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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Syed Joyce

So there was this boy, nine years old, Syed. He was waiting for his mother to come pick him up from school. His mother always told him to wait for her at the bus stop in front of the school until his mother came. So there he was, waiting at the bus stop in front of the school. 

He'd been waiting for an hour at that point. His mother did say when dropping him off that morning that she was going to be late picking him up from school that day. Syed knew it was work-stuff. Stuff grown-ups do. Stuff he didn't have to think about, so he didn't. 

But this was the first time his mother was late. He didn't know what he was supposed to do. His friends had all gone back home with their parents. He had hung out with them until then at the corridor, playing tiang and eating nuggets that was sold by the makcik in front of the school. And now he didn't know what to do anymore.

He looked to his right and saw that a classmate of his was sitting there too. A girl. Her name was Joyce. Joyce was reading a book. It looked like an English textbook. Syed's other classmates would call here Joystick to make fun of her. She would shout at them and they would shout at her back. Then she would say the B A B I word and then the boys would report it to the teacher and she would have to apologise.

"Apa tengok, babi?" Joyce asked after she noticed that Syed had been staring at her for too long.

Syed frowned and replied with, "Kau la babi, ler!"

"Jangan tengok aku la babi!"

"Kau la babi, LER LER LER!" Syed raised his voice so that he would win the fight, but shifted his gaze to the puddle in front of him. In the puddle he noticed a dead fly. He'd never seen a dead fly before. He knew though, that it was dead, because its legs were facing upwards, and it seemed as if it were taking a nap on the water.

He went down to the puddle to get a closer look. Hunched over as he was, he tried touching the dead fly. It didn't move, so he pulled the fly closer to himself using his index finger. He pinched one of the fly's legs between his index finger and his thumb and lifted it closer to his face.

He could see the fly's two big eyes, its big black butt, it's legs even had some hair on them, and it's wings. At some parts the wings looked like they had no colour, but at other parts they seemed to be colourful, like a rainbow colour reflecting off of it.

He put the fly in his palm and cradled it there, making sure that it didn't fall off. He said out loud, "Woi tengok ni woi!" forgetting that his friends had left him.

"Tengok apa?" Joyce asked.

Upon realising that he was only there with Joyce, he said "Takde pape!" And stuck out his tongue to Joyce. Joyce responded in kind and continued reading her textbook.

Syed looked at Joyce and looked at the fly and looked back at Joyce and got an idea. He walked over to Joyce and held out his hand that had the fly in it and showed it to her face.

Joyce looked at the fly and then looked at Syed and then looked back at the fly and laughed. "Dia dah mati ke?" Joyce flicked the fly to the ground with her finger.

"Ish, kau ni!" Syed started bending his knees to pick the fly back up, but before he could do that, Joyce stepped on the fly while saying "inalilah."

Syed pushed Joyce away from the fly and shouted with tears in his eyes, "Kau mana boleh cakap inalilah! Kau Cina, mana boleh cakap!"

Joyce stuck her tongue out and walked back inside the school gate to go sit at the empty school canteen.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Grey Areas

So earlier today I was listening to the latest Freakonomics podcast episode called "Earth 2.0: Is Income Inequality Inevitable?" and one of the guests said something to the effect of "any argument that puts something as entirely good or entirely bad is incredibly naive," and I found myself nodding along to the statement.

Just a couple of hours after listening to that, I watched Anugerah Meletop Era on tv with my parents, and even though a large portion of the show made me cringe, I was reminded of the above quote when my father said in passing that the award show was a way of redistributing wealth. I found myself nodding along to that as well.

For all the ads both on and off ad-breaks, it did provide a platform for musicians to work. It gave the performers, stage hands, costume designers, make-up artists, producers, camera crew, lighting people, etc. an income. It allowed people of all stars and stripes who just want to get by, get by. For all the promotion of consumerism that happened on the show, it allowed a whole bunch of people a way of fending for themselves in the capitalist system they live in. And for that, one cannot say that the show is all good, or all bad. It occupies a grey area.

And I think most things in life are in the grey area. Most things are not all good, nor are most things all bad. Living a life of prayer is "good" in the sense that one might position themselves better in the sight of their chosen deity, but time spent in prayer is time spent away from helping fellow people, and service to others is real important too. And any time taken engaging in community service takes away time from family. And time spent with family isn't spent working to earn a living income to pay the bills and put food on the table. And so on and so forth the arguments go.

The sign of an enlightened mind (at least in my view) is a mind that is on the lookout for good things in bad things and bad things in good things. The first step of course is to be able to acknowledge that such a reality exists. Once one is able to accept that reality, it becomes easier to spot those shades of grey. I'm not saying it's easy (it gets super tough a lot of the time), but it does get easier.

One thing I don't like about it is that thinking this way makes me doubt a lot of things. I am filled with self-doubt about most of my decisions in life because I know there are bad bits that come with the good bits, and I'm not confident enough in my own judgement to be real sure about any of my own judgements, which is why a team is always helpful in any of my endeavours. They allow me perspectives outside of myself to lean on in times of doubt.

Which is why sometimes I am jealous of people who aren't aware of grey areas. Some people seem to be able to see the world as black and white and there isn't much wiggle room at all in between. People who aren't aware of grey areas are able to live less doubtful lives, and are able to make more confident decisions, I feel like. I used to be like that. I used to live believing that I knew right from wrong all the time, and right can only be right while wrong can only be wrong, end of discussion.

But that view of the world lacks empathy, it lacks kindness, it lacks awareness, it lacks perspective. And given a choice, I'd probably want to be aware of grey areas. While I do live most of my life in doubt, nowadays, I also get to be all high and mighty in my head because I am aware of grey areas, and I can sit on a high horse and pity the people below me who don't have the perspective that I do. Berlagak kan? Ugh, I disgust me.

So yeah, grey areas. They're a lot more of a thing than I'd like them to be, but we've got to live with them, a lot of times in them.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mindfulness, I Think

So hello again.

I had a school meeting earlier today, and because I'm terrible at paying attention during meetings, and because I didn't bring a book with me to read, I decided to reread some of my own blogposts (because I'm a narcissist).

The first thing I wrote this year was about trying to be more focussed, and establishing that I could only focus on doing one singular task for twenty minutes at a time. At the time of reading earlier today, I had completely forgotten that I had had that thought, that I had made up a strategy to regain control over my own day-to-day productivity. I was (and still am) disappointed in my current self for forgetting that real simple thing, but also somewhat proud of my previous self for having written that thought down so that I would be able to remind myself of it.

As is obvious, I have not been keeping to that plan. I've stopped writing for a long while now and I'm certainly not proud of that. I don't know what I've been doing, really. A whole bunch of school work, some watching of Netflix shows, reading some pages of the book of the month every now and again,  but mostly just looking for Youtube videos to watch and refreshing Twitter a lot. I shake my head at myself. Shake shake shake.

Life was a tad more productive in the twenty-minute-at-a-time phase of my life (now I'm speaking as if it were years ago, padahal baru berapa bulan ja). I think I'll go back to that. I'll have to readjust my cycle of tasks in life to twenty minutes again and try to stick to it for more than a couple of days this time. And probably try to write more in the process, too. Let's start with this post.

You reading this would not be privy to this, but I just took an undeserved Twitter scroll-through. I even indulged in watching a five-minute Twitter-video I didn't need to watch. This is exactly what I'm trying to combat. My own unmindfulness of what I'm engaging in in contrast to what I'm supposed to be engaged in while going through life.

I've got to try to be more mindful of what I'm doing at any given time. And as much as I like listening to Tim Ferriss' podcast who talks about it with a lot of his guests, I find that when I try to put it into practice, I disappoint myself more often than not.

One of the ways in which he recommends to increase mindfulness is to meditate every day. But as much as successful people like to talk about how the practice has helped them with their lives, I still don't see myself as a person who meditates. But if I'm honest with myself, the issue isn't really about identity. It's me being lazy. It's me being unwilling to spend an hour of my life sitting down with my eyes closed and spend it thinking about my breathing. I know I'll get restless, I know that my mind will wander to all sorts of places, I know that I will fail, and thus I don't even start.

It's a recurring theme in my life. Things that I think I'll be bad at, I won't engage in. I have to have some sense of confidence that I can achieve a thing before starting doing a thing. I place this unproductive emphasis on confidence in my starting of doing things that it stops me from doing things. I lack courage. The courage to try and fail, the courage to do something that I might be bad at, the courage to be humiliated. I'm a coward in that sense, I believe.

This would be the part of the post where I try to come up with suggestions to improve myself. Something like "I should find the courage and be less afraid of failure, because the path of successful people is a path of getting up after multiple failures". But I'm tired. And I don't know. I just, don't know.

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.