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Coming to Life

It's been a while and I've been dormant for a long time. Life's too short for excuses, so let's just say I've wasted enough of it being asleep. I want to wake up now. I want to write.

And right now, I don't want to worry about not writing well. It's funny that Odyssey helped me to unblock my traditionally slow writing style. I wrote more stories in days than I did in years. But then it also delivered upon me the guilt of revision. Most of my stories, two years on, are still lying in a "to-be-revised" pile. I find revision very hard. But they bear on my mind. The critiques are excellent but my mind feels stuck on them like a Sudoku puzzle I can't solve (No surprise, I don't like Sudoku either).

So you know what, screw revision for now. It's not what I need right now. Unless a story is broken (as in unworkable), I'm going to send the bloody thing out. That's right, the Harlan Ellison route. What I need right now is circulation. I need to write new stories and send them out, probably just as I finish them. They can be rejected, that's fine. I just want to keep going and going. Stagnation feels awful.

When I get to that stage when I know I won't stop, we'll talk revision then.
INCEPTION

Marion Cotillard is so hot.

Yeah, here's my shallow first comment about Inception, which I watched today ;) I don't recall her clearly from watching Jeux d'Enfants years ago, but she really has grown up to become one of the most beautiful women in the world since then.

But yes, Inception is worth every single star of its perfect five or ten (whichever rating system works for you) because it is a exquisite russian-doll jewel box of a movie that is lovingly filmed and designed, yet rigorous and not at all indulgent. Its sheer genius is that the story works on any level you want. You can read it at face-value or you can draw up numerous theories, each more complex and theological as you want and they would all make sense. For that reason, this ending that everyone talks about is perfect because really, it satisfies everyone. Well, except for those people who like to be _sure_.

The husband says it's Nolan's best movie so far. For me this movie was lovely to behold and I admire it like you would admire, you know, those amazing works of art like a landscape painted on a grain of rice, mathematical paradoxes, Escher's art (love the homage), but ultimately it lacked the emotional sucker-punch for me that The Prestige had. The Prestige is not as flawless as Inception but I'm going to argue it's better.

Anyway, please stop reading here, cos I'm going to break out the spoilers and speculate over what I think are the easy questions to answer, and the hard ones. For me, I came in thinking I knew all the answers and I'm now less sure. It's the bigger thematic questions that I find a lot harder.

Read more...Collapse )

Robin Hobb and Maeve Binchy

After giving Robin Hobb's Soldier's Son trilogy a pass, I was starting to wonder if my memory of her Six Duchies and Liveship series wasn't quite what I thought it was. It's a horrible thing, I admit, for a fan to doubt a writer she admires. I mean, I thought the Liveship trilogy was pretty much perfect. Not even GRR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire was that (perhaps it would be if he completed it). When I first read The Assassin's Apprentice, I did find probably half the book slow and hard-going to read but persisted until it finally caught on with me and broke my heart. So really, I don't know why I stopped reading Shaman's Crossing so early on. Part of me felt guilty for not giving it a chance, until my brother who read all three told me not to bother.

So when Dragon Keeper appeared, I was rather tentative. Would it be up to equalling the sheer genius and virtuosity of the Liveship series or would it weigh it down? But I ended up reading the whole book overnight and I'm glad to say that it was terrific writing. The pacing was fantastic, not too slow that you fret, and not too fast that you missed the loving details that she'd worked in. The prose, Oh My God, the prose was the best I'd read in a long time. Do you know that "ding" sound you hear when people pick the right letters in Wheel of Fortune? I have that for a finely turned phrase, a bon mot, and my mind was just going "ding, ding, ding" all the way when I was reading. So much so it was like there were musical windchimes tinkering in the room.

I'm looking forward to Dragon Haven now (we have it; my brother's reading it first) with fervour. Yes, fervour has returned. I am sorry that I was such a fickle fan. (But Robin Hobb should really just stay in the Rainwilds--she's a true alchemist, turning everything her pen touches to gold in this world). I hear it's meant to be a duology but I hope there'll be more.

I also spent the last two days reading two books (Quentin's and This Year it will be Different) by Maeve Binchy (all this reading and very little work-- I'm terrible as a freelance writer), and she's such a wonderful writer. One thing that I really admire about her is that she really knows who she is as a writer. She writes women's fiction, and boy is she good at it. Her writing is simple and exquisite. There are digressions but they are charming and you don't mind, really. There is plenty of disappointment and heartbreak but written about without dramatics, with a generous dose of optimism. I hope I will be able to write as well as Maeve Binchy one day.

My First Publication

And here's the link to my story, Hunger, over at this month's issue of Expanded Horizons.

http://expandedhorizons.net/magazine/?page_id=1389

A friend said it was apt for Mother's Day and you know what, I think it is. The story is about, at its heart, a mother's love, and what she will do to protect her kids, even if she becomes the worst kind of monster.

On Pain

Today I read my usual weekly numerology column and it advises me to let myself feel.

But right now I am too busy to feel much. I am so numbed out by busyness that often the only thing that reminds me I'm alive is that dull low sensation of emotional pain. It's very mild, caused by no one and nothing but my current constraints. I don't notice it except during very quiet moments like today when my class was doing a test and I was staring out a window across a sunlight dappled courtyard at a girl walking across the grass.

But when I do notice it, I remember that I'm not happy. I'm not satisfied with my life as it is now. But it's okay. It's just pain. I think pain is being alive. We were made to feel pain. I'm not talking about the kind of pain that overrides everything else, but small pains, like ulcers, cuts, bruises, insect bites, allergies. Why should such small things hurt? Why don't we have thicker hides? And similarly, why should the sensitivities of everyday life hurt in that aching, throbbing way? And would you feel alive without your everyday heartbreak?

And if we feel pain, that's allowing ourselves to feel right? Not in an overindulgent, angsty type of way but just in accepting the presence of our dark passenger (as Dexter would say).

I'm not saying that pain is good. I'm saying is that pain is living.

My Sister's Keeper & Whale Rider

I watched the movies My Sister's Keeper and Whale Rider today, and found that I enjoyed them. Whale Rider I expected to like, so that was not a surprise really, but I found My Sister's Keeper to be better than I expected it to be (and in case you're wondering why I'm watching movies I don't expect to like, it's for a curriculum module I'm working on).

Let's talk about My Sister's Keeper first. I've never read the novel by Jodi Picoult but the story I believe is based on a real medical dilemma back before kidney transplants between donors was possible. Similar to the novel, the sisters involved were 13 and 16. I remember it so well because my secondary school teacher used the case study as an ethics debate, which divided my class. Half insisted on taking the kidney anyway (and a good number of them aspired to become medical professionals too), while the other half insisted that the girl, at 13, had the right to decide over her own body. I was in that half. I'm still in that half today.

It was interesting to see the movie lower that age down to 11. Whether a child of 11 has the maturity to make such a decision is definitely to much more in the grey than at 13, but Abigail Breslin sells it to me. I found the movie weepy, but not really in a maudlin way. The treatment was fairly graceful. I appreciated the very nuanced acting from the Evan Ellingson as the neglected Jesse, and thought one of the most heartstrings tugging moments of the movie came from Brennan Bailey, who played dyslexic Jesse at age 10.  The only actor I didn't completely buy into was Cameron Diaz acting as Sara. I can't see her as a lawyer, nor as a mother of three, unfortunately. The casting was so odd. Why didn't they cast Joan Cusack as the mother instead?

I hear the book's much better at the in-depth character studies but I don't know if I'll get around to reading it since I already have a groaning shelf of books waiting. Also, while I'll sit through a movie of this genre, I find it harder to read. That being said, I've heard so many good things about the way The Lovely Bones is written that I think I will skip the movie (said to be a stinker) and make an attempt at reading the book.

Now to Whale Rider, I think it's an awesome and unique movie for what it's achieved and for teaching the world about Maori culture. It is something of a rough diamond but it sparkles plenty. I think a lot of it is due to Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was really good in the lead role of Paikea, the girl who seeks her grandfather's approval but is constantly disregarded because she is a girl. I liked that she didn't go overboard in playing a tomboy. She plays a regular girl, but a girl who is clearly strong of will and proud of her culture. It takes a good actress to do that. It would have been so easy to overact the role but she didn't.

My nit pick would be that I kind of wish that the resolution of the story didn't feel so much like "magic" but I guess nothing but a strong sign from the Universe would be enough to change her grandfather's mind. I also wish that the various people that Pai wins over in her journey would have stood up for her more but I guess no one is allowed to contradict the chief.

AussieCon 2010

WorldCon this year is held in Melbourne, Australia from 2 to 6 Sept 2010 and I wish I could go! I've got invites from three Odyssey classmates who all have plenty of room in their homes for us, and it's so tempting! After all, AussieCon is the closest con there is to Singapore and I'm told it is the most fun out of all the cons.

However, it looks like I'm all booked up during the period. If all goes well, my brother will be starting college in the US, which calls for a family trip (woot, I love New England). And then, right at the end of Sept, it's my long awaited honeymoon to Tokyo :) I can't wait for that.

I contemplated the idea of squeezing all three trips together, but I think it would just be crazy to travel that much. Not to mention that it would cost so much. I've been working so hard in the last six months that I am really loathe to let go of my "blood-sweat money" as we say.

30 this year

I'll be turning 30 this year and my friends and I have been musing over this upcoming milestone in our lives since the beginning of the year. We'd just be pretending if we said it wasn't a big deal, because in all our hearts, it is. Not in the "omahgod, i'm a failure!" way, but in the sense that all of us had certain expectations of ourselves and where we hoped to be by 30, and this milestone calls for a review. It's just that kind of a year.

Turning 30 also means saying goodbye to the 20s, that terrible and exciting decade in which you alternately feel like you could do anything, achieve any dream, and like the most untalented, worthless person on earth who would never amount to anything. Yep. You know what, I'm glad to see the back of it.

Standing on this threshold, I think I can say that I'm happy with where I am. I'm not some prodigy or firebrand, and that's okay, I didn't want to be one. I'm not some bestselling writer, but I have the rest of my life to get there :) I spent my 20s fulfilling various obligations, and now I am almost free of them.  I've cleared out the skeletons in my closet and chased away most of the boogeymen under the bed, and I'm less afraid than I used to be. In the last few years, I've taken real steps towards working hard for my dream. To do that, I've turned down petal-strewn paths that just weren't the paths I wanted to take (I mean, don't you just love the crunch of gravel?).

This article reminded me that I'm not the only person who walked away:
http://www.11points.com/Personal/11_Famous_People_Who_Were_in_the_Completely_Wrong_Career_at_Age_30

I particularly like Stallone's story about putting that energy into attacking his 30s. I think it's true. It's the kind of year that makes you get up and do something, isn't it? Let's hope it's true for me!

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"It's been a long, long time coming...

...but I know, a change's gonna come..."

If you haven't seen me around these parts lately, it's because I've been working my ass off for the last four months or so juggling various freelance projects. My family's been going through some rough patches in the last six months, and my mind has been heavy with trouble.

After coming back from Odyssey, I was working on multiple stories, all of which came to a sudden halt when shit hit the fan (to put it nicely). At first because I was reeling from shock, and then later because I was scrambling to find work, to pay bills, to find solutions...and dealing with anger.

Even though the worst is over and I'm no longer angry, I still feel like I'm scrambling, mentally and emotionally. Although I have a lot to be grateful for. I'm grateful that my family banded together instead of splintering. I'm grateful for understanding relatives (I don't think I ever appreciated them so much before). I'm grateful for my husband's long distance support.  I'm grateful for having work (no matter how stressful) that has kept food on the table and a roof over my family's head.

I can't wait for all this to be over though. I can't wait to finally move to Vancouver to be with the husband. I can't wait to catch a break. I can't wait to take the time to focus on re-crafting my Odyssey stories. Thank God for Codex as well. They've been a singular lamp in my life for organising contests that helped me write a new short story and three flash stories. Without them, my scoreboard would have been a big fat zero.

Above all, I want to finish more work and send them out into the world. There's been plenty of speed bumps and detours along the way but I want to be a working, productive writer from here on out.

So here's the good news: I just got news last week that Expanded Horizons will be accepting my story for publication in May. My first sale! It will almost be a year from Odyssey. I crashed most of last year, but now I feel like the cycle is just starting to pick up momentum again.

I feel like it's really time to up my game. It's started. I have to keep going.

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