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.


321. Slow Day

When making tea earlier today, I was fishing out a tea bag from the container, but found its string tightly wound around the string of another tea bag, almost like they were holding on to each other for dear life. Moved by their devotion, I set both of them back inside the container so they can have a little more time together before the inevitable end, and picked another, solitary tea bag to brew my morning tea with instead.

…Dear God, what have I become?

I guess I should have expected what sort of day it would be when I came into the office this morning, booted up the computer, opened up the work inbox, and found only 9 emails waiting, none of them addressed to me.

It’s why I always have a book by the side of the monitor. Last week, it was Anansi Boys. Today, it is The Hobbit.

(yes, I have never read The Hobbit before. No, I have not been living under a rock or inside a cave. Stop judging me)

When work came in towards the later parts of the morning, I thought to myself that non-productivity can never last, not in a fast-moving agency such as this. But shortly after completing the second copy of the day, I headed out for lunch, and when I came back to my desk, found myself again with nothing to do.

It’s like the job I had earlier this year all over again.

I absently clicked around. Facebook. Twitter. Inbox. Facebook. Twitter. Inbox. I went onto Copyblogger and read an article. Exhausted the new posts on 9gag. Looked up the nutritional contents of goat’s cheese and seedless raisins. Read a few strips of xkcd.

Heck, I even wrote a little.

But there’s only so much of a single thing a person can do at one go. And soon I found myself again clicking around absently on Facebook, Twitter, and the work inbox. Even Facebook, in a fit of annoyance at my constant clicking, refused to load for me anymore, choosing instead to show me an error page.

(I take my lessons from food: for lunch, I ate 2 Roti Canai drenched in Dhal Curry. Before I was done with half of it, I was already sick of the taste: there’s only so much of the same time a person can take at one go)

Time seems to crawl by as I sit at this desk. It’s 2.5 more hours before it’s time to go back, and it really doesn’t look like new work is going to come my way anytime soon. My constant providers of work are either out of the office or have already given me all the work that they could have given me. I suspect that they might be just as bored as I am.

Maybe I should check out Reddit. Or Imgur. I hear there are plenty of things there to amuse and distract the common man from the hundrums of a slow day.

Or maybe I’ll just continue writing.


298. Monotony

Question: Why is it that we “launch” a career but “land” a job?


There’s something quite predictable about work. I mean, sure, every new project is a brave new adventure and all those things, but there’s a certain rhythm that you just fall into when you begin at a full-time job. You learn to wake up at a certain time in the morning, leave the house at a certain time, have a certain sort of breakfast, do a certain sort of morning routine, work, have a certain sort of lunch, work, have a certain sort of evening routine, go home at a certain time, and sleep at a certain time.

More or less.

I know this because I’ve been in and out of it. The first full-time job I had was cleaning up some accounts at an office situated in the heart of KL (to this day, I wonder what form of insanity possessed them into thinking that hiring me to do accounts was even remotely a good idea). I had a routine then; and when I went off to National Service, which is routine personified, and came back from it, everything fell apart. I woke and slept at irregular hours, and filled the hours in between with all sorts of unpredictable activities. One evening, I looked out into the rain, and decided to stand outside in it and get drenched. Why? Because.

And it was so for the years I spent in college/university. I had a part-time job doing copywriting and video editing for my local church, but it never put me into a routine. Then earlier this year, as I was coerced into the full-time position at that company, it’s like the clock in me starting working again, and again I found myself waking up at a certain time, doing certain things during the day, and going to sleep at a certain time at night.

But just to be sure, I had a whole month off before getting back into a full-time job where I am right now.

There’s a certain rhythm to it that’s oddly calming, no matter how upbeat it may be. You get used to the tempo after a while. And without major breaks in the BPM, it’s easy to let the melody wash over you and forget the passing of time.

Which is how, I think, some people just lose track of the passing of the months and years as they work, only to realize that their dreams have died unfulfilled while they were hypnotized by the monotony of work.

It is the 3rd Tuesday I’m spending at work. A Song For The Rain still sits at 30,000 words. I was only reminded of it when yesterday, a friend and constant reader buzzed me up on Facebook chat, asking for the latest installment of May’s adventures. I had to tell him, regrettably, that there was no latest installment to speak of.

I could shrug it off and say that I’ve been busy working on Grounded. But there’s only 2,000 words in that story – what I used to write in a single day. I fear that if I don’t force a slot for writing into the monotony that is now taking over my life, there will be no more stories to tell.

I should get on that.

I mean. I really, really should get on that.

Before it’s too late.

297. Shameless Self-Promotion

Today I attended my first class in university in almost half a year. The lecturer, whom I presume to be an American-born Russian, did the usual round of introductions, and this went down when I was introducing myself to the class of about 20 people:

Hello guys. I’m Joseph; you can call me Joseph. I’m majoring in Management and Finance. I’m from Taman Tan Yew Lai – it’s this little place just off Old Klang Road, in KL. And, uh, what else do you want to know about me?

GIRL (whom I’d later know as Ravina)
What do you like to do?

When I’m not in class, I’m usually writing.

Oooh! Poems?

Not so much of poems. If you add me on Facebook, you’ll see a whole bunch of short stories that I’ve written on Notes.

And for more information, log on to http://www.joseph.com! Thank you very much, please sit down.

Well. Screw you too, sir.

(I mean, we were having a moment there, she and I. It could have been a life-altering conversation, and you just had to go ahead and ruin that!)

But not really. He was a reasonably fun person, and an exceptionally fun lecturer to have, especially when the subject at hand is Managerial Accounting. But enough about the presumably-American-born-Russian lecturer whose name I didn’t even get, because I was out having breakfast when he was introducing himself.

(don’t judge me like that. It’s the most important meal of the day!)

Let’s talk about shameless self-promotion.

When my eBook (Death And Other Things, if you’d like to look it up) was published early 2013, I did my research on book promotion. How can I get my book out there? What are the ways to gain as much visibility as possible?

After reading, like, 3 sites, I think I qualify as an authority on the subject matter. It is apparently a unified opinion that as far as marketing is concerned, social politeness should be the last of your concerns. The folks on Writer’s Digest said so, Mr. King also said so (except in a different context, but still about the same). Get your material out there. Send it to reviewers. Give it to friends, family members, and old teachers. Tell all your Facebook friends about it. Tweet about it. Heck, go onto Myspace and talk about it there, just in case someone is still hanging around.

Except I’ve never really been comfortable about doing self-promotion. Self-depreciation, I do plenty. I mean, just look at that author’s bio I wrote for Death And Other Things (I suspect that’s one of the reasons for the poor sales). I cannot, for the life of me, say good things about myself without feeling like a total sham.

(unless it’s telling people that I think I am, beyond the shadow of a doubt, irresistibly cute)

I think the problem has its roots with me finding it difficult to say anything nice about anything. For every compliment I give, I have 10 reserved criticisms. It’s not that I hate things, don’t get me wrong; but it just comes more naturally to me to see the areas for improvement than the areas that are well-built.

I don’t know what the publishers were thinking either, putting the promotion of my book into my own hands. Man, if I was any good at doing marketing, you think I’d be a writer?

Last year in September, during the car ride from the airport to Sharon’s place, I was talking to her about the same thing: my inability to give any praise to myself. And she had this gem of sagely advice to offer: “Since you can’t, you know, give qualitative remarks to yourself, try quantitative?”

After half of the first lesson, we had a half-hour break. In that time, one of the other students (who was my group mate in a previous semester) came up and asked how was my writing doing. I stiffened at first, but Sharon’s advice kicked in, and I said:

“Well. I had a short story published in Esquire earlier in March. So that was great.”

And she flashed me a smile with two thumbs-up.

292. Rotten

For about half my waking hours today, I was caught in quite a spectacular rotten mood. One that pulled down the corners of my mouth, furrowed my eyebrows, filled my head with fuzz and my mind with a desire to flip things around.

(except skateboards. If I could flip skateboards, I wouldn’t have felt half as rotten as I did)

But why, Joseph? Why the rotten mood? Who made you so mad?

It’s not a question of who, but what. What made me irritated was a little booklet that, no matters how many times I edit it, just refuses to stay edited. What agitated me were some negative comments brought over from the previous Sunday. What annoyed me was that I wouldn’t get home until past 10. What infuriated me was that I still don’t understand what makes *good* writing good.

It was a certain kind of sour mood that made me want to leave work early, go home, and hide under my blankets with a funny book. Maybe Mr. Gaiman’s Anansi Boys. But remembering that I’ve already paid for a full day’s worth of parking in advance, it seemed like an awful waste to let all those extra hours go. So I stayed.

(also, and mostly, because I had to clock in the hours in order to qualify for my pay. Boo hoo)

I’m not sure if this makes me bipolar, or at least a minor form of it. I swing between rotten and sunny moods over small things. Someone more poetic might say that small rudders move big ships, or something to that effect. And for me, it isn’t the gales of trouble or high waves of life that gets me. It’s the little things that gets entangled in the rudders that really sets me off one way or another.

I thought that I’ll feel better after reading some. Unfortunately for me, The Writer’s Tower theme for May is “The Evil Within”, and so all I had to read were tales of darkness and revenge. I decided to read some recommended articles from Facebook, and apparently the hottest thing in the news is the 9/11 museum that had been built at ground zero. Reading a Buzzfeed writer’s firsthand experience there did nothing to alleviate my mood.

Also, work was trickling in at a painfully slow rate, so there was nothing to distract myself with.

Decided to make some fruit tea, which I received as a gift yesterday. Tea smelled lovely, didn’t taste quite as much. It tasted like the promises of politicians: tantalizing at first, but ultimately disappointing. I finished it anyway, because tea is tea is tea.

(also, and mostly, because there were only 30 sachets, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I wasted proper tea. 29 to go…)

My options whittled away with time and activity. Social media wasn’t doing it for me. Image sites were a temporary distraction. All the reading I did had done me no good. Eventually, there was only one thing I had not done yet.

I pulled the notepad in front of me, and I began to write.

And for a little while, the rotten mood left me.

291. But Wait, There’s More!

It’s almost an hour past the time work was supposed to end, and I’m still sitting in the office.

(yeah, fine; work starts half an hour later than it’s supposed to as well. But there’s a deficit of 30 minutes, you see)

It’s a strange kind of job that I have, or life that I live. When I’m working, it’s when everyone else is done with their jobs; and when other people are working, it’s when I’m aimlessly clicking around on Metacritic, AV Club, and IMDB. Guess that’s predictable, considering how practically the rest of the staff are designers and I’m the sole copywriter in this place. In job description, at least.

How work happens is that the designers will do their work – slaving away at it for most of the work day – and hopefully try and finish it in time for them to go home and have dinner. Trouble is, I’m sitting on the back end of the pipeline, which is to say the proofreading end. As far as the designers are concerned, their job is done for the day. They hit command+s when the clock hits 6.15P.M., and pass the job on to the next person. They twiddle their thumbs and wait for the next 15 minutes to pass by.

Then I, having sat around all day doing nothing, now has 15 minutes to fulfill my role in the pipeline if I intend to head home in time.

Needless to say, it almost never works.

I keep finding myself sticking around as the sky darkens outside the window from baby blue to deep navy, and then finally to the obsidian of night. And the work keeps coming in the longer I stick around.

The day ends, I head home, come back in the next day; and what awaits me is more work, left over from the designers who stayed through the night to get their end of the work done. I complete that as the other employees come trickling into the workspace, and by the time it’s 11A.M., I’m done with my tasks, the designers are back at their desks making corrections, and I have nothing to do again until 6.15P.M.

(the same dynamics apply to you and the general public if you are: a) a mall renovator; b) a club staff; or c) a sweatshop worker, in which case you don’t actually get any rest at all)

On the plus side, because of how work suddenly comes in at the end of the day, I’m pretty much held up until the worst of the rush hour traffic is over. Why, just yesterday, it took me a measly 30 minutes to go all the way home, as opposed to the 90 minutes it usually takes, or 120 minutes, if some idiot decided to have his car stall along the 2-lane road home.

I’ve been wondering, though: if, say, I leave work at 6.30P.M., and it takes me an average of 90 minutes to reach home; but if I leave at 7.30P.M., it only takes me 30 minutes. Does this technically count as some form of time travel? Since I’m actually getting an hour (or wasting an hour, depending on your frame of reference) from the system.

Maybe I’ll stay back a little bit more to figure it out.

290. You’re A PC, You’re A Mac

And I like one of you a lot more than the other.

Every day, I find new reasons to hate using a mac. It started, on the first day of work exactly 2 weeks ago, with the mouse.

I don’t know which engineering genius decided that the a little… nub-thing… was better than the standard scroll wheel. I must admit, the squeeze buttons on either sides of the Apple mouse was a touch of genius; unfortunately, they are also just about the only thing I like about it. The little nub that passes as the scroll wheel is nigh impossible to work, and it upsets me that it’s easier to scroll up than to scroll down.

What irks me to no end, still on the topic of the Apple mouse, is the right-click. I use it on a link, sometimes it opens a standard drop-down menu; sometimes it opens the link in a new tab; sometimes it opens the link in the same tab; and sometimes it reanimates the dead. There’s just no telling what it will do next.

(for that reason, I will take to calling it “George Martin” from now on)

I also don’t get why, when I click the little red button on the top-left corner of a window, it doesn’t shut the program down. It closes the window, yes, but I’ve found that the program is still running – on standby, but still – in the background. And I have to command-quit for the thing to actually shut down. It doesn’t irk me as it does strike me as strange; I’m just used to accepting that, as far as computer applications are concerned, if I can’t see it, it’s not there.

The Mac users around me insists that it’s a more intuitive sort of OS. To which I say: intuitive, my ass.

(or maybe I’m just not the kind of user they were preparing the OS to be intuitive towards. Either way, screw y’all)

Allow me to tell you a true story:

I was pretty excited when Half-Life 2 came out. With the release of Half-Life 3 set for a couple of days after the second coming, most of us will just have to content ourselves with it. Now, one of the things that the game boasted – and reviews raved – about was the “intelligent AI” that was built into Alyx’s character. Myself, I thought it was a pretty cool idea, and went on to try the game out.

Soon after meeting her, as she was giving some expository lines, we were supposed to step into a lift that was supposed to take us to “Dog”. Being me, I was getting Gordon Freeman to jump all over the place, and I guess I must have missed some sort of cue; because when I eventually got around to stepping into the lift, Alyx just continued to stand outside, looking at me, and reminding me every once in a while to get into the lift.

I went out of the lift. Went in. Went out. Went in. Attempted to push Alyx into the lift. No avail.

I couldn’t move another step further into the game because nothing would happen until Alyx’s “intelligent AI” told her to get into the lift.

(I would have threatened her with physical violence as well, but Gordon Freeman didn’t even have his trusty crowbar at that point of the game)

See, if you want to create a program that’s intelligent, or intuitive – make sure you get it to work for all kinds of people, not just people who work in a certain way. It’s why I loved Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite: she got out of my way when I needed to get things done, and magically teleported to wherever I was so that we can get on with the script. That right there – that’s brilliance.

Somewhere, someone is saying, “Well if you don’t like it, don’t use it then. No one’s forcing you. You don’t have to be such a whiny asshole about it.”

Oh, but I am. I am being forced to use it.

It’s apparently the only acceptable OS for use in the office. I offered to bring along my trusty laptop (which is lagging beyond reason) to work, but the boss said to use the Mac, since it’s just sitting there anyway. And also because all the computers in the workplace are linked, and it’s easier done when they’re all Macs.

iPhone. iMac. Next thing I know, I’ll be carrying around an iPod as well.

God save my soul.