It was the last day of the writing programme. We had tarts! (The pecan ones were really nice).
We’ve been anticipating the last day for weeks now, we know it will happen sooner or later. And yet, when the day finally came, it felt as though it wasn’t the end. We were so relaxed and casual. Veronica wasn’t even in attendance since she’s in Melbourne. Adriana even brought up an interesting suggestion during the beginning of the session: since we had never “checked in” with each other about what we’ve been doing the past week prior to any sessions, she wanted all of us to tell everyone how their week went in this session. I was just sitting there, wondering if there’s a point to creating a ritual on the last day. And that was the overall vibe throughout the session, that it was just another week, that we are in no hurry to bid our goodbyes.
We were divided in pairs and, as fate has it, I was paired up with Shari again just like in our first assignment. In this assignment, we are to comment and critic each other’s work. I think the reason the organisers planned it this way is so we don’t feel like we’re constantly on eggshells when it comes to our work, just waiting for the firing squad to give us another go. Also, having a conversation with one person creates an intimate atmosphere, so it’s easier to hear comments from another person and also to give input when it’s just the two of you. For me, this is good and bad. Good because I’m not up for another session of people shredding my work like the previous weeks. Bad because, objectively speaking, I really do need a lot of comments to help me with my draft. Shari pointed several problems with my draft though and it’s back to the drawing board for me.
After a while, at which point Shari and me were just talking and giggling about random things, Adriana brought us all together. Sitting in a circle, Adriana asked all of us what is our plan moving forward after the programme. Some had concrete plans: Al is going to delve deep into the spoken word scene, Joanna is looking for an editor to look into her short story before she promotes it while Nazli is interested in writing scripts. As I watched everyone opened up about their plans, I had the slow realisation that I had no plans.
Sure, the plan was to send my short story to interested publishers, namely Buku Fixi since they seem to be the only ones reaching out to the public. But now, after gone through several half-baked plots and drafts, I’m not entirely sure if I’m ready for that. It seems that I have a lot of work to do before I could produce a solid piece. I can write – that’s what they’ve been telling me and I know it myself – but I’m not a good storyteller. That’s like decorating a wedding cake without the cake. I think I’ve been relying on my skills in poetry for too long without realising it. In poems, you can basically throw in a couple of beautiful verses without actually going about telling a story. The reader builds the story in their mind based on your words, not you.
So, I guess the plan is to keep working? That sounds about right.
After that, Adriana passed around feedback forms and I ended up using that form to just pour my heart out about this program. It’s been really great; I can’t say it enough. I had tons of fun, I learned things a lot more than I expected and discovered bits of myself that I never knew. I think the most valuable thing for me is the chance to slip away from my routine life and discover something new. Things that I was not even aware of. All the participants in the programme are wildly different from each other but we managed to somehow connect. I could literally sit with them for hours, just talking. Which is what we did after this session was over; we walked down to a cafe nearby and talked some more about random things. From joining a gym to discussing which European country was a nicer colonizer to which 90s local tv shows we missed from our childhood. It’s nice to have a group of friends that are not tied specifically to a certain part of your life like high school or work.
I still haven’t visited Petaling Street, can you believe it? I drove past that tourist landmark so many times now but it never appealed to me. However, my initial perception of its shadiness has been erased. I don’t know when I will visit Jalan Panggong again but I know it’s a familiar place to me now.