoped it’d be. After completing my Master’s in Creative Writing, I came home to Malaysia eager to get back into the workforce. I applied, and got hired, at a well-known advertising agency in the span of a few weeks. This was great news to me, because my degree came with its fair share of bills and I wanted to get right on to paying them.

My time at this agency was brief, but the ruthless highs and lows proved to be an eye-opener. It was here that I learned how to appreciate the art of brevity even more, which I guess was inevitable when my own words and ideas were constantly getting chopped up to pieces (the tagline needs to be punchier! And shorter!!). It was also here that I met all sorts of colourful characters – rough, irregularly-shaped and memorable.

Was the work satisfying? Well… yes, in some ways. Working in advertising gave me the opportunity to write and ideate for over 20 brands, an opportunity I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

Advertising.

There’s a lot to write about, but it’s hard to begin.

A great deal of rejection happens. When you fail at being smart, funny, informative or direct, you know. Maybe it’s your manager that tells you. Or the clients. Or the suits. Worse still, another writer. Or, you know, that crippling self-doubt that takes over during the hellish hours of the night.

When you brainstorm, be prepared for awkward silences directed at your ideas. Be prepared to direct similar silences to others. But when things get desperate, suddenly every idea can turn salvageable. Be prepared to form a certain special kinship with other creatives over this type of shared struggle.

4pm meetings will start at 8. You’ll drive bleary-eyed past midnight and you’ll live in sweats and cotton shirts. You’ll soon realize that dressing as a creative means dressing as how you would, first thing out of bed. And that’s perfectly okay. Some days it’s nice to be surrounded by rumpled hair and the smell of cigarettes. Some days, not so much.

When acceptance over your ideas and your words happen, the elation you’ll feel, however short-lived, will fuel you. Seeing your words on billboards and ads around town will fuel you.

They say teamwork is key and that’s especially true in advertising. Without the suits, without a good designer or an art director or your creative head, all your words and your ideas are nothing. You’ll see that whatever good presentation skills you have will come a long way. You’ll learn that people get pissy over Oxford commas and missing out a hyphen by accident. Never miss out a hyphen by accident. There is no room for accidents.

And on some days, you’ll wonder if creativity must translate to not having a structure. You’ll notice that advertising requires you to mostly be angry, hungry, well-spent. This is because it needs all of your energy, which in turn you’ll give because your ego wouldn’t want to cower in the presence of other well-fed egos.

But I’ve done my time and I’ve moved on.

My current job is still in the area of copywriting, but on the client’s end this time. Without meaning to, I somehow managed to find myself in this line of work. In one way or another, I managed to sway my life decisions towards the direction of being a writer. Be it ad copy, press releases, speeches, or stories, I’ve somehow survived this far doing something I genuinely care about as my bread and butter. For this, I am grateful. To be fair, the term ‘writer’ still makes me heady. It makes me feel presumptuous to refer myself by that coveted title when there’s still a long way to go. But eh, I do feel proud about making it through thick and thin the way I have so far.

I’d be lying to say that these jobs don’t give me writer’s fatigue and that they don’t affect my own writing. It’s much easier to write for brands than for myself. For brands, it’s not about what I like. Instead, there are given restrictions and guidelines to work around. But when I find myself facing my own blank page at the end of a workday, the possibilities can suddenly feel vast and foreign. What do I like? And how do I begin to separate my work voice with my own? Where does it end, where does it begin?

But I try, or at least want to. Maybe it’s just the part of getting older where things don’t have the same sense of wonderment to them or I just get tired a lot easier. On days when I feel jaded by my surroundings, I can’t help but wish that I have the same eager naivety I had years ago. Decisions just feel a lot more measured these days and time feels like a privilege that’s not always mine to own.

Strong tunes, serious feelings.


There are many things they don’t teach you at school.

Like how to tell when somebody is lying, or how to get over feeling small when others belittle you, or how to conceal the unflattering bluish-purple of dark circles (and dark secrets), or how to deflect extremely personal questions from mak ciks, or how to stop blushing when you realise that that gawky boy has turned into a handsome man, or how to be assertive in the face of uncomfortable situations, or how to deal with heartbreak at 3am, or how to have enough confidence and self-love to understand the art and angles of taking your own lit selfies.

Sometimes when my head feels a bit clearer and I am not so pessimistic, I feel convinced that so many things can be solved (or made better) with the help of music. The right song, at the right moments, can reveal or help through so much. Maybe someday I’ll find an eloquent way of describing what it feels like whenever I listen to (Sandy) Alex G – the easy comfort, the instant love – but in the meantime all I want to do is to listen and listen and listen.

Rindu.

Take me back to a time when we needed less. Back to not having enough to count as fancy, not enough to count as poor.

Badly-ripped mp3s and crumpled bills. A 2-day old sweater reeking of cigarettes. Mouths moving tunelessly in the dark. Midnight buses to nowhere. Nerves before making a phone call. Eating ramen outside of 7-E by the side of an alleyway. Asking strangers to help with taking our pictures. Falling in and out of love far too often, far too hard. Absent-mindedly singing along to Frank Ocean in an old Mercedes. Sun on skin on skin on skin. A time before selfies. Quieter conversations that paid for themselves. More time to read. Less people to miss. Poorly-drawn brows. Writing for no one.

Take me back to a time when we needed less.

Tired boy.

“I love you.”

He imagines the relief of finally telling her, the surprise registering in her beautifully narrow but clear eyes, her forehead slightly strained in displeasure. A warmth extends from behind his neck to the front of his face at this very idea.

If he can muster the confidence, he’d tell her after her work shift on Friday. Doing it on a Monday would set the tone all wrong. She might not be able to focus on her job all week. That wouldn’t do.

With a slight start, he shifts in his seat. His phone had fallen off his lap with a loud thud. In the shower, he finds himself staring at the bar of soap, wondering if he’d washed himself, or if he hadn’t (he had). He lathers himself with soap and thinks, with some conviction, that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

That strange sensation of relief and humiliation hits him again. It’d felt more real than things have felt. More real than staring blankly at job briefs. More real than watching his conniving colleagues and how their mouths move. More real than his recent bank statement.

Never mind that he’s only met her twice. Both times she’d walked over to say ‘hi’. He thinks, with worry so slight it’s nearly non-existent, about the ambiguity of her expression and of risking a confession. If not for the outcome, then perhaps for the chance to feel something. Something, anything, to break the past monotony of his recent days.

The energy cuts off. He finds himself alone, cold, naked, slippery. Vulnerable, and covered in soap suds.

The illusion of being alone.

In my years of growing up, I’ve gotten used to being alone. It’s during these times that I’ve felt most at home, bare of pretence and the need to be civil. It isn’t always pleasant or easy, but I accept it as a need all the same.

My need to be alone is negligible (or so, I’d like to think) but necessary. I indulge in solitary activities; long lunches alone, detours on walks back home, solo trips out of the country (or state), hours spent reading until bad posture jolts me back to reality and force me to move – anything to get in touch with my subconscious, recalibrate and understand myself better, something which seems to get trickier with age. Not many people are okay with this need. For some reason, there exists a certain stigma in being seen without a group, as if it’s capable of stripping away one’s dignity. I’ve received countless weird looks when I mention my preference to go out for solitary meals and how going to gigs by myself isn’t that big a fuss. People shirk away from being seen by themselves as if it’s a valid cause for embarrassment, as if their skins are so thin.

Don’t get me wrong; as much as it can be insightful to indulge in activities alone, there are many things that should be enjoyed with others. A good movie, an excellent meal, a barbecue, a trip to an amusement park, birthdays, dates – these are all better spent in the company of a loved one. And now that I’ve experienced what it’s like to be in a stable relationship, I understand how easy it is to attach oneself to another, as if the other person is a limb that has suddenly grown from the body. Once a person has experienced this, there exists a new sense of absence without the presence of another and being alone by choice sometimes feels out of the question.

 

But it takes years and effort to understand things and I think it takes even longer to understand our own motives and desires. Perhaps the reward is in the process. Perhaps others can see that sometimes being alone isn’t really about being lonely at all.