Writing on Whether to Write or not to Write Personal Stuff

Personal writing in fictionWriting about personal stuff is something that comes up around me from time to time. I have touched upon it in some of my posts, I have wondered about it in my head, I have talked about it with friends, writers or otherwise.

The other day, I heard someone ask a published author on how to go about writing about personal stuff, painful things, toxic things, hurtful things. Especially when the writing would involve not only the writer’s own life but that of others. What happens if you write about people who actually recognize themselves? What are the ethics of the situation?

Such writing has been done, time and time again. But a majority of writers, like Susan Breen, for instance, would not think of lifting a character totally out of life, and leaving him or her as is.

Let us admit it, most fiction writing starts from fact, from personal experience. But most writers use that experience as a springboard, as a platform from where they can ask the “what if” question, so that the resultant people and world they create in their work is “faction” if you like, “fact + fiction”. I belong to this category.

Very few people are as talented and as honest as Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who could create enduring works out of their often somewhat squalid and relentlessly experimental lives. An open life is not very easy to lead.

If you are a writer, how do you incorporate personal experience in your work?

Write-as-you-think journal entry after a long time

Writing a journal seems to be a favorite preoccupation for people, cos it is one of the top searches that lands people on this blog. Even though I have not mentioned the word “journal” in quite some time now. Maybe it is just students with journal assignments?
So, I thought, maybe we do one of my journal entries today.

It was a busy Sunday, um, a busy weekend. Make that a busy month. Even a busy year so far. Only problem is, I have been busy doing everything other than the stuff I’ve been wanting to do. All the things that would have been on my New Year Resolution list (I stopped making those when I was ten and one of my resolutions was “grow taller”) I have left undone.

Life has a weird way of taking over and dictating its terms just when you have the biggest urge to control it.

Maybe just let go, huh?

Not on. I just can’t let go. Of Anything. I am like one of my cousins who always had one raw wound somewhere on himself, because he had to, just had to, pick at the scabs. Couldn’t let go. He was eleven at the time and did not know any better, but you’d think someone my age would know better, right? Apparently not.

I have studied Wu wei, written sporadically about it, but there is a big gap between knowledge and practice. To spend your time in inaction, acting only at the right moment and only as much as the moment requires for the restoration of universal harmony— seems like too many high-flown words.

But Wu wei is a lot about the essential nature of our being.

I like to imagine that inside each of us is a beautiful, blue calm lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides, where a morning-fresh breeze unceasingly blows. A shimmering blue lake that reflects the pines on its banks, if only we let it stay that way. Instead, we throw stones, create ripples, shout out loud and break that majestic silence, the silence of our soul.

I try and visit this lake every once in a while, and find it surprisingly easy to let go of all the noise of my existence around its tranquil waters.

Perhaps I should want to do something, but then not try too hard (ouch, whatever happened to try, try again?), bring my desire as a prayer to the azure lake and wait for it to be granted—stranger things have been known to happen.

My inner lake, here I come.

Writing a Poem AGAIN (grrrrrr!) Based on Rick’s Writing Prompt

Writing about a painting as writing prompt

Okay now, this is the third time I am writing based on Rick’s writing prompts. He is a generous soul who is contributing his paintings and creating a wonderful artist’s community around him. My anger is totally directed at myself: why am I bursting out in poems, when all I am trying to write is prose? I love poetry, don’t mistake me, even love writing about it, but  I simply don’t think writing poetry is doing any good to me at this juncture.

Well, since I have written it out, here it is. I dedicate it to Naomi, for whatever it is worth. (I apologize in advance, Naomi, in case you do not like it…:), and I hope the birth is easy)

I call it “Ripe with the Fullness of Waiting”

Ripe with the Fullness of Waiting

Our kiss was as lightning:
it joined the sun
and the earth,
in molten fire,
in blinding light.

Our love made poignant
by the slow mating
of our kindred souls,
fragile, numinous, bright,
has long settled in my womb,
taken a life of its own,
a beating heart.

I gather myself now,
wrung of thought and
drenched in longing
for those feet
that kick me from within,
I want to feel
that skin, so tender,
soft with loving,
on my cheek.

I am ripe
with the fullness of waiting,
ready for that stab of pain,
for that timeless moment
when our love will no longer
be a feeling,
ethereal, unbodied,
but a treasured face
our hands can touch.

Writing about Why Anonymous Blogs are Useful

Anonymous writing rantsWriting on this blog sometimes becomes a difficult exercise: because this is a public blog.

A lot of people who know me in real life know about this blog. And some of them definitely read it.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I long to have an anonymous place to rave, rant, let my hair down, whatever.

Time to find some of my fictional characters and let them go on the rampage instead of me…living vicariously is easy when you are a writer:)

Writing about Malaysia and Singapore

Singapore and Malaysia comparisonWriting about where you stay often becomes your favorite pastime if you are an expatriate. For me, I lived in Malaysia (Kuala lumpur to be precise) for almost two years, then moved to Singapore for an year and a half, and am now back in Kuala lumpur (KL) again. I cannot claim to know either country in depth, but when has that stopped me (or anyone else) from forming opinions and perceptions?

We like to think we know a place and its people if we stay there for a while, because if we admit we don’t, we feel a little disadvantaged…and er…let’s say disoriented. Maybe “dislocated” is the word I am looking for.

Anyhow. Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore and Malaysia. How do they compare? (I know this will end up as a comparison between KL and Singapore, because I have seen the rest of Malaysia only as a tourist would, through predictable weekends at Penang, Ipoh, Cameron, Cherating, Langkawi, and so on.)

Singapore is often compared with other countries, and most often with Malaysia, because Singapore was earlier a part of Malaysia—-we all know about that sort of feeling don’t we?

Well, here goes, Singapore and Malaysia from the eyes of an expat:

  • Singapore is fast and efficient. It took me all of three hours to get connections for broadband, television, cell phone and land-line. It took me more than three weeks in KL for all the same things, and I am not sure I am happy with my broadband speed even now.
  • Singapore is easy even if you do not own a car. There are trains and buses and taxis going any possible place you might want to go, at any time of night or day. Ok, only the taxis run at night, but you can hail or call them anytime. In KL, if you do not own a car, you are handicapped. The cabs are few. You could chat with a cab driver in Singapore but a cab driver in KL would keep asking “Sini?” (“Here?” in Malay) at every turn, eager to drop you off. I am not sure how many Malaysians take buses and trains to work. Can’t be that many.
  • Singapore has an antiseptic sense of cleanliness. The malls are cleaner than some hospitals I have seen. The roads are cleaner than corridors and toilets of some of the world’s hospitals. The toilets? Well, Singaporean toilets are cleaner than some of the world’s living rooms. Malaysians are a little less maniacal about cleanliness, but they can learn a thing or two from Singapore about toilet hygiene. I hope.
  • Malaysia is a place of smiles: the girls collecting toll smile, the security personnel smile, the immigration officers smile, it comes naturally to them. Singaporeans smile too, but their smiles look like they have been reading instruction manuals meant for air-hostesses.
  • Singaporeans do everything the way their government instructs them, and the government instructs frequently (even on chewing gums). I have seen neat placards near playgrounds saying: Children Must Play Quietly. Malaysians let their children loose anywhere they go, malls, hospitals, churches. Malaysian parents seem to think screaming in public places is every child’s birthright.
  • In Malaysia, people drive like the road belongs to them. In Singapore, they mostly drive like the road belongs to everyone else.
  • In Singapore, queues are sacred. You will see queues everywhere, at donut shops in shopping malls, at shops distributing freebies, at taxi stands, cemeteries. Everywhere, in short. In Malaysia, queues are not taken seriously. Period.
  • Malaysians love their food, and they don’t care where they get it. You can have some of the most delicious food at roadside hawker stalls. You will find BMWs and Ferraris parked beside humble Proton Wiras outside a stall that is famous for Char kway teow or Asam Laksa. In Singapore, the rich go to fancy restaurants, and the rest go to lesser restaurants and food-courts. People meet over food in Malaysia, in Singapore they meet over shopping.
  • When you meet people in Malaysia for the first time (naturally at a place where the food is scrumptious), you are likely to be asked, “What would you like to drink?”. In Singapore, the question would be,”What do you do (for a living)?”
  • In Malaysia, expatriates (and their spouses) are not given work permits or permanent resident status despite merit. In money-driven Singapore on the other hand, these things are issued based on ability to contribute to the country, not on race or religion. Sigh, poor me, an expat’s wife. The tough-as-nails Singapore government welcomed me to work and stay with open arms, but in Malaysia, alas, the hospitality and friendliness remains a quality only of its people, not its government.
  • In Singapore, my husband did not care if I took a cab at 3 am alone. In Malaysia, he worries if I take one alone at 6 pm. There are rapes, murders and robberies in Malaysia, much like in a lot of other countries. In Singapore, the crime news consists of accounts of shoplifters being caned mercilessly. (Ok, I exaggerated on that one, but you get the picture.)
  • The most important thing to remember about both countries: Most Malaysians hate Singaporeans and think they are stuck up and kiasu. All Singaporeans hate Malaysians and think they are lazy.

If I really, really ask myself, I like the relentless efficiency of Singapore, but there is nothing really to love or hate, there is great liking and but mostly, there is indifference.

I love Malaysia’s people, its natural beauty, its food. I hate the slowness, and of course, the corruption.

I am not so sure if I should believe that the “opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference”.

But there you go: I have a love-hate thing going on for Malaysia, but for Singapore, it is indifference.

Writing About My Love Affair

Writing about used booksI have been writing about books every now and then, books I am reading, books I wish to read.

Back when I was a student, and sometimes did not know where the next meal would come from, I would still buy books. Books sold by weight on Indian pavements, because in those days in India they wasted nothing, and I could not afford shiny new books.

But now, when I can afford to buy any book I might possibly want, used books still call to me.

I tried to write about this love affair (in prose, mind you!) but I can’t help it, I think each books speaks to me in verse, in words which are garbled prayer and temptation,  so here goes (sigh, again, “a poem”!!!! Rick, you are laughing, aren’t you?)

Thumbed, dog-eared,
cover torn in places
names written, forgotten
crossed out, passed on.

I come with a tang
of lazy afternoons,
of mildewed bookshelves
falling apart,
of cheap colognes
on a young man
looking for a start,
of pungent desires
shakily denied,
salted airs in a
pickle factory where
I almost died,
of this dusty pavement
where I am to be sold
made into packets, bags,
my story untold.

Come pick me up
take me with you
and you shall know
of whispered confessions,
innuendos, half-written
poems, and shattered
dreams, as I talk
to you and you listen
with your eyes closed and
an open heart.

For my best secrets
were not printed
on my body
but written
into my soul
by all these years
I spent waiting,
waiting for you,
my love.