353. The Waiting Game

Almost a month since I sent off my 6 story submissions, 2 of them have been sent back to me, rejected. Again, my name will not be among the roster of writers for the Short+Sweet Festival (Kuala Lumpur) and the KL Noir series. I’m a little more broken up over the latter, knowing that this coming edition will be the last in the series.

But life goes on. 2 out of 6, 4 to go. 4 to go…

If I could push a button and know immediately if my submissions are going to be accepted or not, I would. Even at the risk of the collective heartbreak killing me (or sending me into a week-long depression). If anything, the waiting is more unbearable than the actual news. It’s like what the eminent Mr. Hitchcock said, concerning guns in movies:

There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.

And I wish all these editors will just pull the trigger and have it done with. I can then lapse into my week-long depression, then come out at the end of it to resume living my life. Instead of checking my inbox day after day, waiting for the news that might or might not come.

Luckily, there are a number of things holding my attention while I wait for the results: 3 more submissions due early to mid-August, work in general, and books to read. But that’s like trying to do your revision while the TV is on: it works for, like, 3 seconds, and then you’re anxiously watching the TV waiting to see what happens next.

(if I could, I would crown myself the king of analogies. Just earlier this evening, I likened a conversation crasher to an automobile accident at a cross junction. In retrospect, it was incredibly rude; but it was also incredibly entertaining)

I’m sure the editors are busy with their lives and other works that they have committed themselves to. They are, after all, human (I think), and are subject to all the necessities a human might need. They have other stories to write, lectures and workshops to conduct, interviews to attend, a family to spend time with, shows to watch…

If I were an editor, I think I’d just email all my contributors saying, “Thanks for your submission! Please consider your work rejected unless you’re informed otherwise. Happy carrying on with your lives!”

God knows it would save a lot of people a lot of suspense and subsequent agony.

But this is the way the world works. When you go out on a date and hit it off, you wait 3 days before calling your date again. When someone comes to you with a delicious project proposal, you tell them that you need a few days to think about it. When you interview someone looking for a job with your company, you thank them for their time and assure them that you will get back to them “soon”.

(just for the record: Jesus said that He is coming back “soon” too)

And editors, after receiving your stories, will take anywhere between 2 weeks and 6 months to get back to you.

God, I wish they would just get it over with. And quickly.


352. A Little Love For Your Coffee

Alice¬†draws a little heart shape in every cup she brews. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first thing in the morning, before the sun even rises; or in the dead of the night, as people amble by as they would watch TV: inattentive, detached, bored. In the center of every mug, atop a pool of golden-brown coffee, she draws a little heart shape in cream, frothy and light.

Everyone just needs a little love sometimes, she reasons.

She learned how to make it on her own, through a step-by-step tutorial she found on the internet, and then through trial and error. God knows there were many trials and errors.

She will always remember the day she made the perfect heart shape: a week and two days after she found the tutorial on the internet. On the surface of her morning coffee, she traces delicate lines with a toothpick, making a little groove from the top of the milk circle, then pulling the lower edge out so that it grew a tail. In the spur of the moment, Alice puts a little dot at the end of the heart, like a full stop. She admires her handiwork.

And then she takes a picture of it for Instagram.

One day a man walks into the shop. It is near closing time: the chairs are stacked upside-down on the tables and the floors are newly mopped. The lights are dimmed and a pop-rock track plays in the background. The last of the cups are being washed. The trash is being taken out. Then the man walks in, shoving the door aside violently. He sits in the corner, by the window, takes out a cigarette and begins to smoke.

No one quite knows what to do.

The man was big enough and looked don’t-mess-with-me enough that they leave him alone. Cleaning up tobacco ash was a 5-minute inconvenience. A black eye, or broken bones, would be an inconvenience lasting significantly longer than 5 minutes. But by 1am, the man is still there, and everyone is anxious to go home.

Alice knows just what to do. She goes into the back, whips up a fresh batch of coffee; and while it steams away on the countertop, she pours the milk in and draws a little heart shape on the surface. Nervously, she steps towards the man with the cup balanced on a ceramic saucer. She lays it down. The spoon makes a little tinkling sound against the ceramic as the saucer touches the table.

The man looks at the cup, and then up at Alice. He says, “You made this?”

“Yes sir,” she says. “It’s on the house.”

The man offers a smile that turns sour. “It’s shit,” he says, and flips the cup off the table. It shatters into a messy puddle of wasted coffee and ceramic shards. Without a word, he walks past her and out the store, into the night. Alice continues standing there, looking at the mess for a long time.

Her coworkers help her clean up, and despite her insistence that she is okay and has no need for anyone to worry for her, she cries inconsolably into the night, only finding the solace of sleep an hour before dawn breaks over the city. She wakes up that day two hours late for her first lecture and misses the second one because the bus would not wait for her.

At 5pm she goes into the shop. She offers a smile to anyone who asks her if she is okay. She stashes her bag in the back, changes into uniform, puts an apron on. When she emerges a minute later, there is a cup of coffee waiting to be delivered to a glum-faced fellow sitting alone near the magazines.

She picks up the milk jug and draws a little heart shape in the middle of the coffee. The fellow seems pleasantly surprised by it. She offers a smile for him, and he returns one.

Everyone just needs a little love sometimes.

351. Armchair Revolutionaries

I have a deep and lingering suspicion that most of us are only under the illusion that we’re actually making a difference in the world we’re living in.

You’ve heard of armchair psychologists. The people who, when told that someone is depressed, tells them, “Just think happy thoughts. Can’t be that difficult. You’re just not trying hard enough.” Parading as a member of the community when they clearly have no place there, having not participated in any of the works associated.

That’s pretty much how I feel about all the chest-pounding going on in my Facebook newsfeed.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phenomenon. Something controversial happens, and the denizens of the internet take to the message boards and Facebook feeds to provide the world with their golden opinion. Online protests are signed. Pages are created for people to “like”. Every once in a while, when people get angry enough, they take to the streets.

Myself, I’ve never been in a riot, and am glad. I hear that bad things happen to people involved in them. Protests, on the other hand, we’ve had a couple going on in Malaysia over the past couple of years: “Bersih”, to call for clean and fair election; and “Stop Lynas”, to, well, stop Lynas from being set up on Malaysian soil.

I wasn’t there for either one of them. But I found it astonishing how quickly everyone forgot it ever happened and just moved on with their lives. After the crowds were dispersed with tear gas and water cannons in “Bersih”, most of them went home for a shower and an early dinner. Some were taking group photos in McDonalds’. After petitioning outside the Lynas site, at evening, the protestors went home, and that was all. No closure.

If you ask me, no difference was made. For all the hype of “standing up for your country” and “doing the right thing”, nothing was done but the creation of a lot of energy and noise. It was like sports’ day, except without medals.

But everyone went home feeling all sorts of satisfied with themselves anyhow.

I’m not qualified to complain, of course, having not even been present at the protest itself, or having done anything substantial. And I’m not. It’s just a startling observation that perhaps… We’re more interested in feeling like we’ve made a difference than actually making a difference. We want to be a part of the revolution more than we want a revolution.

When the French got angry in the late 1700s, they stormed the castle and dragged their royals out into the streets. When he saw battle tanks rolling towards Tiananmen Square, “Tank Man” went and stood in front of the tanks until they had to physically remove him. When people got angry with the unequal distribution of wealth in our capitalist economies, they… camped outside banks in tents.

Well, yes. It made the news: “Bersih”, “Stop Lynas”, The Occupy Movement and all that. But after the headlines were done and the news for the next day rolled in, I’m willing to bet half the population has already pushed the matter to the back of their heads, choosing to focus on more important things like, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

I realize that this is an incredibly pessimistic thing to say, but more and more I’m becoming convinced that it’s true, seeing the volume of emotionally-charged speeches being made without any substantial actions backing those words up. It’s a lot of noise, again, like sports day – but without any medals being given out. Everyone still goes home with a swelling feeling of pride, though.

If there’s anything to be taken from this post, I guess it’s this: Don’t join in the change that you wish to see. Be the change that you wish to see. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Ship canned food over to the afflicted in the Gaza conflict. Send letters to the grieved families in the wake of the MH17 crash. Buy a homeless person lunch. Hug a colleague. Tell your family you love them.

In that way, you have already made a thousand times the difference standing in a crowded square can make.

350. Sunday

Holy hell, I’m less than 3 weeks away to the end of this project?

I’m writing this at 8.25A.M., in the little window available to me while the chicken that will be my breakfast/lunch sits in the oven. In a few minutes, I will get dressed, go downstairs, check if the chicken is cooked, and proceed accordingly with either more cooking or breakfast.

If I walk down the stairs and a nuclear war breaks out, that’d be a real shame. I was looking forward to that chicken.

These are dark days.

In the 50 days in between this post and “Saturday”, the world has changed – not by much, but it tilted on its axis. Everything shifted ever so slightly to the left. Gravity has displaced itself by a couple of centimeters. My room remains my room, but somewhere in the world, there are lives that will never be the same.

In the past 50 days, a Malaysian aircraft was shot out of the sky with a missile. 300 people died. The Russian government doesn’t seem to be taking any action, and it seems as though the Western governments are ready to take drastic actions against Russia the longer they wait. It’s almost like they’ve been waiting.

In the past 50 days, the longtime conflict between Israel and Palestine has blown way out of proportion. Missiles have hit central Israel. In retaliation, Israel has invaded Gaza with 40,000 foot soldiers. Both sides and their supporters are screaming for blood. Human blood. Like the old gods that we condemned and shelved away and buried, they are asking for a blood sacrifice to appease their wrath.

In the past 50 days, two teenagers lured a friend to their house – not a stranger, a friend – and stabbed her, because they were trying to get the attention of the fictional entity known as Slenderman, created out of a message board between users who were trying to out-scare each other. A boy, on account of “being a 22-year old virgin”, drove around in a BMW and started shooting people on sight.

If you asked me, the world is going to hell. There’s no tactful way to say it.

Sunday is church day. Sunday is God-devotion day. Sunday is our sabbath, where we will not put our hands to work. Sunday is the day I actually spend time meditating upon the words and values of God, and more often than not, I get a little insight on how I should be able to live my life a little bit better. How I can get along with others just a little bit better.

Sunday is the day of right set wrong. Sunday is the day to act as children of God, if you haven’t been doing that all week. Sunday is the day of cleansing of lips and hearts, of rededication to our maker. To understand that He is in control, even if we don’t understand it, even if the circumstances strongly suggests otherwise.

Sometimes Sunday is the day of hard messages. There are things said from the pulpit that I cannot bring myself to swallow.

But God is, well, God. And His ways are higher than ours. How can we hope to understand the ways of the Almighty with our limited minds that we have only just begun to figure out how to use?

This is Sunday. A day to converse with God.

So dear God, hear my prayer:

Let there be peace on earth, and among every human heart.


349. Instagram / Alcoholics Anonymous

A little more than a week ago, I got myself an Instagram account. Because we all need to stay updated on the most current trends in social networking in order to avoid looking like a total dork.

Creating my account, I was chagrined to find that my default username “zhenyee” has been taken. Signing up instead as “zhenyee.jo”, I silently swore eternal vengeance upon whomsoever stole my screen name. I managed to get the account up and running, followed a whole bunch of people, considered following some cute girls outside my social circles as well but ultimately deciding against it, and then I stared at the screen, waiting for something interesting to happen.

Nothing did.

I should post a picture, I thought. But post a picture of what?

With a growing realization that my life isn’t, by a long shot, interesting enough to be documented in photos, in a last ditch attempt to avoid looking like a total dork I took a picture of my workstation with all that snazzy symmetry everyone seems to be all about these days. I uploaded it with a caption, and a bunch of people “liked” it.


Now what?

And that was when I realized that I had experienced almost everything Instagram had to offer me. Also, that no matter how hard I try, I will always and forever be a total dork.

(the sooner we all just accept who we are, the better. No one ever said that who you are is popular or cool)

I have since uploaded a couple more pictures, all of which got a couple of likes each. Again: I’m coming to the realization that my life isn’t interesting enough to be documented in photos. Whoever started following me in hopes of getting interesting updates are in for a big letdown.

I’m not sure if it’s just me getting old, but even after a little over a week, I still don’t see the point in it. You post some pictures, you get some likes, you like other people’s pictures… And then what?

Earlier this evening I went out for supper with a dear friend of mine who had come back from Melbourne for a short break. Somehow the topic veered to Instagram. He told me about how in order to get likes, you need to just like everyone else’s photos, and they will like yours in return.

It’s like the golden rule, but with photos. Who knew that the ultimate lesson in getting along with others would be finally taught through a photo-sharing site?

I also realized something else: Instagram is just like Alcoholics Anonymous.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, you join them, you tell them your story, and at the end, everyone gives you a round of applause. In return, when someone else tells their story, no matter how corny it is, you applaud them as well.

On Instagram, you join them, you share your photos, and everyone gives you a “like”. In return, when someone else posts their photo, no matter how corny it is, you give them a “like” as well.

And there we go.

Even after this startling realization, the question that again came to me was “But why?”. Which was when I realized that my priorities are so different from the average Instagrammer that I cannot even empathize with their value system.

And I realized that I am already a complete dork, even with Instagram.

348. Writing Badly

I plopped my ass on this chair some 3 hours ago. In that time, I’ve added a total of 600 words to the story I’m working on, so on average, I’m producing 200 words per hour. Or 1 word every 3 minutes.

It has been a slow night.

With the deadline coming up in a little more than 10 days, I’m only human to grow nervous with each day that ends without the story being completed. But for some reason unfathomable, the story seems to have stopped dead in its tracks like a stubborn dog since last Tuesday, refusing to move forward to matter how much or from which direction I prod at it.

It is in these dire times that I remind myself to Dare to Write Badly. Just put one word in front of the previous one until the story is done. You can always come back and edit it later, once you have the full picture. Just put one word after another until the story is done.

But God, it is painful to write badly.

I retire to sleep now after a horridly unproductive night in front of my laptop. I think the past few days of playing DotA has dulled my brain some. Hopefully, when I arrive home from work tomorrow, I’ll be able to begin writing, and keep writing, whether well or badly.

Goodnight, all.

347. The Passive-Aggressive Post

Don’t you just hate it when *some people* make a post, and it’s *so obviously* related to *someone* but they don’t even post that person’s name there?

(“I– I mean… What happened? Did your– Did your balls drop off, or something?”)

Get a grip on yourselves.

I suppose, in a way, there’s no escaping the hypocrisy in writing this post. On one hand, I’m speaking out against the trend of making passive-aggressive posts on social media sites; but on the other, I’m writing this post instead of confronting said individuals concerning their passive-aggressiveness.

But what the hell. I’m going to write it anyway.

There was a subject I took in my 3rd year at university called Human Resource Management. It’s a load of crap. But it was helpful to give official-sounding names to things like “employee motivation” and “remuneration and benefits”. One of the topics was “Conflict Resolution”, and in that section of the textbook, the author (as far as I remember; it could just as easily be one of the many terrible student presentations) talks about the differences between Eastern and Western conflict resolution methods.

(I cite the textbook and not my lecturer because, oh God, that lady was a thorn in my side for all the years I spent in university. A thorn with needles jutting out of it. And on fire. And secreting a potent venom. And dangerously acidic)

Without getting into the unfortunate discussions about what constitutes “Eastern countries” and “Western countries”, let’s get right into it. Apparently, most people living in Western countries feel that the most appropriate way to handle conflict is to confront it. Face it head on. Get your shit sorted out. While most people living in Eastern countries prefer to defer the responsibility on to someone else, or to avoid it completely.

Or, as I call it, the sweep-under-the-rug method.

While I hold the opinion that people – especially some living in Western countries – should be made to obtain licenses for speaking in public, I am also constantly irked at the behavior of the ones around me. There are far too many episodes to count, but in the end, it just boils down to this:

“I don’t like what that person did. Ugh! Don’t even talk to me about it!”

And then they go on to treat that person like shit – but the Asian way, which is to treat them as though they’re a bad smell in the room.

(I guess you could say it’s more like treating them like fart)

When people tell me things like that, my response, most of the time, is, “Don’t you think that’s a little unfair to them? They probably thought it was funny/in good taste/appropriate.”

Because it’s true. Most of us are not important enough to have a group of people dedicated to hating on us. Most of us, in fact, are actively trying to be the best person we can be, to make the best decisions that we can make – and we just end up tripping over each other sometimes. Just like you don’t go around intending to offend or insult people, people don’t usually go around doing that to you. Sometimes, it’s just poor choice of words. And sometimes, there are people who are just honestly deluded about what is socially acceptably behavior.

Here’s what I suggest: be fair, be kind, be direct. If you have a problem, say it out – but respectfully. “Man, that wasn’t cool” usually suffices. You’ll be surprised how much heartache it saves you when you let those around you know your boundaries. Then you’ll be able to identify the ones who offend you by mistake and the ones who really don’t care enough about you.

Give people the benefit of a doubt: they are usually kinder, more compassionate, and more prone to making very bad mistakes than you think. Remember the last time you made a really bad mistake, and how you hoped with all your heart that everyone would just let it slide?

It’s exactly that.