The disease of “Someday I’ll”

I think we all know that person or persons who constantly regale you with great deeds done…in progress.

They talk about their great novel.
Or breakthrough album.
Or trip to the Amazon.
Or leaving that job they hate so, so much.

But dreamers and doers are often not the same person.

It’s easy to fantasise but realities like mortgages, children and the like often put paid to lofty ambitions.

It’s all right to consciously bid goodbye to dreams and decide you want to prioritise your family or career.

But some people let their thwarted hopes eat them alive. I watched my mother let her bitterness poison her marriage and household. I grew up believing that marriage was nothing more than a stifling cage and my mother the best example of a clipped bird that in anger turned on its own brood.

Forgive yourself for letting some things pass you by.

Forgive the people who you sacrificed your dreams for, whether they be your spouse, children or parents.

The simple truth is that you must live with your choices and that in the end, you have no one but yourself to answer to. Of course the religionists will bring God into the equation but to thine own self, be true as Shakespeare says.

Either wait for the right time to chase your dreams, or be willing to accomodate a little time in your current schedule for them. If you can’t see yourself doing either then let your dreams go. Maybe with a little sadness or wistfulness but own your choices. Life is too short for regrets.

A Christmas story to remember

(This was published as a Facebook note Friday, 25 December 2009 at 21:26)

So, I lost my purse last night.

Yes, I very clever hor. The good news is I got it back. The unbelievable news is how I got it back.

Just an hour after I’d dropped it, some guy finds it and calls Maybank. Maybank can’t get my phone, they tell the fella to just leave my purse at the nearest police station.

But no. Instead, he rifles through my cards and discovers my workplace. He then sends an email to my colleagues who then call me.

Three hours ago, I got my purse back. He showed up at a cafe near his lodgings. MH, as I’ll call him, is a foreigner of South Asian descent. I offer to give him a reward and he waves it away, appalled. “No, no, I didn’t return it to get a reward!” Then he hastily walks off.

Half an hour later, he SMSes me, tells me that he had to rush off because he was running late.

“If you really want to give me something, remember me in your prayers.”

I could have cried.

It was against the odds that I would get my purse intact, and that a Good Samaritan would go to all that trouble just to return it to me.

God bless him and all the people who make the extra effort to do good in this world.

My mother, the heartbreaking mystery

I have a difficult relationship with my mother. Yes, I love her but it is a love fraught with tension and the baggage of years.

Being her eldest daughter meant being the embodiment of all she hoped and feared.

She made sure I was never burdened with chores and that I had all the time I needed to study or revise. But when I was out too late and didn’t call home, she would tell my sisters that I was likely getting myself knocked up.

Her Jekyll and Hyde nature made it difficult growing up.

A beautiful woman who could charm government officials and cabbies with her wit and humour, but I heard every Malay swearword I know from her mouth.

She was damaged, I realise now, and more than likely bipolar. Most of it came from her father abandoning her and her mother, leaving mother in the care of her grandmother. My own grandmother from what I hear paid more attention to her other daughters with her new husband, leaving my mother the sole child of her separated parents.

When my father left her after nearly 20 years, she was a crying mess. But I wasn’t there to see my mother falling apart as I was away in university. A university I didn’t even want to attend but I did because my mother insisted it was the best place for me.

Ten years later, and my mother is a noted poet back home. A short story just won a major prize in a local literature competition. She’s published with the DBP and has established quite a name for herself in the Sabah literature scene. The chief minister even presented her with an Outstanding Woman award years back, which I only found out about through Google.

What makes me sad is that it is obvious now how talented she is but why didn’t she make the most of her talent when she was with my father?The truth is my father was everything to her. She gave up her ambitions to be a stay-at-home mom because my father demanded it of her. She had so much resentment over that and it poisoned their marriage but when you were made for something, and denied it too long, it hurts you.

I guess that’s why I’m afraid of marriage. Weary of commitment. Too prone to just running away screaming from being tied down or on the flipside always running right into the arms of men who will treat me badly/leave/offer me nothing lasting.

Though I often call myself my father’s daughter, I am also my mother’s. I have her sentimentality, her depth of emotion, her chattiness and intuitiveness. But like her, I am plagued with bouts of paranoia, self-doubt and yes, on occasion I swear like a sailor.

I used to be afraid of becoming my mother. But now I realise she has weathered so much. Loved so much and lost so much. But she has never given any less than everything when it came to her heart.

She is both the good and bad parts of me.

To be neither slut nor slave

I’ve only just discovered the ‘phenomenon’ that is Tucker Max.

He makes me sad. Tucker seems to revel in his disdain of the fairer sex, mocking and humiliating his conquests publicly. Yet what mystifies me more is how he keeps getting women into his bed.

If women would just say no to idiots like him, he would have nothing left to blog about. Which leads me to question the whole modern notion of feminism and freedom.

No, I’m no prude. I think a woman’s honour does not lie between her legs and who she chooses to sleep with is frankly no one’s business. A woman should have sovereignty over her own body, but that power is precious. Why then do women squander it so freely?

Let’s be honest. We women empower men like Tucker. If he didn’t get any, he wouldn’t be Tucker Max.

It scares me, the current culture where women are either objectified, subjugated, or made to feel inferior. In ancient Celtic culture, women were warriors and equals.

Read this quote on Celtic women in the old days:

“Celtic women then achieved high positions in society and a standing which their sisters in the majority of other contemporary European societies did not have. They were able to govern; they played an active part in political; social and religious life. They could be warriors, doctors, physicians, judges and poets. They could own property and remain the owner even when married. They had sexual freedom, were free to choose their partners and divorce, and could claim damages if molested. Celtic women could, and often did, lead their men into battle.”

Women were honoured for their minds, their battle prowess, their courage. But now women are praised for being pretty, empty-headed dollies whose only power seems to be to manipulate sex-obsessed men. And are despised for it. So-called women’s magazines don’t cater to women – they cater to an industry made around making women more desirable (physically) to men.

I admit that sometimes it hurts to hear that I’m destined to be an old maid because I have ‘too strong a personality’ or that I’m ‘too smart’. But if it’s the price I have to pay for being able to say that I achieved whatever I did in life with my mind and hard work, then I pay it gladly.

Feminism isn’t about waging war with the male species. It’s about reconnecting, finding that place where once we walked side-by-side as equals. Different in ways the other could appreciate, complementing each other instead of waging a war of dominance.

So, women, embrace being women and love men being men. And for God’s sake, quit giving Tucker Max pussy.

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My heart sings to me

Image via Wikipedia

2am in the morning and my little heart is keeping me up by singing.

I write with my heart.

I sing with my heart.

So I’m listening to it now as it achingly warbles a refrain in the middle of the night.

It’s a funny, daft little thing.

I’ve never pretended to have any control over it.

My mind tries, sometimes, to tell it to be a little more discerning.

To not be so open, to be more careful.

But my heart has a mind of its own and it feels what it feels, without me getting any say about it.

Sometimes it feels as though it’s not a part of me as much as it’s a separate little entity that chose to reside in my chest cavity.

If you were to take it out, you’d see it’s suffered a lot of damage over the years. You’d see the cracks and scars. And that it’s not whole, with so many missing pieces.

Because whenever I give it away, some little bit of of it always remains with the person I gave it to.

“Can’t you keep a little bit for yourself, at least?” I ask.

No, she says.

I never give less than everything.

That’s the problem, isn’t it?

Yes. I suppose so.

I used to wonder why God made me, and my heart, so broken. But then I realise that out of the brokenness, my heart always fashions something.

A song, a poem, essays. My words ache and drip with all the feeling my heart pumps into them. Like bread, to be broken and shared with the world.

I guess I’ll just be resigned to my heart wandering off, knowing it’ll come back a little more broken and a little less whole.

Yet no matter how many times it bleeds and breaks, love still remains in all the empty spaces the pieces leaves behind. And one day when my heart has finally given every last bit of itself away, love will still be there in its place.

I don’t pretend to understand it. I don’t think I can ever tell it what to do. But my heart will beat on and still give nothing less than everything.

Because that’s what it was made to do.

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We’re journalists too

Bollwitts in the Wall Street Journal
Image by miss604 via Flickr

One of my best friends made a career change from tech journalism to the politics beat.

He’s never been happier. Yet each time he speaks of his ‘past life’ with derision and condescension, I get a little bit angry.

There is this misguided perception that if you don’t cover hard news, you’re not a journalist.

That if you don’t write about politics or the like, you’re not a real reporter.

I beg to differ. It’s not the subject that matters; it’s the job scope. No matter what you report on, a journalist is called on to report facts and be held to certain standards.

Unlike my friend, I loved tech journalism. What fascinated me was the pace of innovation, and how technology became obsolete in a blink of an eye.

I believed that technology exists to improve our quality of life and the Internet is testament to that. It has opened up the flow of information and provided a cheaper, more efficient mode of communication that connects people from all over the world.

Business journalism is usually considered boring – nothing but numbers and profit balance sheets. If you read the Wall Street Journal, the quality of its journalism warrants having to pay for its online news. There is a precision and attention to detail I wish more news journalists practised.

One important role business journos have is to keep businesses honest. Corporations know that their performance, their business practises and operations are being watched and analysed. Widespread coverage of the Enron scandal brought attention to the need for more transparency and public accountability in the corporate world.

“But what about writers for gossip rags? Are they journalists?” Such publications that peddle in hearsay and fabrications aren’t places for people to practise journalism as much as they’re made for populist entertainment.

My point here is: just because a reporter is covering a ‘softer’ beat such as tech, business or even, heck, lifestyle, it doesn’t mean he’s not putting in as much effort. That what they’re writing about matters less and that they don’t deserve to be called journalists.

Instead of looking down our noses at other journalists, we should be acknowledging the struggles all journalists face. Crap pay, members of the public who don’t realise nor appreciate the effort and hardship that goes into creating content and for some of us, the loom of arrests or lawsuits.

I am a writer who tries her hardest to be a journalist and sometimes, I wonder if I’m letting the title down. But one thing’s for sure – I refuse to deride others who are doing their darndest best to do the same.

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Destiny is being true to yourself

“Choose life,” George Monbiot says in his essay to aspiring journalists/career seekers. (

Yet too many people choose to do the opposite – doing what they don’t want to do and being who they don’t want to be.

“To thine own self be true” is not a statement of necessity, it is sheer common sense.

I’m not advocating twiddling thumbs and sitting around until your ‘dream job’ falls out of the sky. If all you have are dreams but have neither skills nor talent to back it up, you are simply being delusional.

Stop trying to be someone else. You are you for a reason and it is up to you to find out what you do best and get good at it.

Even your weaknesses can become your strengths, if you know how to turn them to your best advantage.

My gift/curse is the intensity of my emotions. At their worst, they cripple me, locking me in that self-contained hell that is the prison of clinical depression. Or I lash out with a fury so intense, it won me the dubious title of Dragon Queen. And I often regret the aftermath of unsalvageable burnt bridges and innocents singed by my temper.

Yet it is that same intensity that gives life to my otherwise unremarkable writing. I am no master of metaphor, no connoisseiur of prose. But when I am ‘on fire’, my words are saturated with earnest feeling. I write with my heart and not my mind, the latter only serving to add much needed coherence to my passionate rambling.

If you ever reach an impasse where you are unsure what to do, then my only advice is to be who you are. Follow your star.

You will always be a mediocre version of someone else.

Why settle for that when you can be the best version of you?

The grass might not be greener for you

Coats of arms of Malaysia
Image via Wikipedia

“Shouldn’t I go, too?” That’s the question I get asked by youngsters who watch their peers migrate overseas.

Even Patrick Teoh, stalwart of the arts scene, is contemplating just leaving the country.

If you are eligible to migrate, the reasoning goes, then pack your bags and leave.

Give up on Malaysia. Don’t put up with the corruption, our politicians’ collective stupidity, race-based policies and uncertain economic future.

For me, migration is frankly not an option.

I’m poor, from a broken lower middle class family, with qualifications from a lowly local university and am not particularly talented. I have to stay because I have no other options.

But what about those who do? Is it worth staying around? Or should they just fly?

1. If you are a doctor, engineer, scientist or academician, perhaps you will be better off overseas. The pay is better, you will have a better quality of life and you won’t have to put up with the BS you get here.

2. If you don’t have a professional qualification or are in the creative line, I will be honest: quality of life will be better but career opportunities? Not so.

I meet the occasional deluded artist who thinks that once they go to the US/UK/etc, their talent will be recognised and stardom is within reach.

Look at yourself in the mirror. In predominantly Caucasian countries, Asian minorities find it particularly challenging to get roles and not get typecast.

Most actors or creatives struggle to get a break and find themselves competing with tens of thousands of hopefuls.

In Malaysia it’s hard to make a living. Most creatives juggle day jobs and moonlight just to stay afloat. We have a smaller market and the pay overall is pathetic.

But if you want to be a writer or a journalist, Malaysia might possibly be the best place for you to start. Overseas, the competition is pretty fierce just to get a journalism internship while here, all you have to do is call HR.

But if you try to get an entry-level job overseas, best of luck. Expect years of unemployment especially as even locals struggle to break into journalism.

I know people who’ve struggled overseas trying to get a foothold but they were in the wrong fields. Fields already saturated with locals and where foreign citizenship was a disadvantage and not an asset.

As I tell those frustrated with the pace of change in this country, I tell you honestly that the change you wish might not happen in your time. Whatever we fight for and espouse today might only come to fruition when our grandchildren are having babies.

Our country is young and despite everything has a lot of potential. We have to acknowledge what has changed: we have access to more sources for news. We have the Internet. We are no longer as beholden to the government as we used to be.

Every little bit we can do to make this country better counts. Write letters. Organise campaigns. Write. Create. Do and be what you are.

I have neither money nor clout but what I can give my country is the effort to educate and enlighten. My gifts are minuscule but in the long run I hope my words matter.

Even with the corruption, bad governance, stupid people I meet…this is home.

For better or for worse.

(For thoughts on Sept 16, read my older piece in Malaysiakini:

For better or worse, Happy Birthday Malaysia

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When love and faith don’t mix

Yasmin Ahmad’s obsession with Malay girl/Chinese boy relationships was something I found cloying.
Not to mention all the non-Muslim boys quibbling about how they can’t hook up with Malay/Muslim girls because of the whole ‘having to convert’ thing.

They blame Malaysian law, blather on about human rights.
Let’s get some facts straight.
Islam dictates clearly that Muslim men may marry women who are ‘People of the Book’ i.e. Christians or Jews.
Unfortunately, the same doesn’t apply for Muslim women. There are reasons behind that, which I will not comment on as I’m not well-versed in Islamic code and strictures.

So even if it wasn’t a legal requirement in this country for a man to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim girl, chances are he would still get pressure anyway.

No tok kadi would marry or recognise a marriage between a Muslim girl to a non-Muslim.
Let’s not get into the kind of pressures the girl’s family would exert. “Kau nak kahwin kafir? Dia tak nak peluk Islam? Kau gila ke apa?”

In an ideal world, having different faiths shouldn’t be an obstacle to falling in love or getting married.
But when a faith clearly delineates boundaries, there will be a hard choice to make:
Will you go against love? Or go against your faith? If your faith never mattered much to you in the first place, then this is a very easy choice. No drama involved at all.

Christianity itself frowns upon marriages that are ‘inequally yoked’. Unlike Islam, it doesn’t expressly forbid a believer from marrying a non-believer but it warns of the many pitfalls such a marriage entails.

I know a Christian boy who, despite a deep connection with a Muslim girl, stopped short of having a relationship with her. He ended up slowly distancing himself from her because he knew that he could, and would, only choose God.

Some may call that retarded. But the thing is, for some people faith is precious. God is central to their lives and being with someone so opposed to something that is so much a part of you is painful.

If you were a churchgoer, wouldn’t it depress you everytime your lover calls you stupid for worshipping a lie? How can you not take it personally?
Faith in God makes me what I am so being with someone who refuses to accept that or tries to force me to give that up – I can’t.

Men come. Men go. They leave. They lie. They make promises they cannot keep.

Romance is overrated. Romeo and Juliet were lovesick fools with very stupid families.
So if you expect me to give up my God for you, you are asking me to give a part of myself up.

You are asking me to become something I am not.
Love means accepting a person for what they are. For who they are. For what they believe in.

If you have to force them to change that, then you do not understand what love is at all. And probably never will.

As Philip Yancey said in “The Jesus I Never Knew”: “Even God with all his power, cannot force a man to love.”
If you have to make someone into something else, if you have to change them into something they’re not, or someone more pleasing to you, then you have no business saying you ‘love’ someone.

Facing the fear

“So you begin the process of spiritual healing by listening to your unconscious.
Examine your dreams.
Explore your pain and anger.
Face up to the terror of your inner loneliness.
Find strength in your weakness.
Overcome your fear of losing your identity by giving it up willingly.
With devotion and discipline, you will discover the ability to give up your pride, forgive those who have hurt you, and give of yourself in pure love.
And then you will be on the path of life and healing.”