243. A Song For The Rain

(let it be known that when I go to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron in cinemas next year, I’m there primarily for the lovely Elizabeth Olsen. I’d say that it should be criminal to look that adorable, but then I’ll suffer from a serious lack of eye candy)

(on the subject of pretty girls, does anyone know what Lily Collins has been up to lately?)

Today has been one of them 500-word days.

I used to tell people that there are days when you get into the flow, and you find yourself writing 10,000 words before realizing that you’ll pass out if you don’t get food soon, and there are days when you write 5 words, delete all of them, and resign to playing video games for the rest of the day.

Well.

I’ve found out, over the past 3 months, that even when faced with a severe lack of things to write about, you can still somehow squeeze 2,000 words out of you. Talk about the scenery. Talk about your characters’ fantasies. Talk about things completely unrelated to the story. It’s entirely possible.

But there are also the days when you get so distracted, all you manage is 500 words. Today has been one of them days.

I’ve tried every trick in the book: I’ve switched POVs, I’ve made characters talk about completely unrelated things, I’ve shared their thoughts… And all it amounts to are the 500 words that I have. The story refuses to work any further.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a whip to it.

On the bright side, I think I’ve managed to find a title that I’m happy with for the Cameron Highlands story, and it’s A Song For The Rain.

I know I can’t get any cheesier than that, but that’s what I’m sticking with until I get hit by a bolt of genius. Besides, I like how wistful and mysterious it sounds.

(I actually came up with 3 separate title ideas for the story, which I ended up using to name the 3 sections of the story, leaving me with nothing to name the story as a whole with. The 3 titles? “A Voice In The Wind”, “A Dream of Ashes”, and “The Fire’s Shadow”. If it sounds like a A Song Of Ice And Fire ripoff, it is)

In other news, I have decided to take the whole of Tuesday off to fully relish the feeling of being in between jobs, because I will need the time to, you know, recuperate, and, um, stuff. Stuff that involves Batman, guns, and a BioShock Infinite DLC.

I honestly cannot wait.

Advertisements

242. At The End Of The Day

You’re another day older!

(Les Misérables soundtrack play in the background)

So tomorrow’s my last day at work.

That’s life for you, isn’t it? The more you dread something, the more something’s a grind, the longer you have to stick around. The moment I changed my mind about the job where there is no work to be done, then comes the time for me to go and move on with life. It’s almost like one of them stories – the protagonist never gets to rest.

It is, in fact, an advice given to writers who are just starting out: if your protagonist is comfortable, you’re not doing your job right. Being the protagonist of my own story, it’s probably fitting that all these things come together at this time too.

So yes, tomorrow is my last day at work. Tomorrow is the end of the 3 months, and after tomorrow, a new adventure begins. A new adventure which, I suspect, will involve playing a lot of video games and being broke a lot.

I can’t say that I’ve been happy for the job that I had, because the job itself has taught me nothing at all. And that’s the honest truth. What I’m thankful for is the time that I’ve had over the last 3 months, time that I have spent reflecting and doing some serious thinking about who and what I want to be, about what I’m looking for in this life. Can’t say that I’ve found it, but I have at least got my bearings.

Now there’s just the matter of making money.

Before I go on: I feel that it’s important, at this point, to say that none of my coworkers (in my department, at least) knows that I’m leaving the company. On Friday, one of them was still cheerily giving me tips on how to get clean water from the office pantry, because apparently, the water that comes out from the tap is filthy.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her than I’ve been making tea almost everyday out of that tap water, and I thought that it was delicious.

Maybe I won’t tell them at all. Maybe I’ll just pack up my things and leave, and leave them to speculate whatever happened to the intern who had nothing to do. Maybe I’ll become the stuff that legends are made of.

(“And then he mysteriously disappeared, and no one has heard from him since…”)

My mom, ever the voice of conscience, insisted that I buy something nice for them, as a token for thanks, or at least a token of good-riddance before I leave. Maybe I’ll do both – buy them something nice, then disappear without a trace.

In my resignation letter to the company director, I said that I will be leaving the company to pursue further career paths, or something along those lines. I wonder if living like a hobo can be considered a legitimate career path.

Wherever I find myself though, you can at least bet that I will still be writing.

Godspeed.

241. When Life Gives You Lemons

With SPM out of the way and his results out, my younger brother has decided that, like me, and unlike my two sisters, he’d like to skip the whole hassle that is Form 6 and head straight into college. My parents’ only condition for him (for now – their condition changes from time to time without warning) is that he gets a scholarship.

So, as I’m writing this, he’s writing a 200-400 word story based on the saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

You’d think that he would ask me for my sagely advice. I am, after all, Joseph Ng, eminent and penniless writer. But no, he shot down all of the ideas I gave him. With nowhere else to go and with no one else to entertain with my capacity for bullshitting, here is the story that I would have written:

They stood on the sidewalk at the intersection, and they couldn’t have looked more different.

One was a girl with golden hair spilling down to her waist, dressed in a white dress with a pink ribbon around the middle. She held a lemon in each hand. The other was a skeleton wrapped in black moth-eaten tatters that might have once been a cloak. Rested upon his shoulder was a scythe.

They stood side by side, watching the world around them.

That one over there. The skeleton said with a voice that sounded like wind through concrete. He looks like he could do with some lemons.

“Really?”

Trust me.

The girl strode up to the man in the business suit. He looked busy, with one hand pressing a cell phone against his ear, and the other clutching onto a brown briefcase. He must have been in a hurry too, looking at how he took long, fast strides towards the intersection.

“Excuse me, mister.”

He stopped, and for the first time, saw the girl standing in front of him. She smiled like the light of the sun.

“May I interest you in some lemons?” she held up the fruits in her hands, offering it to him. “They’re completely free,” she said.

He stared at her, at first unsure of what to do. He then sidestepped her and continued walking, past her and past the skeleton. The skeleton might have grinned, except it’s difficult to tell sometimes, because skeletons look like they’re always grinning. If it was possible, the skeleton grinned a little more than usual.

The traffic light turned orange, then red, and the pedestrian light turned green. The man in the business suit saw this and made his way across. What he didn’t see was the truck barreling down the road without slowing down. With his focus on his conversation on the phone, what he didn’t hear was the squealing of the truck’s brakes.

It wasn’t enough. It might have been enough if he had stopped to accept the lemons from the girl.

The truck hit him.

Oh dear. The skeleton said. It counted 23 fractures upon impact. Both lungs collapsed. Guts pulverized. Heart and brain, unfortunately, still functional.

Behind the skeleton, the girl stood with her hands covering her mouth, her eyes wide. The two lemons bounced and rolled at her feet. One of them burst, and a clear but slightly yellowish liquid came seeping out onto the concrete.

The skeleton stood over the man. The man looked up and perceived it for the first time with darkening eyes. There was a blubbering sound as he choked up blood when he tried to speak.

When life gives you lemons, it doesn’t matter what you use them for. The skeleton mused. Just bloody take them, will you?

The skeleton then lifted his scythe.

240. The Wandering Witch

There were a few things about Timmy that no one understood, not even his closest friends or his parents. And if you asked him, he couldn’t have explained any of those things any better than anyone else either.

For instance, he insisted that the jelly go on his bread before the peanut butter, even if the slices were switched. It just felt wrong to have it the other way; and the one time his mother forgot and made it the other way around, there was no way Timmy could have know that she had put the peanut butter on before the jelly – but the moment he sank his teeth into the sandwich, he let out a shriek so horrifying that his mother never forgot again.

And then there was also the fact that he couldn’t sleep unless every door in the house was closed. Windows left open were fine, but as long as a door remained open, or even if it was not quite closed properly, he couldn’t bring himself to sleep.

“What if you just ignored it?” was one of the many unhelpful things his father tried suggesting. “You know, pretend that it’s closed.”

“But it’s not,” was Timmy’s reply. He never understood how grown-ups could pretend so well. He supposed that given enough willpower, some grown-ups could pretend that gravity didn’t exist, and walk right up into the clouds.

But maybe that was how witches flew, he thought. They pretended that they didn’t have to walk, and they pretended that broomsticks could fly.

Then came the time when he suddenly got the urge to climb up onto the roof of the family barn with a piece of chalk. He tried to ignore it, as his father said, but the urge, not one to be brushed aside, came mewling back to him like a cat. Except it didn’t actually mewl, because urges can’t mewl; but it had about the same effect. As the days passed, Timmy found it harder and harder to ignore the urge.

And so one day, he took a piece of chalk, and somehow found his way up onto the roof.

Okay. Now what?

Now draw a spoon, a pointy hat, and a schoolmistressy tick, the urge said. Oh, and while you’re at it, draw a cute little kitty. I love cute little kitties.

Timmy drew, on the family barn’s room, a spoon, a pointy hat, and though he had no idea what a schoolmistressy tick was, he must have somehow got it right, because the urge didn’t bother him.

The cute little kitty. Don’t forget the cute little kitty.

Okay. Timmy drew, to the best of his abilities, a kitten beside the spoon, the pointy hat, and the somewhat schoolmistressy tick. With that, the urge left him alone. He climbed off the barn roof and carried on with his life with no further strange disturbances.

That is, if you don’t count witches-in-training crashing through the roof of your room as a strange disturbance.

“Yow!’ Timmy hollered when she burst through his ceiling, showering him in splinters and dust. The witch got up, her face contorted violently, and then she let out a sneeze so strong that she fell over backwards.

She must have been a witch, and Timmy knew this because she wore a black pointy hat, and in her hand she held an old, crooked broom. Her face was surprisingly clear of warts, though she had freckles like constellations over the bridge of her nose; and instead of a big beak-shaped nose, this witch hat a small, upturned nose. She was a young witch then, and considering that she crashed through the roof of his room instead of flying across the moon while cackling, she wasn’t a very good one either.

“Well, excuse you,” she said, sniffling. “But I have been to dungeons that had less dust lying around!”

There were many questions that Timmy could have asked. Including, but not limited to, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Where do babies come from?” or “What is the secret to immortal youth?” Generally questions that grown-ups had no answer to; and by law, the witch would have been required to answer the first question from a child with all truthfulness. Instead of any of these, however, Timmy asked: “Why are you here?”

The witch’s eyebrows went up, and she assumed a testy look. “I don’t know,” she said, dusting her customary black cloak, “Why are you here?”

“Well, I live here. This is where I sleep.”

“And there you have it,” she said. “This shall also be where I sleep.”

“No, it’s not,” Timmy said.

She looked genuinely surprised at this. “What do you mean, it’s not?” she asked, in the way that told him she wasn’t really asking, but really telling him that what he just said was incredibly silly. “You drew the FTW sign over the roof.”

“What’s FTW?”

“Friendly To Witches. The spoon, the pointy hat, and the schoolmistressy tick. The cute little kitty was a nice touch, I must say.”

Timmy had no idea what any of this meant. So he said: “I drew that on the barn roof,” and pointed out his window.

The witch followed his pointing finger and saw the pictures drawn in chalk. An embarrassed look crossed her face, but she wiped it away and replaced it with an air of superiority, which she achieved by puffing up her chest and raising her chin at him.

“I meant to miss it,” she said. “Now, I require you to bring me a glass of milk!”

“Why?”

Again she gave him a look of incredulity. “Because I said so,” she said, summoning all the authority she had (which wasn’t a lot) into her voice, “And I’m a witch! So do as I say!”

“What happens if I don’t?”

“You… You get turned into a… A toad!”

“Cool!” Timmy exclaimed. “Can you show me how to turn into a toad?” He knew at least thirty girls at school who would be very grossed out if he did, and he couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces.

A frown formed on the witch’s face. “Um. No!” she said. “Bring me my milk, and we shall talk about it! I shan’t say another word until I have my milk!”

“But what if we don’t have milk? Would you like orange juice instead?”

Those who have played charades would empathize with the witch, who could not say a word, but had to tell Timmy that either one would do. So she shrugged, and mentally hit herself on the head. Witches aren’t supposed to shrug.

As Timmy went past his parents’ room to get the milk/orange juice from the kitchen, his father’s sleepy voice came trailing out: “Timmy? What was that ruckus about?”

“A witch crashed through the roof and landed in my room,” he told his father. “She’s going to show me how to turn into a toad, but she’s not going to do it unless I give her milk or orange juice, so I’m getting it for her from the kitchen.”

It was the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth. Timmy’s father sighed heavily, and must have went back to sleep, because then the snoring resumed. Timmy poured a glass of cold milk and brought it for the witch, who finished it in one long gulp.

“So you can do magic?” Timmy asked when he felt it was appropriate to ask.

“Not magic,” the witch said. “I practice witchcraft. Magic is a gimmicky form, reserved for amateurs and party performers.”

“So how do you turn into a toad?”

“You don’t. You don’t get to turn into anything.”

This struck Timmy as deeply disappointing. “But you said you’d turn me into a toad,” he whined.

“Even if I could,” she said, “I wouldn’t do it on you. It’s simply far too much effort, and oh, how I need my sleep!”

With that, the witch climbed into Timmy’s bed, set her pointy hat on the floor beside it, and fell into a deep sleep. A trail of drool escaped her mouth and ended up on his pillow.

Timmy laid down on the ground with his hands tucked behind his head and looked up at the hole that the witch made on her way in. It was big enough for a door, but it didn’t end on the floor. So was it a window, or a door?

The more he thought about this, the more frustrated he got, and so he brushed it off as a hole in the ceiling. And that was when he realized he could neither sleep with a hole in the ceiling.

So Timmy laid on the floor, staring up into the starry night sky, unable to sleep for the rest of the night.

239. Boiled Leaf Juice

(before I begin, I’d like to tell everyone that I have started playing Batman: Arkham Origins, and yesterday, heard the amazing Troy Baker’s voice channeling The Joker. If Mr. Baker isn’t the greatest voice actor alive, I don’t know who is)

There was a conversation from the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, between the disgraced general Iroh and his angsty, exiled nephew Prince Zuko. They were masquerading as travelers, and somehow found themselves in a tea shop. Iroh, disgusted by the quality of tea served there, called the shopowners out, calling their tea “nothing but boiled leaf juice”.

Zuko said, “But uncle, aren’t all tea just boiled leaf juice?”

I thought, when I was watching the series some years ago, that I agreed with Zuko. I mean come on, tea is tea, right? But then again, I was drinking exclusively milk tea at that time, so you can’t blame me.

This morning, there was no hot water in the kettle, but there was in the water heater. I thought, eh, no need to be so pedantic about tea, right? Boiled leaf juice is boiled leaf juice, and the Brits are just being silly about getting the temperature just right for their tea.

(I keep typing “heather” instead of “heater”, and I in fact knew a girl from secondary school named Heather, though I have not had a single conversation with her. Anyone cares to psychoanalyze me?)

I brewed my morning tea, let it sit to cool a little, and took a little sip. At first, I thought that my taste buds were a little off, so I took another sip, paying close attention to the flavor this time. I took a third sip, and now a frown was forming on my face.

It tasted all wrong. The tea was flat. Instead of being like, say, biting into a freshly-washed apple that still has water droplets on its skin, it was like eating an apple underwater – I was taking in too much water. It was like the tea was just beneath the taste of the water.

I had, in short, made myself a flask full of boiled leaf juice.

This would not do at all. I considered throwing the whole flask away and brewing up a fresh batch – with properly-boiled water this time – but deciding that wasting bad tea is still wasting tea, I decided to finish the rest of the tasteless thing. By the time I was done, it was an hour to lunchtime, and I didn’t want to drink another half-liter of fluids before lunchtime.

And so right after lunch hour, which consisted of 5 minutes of pancakes and 55 minutes of Mr. Pratchett’s Wintersmith, I got back into the office, set the kettle to boil, read a short story from the KL Noir: White anthology, and when the water boiled, I poured it out onto the a fresh teabag, assaulting the tea leaves with boiling hot water.

And now I have glorious, properly-made tea with me.

All is right again with the world.

238. Simile, And The World Similes With You

I’d like to ask Ms. Perry and Ms. Sicola concerning the song titled Dark Horse: What in the world is a “perfect storm”? And how is any part of the protagonist’s coming on to her subject “like a dark horse”?

(someone should also tell Mr. Harris that force fields do not work the way he thinks they work)

It troubles me when people misuse similes. Well, yes, people also misuse metaphors, but the latter is usually more subtle, and by extension, less noticeable.

Look, is it so difficult to come up with a clever comparison? I mean, people do it all the time, and they often do it well:

“I like my women how I like my coffee: strong and black.”

“Being a lady is like being in charge: if you need to tell people you are, you’re not.”

“I like my writers how I like my villains: charming, intelligent, and would-kill-you-for-sneezing insane.”

Okay, so that last one was mine. Give me a break.

But don’t you see? It’s pretty easy to do clever similes. And using similes is like painting: if you’re trying too hard, you’re not doing it right.

(see what I did there?)

My love for similes is an integral part of my love for hardboiled fiction. I mean, just look at this gem from Mr. Higgins:

“It was darker than a carload of assholes.”

My favorite, incidentally the winner of the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Prize for crime, is by Ms. Fondrie, and it goes like this:

“She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her.”

Poetry. Right there. Beauty in words. Horrific, but better than the pointless simile that is “I’m coming for you like a dark horse”, which means next to nothing.

If writing is like cooking or baking, all the same rules apply: if you intend to sell it, make sure it’s at least good. There are no rules on how you should roast chicken, and if you like your chicken burnt to a crisp – hey, it’s your party – go right ahead. But if you’re going to send it out to the public, please at least know what a proper roast chicken should look like.

In the same way, please don’t hurt my soul with bad similes anymore. It’s a fragile one, and it’s the only one I have, even if I don’t use it often.

(this reminds me of a line from a Coen brothers’ film. Tommy, replying to a remark of incredulity that he sold his immortal soul to the devil in exchange for wicked guitar skills: “Well, I wasn’t using it for nothing…”)

But apart from that, by all means simile. The world similes with you. I just hope that most of them do it in private.

237. 3 Things That Grown-Ups Do

The thing about growing up is no one is really sure what it should be like.

When I was younger, I thought that growing up was just something that happened to you. Somewhere along the lines, you learn how to be disciplined, you learn how to be happy while sharing your things, you learn how to be sociable, and you learn how to be productive and good.

Then there are the people who would say things like, “Growing up is when you learn to put someone else’s needs before yours” or “Growing up is when you learn how to take your responsibilities seriously”. The trouble with these things is that there are kids half or even a quarter of my age who can do these things better than I. I mean, I’m turning 23 this year, and I still have to be told to eat my greens, and I still willfully ignore my alarm clock and work deadlines.

I’m just this kid trapped in a young adult’s body.

Some time after I turned 20, I figured that if I’m the weird one who’s not naturally growing up, perhaps I could take some cues from the people around me who were. Here is what I have discovered grown-ups do:

1. They are politically correct, even if they’re lying

The public’s opinion is, by default, the correct opinion, and it’s this opinion that grown-ups repeat to one another, even if they disagree. As a result, the majority of grown-ups fuse together to become this collective consciousness of grown-up thoughts, such as:

“If someone bullies you, it’s because they’re hurting in the inside, and they want someone to hurt along with them.”

“You cannot call Jimmy stupid, even if he is being stupid. How would you like it if someone called you stupid?”

“Everyone is beautiful on the inside.”

“Everything is the government’s fault.”

More on the government thing later.

You know how it goes. Sometimes the lies aren’t verbal. Sometimes they’re embedded in their attitudes. When a grown-up sees someone they don’t like, they don’t turn around and walk the other direction really quickly. They smile, have a polite conversation, and make their leave. Gossiping about said person later is optional, but is points added for grown-up-ness.

The important thing is to maintain a politically correct stance.

2. They tell incredibly bad jokes

I’m not talking about plain, garden variety bad jokes. I’m talking about jokes so bad you actually need to force yourself to laugh, because it’s in accordance with being politically correct – you must laugh at jokes, even if they’re not funny.

Grown-ups don’t get wit. They need clues on whether you’re telling a joke or not, so dry humor is completely out of the question. So the idea is to tell the baldest, most awful joke you can think of.

Scenario: family reunion, upon hearing that a nephew/niece/young cousin got into sports

Sample response: “Make sure you hit the right ball and not the wrong one!” (uproarious laughter)

The uproarious later is the key. Remember, people need clues. Your laughter will indicate the punchline, and every other grown-up at the table will laugh with you.

If you’re on the receiving end, remember the rule about being politically correct. The proper response upon hearing a joke is, again, to laugh uproariously – no muffled chuckles, no giggles – you need a good, heart laugh, and bonus points if you hold your stomach while laughing.

3. They complain about the government

This is a hard-and-fast rule: if you support the government, you’re either not a grown-up, or you have shit for brains. Whenever the subject of the government comes up, the correct response is to sigh heavily, shake your head, and begin chewing out the government on their latest controversy, or failing that, their latest episode of inefficiency.

Whether it’s their failure to address the issue of the haze, or their inability to find a plane, or their complete failure at maintaining a constant flow of water to your houses – there’s always something to complain about, and no adult is proper grown-up until they can complain about the government.

Cuss words are optional, but again, they are bonus points for added grown-up-ness.

And there you have it. As for me, I’ll be busy playing the new Batman game until this grown-up thing grows on me. I think I already tell incredibly bad jokes pretty well.

Have fun being a grown-up!