365. Where The Road Ends

The last day of the year is a hell of a good day to wrap up your 365 project.

(I really took 519 days to get here; but give me a break, alright. It’s hard work cranking that many words out)

365 days. 500 words a day. That’s 182,500 words – probably the length of American Gods. Considering how some of the posts were much, much longer than the 500 minimum I placed on myself, I’d go out on a limb and say that the real number of words uploaded onto this space to be in the range of 200,000 – 220,000.

Anyway.

The last day of the year is also a hell of a good time to take a good, hard look back on the road and consider…

Consider what?

Consider the number of days that have passed? Or how, when I was slugging through the middle, I thought this damn thing was going to go on forever? Consider the milestones I’ve marked along the way? The successes – the disappointments – the days on which absolutely nothing of note happened?

Stuff happened. Yeah, I think that’s a good summary.

Over the last 519 days of this 365 project, stuff happened.

And I continued writing.

I think one of the important things I’ve come to realize is the need for patience. You know what I’m saying? I’m not going to go on one of those “In the age of instant things, we all want things yesterday” rants. But that’s what I learned: patience, indeed, is a virtue.

Whether it’s dressing a short story up or completing a 40,000 word novel (that’s Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through TIme, which I am still working on, if you’d like to know), I have found that it’s almost always a bad idea to be overeager. Impatient. To be caught in the excitement of the moment, mistaking the heat for the spark of brilliance, and end up showing the world something half-baked. And it’s slowly deflating as the initial excitement escapes from it in hisses.

Impatience is what the older generation always fault the younger with, right? I’m reflecting upon my very first posts to this space, and I’m thinking of Past-Me… What an impatient little prick. Always rushing from one thing to the next.

I actually feel older now, 519 days later.

A little bit older. A little wiser. A little bit more patient with the world.

In many ways, I believe I have also matured with my writing. I have read more, experienced more… Learning to deal with disappointments and handling people. I’m definitely a lot better with rejection now that I was in July 2013. And yet, as a certain wizard in a tall grey hat would say… The road goes ever on and on.

I’m still young. 23 today. 24 tomorrow. Just beginning to scrape at a quarter of a century old. Even if I suddenly age 6 years, I will still be at the ripe young age of 30 – a good ripe age to begin doing something with me life. So I think I’m still good. 23 going on 24.

I have time.

I can wait.

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364. Audiobooks

I’ve been listening to audiobooks lately. Since, er, my disappearance from this space.

One thing that I learned very quickly about the working life is that you don’t have time for shit anymore. Your job (plus travel to and fro) basically owns 3/4 of your waking hours. With the 1/4 that you have left, there isn’t a lot of things that you can do. You will have to start thinking about how you want to spend your time after work.

Watch TV? Play a computer game? Hang out with a friend? Work on a side project?

Choose carefully. You can only have one.

And on those particularly difficult days, you don’t get any of them at all. Because all you have left at the end of the day is energy enough to plop yourself into bed.

I was doing remarkable well for the first half of the year trying to overcome the Librarian Threshold. I was blazing through them books. Heck, I finished my reading of American Gods in 2 weeks! Talk about speed and dedication to boot!

But then work happened.

At first I thought I’d keep a book hanging around the office. All those extra time in between tasks aren’t gonna fill themselves, amirite?

But no. I found quickly that reading a novel while everyone else is working isn’t exactly upstanding work behavior.

(while I know that the eminent Mr. King – may he live ten thousand years – said that social correctness should be the least of the writer’s concerns, I’m afraid to say that I don’t have half the cojones to follow through with his advice. I remain to this day terribly afraid of what people might be thinking about me)

It was in this time of need that I discovered the wonders of audiobooks.

Where can I begin about the wonders of audiobooks?

Some people are of the opinion that having a book read word for word out loud to you is a tedious process. “I mean, just read the goshdarned book, amirite?” But think of it this way: every day, I spend an average of 2 hours on the road. There are better days, and there are worse days, but let’s stick to that nice, round number. 2 hours on the road each day.

The radio in my car is busted. It wasn’t always busted, but I have long since given up on trying to get it fixed. So that’s 2 hours on the road, from Monday to Friday, that I’m not doing anything but trying not to space out. 10 hours a week. 40 hours a month. Heck, that’s a full week’s worth of work hours right there! Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year and you get 2080 hours of trying not to space out!

And like every stereotypical chinaman, I must squeeze every last bit of goodness out of the things I have.

I was fortunate enough to start off my audiobook adventures with one of the finest works on the medium: Mr. Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, read by the man himself. Even more fortunate I was to continue that exhilarating ride with Mr. Hill’s Horns.

Five months down the road, these are the books and I have read thanks to the medium:

  • The Graveyard Book
  • Horns
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
  • Coraline
  • NOS4A2
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Gone Girl
  • The Martian

And the list keeps going on for as long as I have people willing to read books out loud.

If you are an author who allows/pushes your books to be converted into audiobooks, or if you’re an audiobook performer, or if you’re someone in or marginally related to the industry… From the bottom of my heart: Thank you all.

You make the 2080 hours spent on the road worth the while.

363. Four Months Later

Um. Hi.

I’m back.

I promise, I have a good reason for my mysterious disappearance four months ago.

See, in January I accidentally got myself into a job; which sucked at first, but turned out to be actually quite bearable towards the end – until I got university troubles and had to resign at the end of March.

I went through April without much event. But by the end of the month I realized that I have to find money somehow. You know, Stayin’ Alive. I had to get a job.

So from a contact I got from Sue, I got myself into a part-time copywriting job in May. It didn’t pay a lot, but with tight budgeting and copious amounts of potato, I managed to get through the next three months, in which I worked and studied on alternate days (but still had my weekends off).

Finally in August, I started working full time.

And nothing was ever the same again.

I guess I’ve underestimated the kind of energy a full time job takes out of you. It’s not tiredness, mind – it’s more like fatigue. After a day of sitting and staring at a screen, the last thing you want to do is to get back home to sit and stare at a screen.

(or at least that’s how I think it works)

And so the posting frequency on this blog space has suffered.

But I have been writing. Not as fiercely as I did in the first half of the year, but I have been writing. A little short story here, a little feature there, send a couple of them out to magazines, get an equal number of rejections back, curl up in bed and wait for the tears that won’t come because I’m a cold-hearted bastard… You know, the works.

But it hasn’t been all bad. I wrote a short story titled “The End of the World” that some people said some really nice things about, even if it did not make it to publication in the end. I wrote some scattered scenes for stories I intend to later expand into proper novels. I started writing poems for birthdays of friends, which was nice.

(because let’s be really honest here: what are they gonna say, that it’s a shit poem and they hate it? No! They are socially obligated to smile at my half-arsed attempt at wit and say some variation of “How nice!”. Check-and-mate, social correctness)

The highlight of the four months that I’ve been away, however, must be an email that came in from a certain Mr. Wallace on a dry October night. Short, succinct, it read:

Hi Joseph, I’d like to accept this submission for The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk.

I slapped myself a couple of times just to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.

The two and a half months following that mostly consisted of waiting between emails and responses; but earlier this week the first pass came in for the publisher, and there I saw my name nestled in with other fantastic writers of science fiction.

What can a writer do?

Smile like an idiot, stare at the email for minutes too long, then close the browser.

And then get right back to writing.

355. Eunice Who?

Tonight I attended a concert. Of sorts. It was the first time I stepped inside The Gardens Theater (I’m sure there’s supposed to be an apostrophe somewhere in there, but I’m not entirely sure), and I walked right past it at first. Only realizing that I had walked past it because there was a signboard pointing the way I came from.

I found the name of the place printed in nondescript letters on an easy-to-miss glass door. I was also late. But good fortunes abound, the concert started later. The first reason I even went for the concert, I must admit, was because it was free. But following close behind the first reason is the second, which is because it was a concert featuring Eunice Hoo.

Eunice Hoo. Where should I begin with the wonderful Eunice Hoo?

We met through a mutual friend. He was recording songs and putting them on YouTube. She was recording songs and putting them on YouTube. I could, to a certain (read: low) capacity, make videos suitable to be put on YouTube.

It was the beginning of 2013, a couple of days before I fell sick with high fever and tonsillitis. I just came out of writing/directing a 5-minute musical to review the church’s journey in 2012. It was a video shoot we have been planning for a while, and sleep-deprived on account of the short musical as I was, I was still excited to be a part of the whole project.

Our friend Stephen was the director of the shoot. We met Eunice for the first time on the first day of the shoot, which was New Year’s Day. She was bubbly and sprightly and all smiles. There was an aura of simple joyousness radiating from her that time and tiredness could not dissipate, which, I think, was what kept us going despite the incredibly tight schedule and the even more incredibly unforgiving weather.

I have never seen anyone so young carrying so much talent and grace at once.

She was a joy to edit, which is more than can be said for the many, many others whose video I edited before. She carried herself through the shots with a silliness only possible in youth, yet her antics were somehow just right for the video. The pieces fell right into place, and no one’s name had to be cursed as I edited the videos.

Being late, I was shooed away from the VIP area and into the second level of the 200-seater hall. Out she came, as charming and as chirpy as could be, dishing out number after number despite her obvious nervousness. Sometime in the middle of the performance, my friend beside me screamed, “I LOVE YOU, EUNICE!”

We all cheered. Because we would have all said the same a thousand times.

When I walked out of The Gardens Theater later that night, I stopped to admire a bunting that the organizers had set up outside: a decidedly unflattering larger-than-life photo of Eunice squatting and looking straight into the camera, a red apple inexplicably in her mouth. Her name was printed somewhere above her head, along with the title of her album.

It was a ridiculous photo, but it was somehow just right. There was joy, pure and simple, emanating from it: one that time and tiredness had not worn away.

And if there’s something our weary world needs, it’s more joyous people spreading it around like Eunice Hoo.

354. Dealing With Disappointment

What do you do when you find out your story submission – that you have spent hours lovingly writing, editing, rewriting – is “not right” for the editors?

You disappear from your 365-day project and take a week off to wallow in self-pity, that’s what.

I don’t think I’m a person who takes disappointments well. It’s probably why I don’t think I’ll make a good parent. When disappointments strike and the sinking, bitter feeling bites in deep inside my guts, my immediate reaction is to lash out at whoever is available and willing to take my shit. I’m just lucky enough to have a precious few people in my life who are willing to take my shit.

(but not literally. Even I am afraid of my own shit. But diarrhea stories have their places to go, and it’s not here)

I’m not sure if it’s just TV, but it sounds like people generally turn to food when they’re disappointed/sad. Just begin to load that ice-cream, right? But that’s not me.

See, in my family, food is love. Food is life. You don’t put food and negative things together, because that’s not how things work in this house. Food is for celebrations, for happy things. It’s why, when I get particularly good results on an exam, I allow myself to splurge a little on a really nice, greasy burger or a chicken chop somewhere. When it comes to important celebrations, steaks are usually involved. It has already been hardwired into my head.

I read somewhere, though, that a craving for food is a natural reaction to negative emotions. Which makes sense – we feel good when our hungers are satiated. It’s just classical conditioning at work. But what happens when, like me, you just can’t bring food into the equation of feeling better?

You do all sorts of stupid things.

(it’s just part of the human condition)

When I received the news that my steampunk story didn’t make the cut for the anthology, I was at work. And a bad day at work, at that. The news, like a OHKO to my self-esteem, just crumbled whatever fight I had left to face the day. When I was grilled for not checking a copy right, I just took it. When the scoldings began, I just took it in, lumping it together with my general sense of disappointment, making this giant metaphorical lump of bad things.

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.

I suppose it was a good thing that I was at work. At least I had mundane things to do that kept my mind half-busy, or I would have sank into my bed and stayed there for the next 3 days. Being forced to swallow it in gave me time to get some perspective on getting rejected as well.

It was in this difficult time that the words of Mr. King (may he live ten thousand years) came to me:

…And if you’re not succeeding, you should know when to quit. When is that? I don’t know. It’s different for each writer. Not after six rejection slips, certainly, nor after sixty.

I figured that as long as I have not hit sixty rejections, I’m still good to go.

What I’ve found is that the first 24 hours or so is the worst – I’m talking about soul-crushing, future-obliterating bitterness. Here’s some advice from one disappointed soul to the next, if it pleases you: don’t do anything stupid. Go have ice-cream. Steak, if you want to. Wallow in self-pity. Cry. But don’t, like I did, take it out on people close to you – if they’re still sticking around even as you’re radiating toxic energy into the air, you’ll want to keep them around.

After 24 hours, you’ll still feel bad, but it’ll be only half as bad as you felt the day before. More or less, you’ll see. In this time, take it easy. Do something fun. Watch TV. Play Skyrim. Dance naked in your room to bad rap music.

When your head is settled after the 72nd hour, chances are that you’ll see it’s not so bad. And with a more-or-less clear head, now you’re in a better place to make decisions concerning the future.

Myself, I’m sweeping off the dust that had settled on Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through Time, and I’m paying an old friend a visit. Who knows? We might even find new things together along the way.

Wish me luck.

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.

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.

Nice.

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.