95. Flatline

Hey. Hey. You wanna know something?

This blog hasn’t had a single hit in 48 hours. It has been a long, tiring, tedious journey – but it has finally paid off. I have scared everyone off this site. Not even the NSA is interested in this blog now, despite it being open to the public. You know what they say – when you need to hide a tree, you hide it in the forest.

Now that this space is hidden in plain sight, it’s time to launch the secret diabolical mission.

(evil cackle)

Really now. I started this space as a 365-day writing exercise, and a 365-day writing exercise it shall be. I constantly remind myself that the purpose of the exercise is to put words on screen – no matter how tired, how zoned out, how busy I find myself – to get just that little bit better at this insane craft of creating something out of nothing every day.

Though I must admit that it is a little disheartening to see that no one’s really interested. It takes a little bit of my soul away each time I put actual effort into cobbling words together and find out that no one has seen it. You see, I’m the kind of worst kind of writer there is – the one that craves for attention and affection. I need to parade my work before an audience and have them adore my words so that I can get for my gratification.

(I sometimes pity my friends whom I force my stories upon; but alas, at the end of the day, selfish ambition triumphs over all)

Well, I can’t blame anyone either – it’s not like I’m saying anything particularly important, or imparting useful advice of any sort. Maybe I should transform this page to something like cracked.com, complete with catchy, attention-grabbing titles (“4 Ways Thor: The Dark World Totally Ripped Off Older Movies”, “3 Simple Things You’ve Been Doing Wrong Your Whole Life”) and an absolutely asinine style of writing.

(would you check out that alliteration!)

But I will not.

(a writing exercise it is, a writing exercise it shall be)

While the rain clouds were clearing earlier this afternoon, I was staring out of an open window, experiencing an early-life crisis of sorts. Can I really write and be happy just doing that? Do I want to write for a living? It seems like hardly the practical thing to do, given the job market.

It’s a real struggle.

I have come here to write. I have come here to hone my skills. I have come here to perfect my craft. I have come here to train my voice. I’m not trying to be the most popular guy out there (though it would be rather nice), and I’m definitely not trying to be any of the successful writers who have come before me.

I want to be true to myself – to speak with the voice that is uniquely mine – and have a little recognition to my name for it.

Is it too much to ask?

94. 15 Best Behaviors On The Job

This blog is growing to close to 100 posts now. With NaNoWriMo November beginning this Friday, all I have are today’s and tomorrow’s post to say something vaguely important before the next 30 posts or so are committed to words of fiction. I figured there has been enough posts about myself, so here’s one just for you – the readers of this blog.

While I am reading Mr. Hoxter’s book on screenwriting, I have also been reading a title by a certain Alex Epstein on TV writing. In his book, he shares about what makes good television, and also what makes a good TV writer – tips that extend beyond the craft of writing, but also best attitudes to bring to the job as a writer.

Wherever you find yourself in life, you can never have too much good advice. If you’re like me – drawing near to the end of university life, closing in on the edge of the real world – here are some excellent habits to have when you get to that shiny new job.

Whether you are a writer or not, I believe Mr. Epstein gives good advice on doing your job well. So straight from me to you, with a little help from Mr. Epstein (who quotes Melinda Hsu), here are 14 things you can do to make a good impression at your job:

  1. Always get along
  2. Do more than your share
  3. Give people credit for the idea they had
  4. Thank people for their help
  5. Stay in the office until people who outrank you leave for the day
  6. Be at your desk even if nothing in particular is going on
  7. Don’t talk behind people’s backs
  8. Don’t be demanding
  9. Don’t be crazy
  10. Don’t be arrogant
  11. Don’t be disorganized
  12. Don’t be slow
  13. Don’t be difficult to work with
  14. Don’t miss deadlines, no matter how understanding your peers and bosses seem to be

I can’t say that I’m doing even half of this list right.

I’m cheating today with another short post and some content that’s not mine, and there are no explanations for that, except that I’ve just come out of a Breaking Bad marathon and must wake up in less than 6 hours’ time. For the benefit of the readers who cannot sleep well unless they obsessively read every word of a post/article, I’ll just end this post here with the 15th advice, directly from me this time:

15. Produce quality beyond what you’re paid to deliver

With that, I bid you all to success.

93. Paranoia

I often get this dreadful, crippling fear that everyone around me secretly hates me.

I know, I know. It’s probably not true. Reason tells me that I’m not THAT despicable a human being that no one would want to put themselves near me; but as with many things that we may come to feel in this life, the fact that it isn’t logical doesn’t stop me from feeling like it’s real.

I’m not actually sure if it’s a seasonal thing, like the emergence of my introverted tendencies or my sleeping habits, but I have experienced this many times before. The feeling that everyone is just putting up with me because they have no other choice. The feeling that they only talk to me because it’s socially unacceptable not to.

The worst part is that I cannot actually ask them, because no matter what they answer, I already have a biased perspective.

So I wait it out, let the feeling pass. Busy myself with other things. Wait until it’s over. Soon enough, things go back to normal – the smiles, the pats on the back, the polite conversations, the shared laughter; but the paranoia lurks at the back of my mind, a sleeping demon just waiting for its chance to break loose.

I don’t know how do other people do it – how they seem to be perky and happy all the time, ready to hop into conversations and generally share life with others. I don’t know; for all I know, they could be just like me. Maybe everyone has their own little bouts of paranoia about the people whom they surround themselves with, just that the lot of them handles it much better than I do. Instead of sitting alone in the living room reading into the littlest of gestures, they busy themselves with becoming that loveable person that people would want to hang around.

Man, I wish I was at least that much more useful.

But that’s just me. I’m the guy who reads into the unimportant things a little too much, and into the important things a little too little. A business guru would probably call my behavior as “majoring in the minor and minoring in the major”, or whatever it is that they say these days.

There are times when someone can be consciously avoiding me for weeks, and I never notice a single thing. There are times when someone doesn’t put a smiley face or an exclamation mark in their reply text to me, and I wonder if their lives are better off without me in it. It’s weird, I know. Completely illogical, almost completely baseless assumptions, and there’s probably someone who would suggest that I go see a therapist about this.

Well.

The feeling will pass. I’ll just bury it under a few more episodes of Breaking Bad. There’s music practice for The Takeover tonight, so that will keep me busy too. Busy enough to distract myself. Busy enough that my mind won’t wander off to places where it shouldn’t go. I’ll soon be back with my routine – this weekend, I’ll be heading down to Johor for a family reunion, and I’ll have to reimburse my uncle for the costs of printing and delivering the manuscript for Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through Time. This Friday, NaNoWriMo November begins, and I’ll have to begin doing some real hardcore writing. Next weekend, The Flowering Tree opens in the Petaling Jaya Live Arts Center, and I’ll be there to see the cast and crew in action. I’ll forget. I’ll move on.

And the demon stirs a little at the back of my mind.

92. Breaking Bad (and HSQ)

Ladies and gentlemen, today I will introduce to you the term called HSQ.

(for the kids: avert your eyes, close this window, and go stalk your crush on facebook or something)

HSQ is essential. It’s like the protein of entertainment – even the blandest of them (the vegan ones, if I may) need a little bit of HSQ to get it going. HSQ is what keeps your show breathing; it’s what keeps people hooked to what you’re trying to tell them. At the heart of every work of art should be some degree of HSQ.

What is HSQ? I shall borrow the eloquent words of TvTropes for this:

Divide the number of times you said “Holy Shit!” by the number of scenes. This is the Holy Shit Quotient (or HSQ) for a given episode.

I’ve just begun watching Breaking Bad, and given that the standard hour-long TV drama episode has about 40 scenes, Breaking Bad has a HSQ rating of 0.1 per episode, and this number is escalating fast as the series progresses into the second season.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like it. Most TV series I’ve had the delight of following usually have a certain cycle to the way they are run: they start off with an amazingly good first season, and the quality usually peaks in the second season before plateauing in the third – by the fourth, the show would have changed so much from what I knew it to be, and it’s usually here that I stop watching it altogether.

With Breaking Bad, however – I’m nearing the end of the second season now, and the story sounds like it’s just getting started.

I’ve begun watching the show for a number of reasons:

ONE: After a simple look-up on wikipedia, I found that the series is the highest-rated TV series in the history of TV, with a metacritic score of 99% and a record of 10.3 million viewers upon the finale of the series.

TWO: My attention was drawn to the fact that the third-to-last episode, titled Ozymandias (which is already awesome in its own right), has a perfect 10-score in IMDB. I’ve never heard of anything that scored a perfect 10 – and there it is.

THREE: Sir Anthony Hopkins’ letter to Bryan Cranston, and the cast and crew of the series. In the letter, he called the series “the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen” and “best acting I’ve ever seen” – and all of this is coming from Mr. Academy Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins!

There was something big going on here, and I wanted to watch the series before people begin publicly spoiling important plot points. Hell, just knowing that the series went on for 6 seasons is a spoiler in itself, but I can live with that.

I planned to watch the series only when 2014 rolls around – after I have completed my university education, written 2 feature film scripts, and sent off 2 novel-length manuscripts for publication. This plan went down the drain as soon as I began watching the first episode. The number of times I’ve said “Holy Shit!” during the show is rival only to Inception and The Dark Knight – and that’s no real comparison, because they’re feature films, not TV episodes.

As I struggle against the temptation of watching yet another episode (because I have a 15-page report to write and submit by 11A.M. tomorrow), there is only one thing left to be said to the creator of the series, Mr. Gilligan:

Holy shit, Vince. You’ve outdone us all.

91. Short + Sweet KL 2013

It’s days like these that manages to both inspire and demotivate me as a writer.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching some of Malaysia’s most incredible talents in action earlier this evening at Short + Sweet Theater, the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center. Tonight was the last night of the festival, which meant that it was gala night – when the best of the best would come together and compete for the prizes.

Last year, Stephen and I had went over to KLPAC on Sunday evening itself, hoping to get tickets to the biggest little show in town – only to find that there was only 1 ticket remaining, and there was no convincing them to let us both in, no matter how much we were willing to pay.

(which, frankly, wasn’t a lot anyway)

This year, having learned my lesson – I went over to KLPAC with Nick yesterday afternoon and got the tickets for us, and it turns out that we managed to get the last 3 tickets that were available for sale.

(if there exists a linear correlation between the time the tickets take to sell out and the number of years Short + Sweet has been in Malaysia, there will soon come a time that the festival will be fully sold out upon the moment it is announced. I should make a graph of this one day)

After missing the festival for the past 2 years, I was really, honestly surprised to see the quality of talents that were being displayed. The night was simply full of incredible writing and acting (except for that one about The Oscars), and I really cannot think of any better way to spend my Sunday night and my RM38. Where to begin?

The night started off with Hang In There – about a suicidal man whose attempts to take his own life are stopped by the devil, who is of the opinion that hell cannot afford to contain useless souls like his. There was some really solid writing going on, and though the actor playing the suicidal man didn’t carry the opening as well as he could have, everything ramped up a notch with the appearance of the devil, who was simply a delight to see in action.

Soon after came Almighty Might, about a man who stands before the gates of the parliament building, waiting for a revolution to start. The entire play and its myriad of characters were played out in full by 3 actors, who switched in and out of character rapidly as the story unfolded – again, amazing acting skills were displayed, and true ingenuity in the form of storytelling for the stage.

Somewhere past the halfway mark, there came a play titled Aku Bukan Teroris, a play about a man who was detained for his beliefs, and one that surprised me at first due to the fact that it was performed entirely in Bahasa Malaysia, and I had to switch gears mentally in order to go along with the plot. As a person who has kept the language away upon completing secondary school, I cannot comment upon the writing – but the actor who pulled off the literal one-man show had some phenomenal acting skills going on, taking us from comedic panic to raw desperation in a matter of seconds.

Following the explosive end of Aku Bukan Teroris was my favorite play of the night, titled Apple Mint Jelly On Toast – a play which is as simple, nostalgic, and sweet as it sounds. Performed mostly in Hokkien, but with translated subtitles helpfully available for the audience projected against the screen, it won me over by how genuine it came across, and by how well the elements of comedy, drama, symbolism, and entertainment were balanced. A line that sounded suspiciously like a line from Alan Moore’s Watchmen aside, it was incredibly well-written, well-performed, and well-designed.

It’s days like these that manages to both inspire me and demotivate me as a writer – to see the wonderful talents that are right at my doorstep, and to see the number of people who are so far ahead of me in the perfection of their craft. While I’m sitting here still trying to wrap my head around structure, these people have gone ahead to create stories that move people’s hearts and touch people’s spirits; and God knows that those are the stories that truly matter.

I now head to bed with a head heavy with fatigue, and a heart heavy with regret for the times I did not spend working at my skills – but when I wake, it will be another day of writing that I wake up to. Short + Sweet 2013 has indeed been quite the experience, and I hope to see myself among these giants for Short + Sweet 2014.

90. FML (Frightful Memory Loss)

(short post today, because one, I’m posting this from my phone; two, I’m posting this while waiting at the hospital; and three, I wrote over a thousand words yesterday. Give me a break!)

This morning turned out to be one of the strangest mornings I’ve had in a while.

Having slept at 4A.M. the night before, I was all zoned out when I was woken up for breakfast this morning at 9A.M. However, wake up I did – and off I went to breakfast with dad and mom. Came home, got my stuff, watched 7 minutes of Breaking Bad, and left for music practice in church, which was scheduled to start at 10.30A.M.

(by the way, Breaking Bad is an excellent series – incredible quality of production from the cast and crew, and the writing has some serious HSQ going on)

By the time practice started, it was already 11A.M., and being me, I began whining to a friend over whatsapp about this tardiness.

This is where everything becomes really weird.

Because after I sent that message over whatsapp, said friend immediately called me – and proceeded to completely freak out over the phone with something that sounds like it came right out of The Hangover movies:

“Dude, what is the date? I woke up in a sports t-shirt and shorts, I’m in a park somewhere, and I cannot remember how I got here.”

An ontological mystery. What followed were phones calls made to people around him to find out his location – and even after he was found, he had difficulty remembering anything that had happened over the past month or so.

He refused the offer to be taken to the hospital and opted to rest at home instead, and that’s when everything got even weirder.

Because when he woke up at about 4P.M., he could not remember anything that had happened this morning.

Which directly leads to where I am – seated on the floor out in the hospital’s waiting area while he gets his X-Ray and C.T. Scan done.

I am sleepy, hungry, and bored out of my mind; but by God, I MUST write a story based on this one day.

89. Altitude

2.15P.M.

The bullet wound in his thigh screamed as the muscles around it tightened.

WHAM! The blow connected with the masked man’s face. Through the woolen material of the ski mask, John felt something break under the force of his knuckles. The man in the mask screamed – probably in outrage; probably in pain; probably both – and his hands came up to clutch his face, leaving him wide open.

John’s foot came up hard and fast in a move that he would later call “The Nutcracker”.

2.11P.M.

“THIS PLANE IS BEING HIJACKED! EVERYONE, PUT YOUR HANDS OVER YOUR HEAD!”

John was halfway through his orange juice when it happened. There was a little scream from the back of the plane – and it was ruthlessly cut off when something hit the air stewardess in the face, hard. There was an unmistakeable sound of a weapon being armed; and while a wave of quiet panic erupted around him, all John could wonder was:

How in hell did anyone get weapons on the plane?

2.16P.M.

BLAM! BLAM!

The gunshots went off, and as he dropped to his knees, John very quickly realized two things: one, that these hijackers were not very good with guns; and two, that he probably needed some sort of weapon of his own.

His eyes dropped to the hijacker on the ground, reeling from pain – but still very much alive and conscious. His fist came down – once, twice – raised for the third strike, but then the masked man on the floor stopped moving. John’s hand grabbed at the weapon that put the bullet in his thigh, and fumbled with it a little while under the cover of the seats.

Click.

All bets were off.

2.12P.M.

He put his hands up on his head, as the hijackers had instructed. All around him, he could almost feel the passengers of the plane breaking out into cold sweat.

“Listen,” the hijacker who seemed to be in charge announced, “We don’t want any trouble with any of you, alright? We just need to get over to San José, get off, and be done with this. Nobody moves, and nobody gets hurt. It’s as simple as that.”

John thought that it was a pretty good deal.

2.17P.M.

John leaped to his feet, giving the downed hijacker a good heel to the face for good measure, and had his newfound weapon held up straight, braced by his left hand. He whirled around as soon as he saw the masked figure clad in black just ten paces away from him, two rows of terrified passengers separating them.

BLAM! His first shot went wild – but caught the hijacker right in his shooting hand. There was a mist of blood, and the hijacker’s weapon dropped to the floor of the cabin with two of his fingers.

“GET DOWN!” John shouted, as something warm trickled down his leg – blood? Piss? It wasn’t the time to find out. The hijacker hesitated for a moment, and that was as long as he was going to wait. He closed an eye and lined his target between the iron sights-

“No, YOU get down,” came a voice to his left. His gun still trained on the injured hijacker, John glanced to his left – and groaned inwardly.

2.13P.M.

There came a flurry of activity from the front of the flight cabin, where the hijacker-in-charge was. John looked up and saw a lady with her arm wrapped around the hijacker’s neck in a headlock, the masked man struggling uselessly against her. Immediately to his left, the second hijacker lost his concentration and turned to watch the commotion.

Shit, seriously? He sighed.

The average human reacted within a quarter of a second. A quarter of a second was plenty to act with, but he had to decide quickly if he wanted to act or not.

Ah, hell. Why not?

John pounced out of his seat and onto the masked man closest to him.

2.18P.M.

The hijacker-in-charge now had the lady in a chokehold, his weapon pressed against her skull.

“I’m not gonna ask you twice, buddy,” he said.

“Really?” John asked, ignoring the searing pain that was shooting up his thigh. “How about I shoot your partner over here, and then shoot you once you get that lady out of the way, huh?”

“I’M WARNING YOU!” the hijacker-in-charge screamed. “I’LL BLOW HER BRAINS OUT! NO ONE HAS TO DIE, MAN!”

BLAM!

The hijacker-in-charge flinched at the sound of the gunshot, and almost pulled his trigger – when he realized that the deadly weapon was now trained directly at him. Some twelve paces away, his partner fell, clutching on to his bleeding shoulders with his diminished right hand.

“I’m not gonna ask you twice, buddy,” John said. “No one has to die.”

2.14P.M.

John knocked the first hijacker to his feet – or at least tried to; but the man proved to be stronger than he appeared, and shoved John painfully into the edge of a seat. The hijacker’s gun came up in a flash, and his arm fumbled clumsily with the safety-

BLAM!

John howled in pain as the bullet tore into his thigh. His leg buckled under his weight – but if he allowed himself to fall right now, it would definitely be the end of him.

With whatever strength he had remaining in his good leg, John launched himself at the hijacker – arms raised, screaming.

2.19P.M.

The hijacker-in-charge continued to hold the weapon against the lady’s head – and John thought if he really had to blow the man’s brains out the back of his head in front of all these people.

Then the gun was pointed at him, the hand that held it trembling.

John almost shook his head. Bad mistake.

With the immediate threat gone, the lady in the hijacker’s chokehold bent low, hugged one of his leg – and went tumbling to her side, tripping him with her weight! The hijacker fell, arms flailing-

There was a scream as a passenger found the barrel of the hijacker’s gun in her face-

BLAM!

And it was all over.

4.44P.M.

“Come on, Jane – what the hell was that?”

“What the hell was what?”

“You jumped the gun, that’s what. What happened to waiting for my signal?”

“Your signal came a little slow. Call it a preemptive strike.”

“Preemptive strike? I call it acting without official permission.”

“Big deal, John. It worked out in the end, didn’t it?”

“Worked out in the end? How about you write that into the report, and you have fun explaining how it worked out in the end?”

“Get that giant stick out of your ass. You just have your little ego bruised because this lady had sense enough to act while you were busy with your orange juice.”

“Goddammit, Jane-”

“And you got a little bullet wound in your leg. Big deal.”

“This isn’t about whose in charge, or who got hurt!”

“Yes, yes. This is about me, and about how important it is to follow orders. Blah, blah, blah, bureaucratic bullshit.”

“You’re insufferable.”

“Chin up, darling. Look – here comes the next flight.”

“Wait for my order this time, alright? I can only take so many bullets before I bleed out.”

“Of course.”

“Why does that only make me more nervous?”

“Because you still have that giant stick up your ass.”

“You’re a crazy little lady.”

“That’s why you love me.”

“That I do.”

“I love you too, you little coward.”

“Well – here we go. Help me to my feet, will you? There we go.”

“Mm hmm. There we go.”