Monday, August 18, 2008

Whose life are you living for?

Have you ever wondered, as you sit in front of the wide-screen television watching your favourite soap opera (martial arts, legal drama, forensic, the ever-popular police force or whichever it may be) what it actually does to your brain and emotions?

We've all had that experience of being deeply affected by a movie. Bambi's mother, Forrest Gump...the emotional effects of a touching film moment can be as real as our own experiences. Except that it's contrived so; to tweak your emotions, to squeeze your heart. Doesn't that feel rather manipulative to you?

I mean, don't we have enough from daily life to deal with already?

Perhaps we don't. The figures on the screen, the actors with their well-rehearsed lines, are everything and do everything that we wish we could. We live voraciously through them: how could she do that? That's so stupid! He's so evil....

A study showed that the number of hospital admissions for paracetamol overdose in Britain increased after a showing of television drama Casualty depicted a man trying to kill himself by swallowing 50 paracetamol tablets. Some patients did admit to the show influencing their choice of drug in attempting suicide. It's scary to think how vulnerable we are, how easily influenced not just by encounters with real people, but with stories dreamt up by Hollywood scriptwriters.

I wonder if we were meant to live like this. Anesthesized to the real world, glued to our tv screens and internet browsers and games, seeking the next exciting thing. Reminds me of the wife (Mildred Montag, SparkNotes informs me) in Fahrenheit 451, glued to the tv and only a shell of a human being.

I am glued to the computer most of my waking hours, but sometimes it does pay to remember that people lived perfectly happy lives before technology or instant entertainment, and in some parts of the world they still do. I want to breathe non air-conditioned air, to close an internet window and open a real one, to laugh with a friend, to play a board game. Sometimes. There are still things that technology cannot give us.

And if that does not make my life primetime TV, so be it. My life and fate and relationships are not in the hands of a talented scriptwriter or the fancy of the audience, but my own. And that is worth it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ungratefulness, or something more?

Many days now, I wake up and think about everything that isn't perfect about my life. How I still have so much homework unfinished and only a week of holidays left. How my body's insatiable desire for sleep and my lack of willpower to fight it robs me of so many productive hours each day. How life is unfair; that so many people are smarter, prettier, richer, more pulled-together than I am. It's like the goddess of Fortune gave them more things in the handout line, and I was left scrambling for the leftovers.

And then suddenly it washes over me inexorably with the ring of truth: I am so, so ungrateful.

While I complain and stress out over applying to universities abroad, about how much work it is, how difficult to get in; I completely overlook the fact that I am so, so privileged to have this opportunity. It's like being let out into the garden of Eden and complaining that it's boring because everything is perfect and good. How many people I know would never dream of this - because they were never exposed to it? If I were like one of my primary school friends, without the English-speaking background and the financial ability and the access to reading that widened my horizons - I would want different things. A steady job as a salesperson. A course at a local college. A car. Yet, having access to so much more, I only look to those who have more and bemoan my lack.

I know this thought isn't original, in fact I've read it on a lot of blogs, newspapers, books etc. before - to be thankful for the health, wealth, happiness and all the blessings that we have. And when I read it I agree with the author, that we have so much more than the kids in Africa (I use the generic term on purpose - I know not all kids in Africa are starving, and not all parts of Africa are in a mess). And that we should definitely stop complaining and just enjoy our good fortune. Help the poor and unfortunate in society. Live simply.

However, that wasn't the point I'm aiming for. Having stumbled on this epiphany, what ought I do? Surely there is some moral obligation that comes with all this good fortune. Surely a price to pay. Besides exploiting every advantage in hand, pushing myself to the top of the pile just to make it in the eyes of society. That is too meaningless, when others are fighting everyday; begging, stealing, pimping and doing anything to survive.

The obvious answer - to put myself forward as a bridge reconciling the horrendous gap in our world - be a modern-day Robin Hood, robbing the rich (politely and peacefully) to give to the poor, is too trite to be believable. Our instinct for self-preservation is too great; our selfishness too deeply ingrained in us. While there are some exalted mortals who are truly selfless, I am not yet one of them. Besides, no one acts against our base nature without some stronger motivation that overrides the former's commands - and the call to self-sacrifice is not strong enough yet for me to stop tapping to the beat of our materialistic, self-centred world.

Maybe once in a while I pause and look up, wondering if there is another song - a song to end all songs - one I can dance my whole life away for and not regret a single step. But the pull of the familiar is too strong, and I am lost in the cacophony again.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Alternate Futures


The lights are dimmed. A low hum of chatter comes from the few tables of diners in this small art-deco cafe, a laugh erupting now and then. No one pays attention to the change until a spotlight shines center-stage and a smooth baritone announces: "Ladies and gentlemen, the act for tonight. A mix of soul and jazz to soothe your tired mind, put a dance in your step. May I introduce to you...."

An average-looking brunette walks out from side stage, the checked shift-dress accentuated by a wide pleather belt and an attention-grabbing plumed hat. A few patrons giggle.

She grasps the microphone and keen observers note the slight trembling. A low A key thrums across the room and the audience is spellbound. Like an expert surgeon she slides between their ribs and slices out their hearts.

Just a human voice. She is not one of the Sirens bewitching sailors to her island; where they, helpless to resist are dashed to pieces on the rocks, their blood lapped up by hungry fish in an uncaring sea. But she holds the same key to a kingdom beyond words, where beggars are kings and mice are lions. She knows of no truths but one: the song must go on, to its very end. There is no pleasure or pain, joy or tragedy in music, though man give it such qualities. It just is, and the purest note speaks more than a million well-chosen words. Her vocal chords were merely a crude tool; the music she produced a fleeting glimpse of the ultimate Melody. But compared to the rest, what a tool it was!

The waiter. The bored bartender. The rouged women, the smirking men whose expressions seemed to say "I've seen it all". The person-shaped shadows in the corners. They die to the music with a smile on their faces.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Writing, and Malaysia

There are so many things that I want to blog about that my mind is racing. In completely different directions. I am reminded once again of the maxim "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows not".

The heart- don't you sometimes wish you didn't have one? It scoffs at logic and common sense and discipline. It speaks its own language. It reminds you that all good and all evil ultimately springs from it. And how important it is to keep oneself pure.

Sometimes, I wish I could write as fast as I talk. Ideas pop into my head at the weirdest times. When I want to sleep. When I'm in the car or the bus. When I'm driving. And they don't come in proper structures like sentences, but in a rush - like a two-hour long movie shown at high speed. You catch snippets of it here and there, the beginning and the end are crystal clear and you KNOW for sure this is the one idea that will make it big. If only the soaring emotion, the words that would immortalise the day and you forever, would stick in your head long enough for you to get into a cyber cafe and start typing.

Also, I realised over the weekend at a conference how smart Malaysians are. We have so many smart people here that if they all stayed and did their most in the field they were passionate about, Malaysia could have a turnaround. I just hope they'll come back. They will benefit anywhere, but Malaysia needs them most. Maybe their hearts will tell them what their logical brains refuse to accept:)

Yes, I have to admit it. There is hope for this country. There is even hope for SOME of our politicians, if what I and 500-odd participants at this years Malaysian Student Leaders Summit heard. And when there's so much fun happening, and true hope of rebuilding a better nation for all, who can resist the challenge?