August 16, 2015 § 1 Comment
My father proposed an explanation the other day. His rationale was that I grew up primarily sustained by a diet of books and thus consequently developed the mind of a reader in a nation of non-readers. This led to eventual difficulties in relating and emphatizing with not just my peers in school, but with essentially everybody around me. Nonetheless, like searching for Oz, I remained stubbornly invested in the idea that a more ideal environment still existed out there, maybe not in Malaysia but certainly somewhere. This conjecture of being better understood in distant lands led to leaving for America with bated breath and zealous idealism at the age of twenty, only to confront the reality that even in a land of supposed readers where made readily available were an abundance of libraries begging to be explored and all the books I’d ever wished for easily available via my 1-click Amazon Prime account, the real world would never be able to account for the concrete ideal I had designed in my head. It was exactly this vile mismatch between expectations and reality that I needed to be rooted back down to earth and leave the dank yet comfortable adolescent dreaminess which had so consumed me.
Not wanting to be subjugated so easily by this theory which stung in so many respects, my natural reaction was to immediately refute it. Yes, I can’t deny I’ve thought about this theory for numerous times afterwards, so whimsically thrown to me by a parent in the wee hours of a random morning, and considered the startling accuracy of some of the points. Even more so, it fascinated me not just from a personal navel-gazing perspective but in terms of how it brings to mind closer examination of the narrative of a reader. What do we subconsciously yearn for as we delve into a piece of text, into the land of books? Is there a verification that we yearn for to enable us as thinkers and as significant individuals amidst the privacy of hidden narratives and lands?
I watched a Youtube video today by a literature major who aptly described the beauty of literature as gaining permission to examine various psyches. There lies a profound loneliness and yet absence of loneliness which I find in the world of a reader and consequently, as a writer. Loneliness, because of exactly what was said above about being able to relate less to non-readers, about how even while being in conversation with non-readers there is a palpable sense of an almost emotional disconnect in some areas. How is it that we are reading the same passages in a book, yet you are unable to experience the same delights, the same stings, the same terrors? We share the same sky and yet we are so different, we have such different loves. Saying all this now at a later age, I understand how gratuitous it sounds, because it is so narcissistic to only want to be limited to people of the same supposed ilk. To want to idolize only a certain type of intellect or beauty seems so unjust and even unkind. And surely reading and writing is about humbling down to look at both differences and similarities in order to put it all to pen and paper to understand better?
Yet there still is the problem — I tell people I am going to pursue Creative Writing only to elicit polite glances or condescending responses that hint at doubts as to why anybody would want to pursue such a line in the first place. I understand the assumptions and the doubts, about how our society has been conditioned and how perhaps to study language and writing is such an unwarranted luxury, have grown almost immune to the lack of conviction in its importance or success as a career path which even I admit is not as appealing in forecast as say, perhaps more practical options would be. How important can the study of language and its aesthetics be? I feel isolated when most of my loved ones don’t understand. Yes, this is all good, but to what effect then, my dear? Shouldn’t we agree to disagree that we are in pursuit of different things, even if we may be unable to regard them of possessing the same value?
There are many things of which I owe to reading which would always be accounted for. It was through reading that I, simply put, found the appetite and strength to live. Without it, I felt, and considerably might even still feel, powerless. Reading was an escape and I fell in love with the world of prose, with the beauty of understanding that others can convey how I feel towards this life in all its splendor. Even better, it shed light in unfound perspectives and nourished the beauty of meaning. This all still seems naive to profess now in a state where I still feel very much adrift with a lack of direction but I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than to inspire or prompt thoughts in others through the channel of language and fiction and prose. It might change your life — I know it did mine.
June 24, 2015 § Leave a comment
Manusia yang daif, manusia yang akur.
Kerana tanpa aturan manusia gentar, sayu, kekok.
Amidst a profusion of tender feelings inspired by the dusky body of the night-time, the individual feels like he can finally give enough to invest in the present being. The relief of having this motion silently passed is a huge and unsurpassable liberation. Lately he has been praying again, often with his eyes closed, imagining the reach of a ship arriving on a distant shore. Lately, he feels he is able to look past the disembodied state of his fears, past the wildfire of alienation, and the decreasing self-confidence of being able to make it in this cut-throat dog-eat-dog world. He understands the frailty of living and the smallness of not just his own life, but the lives of others surrounding him, as he peers outside the window and sees the lighted cars driving on the wet road and pedestrians sharing umbrellas in the chill, like bedouins in the night seeking refuge within the silent shrill of the wet, wet dark. Still falls the rain as accompaniment, the nymphs of his desires threatening to surface past the threshold of his conscious conscience.
Perhaps death is a famous passenger ship which greets us at the most inopportune moments as it reminds us, startlingly, of brief mortality and of how what we have is not really ours to always keep. For awhile, he did not care anymore about the keeping. If it was his, some higher Being’s, anyone’s, no one’s. He wanted, simply, the quiet comfort of having the days pass by – obligations, paid; needs, met. And if the end came then, well, to hell, kiddo.
The news of his friend’s abrupt passing came as a shock. It wasn’t a friend he had particularly kept in touch with in recent years. But he was a decent guy, good-spirited enough to stick around under any occasion and always well-received for the strong sense of easiness he emanated. A bit of a joker with a sharp tongue, a bit of an asshole sometimes, but always well-liked.
He thinks of the idea of perishing in an accident and it is to him so rude and alien. The disembodiment of a form once known, gone to blend within the asphalt, form gone to further distances past mortal comprehension.
Perhaps tomorrow, a week, or even a month later he will choose again to forget the bruising urgency of this moment. Perhaps he will choose to be invulnerable again. The panic will dwindle and time will cease to feel like thin fabric. He will shelve the books back after they move him, flee again to other towns for something bigger and better, refuse the promise of commitment at the brink of intimacy with gratifying and vile bodies, forget the serenity of this sudden humility now filling him. Indifference may arrive, with the hours and the days and the growing years.
“Think of something poetic before this moment passes,” he thinks, before reaching out for pen and paper.
June 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Her eyelids are seashells in the steady glow of the night-time. The yellow of streetlamps occasionally illuminate their iridescence as the spilling light explains pale irises and attempts to articulate the dark lashes so loved by the fragile and the brave. It is a dank night tonight with only a sliver of time for a busy woman to squander. She is a smattering of penciled notes cramped into margins, carefully groomed brows, the right hint of coral, a face shining marvelous from past endurances conquered.
Inconsequential noise blares out like vapor, which turns into a gradual buildup of smoke tumbling out into fat, white plumes angry to be alive. It is invitingly terse and choking with a friction that caresses and jolts and turns and then we duck! Away from the harrowing noise because everything is noise, and loud crashing sounds that corner you are intrusive in their own right, bereft of logic and reason and respect and sanctity of character, everything is crashing plates and a pointless mess over petty things not worth gritting one’s teeth over.
But anger, in its abundance, is full-flavored and robust in the way that it, too, is something extreme and extremes have been lacking in its coloring of your existence. For awhile now, you have been content with things as is. You acknowledge you are luckier than most, you see that you are no longer chained down to circumstances which once stained your nights long and tense with displeasure, you see your talents and areas in which you lack with enough clarity to savor the potential highs of which you are able to reach. Some days there still remain reminders of the haunting inadequacies; of never being surrounded or understood by a community that would feel enough like ‘home’, how they never really tried anyway, but you had long ago accepted this as a fact of life faced by everybody, and everybody has to endure.
By the time it is done, because arguments too can expire, your face is red with the result of having abrasive words hurled at you again, you realize that you had been phasing out in the last ten minutes or so because the words, and the inelegant combination in which they were used and not used, had ceased to make sense. You think, sardonically at that, that if the point of every argument is to win, then surely you are glad that you never took it to pursue a career in becoming a lawyer because your losses have become innumerable and why the hell do people talk so damn much anyway?
May 7, 2015 § 3 Comments
To fill up a sentient existence, we must first be useful beings. This can be done by living out a purpose that rouses as much as it gives, personally and professionally. Alas, this is more difficult than one would anticipate. Of course, if this were a perfect universe, there would be no such thing as double-parking, homeless people, racism, obesity, or the capacity to overanalyse emotions, in which case there would only be basic music based on basic emotions. Yet this world we live in is far from perfect and can often be discouraging in the way of which it is governed, in the way we govern. And so we are not given much of a choice in choosing to yield or to be unyielding in the face of the unknowing. Have you ever wondered if this has all been just a simulation game? But it’s not, of course. Wake up and check the remaining balance in that bank account, a reminder of mortality if any.
Sometimes, in the quest of our indefinite being, we tend to forget. Mother likes to butter her bread first before adding on either strawberry jam or kaya. Father’s feet lands heel first and the resounding sound this makes in the double-storey terrace house, even on shoeless feet, is audible even from downstairs. That vinyl player from the 80s still plays Prince in 2015. You asked me if I see myself here forever and on how I feel about this place. How I feel for this country is very much similar to sentiments about family. They know all the right buttons to push, how to hurt you best, and yet in spite of it all you love them nonetheless. I still don’t know what to make of ‘home’.
Union of unions. Disparate joy and obdurate despair. A friend said in terms of emotional considerations, it would not be worth the effort. I said, speak to me of God and lovers. I said, remind me of the amazing ability to survive being tender and savage at the same time for many years. I said, remind me that the nobility of fidelity isn’t a myth like everything else is. The heartwarming spouse, the unresponsive stupor, the build-up house. Remind me again and again that something is worth the fight, I’ve witnessed its worth and maybe sometimes that in itself is enough.
April 28, 2015 § Leave a comment
Just a few shots I took during my two weeks of unemployment. In retrospect, it was an adequate period of rest. Books, devoured. Thoughts, alive and unraveling. Simple pleasures during simpler times with afternoon naps and days spent leisurely in a city that still has an eminent Old World charm to it with its post-colonial colors, hues and forms. People in Penang seemed warmer, kinder, more affable yet more ferocious on the road. The food was divine, but that plays for a standalone story of its own. Nevertheless:
April 16, 2015 § 2 Comments
1. It always begins in the marketplace. The air is humid with the stink of fish. There lingers an iron certainty in the scent of blood, chopped meat and skinned chickens that dangle and oscillate from hooks. The fishmonger has his rubber gloves on, yellow and not frightening, and is adroit at doing the math in his head in a language which interweaves between inventory, profit, and losses. This is a language he knows by heart. A middle-aged Malay lady passes him a crumpled orange note for a piece of jenahak (snapper fish) and he passes back five ringgit with coins on her upturned palm. “Terima kasih.” She smiles and shoves the change into her purse, moving on to the next vendor to get some fresh santan as the thought of what to cook for dinner clouds her mind. Her arms are weighed down by the multiple plastic bags she is carrying. The five ringgit was exchanged between the fishmonger and the woman for a piece of fish, a unifying piece of protein to nourish a family of six.
2. The five ringgit was later given to the woman’s thirteen-year old son as part of his weekly allowance. He writes in cursive despite being a byproduct of the twenty-first century. His letters are beautifully-shaped, even, far better than the rest of his peers who write quicker and faster on keyboards than using a ballpoint pen. In appearance, he is nothing special. His skin is evenly burnt by the sun, much like other boys his age, and his hair is closely cropped. He has no beautiful features to set him apart. His voice, body and mind has not yet completely transitioned to that of a full grown man. He is signing off a letter addressed to an uncle in the United States. Not with ‘Yours sincerely’, or ‘Love’, but simply with his name. The five ringgit was exchanged between the boy with the lady working at the post office. It was exchanged in hopes of one day visiting a faraway country whose concept was, to him, still built on dreams. He would later learn to love the country but hate its administration.
3. The lady at the post office passed the five ringgit note to a young woman buying stamps. The nape of this young woman’s white neck sloped in a clean curve, her long black hair amassed into a neat bun. She has a dinner gathering to go to at night which she is already dreading. There lies an artificiality within human relations which she believes will never be an acquired taste. Alas, the secret voting of social acceptance would always be in favor of dinner parties. She dreads the thinness of the conversations, so sparse of meaning. The surrounding women, so pleasant upon contact but waning and judging and scathing as an afterthought. The men who would try to hit on her or get her drunk in hopes of taking her home. Debating over arguments with outcomes of no importance to her (her opinion would always remain stubbornly unchanged anyway). Yet she knows she has to be bigger than all of this so she drives to the supermarket to buy a bottle of wine she will not drink. The five ringgit note was exchanged in favour of the artificiality of false impressions and gaining social approval — the elegant gameplay of adults everywhere.
March 30, 2015 § 4 Comments
If you, the reader, care or perhaps are curious about me, the writer.
When I began in an earlier part of this year, I wrote down four simple words and pasted it upon the hanging noticeboard in my bedroom – What’s next? What’s next? I would come face-to-face with these words everyday and I’d wonder it too: What is next?
Hungry and impatient to unravel the future, this was preceded by scribbling onto the first page of my paper journal a note which stated that ‘the mind and body will collectively and exhaustively attempt another excursion throughout the tumultuous health and disorder of a calendar year.’ To measure time in the basis of years is perhaps not the best way to track down progress but, inasmuch as I was expectant and hoping for change, 2015 has been rife of it nonetheless. In color, in seeming favor, in chances.
It occurred to me that I am reaching my quarter-of-a-century mark sooner than expected. Gone are the days of dressing up in uniform and welcoming the feel of assembly halls with chalky white shoes come Monday morning, even if those days don’t feel like they took place too long ago. This made way instead to a calmer transition — into adulthood, which proved to be stabler, easier to decipher, still difficult, but less grating on the nerves. Monday mornings turned instead into battling traffic jams, trying to fit in as much work into the last few minutes of every fleeting moment, forgoing meals and toilet breaks and regretting not ironing that shirt for work the night before. Yet still, age had never confronted me before, I always identified myself unfailingly as a youth. Developing, growing, fumbling, prospering, be it in quiet revolt, in anger, or in sheer eagerness for the world and its timely offers. Always, always, a youth at heart. But this year felt different, I stopped identifying myself so much as such and felt an urgency to do something.
The message that I am trying to convey here, if there is a message at all, is that as farfetched as it sounds, this is it: if love is a sense of belonging, then there is nothing I’d rather crawl back towards than to the familiarity of writing. If I am unidentifiable in origin from the design of my name or face or this system, language is the body I’d choose to savor and inquire and savor again.
To cut to the chase — I’ve resigned from my job in pursuit of being a (more serious, more dedicated, more ruthless) writer. Listen to this notion, as romantic as any, so idealistic and full of promise that it terrifies me. I’ve said this several times before but I don’t know if this action was warranted out of bravery or stupidity, but rather a need to stay true to character. My previous job in the PR industry wasn’t always easy, but it was a job which I had gotten well-acquainted with and, I’d like to believe, a job which I wasn’t so bad at either. Nevertheless, it was a steadiness which I saw necessary to break.
And so the applications for grad school were sent in, and the risks paid off better than initially anticipated. I got accepted into all four schools I applied for. The biggest struggle now is perhaps the most intimidating struggle, which is the struggle of securing funding. But this is a risk and risks are wont to come with no guarantee. I am taking it still, out of courage or audacity or what have you. Whether it will be successful or not is unknown. These are my doubts, drawbacks and fears that I’m sharing with you. You don’t need to dim the lights for me to calculate and scrutinize where it might or might not fail, I have never been a blind optimist. Yet I’ve decided I will fall into this foray and the vast possibilities it offers too. The hope I have for things are not tall, grounded, or always healthy but my dreams are not yet colorless ghosts.
If it fails, I will adapt and attempt to land on my feet again.
Either way it goes, I wish you, if you are reading this, all the best in your own individual struggle and journey, whatever it may involve or it may be — Godspeed.
And that is all for now by way of non-fiction.