#1 Status Update

Right, so I am going to write this on the 8th or the following weekend of every week for the rest of the year, mainly as a way to keep myself accountable.

Most people have goals during the New Year. I decided to take a different tack. My resolution this year is to create new habits. I am trying to learn to analyse my habits, how I work, what works for me, what doesn’t, and perhaps more importantly…

Understanding what motivates me, and what keeps me going.

One of the things I started last year after reading Monica Leonelle’s Write Better, Faster was to create a Google Form to track my work habits. This form had several purposes: to keep track of the time I was most productive, to understand how long I focused on specific interactions or actions, what kept me going, when I stopped, etc.

Looking back on the data is slightly embarrassing. This is not because the data shows me slacking off, but because I have not been as diligent as I should have been monitoring everything. However, it did come up with some interesting data sets.

And so I have resolved in 2016 to use those data sets to my advantage. I know that when dealing with mind numbing numbers, I tend to begin zoning out around the 20th minute mark. However, I can focus all my energies while I am there.

Then, when it comes to interacting with people, I have a bad habit of interrupting my current task to reply to them. However, since last year, I’ve made some improvements on ignoring my Skype and email to focus on the task at hand. A second monitor helps; I just shift my primary display to the secondary monitor, and then put the task I need to complete on the laptop monitor.

Of course, this sometimes backfires (like me not realising I have not checked my Skype in over 20 minutes for something that needs a fairly urgent reply) but overall I think it has helped me focus, somewhat?

Now, to figure out a way to minimise the amount of “blah” and “mrehhhs” when I write my emotions in the field.

[NaoRecommending] Journalling

Journalling is a habit everyone says you need to do every day. Some say you write in the morning, some do it at night, some do a single page, some draw instead of write. But the cornerstone is to do it every day, and it will lead to greater clarity, mindfulness, etc.

Sadly, journalling and me are a pair that’s no different from me and travelling. I look forward to it but the actual effort and time taken are done in short, intense bursts. Not unlike travelling but definitely not a way to create a habit.

Rather than beat myself up about it, I allow myself to write whenever I can. I recognise that my writing, especially stories, are ways for me to work through trauma, anger and generally strong negative emotions.

And sometimes, really positive ones too.

So I would like to recommend writing when you’re feeling pissed. When you’re angry at the inanity of your client. When you think your life completely sucks.

But don’t do it on social media. If you can, don’t do it anywhere people can access it publicly. The freeing thing about writing in a journal is that it’s meant only for your own eyes. There’s no “pressure” or fear that other people will judge you for your thoughts and words. So a book, or a password-protected folder, or even a Tumblr blog where everything is published privately works.

As long as only, and only you, can see it.

I actually keep an old exercise book for this. It’s now half-filled, beginning I think from early last year (which also tells you how often I write in it, and it’s not even 200 pages…). I use this book to write my thoughts, my fears, my anger.

So what does mine say? The latest entry, as of the day I’m drafting this blog post, is mainly about a client who’s an entitled brat. But in that one page, I also relive some happy memories and admit my relief.

Being honest with yourself is important. I open my older pages sometimes and puzzle over what I’ve written. The person who you were, is often different from the person you are now. Journaling helps me resolve my negative emotions and expel horrible thoughts. It also helps me take stock of where I am now.

So, what’s stopping you?

[Review] Shadow Play by Barbara Ismail

Author: Barbara Ismail
ISBN: 9814358681
Price: RM30, depending on where you buy it from
Rating: 5/10
TL;DR: Good to while away an afternoon, but don’t expect it to linger

Kelantan.

Tourists may picture it as a picturesque, quaint state, bordered by the sea, with the bustling Pasar Besar (main market) being the center of it all. The women of Kelantan, it is said, are among the fiercest in the land. After all, they are known for producing not one, but two Malay queens, the only ones named for ruling solo. It is a state buried in mysticism, ruled by a theocratic political party. Part of its heritage include the famous wayang kulit or Shadow Play in English (though the direct translation actually means skin theatre).

So a mystery book with wayang kulit as its backdrop struck me as a must-read. It has a simple premise; a murder happens on Makcik Maryam’s land, and rather than leave it to the naive and innocent police chief to handle it, she decides to “offer” her assistance into solving the case, as people were more inclined to talk to a makcik than a uniformed officer.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

However, it’s fiendishly difficult to pull off. And to be fair to the author, she tried, but it doesn’t quite pay off as well as it could. I suspect that if I had not been a Malaysian, I may have enjoyed the story more. It has an engaging style and snippets of facts I enjoy. However, I have a lot of issues with the plot, pacing and the characters.

For one, most of the characters read as caricatures.

Makcik Maryam and Rubiah, her cousin, read as a pair of insufferable aunties off on an adventure, full of themselves and their perceived self-importance. Osman, the poor policeman, seems to be a completely lost at sea boy; I highly doubt his superiors would have thrown such a greenhorn into being a police chief.  

Out of all the characters, I found Zurainah and her husband Ariffin, to be to my liking the most. They were, I think, the most fleshed out. At least they seemed to have real motives and different “facets” of their personalities revealed throughout the story. The rest of them, even Pak Dollah, remained simplistic and straightforward.

Plot wise, for a book titled “Shadow Play” I expected more insights into how shadow play is performed, the actual rituals performed and the audiences’ reaction. There’s none of that here. The most we glimpse is the backstage and how the players slept. While the twist was unexpected, I found myself not really caring what happens to the characters, but continued reading just to see what happens in the end.

Also, the author makes a point every so often to point out that Kelantanese Malay (or East Coast Malay in general) is far different from the ones spoke on the West Coast. It would have been better if she had thrown in a few examples to illustrate these differences. This, however, I concede is very much a personal preference. Most of the Malay written (not including the peribahasa aka proverbs) were written in formal Malay. Don’t tell me that they spoke in guttural tones, show that they did!

Shadow Play is the first of the Kain Songket mysteries. There are two more books; Princess Play and Spirit Tiger. I will probably give Princess Play a read before deciding on whether to follow the series.

Would I recommend this? Only if you are looking for an afternoon read while sitting in an airconditioned place. One of the things I enjoyed about this book was that it brought the heat of the East Coast to life, so I wouldn’t recommend reading this in a warm place.

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016!

Happy New Year!

I am not sorry to see 2015 go. It’s been a fairly tumultuous year for me, with plenty of downs and some very interesting ups.

In January, I went to Korea with my company. In February, it was Taipei with my family. Travelling with everyone was fun, but it was also a harsh dose of reality for me in terms of knowing my limit and what I like to do vs what I do for others.

March was house-hunting season. There were some really awesome places we saw, and some very not so awesome places, but in the end we didn’t purchase any because security was an issue in those places. Also the first time I got to enjoy Luxe at TGV, thanks to the client!

April, according to Google Photos, was full of food. And some travelling to Malacca for Good Friday. Also when we started the “Let’s War Every Day and get the Clan to L5” experiment. It took us about 4 months I think to do so?

Mayday! We went to Taiping! First outstation roadtrip together. :D Also known as the month I started reading more on the Kindle app. And BBQ. With some yummy lamb. I should do it again. This was also a month of Firsts: First time seasoning lamb for public aka not my own consumption AND feeding other people’s cats. Nash’s kitties are now running wild. :p Also I tried to fix my mouse but ended up swapping the office’s for the home.

Wow. I just realised May was also the month I went to Penang for the Intel Generations launch. That was absolutely fascinating and wonderful. My squees were very loud.

June was a mixed month. We put Chap Fan into production and sold enough to cover our costs! :D I still have some extras left, so ping me if you want delicious mixed-rice poetry at just RM5 (plus, NO GST!) This was the same month I officially crossed over into the 30s completely. Sob

July was when the bear and I started looking at appliance prices closely. I had already started the process to buy my house, and yes, it was expensive! Also, DOG CAFE with [Wind_Goddess]. :D Also the same month I took stock of my Steam collection and um… >> Oh, and it was also the same month I started playing with lipstick!

August was a gaming month. And a realisation that my hair grows crazy fast till it reaches my shoulders before it stops. Also the same month I joined a #MYWriters gathering. That was fun. Though yes, hearing that there’s no market for Fantasy in Malaysia is kinda sad (by which it’s not really profitable for publishers to consider till said writer has gone overseas).

September was when the photos started to slow down. Less things were happening and I was deployed in another location for work. The haze was taking a toll on my health and my boss had left the company. But there was board games and Cards Against Humanity!

October was a #MyWriter anniversary! I met a lot of other writers, swapped notes and ended up talking about the literary scene in Malaysia. Also marks the first time I went to Publika this year. This was also the month the Bear and I unofficially made The Augmented in SS2 our favourite cafe. And when I did Inktober, which was very interesting!

November aka Nanowrimo was kind of the worst this time around. While the story came, my time was not. I had taken on too many responsibilities and everything I did was suffering. I finally allowed myself to take some time out to reflect at the end of the month and came to a decision.

December well… it’s this month. So far it had a crazy start, a mad middle, and now it’s winding down to a soft end. First road trip with the Trolls, first time selling books at Comic Fiesta, and first time I’ve not worked on the last day of the year.

Achievements unlocked:

  • Roadtrip with the trolls!
  • Submitting unsolicited stories
  • Submitting a novel!
  • Almost succeeding with a weekly post for this blog
  • Reached Seller Level 1 on Fiverr!
  • Started a new serial on my blog

Have a great New Year’s, everyone! May the coming year be kinder and stronger for us all.

Grab some Pulp Toast this Comic Fiesta!

Excerpt from A Day in the Life of Charlotte Tang
Excerpt from A Day In The Life of Charlotte Tang

Would you dare to live your life on the whims of a dice?

What if the decisions we’ve made, the fights we’ve been in, were merely playthings of Gods?

What if the dice didn’t like the fact you were lucky?

What if you had to choose between biological warfare and a painful extraction?

What. If.

Pulp Toast/Roti Bakar Issue #1 explores all these and more. Themed A Roll of the Dice, take a chance and pick up a copy to read what happens in this thrilling anthology. We’ve got tales to make you laugh, tales to make you grin, and tales to make you facepalm. Regency Romance? Check. Slice of Life? Check. Murder? Check.

Earlier this year, Prose-ACK! brought you Chap Fan, a Poetry chapbook to whet your appetite. Come and join us at Booth G40 (TEAMworks!!!) this Comic Fiesta, happening from 19 – 20 December, 2015, for a dish of Pulp Toast/Roti Bakar! Each copy is RM19. ;)