Friends in Findars again

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.

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Ribbit?

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.

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Carrying the torch.

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.

But, what if?

What if you actually use your ideas for once?

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UnRepresented KL: The Cooler Lumpur 2014

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!

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Yes, that is me! Photo courtesy of my friend, Afi.

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 many times 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.

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R-L: Shari, the first to present! Andrea, reading out her satire piece on GST. Claire, regaling on life without a father. Vimal and Adriana enacting a dramatic scene together.

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.

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The founders of the UnRepresented KL programme! Veronica, Ling and Adriana.

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.

UnRepresented KL: The Reading

It is now June and the moment that I’ve been waiting for is finally here:

Not entirely sure why the theme is #FAST.

 

The UnRepresented KL group will be reading out our works in The Cooler Lumpur Festival 2014!

This is cool and scary at the same time. I had actually attended this festival last year but just as a casual attendee. So it’s awesome that this year, I’ll be presenting my own work to an audience. What a year of a difference. It’s also scary because as I recall, there were many familiar faces in the local literary scene attending this festival too. Oh and did I mention they are planning to have a Q and A session at the end of the reading? So, not only will I be reading my work to a roomful of strangers but I might possibly face questions from them about my work too. No pressure.

I’m just going to call it right now that Al will receive the most questions because a) he’s the only one reading a poem and b) the poem is intense. You have to be there to find out though!

The Cooler Lumpur Festival, as a whole, is at its infancy. This year is only their second year running! It has a multidisciplinary approach so there will be talks, performances and what have you. There were quite a few booksellers as well so if you’re going, remember to bring cash! I checked out their schedule and, true to the format of last year’s, the events will be scattered all over Publika, the mall where this festival will take place.

Unfortunately for us, we have Amir Muhammad’s session also happening during our session. This man is basically a local bookworms magnet so I’m sure everybody will flock over there. However, if you’re reading this, I hope you will come over to our side? We have cookies (figurative ones)! Just head down to Publika during these times:

Date: 22 June 2014

Time: 2 – 4pm

Location: Upstairs at Ben’s. And when I mean “Upstairs”, I mean there is a staircase inside Ben’s restaurant which will lead you to the venue. The secrecy of this location is really just to add up to the ambiance. Need to appeal to hipsters.

Anyway, in the coming days, I will be meeting up with the other participants as the organisers already set us up with a speech coach. Yes, someone will teach us how to present that day so we can perform at our best for all of you! Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

UnRepresented KL: Week 10

It was the last day of the writing programme. We had tarts! (The pecan ones were really nice).

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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.

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Adriana giving the thumbs up on the tarts.

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.

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The room back there is the lair for the artists to toil on their work. I never ventured there for some reason.

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.

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UnRepresented KL: Before the End

I woke up slightly delirious today. Looked at my phone and it was 8.30 am. Panic. I was supposed to email my final draft to the UnRepresented KL group at 8 am!

Jumped out of bed. Opened up the Word document. Looked for any grammatical mistakes since it was 2 am the last time I looked through everything. Saved. Sent an apologetic email to everyone.

Done.

And now, we only have the last session this Sunday, a farewell dinner and the scheduled reading before we exit from the UnRepresented KL programme for good. The fat lady hasn’t sung yet but I’ve been feeling nostalgic for weeks! To be honest, this programme had been my anchor; that whatever happened on a particular week, I knew that I would have a good time and great company on Sunday. I think I miss being a part of a community. I connect with like-minded people all the time on the Internet but nothing beats looking at a human at the other end of the table, I suppose.

I feel ambivalent about my last draft:

Cons:

  • For one thing, even though it is called a final draft, it’s incomplete with no written ending. I’m hanging on the “draft” bit in final draft.
  • It’s entirely different from the first few drafts I’ve submitted! There are literally no remnants of the previous drafts that survived in this final draft. Absolutely nothing. 
  • Insecurity knocked: I might be over my head on this one. I am missing out Bernice Chauly’s valuable criticism on this final draft, since she won’t be in this final session. I don’t trust my own judgment. I thought I did pretty well on the last two drafts but the others ripped them apart.

Pros:

  • I like it. The previous drafts were annoying to work with because a part of me wanted it to work but another part of me felt the story wasn’t even that good.
  • It actually fits the theme! My current draft is a creative non-fiction of my experience learning about Kuala Lumpur and the people in it. Previously, my short story centred around a Malay girl trapped in a pen-pusher life and the struggle between being an idealistic Generation Y against a Generation X parent. It’s interesting but… it’s not really showcasing unrepresented and/or marginalised people, is it?

My piece had gone under so many transformations.

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UnRepresented KL: No Refund

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I don’t remember the last time somebody made me a mix tape or CD. Or even the last time I made one. But on our second last UnRepresented KL session, Shari gave some of us copies of this mixtape and I was floored. It was sweet, thoughtful and incredible to think that 8 weeks ago, I didn’t even know her. 

If you’ve been following my UnRepresented KL posts then I apologise because I have not been updating. Week 6 and 8 went by so quickly and for a good reason. Unlike the previous weeks where we stepped in other people’s shoes and discovered KL from their perspective, these past two weeks have been about us and our writing. So, I have been busy writing the final product of my UnRepresented KL experience. Yes, we are now in the final days of the writing programme and we are refining our work. Bernice Chauly, a very respected individual in the local writing scene had been invited for these past two sessions and gave us some really tough love. She does not mince her words, I’ll give you that. 

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Bernice sitting at the end of the table. It’s a bit like Godfather, yes.

There will be a reading scheduled in June so no pressure! No pressure, at all. 

When I think about it, my blog posts about UnRepresented KL have been quite ethnographic in nature. In the first few posts I did for this programme, I hardly mentioned any of the individuals personally unless they did something of note in that week. I tried to capture a very vivid but objective point of view of my experience so that others can have a taste of that as well. However, it’s difficult to be unattached to these people because they are so awesome. When they found out about my blog, Vimal, Shari and Al discussed among themselves whether they should stop reading it so my blogging won’t be influenced by their presence. I was touched: we hardly knew each other and yet they’re ensuring a space for me that is comfortable. I’ve never met any acquaintances who would be as warm and accepting. 

The later blog posts about UnRepresented KL started to lose the objective edge but had more of my personal thoughts and emotions. After all, my experience is uniquely mine and I am sure others would have their own personalised perspective of their experience. In fact, some of the more memorable moments of the programme were beyond what was tailored for us: when Adriana and Veronica brought us to a mamak restaurant for lunch, when a group of us went to the Arts 4 Grabs event at Central Market and even just the long chats we had after the session was long over. Our objective was to learn and document parts of KL but, in doing so, we are all creating our own memories of KL shaped by this experience. 

There is already talk of the second instalment of this programme, planned for the month of August. Hearing the organisers discuss the future of UnRepresented KL, without us, made me feel sad. For one thing, I just don’t want this programme to end! Secondly, I am jealous of this new batch of strangers who get to experience a new round of this programme. Thirdly, UnRepresented KL feels very much like our own label to describe our group but soon, we will have to pass it on to the new participants. Lastly, we will lose the group; we exit the programme as friends but also, as individuals. I felt like asking whether we could just sneak into one of the sessions. Alumni perks and all.

If you’re reading this and thinking of joining the next instalment of this programme, I can’t recommend it enough. Adriana and Veronica are great people and I really have to thank them for allowing me to be in this programme. Highly motivated but incredibly humble, these two made us feel welcomed and our opinions respected every single time. 

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I am really going to miss these people. However, I have to keep my head straight and start cracking down on the writing because I am nowhere near done. 

UnRepresented KL: Week 5

Before we started this week’s session, our guest speaker had asked us to tell everyone three things: your name, the reason why you like to write and the colour of your underwear. Week 5’s session was different from previous sessions in many ways.

Week 5’s guest speaker was Yeoh Seng Guan, a lecturer of anthropology from Monash University, who writes because he feels that he has to write. And he happened to be wearing black underwear that day. (A lot of people wore black underwear that day, turns out).

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Now that we have rolled over the half-point mark of the programme, I can gauge what Adriana and Veronica wants to achieve through UnRepresented KL. This programme is not trying to romanticise Kuala Lumpur in any way; in fact, there is a certain gritty realism about the things we’ve learned of the “other side” of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia. Some days, I do feel burdened by the knowledge of what I have learned of my country, especially the negative aspects of things. But you can’t simply unlearn the things made visible to you. Opportunities come in various forms and some of them are in the shape of responsibilities. 

I have to say, this week was thankfully guiltless as we took on a more academic route. Seng Guan was the only speaker who gave us an assignment weeks before his own session and handed out reading materials prior to it. Three anthropology journal articles that are knee-deep in jargons. Me and a couple of my UnRepresented friends obviously struggled since most of us left school in years. It was just like being back in class! I’m not entirely sure if everybody welcomed it.

This week, we learned about ethnography and how to delve in writing an ethnography. This is incredibly useful tool, especially if you’re trying to write about authentic characters with unfamiliar backgrounds. So, not only you will be able to get valuable data about these individuals but you’re also exposed to their wants and needs. In its most basic definition, ethnography is written works about people. As I’ve mentioned before in Week 3, we were supposed to be amateur ethnographers, interviewing and documenting the people around Petaling Street. That didn’t happen due to the weather intervention. We were still given that assignment to write though and I used my moment of being lost in Petaling Street for the ethnography assignment. At first, we all had assumed that ethnography meant writing about people in the most objective and detailed way possible, stripped from any of our feelings or thoughts that could be misleading.

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Seng Guan explaining more about ethnography while Joanne looks on.

But first: back to the three introduction questions above before you think Seng Guan was being lecherous for no reason!

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