When I was younger, I didn’t know how to talk to people.
Painfully shy, I would say. Always found wandering alone in the hallways of my school. I amused myself by creating stories about other people, giving them nicknames. I found ways to avoid socialising altogether: lagging back behind a group, making myself appear as boring as possible or electing certain people that are deemed “okay” to talk to. I wanted to disappear and appear at the same time. Some people might call this an “introversion”, that it is normal and it’s just how certain people function. But I knew I didn’t want that kind of life. It felt meaningless, like I could disappear and nobody would notice. So when Standard 6 ended and high school beckoned, I jumped at the chance of a new life. There were still kids from my primary school – hell, my best friends now knew me since I was 7 – but there were these other kids and the hope for a blank slate.
Now, when I tell people this, they don’t believe me. Mainly because I don’t seem to know how to shut up most of the time. There was even a point during my university days where I was rotating groups of friends to hang out with so that I don’t neglect any of them. If I told my 11 year old self that I’d have so many friends that it became a nuisance, she’d probably wouldn’t believe me. Or knowing my former self, she would probably think I’m making it up to make her feel better. But somewhere along the lines, life became kinder, or I became bolder. Talking became easy and natural. Sometimes I even crave being the centre of attention, quipping jokes as fast as I could. I had come so far that it felt like we were two different people and my past didn’t make sense.
But a former shy person will always remember and sometimes, there is a fear of – for the lack of a better term – a relapse. Like, somehow I forgot how to do it again, this talking thing. Probably why I strongly hate awkward silences; they feel like quicksand. And even more troublesome, the need to have some sort of approval from others.
During that turn of my life, I read a book called “When Marnie Was There” by Joan G Robinson. To say that it hit close to home would be an understatement. I was Anna the protagonist, her thoughts echoed mine. She was also painfully shy and was in denial of her longing to belong. My favourite part from the book reflected the state of my mind then:
But Anna was not interested. Not any more. She knew perfectly well … that things like parties and best friends and going to tea with people were fine for everyone else, because everyone else was “inside” – inside some sort of invisible circle. But Anna herself was outside. And so these things had nothing to do with her.
As I type this, I could still feel the burn of chillies on my fingers even after a whopping four hours after handling them. Rubbing my hands with salt and pouring milk all over them did nothing. I should have thought twice before proceeding to cut over 30 red chillies with my bare hands for […]
It’s been a while since I stepped into Findars. I forgot how tiring the five flights of steps were.
A few Sundays ago, Adriana and Veronica invited the first gang to meet up with the newbies. Walking into Findars again brought so many great memories; I felt like it was years ago, opposed to only just months back. Most likely because I was such a different person even in the short amount of time difference. Findars, being the eclectic artistic space that it is, has new art pieces up. A huge grumpy frog greets you now.
Disappointingly, only a handful of us from the pioneer group showed up! I’m looking at you, Vimal, Al, and Shari! Adriana was visibly bummed about this while Veron … was not even in attendance. The family is breaking up and disintegrating, everybody. Still, it was nice meeting up again those who did came. Claire, a former Miss Malaysia hopeful, kept us entertained with insane stories about her time in our local beauty pageant. From egomaniac organisers to cringeworthy scripted moments; there’s a story there dying to be told. I wish it wasn’t wrapped up in legal bombs though.
Here’s a funny coincidence: my friend of seven years, Miza, was also there. Actually, we both signed up for UnRepresented KL at the same time. Hell, she’s the one who pushed me to do it. But alas, we were starcrossed. That is a good thing though. We’d probably just stick with each other and cackle at everything. As individuals, we’re fine. Together, we’re assholes. There was also another person there that I technically knew but never met face to face. I’ve followed Shiera on Twitter for a really long time but we hardly communicated and finally, we met that day! It was strange to meet a person that you are familiar with and also a stranger to. You don’t know if bringing up random stuff you knew about them would be creepy or totally welcomed.
Their writer-mentor for UNR2 is another familiar name in the local literature scene. Looking at his website, I am really impressed and feel slightly cowed. Fadz Johan Abas is a doctor and yet he has the time to write and get things published. How many of us could do half the things he did? Fadz is definitely more approachable than Bernice ever was to us and there’s a small part of me wished we had the chance to hear his point of view on our works too. I really love his enthusiasm, it’s obvious that he’s also a reader and a fan of books. Although, he did gush about John Green … Everyone has their guilty pleasures, I suppose?
As an outsider looking in, UNR2 seems to be a much more mature set of folks. We had younger team members and we were also a bunch of nervy individuals. I still believe that we are. When asked if any one of us did any writing after the program, most of us shrugged sheepishly. UnRepresented KL gave us a reason to take note of deadlines, chase plots and craft characters out of thin air. In a way, I am thankful that UnRepresented KL exists. It’s a reminder of the things that I love, it introduces me to incredible people and it inspires me constantly.
However, in the end, writing is a lonely task and a solitary ambition. You can’t constantly rely on attention or support to push you to that extra mile. Writing is not easy. It is taking an idea or a concept and nurturing it into a creature of its own. Sometimes, you don’t even know if the final product is even worth it. But then you constantly come back to it, mulling it over, thinking “What if?”. And that’s really what brings you to this point, always. You’ll have ideas and then you put them away. You’ll have plans and then you bookmark them for the unknown future.
“I just want to hold on to it for as long as I can. Just to feel like it’s mine.”
My friend was eating when she heard me say that and she was visibly touched. We’re both in the same boat. My other friend listened in. She was curious, maybe a little sympathetic but I know she doesn’t know how we both really feel. The romantic idea of owning something you can’t actually have. A promise that will soon be broken. If I could reach into my computer screen, I would pat the email like I would to a cat on sale in a pet store.
A few months back on this blog, I had mentioned about my plans to further my studies in UK. If you have read that post before, you’d also know that I already received an unconditional offer to go to Durham and I was waiting for a financial loan. Everything was set. It felt so real that I was even subconsciously planning my life overseas. Cancelling my insurance policy. Making plans to sell my car.
The day of my supposed orientation is on the 25th September 2014. A date that is coming up soon. Earlier on, I had planned to go off somewhere, anywhere, just so I could say, hah! I am still going places! You can’t tell me where to go! But now, the raw emotions have long subdued. Just another date. A happy occasion for others, I’m sure.
My financial loan application to a government body (MARA, if you’re familiar with it) was rejected. Twice, as a matter of fact. It was the only institution I applied for because I knew I at least had a fighting chance. My friend mentioned above tried a different route for her ticket to Glasgow; she applied for private institutions for scholarships but didn’t succeed either. Are we really surprised though? English majors are hardly prized and in this country, everyone still thinks our career ladder ends at teaching. You don’t need to go far to learn how to teach, they say.
Still, I asked the university to defer my offer next year. I said please. I asked if they needed me to do anything at all to make this happen. There was none. And now there’s an email in my inbox telling me the university is happy to welcome me next year. It’s a bit like having a photo of yourself with Mickey Mouse. I feel like framing it and putting it up on my wall.
I want to say, “See? This happened.”
I know people assumed that I’m being too defeatist, that I’m giving up. Giving up is like seeing the end and not having the determination to rush through. This is a bit like a maze where you don’t even know if there’s an end. English majors, or basically any Art/Humanities students, are not appreciated here. When I say there’s limited scholarships available, I mean 1 or 2. Perhaps a random third one comes along and they’re looking for the future Prime Minister, is it you? And you’re not competing against other Art students either. You’re competing with kids who are doctors, pharmacists, engineers, architects, whatever big name job title you can insert here. And there you are, trying to communicate to these people why Romanticism is a field worth paying hundreds and thousands of money.
There are no words that I can really say about giving up a dream. I’ve worked hard for more than 2 years to come to this conclusion and I’ve spent an even longer amount of time just dreaming about it.
Although I managed to sneak in some posts last month, July had met its end silently on this blog. But it doesn’t mean you can’t relive another person’s July. Emily Diana Ruth is a Canadian amateur filmmaker and one of my favourite vloggers. “Letters to July” is an awesome series where Emily uploads daily vlogs for […]
A few weeks ago, Ben’s at Publika opened up their arms for the first UnRepresented KL reading event in conjunction with The Cooler Lumpur 2014!
With this reading, my entire UnRepresented KL writing programme experience came to a graceful end (you can read more about my experience in the programme here). It took me a while to write this, simply because there were so many thoughts and emotions linked to this piece of memory. For months, we grew from a small band of strangers to genuinely good friends. Our ideas and conversations evolved from just a talking point to a written piece that stretched up to thousands of words. However, even as a group, writing for UnRepresented KL was very much a solitary experience. I blogged manytimes about the insecurities and difficulties that I had to face just to come out with a solid piece of writing.
However, reading out a piece of your own writing is completely different than simply writing or presenting it on a website. You are the medium of the story. You tell them the story, you insinuate the mood, you are entirely responsible to catch their attention with your words and actions. For a lot of the participants, this was their first time reading a piece of written work. It wasn’t for me but I’ve never read anything longer than a couple of minutes, let alone a story that develops with each paragraph. I’m just thankful my piece didn’t have any characters! Most of the participants had to act out their characters and I’m glad I’m saved from that. Acting chops, I do not have them. Days earlier, Adriana and Veronica helpfully brought in Shefa, of BFM fame, to teach us how to present. Other than that, we had to face the mic and the audience alone.
The reading itself was an incredible experience for me. True to self, I came in sauntering minutes before the event started. The room was already noisy with activity, it was a full house! The venue was beautifully charming; almost felt like it was a venue for a small wedding. Lightbulbs hanging down from industrial ceilings, white chairs with white walls. And from the front where I was sitting, I could see all my friends scattered all over the room. It was such an awesome feeling to share this moment with all these people that I care about. I kept looking back to all these familiar faces and waving to them. Then, I’d look at the other participants of UnRepresented KL and make faces. It felt like combining two different worlds together because, for a long time, the UnRepresented KL felt like my own secret bubble from everyone else. And I felt proud to show it off at last.
My final piece is called “Finding Home in KL” and it’s a non-fiction article about my journey in understanding “the other side” of Kuala Lumpur through the UnRepresented KL writing programme. In it, I highlighted the many different underprivileged people who go unnoticed and ignored despite living in the same urban space as the rest. A pretty fitting tribute, when I think about it now, seeing the recent debacle about a minister trying to shut down soup kitchens in KL. In all honesty, the meat of the piece is largely derived from my blog posts about KL. Somewhere along the the lines, after tons of drafts, I realised I’ve been writing the final piece all along. I ditched my original ideas and created a piece that was more personal. Something that I would be proud of to read in front an audience. And I did the right thing.
Everyone had to read about 5 minutes worth of their piece. Mine had 5 pages so I basically siphoned out the best bits, the ones that really packed a punch, and built a 5-minute presentation out of that. Shefa taught me that reading out your work is not at all like personally reading a piece of article, just out loud. No, you have to be a storyteller. A lot of pauses. A lot of emphasis. Intonation to give the right mood. You have to hook them into your story due to the absence of reading. It was hard but standing in front of the audience felt natural.
I mean, it’s been three months, leading up to this moment. Cocking it up at the final point of the journey would be silly. All I did was enjoy the last moments while I was still a part of UnRepresented KL.
The best compliment I had on that day was a girl told me she cried while I was presenting my piece. That reaction is beyond what I expected… and I didn’t even have to kill a character for it! Emma, if you’re reading this, thanks for making my day!
I would like to say thank you for many people who came and watched us present. We were amateur writers and you guys gave us your time and presence. We were so encouraged by the response! I was floored by the reactions.
For the now-former participants of UnRepresented KL, although it was the end, we all knew we parted ways as friends and soon will be reunited again. I am so incredibly proud of us and what we finally achieved! Thank you so much to Adriana and Veronica for including me into this journey. Thank you for the folks behind The Cooler Lumpur Festival 2014 for allowing a space for us. All the best to the rest for their future endeavours.
And for all that has been following my journey under the UnRepresented KL programme, thank you for reading in. I hope you enjoyed these posts as much as I enjoyed writing about them.