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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.