From Thinker-Blog

Write, shine, and poetry

For National Poetry Day, I thought I’d share two pieces here that I had written at a recent Write & Shine session, where we explored the writing we do by hand. As always, it was a brilliantly inspiring creative morning.

 

Handwriting

It’s your personal font.
Shaped and detailed through years,
through broken bones, sprained wrists, and
tendonitis.
The font changes to you
but not to the world.
Neat or messy,
scattered or uniformed,
it is the emblem of your strength, needs, quirks.
It shows more than you’ll ever let on
but the familiarity brings comfort to you
for
it is
your personal font.

 

John Hancock

Every time I’m asked to sign my name,
I consider who I want to be at that moment;
the creative, or the pragmatic.
A battle of the wills, I think the situation
makes the choice for me, yet I enjoy pretending,
imagining that I do have a choice.
My signature, like me,
is shaped by all around me and can
never be considered on its own.
Family, teachers, friends,
events, movements, timelines
that come together and shape my life,
my hand, my writing.
Every time I’m asked to sign my name.

 

By Álvaro Serrano, unsplash.com

Thirty-seven

I had ignored my blog for too long. Yesterday, as I was quietly mulling over what my birthday means to me, I was compelled to write this poem. It’s a draft and raw as can be. Spring is always a good time to start new things to give life to projects abandoned. Spring is a good time to be alive and to have been born (thanks, mum and dad!). Happy April, everyone.

Stairs by Won Young Park (unsplash.com)

Thirty-seven

Thirty-six steps I have taken so far,
towards an end that I know not anything
of its distance or route,
or its end goal.
I see the steps in front of me
each gilded in different materials
bouncing slivers of gold.
I see shiny white steps of peace,
starry glitters of special moments,
dark sparkles of unknown storms, but
these are only the steps I see.
What lies beyond I do not know
and daren’t fathom a guess,
for it belongs to the new, the surprise, the giddyness
that new experiences bring, that make histories quiver in fear.
What lies beyond is beautiful because it is unknown,
pure as it is untainted
true as it is simple.
What happens after thirty-six can only be the same,
as what happens after three, or seventy.
Stairs that go nowhere – just different landings
and paths, that carry us along, each step different from the other.
I place my foot on the thirty-seventh and stand on it,
knowing that I know nothing, but
I will learn everything.

If you enjoyed this poem, you can find more in A Suspicious Collection.

Music to my ears

Music was my career for the longest time, in one way or another. And since leaving the industry, it has taken me some time to reconcile my relationship with it, and rekindle my love for the art form, leaving behind criticisms, fears, embarrassments… everything that points to the fact that I’m not good enough for it.

Becoming a writer made me realise that I love literature in a very different way – in a way that is more open, warm, and accepting. It only highlighted that I had placed more emphasis in the skills and techniques involved, and I couldn’t just love music for what it is.

Many who know me personally also know that my husband is a musician by night (technology project manager by day). I’m grateful that through him, I’ve remained in touch with music. That through him, I’ve slowly learnt to appreciate music for what it gives to listeners and music makers – fulfilment.

My journey with music is still young, and I have still much to learn, to let go, and to appreciate. But in the meantime, I want to share two songs with you, both duets that were recorded and produced by my husband, one of which is an original composition. When we recorded these songs about five years ago, I felt determined and tried, through the recording process to be the ‘professional musician’ I always wanted to be. And when I first heard the recordings, I felt embarrassed with my own voice and lack of singing ability.

Five years on, I hear things differently. Here are two lovely songs that I’m proud to be a part of, that I think that many of you would enjoy.

What art doesn’t have its flaws? If we dwell on the negatives, we’ll shy away from creating more, which is the only way for art to improve.

The yellow antihero

As the world of science fiction once again gets Awaken by the Force, I hold my ground and remain unswayed. Yes, I did enjoy the two-hours in the cinema, but it left me feeling sad for what writing has become in the mainstream. Bad storyline, too many plot-holes, and the (bad and obvious) use of plot references from the past just to hold (and please?) the ‘true’ fans’ hearts. Are we all that lame, that bringing together the old cast to blend with the new is enough to make us ignore all that doesn’t work in the film? Or that replicating the old storylines is all it takes? Well, looking at all the reactions so far, I think the answer is a yes, and quite a big one at that.

Anyway, this post was not intended to be a film review, so I shall leave the opening paragraph as somewhat of a prologue and move on to what I intended to talk about – Chinese science fiction. Some of you would have heard of Liu Cixin and his book The Three Body Problem, which won the Hugo awards last year, as the first piece of translated fiction to do so. As you can understand, this news has turned the heads of many from the science fiction community towards science fiction that is not from the usual Western pool. Though it’s not one of my favourite books, it acted as a catalyst for me to look further into Chinese science fiction. And I’ve been fully immersed since.

I will be starting a new section in this website to share with you all the interesting stories, books, and information on Chinese science fiction, but in the meantime, I wanted to share two short stories that will whet your appetite for more.

Ken Liu’s ‘Paper Menagerie’
Liu Cixin’s ‘Yuanyuan’s Bubbles’

The Three Body Problem wasn’t the only book that swayed my interest, the other book, which in my opinion is one of the best collections of science fiction stories today, is Vandana Singh’s The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet. Vandana Singh’s writings made me fall in love with cultural science fiction, and got me asking as to whether there were similar collections available from the Chinese culture or other cultures. That began my quest in search for more, a journey that has already taken me to some really exciting opportunities and discoveries, and I’ve only just skimmed the surface!

One of these opportunities, which I’m very excited to announce, is that I’ll be organising and participating in a seminar on ‘Chinese Science Fiction as a Reflection of Chinese Society Today’ at the London Book Fair this year:
Venue/Room: Gallery Suite Room 1
Date and Time: Wednesday 13th April 2016 @ 11:30-12:30

Put it in your diary and come and join us in the discussion!

I can’t wait to discover more new writings of Chinese science fiction and hope to be contributing new ideas into the genre this year. If you read/hear about any Chinese science fiction, do share by commenting below, or emailing me at yen(at)yenooi.com.

TheYellowAntihero

Where did I learn to speak English?

I couldn’t believe it when I was recently asked (by someone who holds a senior position in an investment bank in the US) where I had learnt English from. This was after he had asked me where I was originally from – Malaysia. Then, he confidently proceeded to say, “And where did you learn to speak English?” to which I replied, Malaysia. I had to explain that English was (and still is) a compulsory language taught in all schools in Malaysia, alongside the national language – Malay.

So, why is it so difficult for people to understand or accept that Malaysians do speak English, and for quite a few of us, that it is also our first language?

I had my answer when my family sent me the following images. They knew that the errors would drive me nuts, and that I would find them ridiculous, yet funny. However, the pictures also made me understand why the world still sees a lot of Asia as being non-English-speaking.

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To be fair, all countries (English speaking or not) have their fair share of typos. In fact, there’s a campaign by Londonist to find the best London typos around. The difference though, is that where the message is representing something, whether a company, an organisation, or even a nation, it’s not the idea of the bad language that drives me mad, it is actually knowing that no one had bothered to get it checked in the first place.

#GetAnEditor

How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe

I have a couple of quibbles with this book, and I shall get them out of the way first. Well, mainly because I really like the book.

Firstly, the paperback edition that I have has a bright pink back cover. I don’t like the colour pink, and I don’t think it does anything for the story. The front cover has a load of ray guns, which are cute (not my word… seriously, google the book + ray guns, and you’ll see what I mean), which works in a pop-art kinda way.

Secondly (and lastly), the title, though effective and quite reflective of the story, is hard to remember accurately. I’ll put this down to my personal brain incompetency. Since I bought the book, I’ve referred to it in a variety of renditions of titles, ranging from ‘How to live in a science fictional world’ to ‘How to live safely in science fiction’. The gist is there, but seriously, nine words for a title… :)

How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional World

Quibbling over, now for the juicy bit. What did I think about it?

It made me sad, inspired me to be a better person, and gave me hope that the world can get better. Now, I think this is pretty heavy-going for a science fiction novel that’s also fun, entertaining, and has some cool concepts of time travel.

“Most people I know live their lives moving in a constant forward direction, the whole time looking backward.”

I’ve recently been broadening my science fiction reading into Asian writers more, and I’m excited to find immigrant themed ‘cultural literature’ appearing in the science fiction genre. I’ve always found it difficult to stomach cultural writings, especially when it is about the Chinese diaspora, but I think with the science fiction world, it makes it much more palatable.

The references to the protagonist’s Chinese family are subtle, but cosy. They’re not in your face – just there in the background, for those who are happy to plunge into the world willingly.

With simple language, Yu quickly pulls you into this mad world of his where time-travel runs on your perception (don’t ask, just read the book). He tells the story of a family who is like many of ours – with its own issues, lack of communications, sprinkled with equal amounts of regrets and hopes.

“Enjoy the elastic present, which can accommodate as little or as much as you want to put in there. Stretch it out, live inside of it.”

Much like Only Forwardit makes us consider who we are, how we act and react in our world, and how much of that is down to our control. At the end of the day, we are our past, as well as our future, and all we can do, is to do our best right now.

I can’t wait to sample more of Yu’s writings, and am keeping my eyes peeled and ears to the ground for more Asian SF, so do ping me if you’d like to recommend any!

A photo posted by Yen Ooi (@yenooi) on

A place where we go, but do not talk about…

Between sanity and madness is a place that most of us sit, but ignore. We pretend and show the world that we’re like everyone else, yet we do not acknowledge that everyone else is also in the place that we are, between sanity and madness.

Jane McCulloch’s anthology of verses quietly draws us into the space that we all know so well, but hush up within us. And she tells us with printed words that it is ok to be who we are.

I read Between Sanity and Madness cover to cover, smiling, nodding, crying, grimacing… agreeing. I know that it’ll be a book that I’ll be going back to often – to pick my favourite verse of a moment, past, present, or future. If you’re looking for something beautiful to acknowledge the moments of your life, and of the people around you with, then this will be an important addition to your shelf.

Makers (of fiction)

From Wikipedia:

Makers is a novel by Canadian-British science fiction author Cory Doctorow. It was released in October 2009. The novel is available free on the author’s website, as a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA download. It is also published in traditional paper form by HarperVoyager.
The book focuses on a near-future imagining of members of the maker culture, a group Doctorow characterizes as being composed of “people who hack hardware, business-models, and living arrangements to discover ways of staying alive and happy even when the economy is falling down the toilet.”

The Creative Class is a posited socioeconomic class identified by American economist and social scientist Richard Florida, a professor and head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. According to Florida, the Creative Class are a key driving force for economic development of post-industrial cities in the United States.

It’s hard to read Makers without reflecting it against the world we live in today. The book was entertaining, but while reading it, I kept having a niggling feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

I know Cory Doctorow as a forward-thinking author who likes to push the boundaries of technology and ideas of capitalism through his actions in liberalising copyright laws. He offers his books free on his website and encourages readers and fans to ‘remix’ them. It’s really hard not to think about this while reading Makers.

The problem with Makers in this context, is that it feels like Cory Doctorow is presenting us with an argument as to why everything that he has been championing is a bad idea – or at least not a good idea. It is characteristic of a science fiction novel to show us a possible (bad) outcome of a new society, and Makers does this quite realistically. It does however, also paint a bleak future for many who believe that the current (capitalist) methods are worse.

I guess the niggling feeling the book gave me was due to a lack of hope in that future. This isn’t usually a problem, but because the hackers, who are generally portrayed and known in our society as optimistic and resourceful (hippies of our time) are only given the choice of shit or shit, and the only thing that they enjoyed doing (hacking) kept mutating into different forms that were out of their control and would cause them more grief, there was nothing for the reader to hold on to.

I generally love bleak stories (see my review on The People In The Trees) but Cory Doctorow’s writing style, which is quite ‘pop’ (as opposed to literary or tech) is juxtaposed and exposed against the serious topic the book is trying to present. It was probably his intention to create that discomfort… in which case, it is a book that does its job.

A good read, that would definitely make you question the corporate, political, and societal set-ups we have today, and make you think about what kind of a world we are giving to our future generations.

52 Tuesdays

Have you ever done something on a certain day of the week, and repeated it weekly for an entire year? I don’t think I have. Not for an entire year without a break anyway, and I find it hard to imagine.

 

Which is what makes this film so special.

 

Last Friday, I went to see the London premier of 52 Tuesdays by Peccadillo Pictures at Picturehouse Central. Before I went, I watched the trailer and got the gist that the film follows the characters’ lives on Tuesdays, for one year, but I didn’t realise that they had also filmed it only on Tuesdays, for an entire year.

 

At the Q&A afterwards, we found out that when they started shooting the film, they had started without a script or plot. They had key characters and characterisations, but everything else was developed through the production itself, and through collaborating with the production team and actors, and the story grew, developing itself.

 

 

52 Tuesdays is about identity, growth, and segregation of self at any age. It reflects the constant question we have for ourselves as humans – who am I? – through gender, sexuality, age, role, situation… through life. It makes us think about who we are and how we choose to show parts of who we are to selected audiences. Are we ever whole to anyone? It also reminds us that the world keeps going on no matter what we are going through – life goes on.

 

The production of the film enjoyed creative freedom through funding from Film Lab that encouraged them to have no market attachment. It meant that the Director and her team could experiment with the format and story, which led to this method that the director calls ‘form agnostic’.

 

52 weeks as a parameter helped shape the story, especially since the physical production of the film was limited to the same. It would have meant that everyone on the film was working towards the same final deadline. That would have given them a start and end feel to the film… and the developments within, well, whatever they did and however they did it, it felt natural and organic, like a well-written story.

 

Go watch it. It’ll give you a new appreciation for story-telling, for looking at the stories within our own lives.

 

Secret Rose

20 August 2015 update:
The full story of how this wonderful project was put together can now be found on Futurebook thanks to the wonderful Porter Anderson.


 

It was only recently that I said how wonderful it was to receive mail… and look what the postman brought this morning.
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I was really bummed not to have been able to travel to Sligo for the launch of Orna’s Secret Rose book project on 3rd August, thinking that it’ll be a few more weeks before I’ll be able to see the actual book and feel it in my hands.

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What a surprise it was when this beautiful parcel arrived this morning, beautifully presented, with a lovely message inscribed within. I had helped Orna on various bits of the production process – during the crowdfunder, creating mock designs, sourcing printers – and am really proud of what Orna created. It is a piece of art that carries so much passion and meaning.

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The book is a replica of WB Yeats’s The Secret Rose 1st edition, dark-blue cloth bounded with gold foiling. Its contents… is a conversation between two brilliant Irish authors, who did not allow time – a century – to get in their way. A gorgeous way of celebrating WB Yeats’s anniversary #Yeats2015.

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There are only 500 copies of this beautiful limited edition book available, each one signed by Orna. If you love books, stories, art, or just want to have a beautiful addition to your bookshelf that will be forever treasured, go to Orna’s website and order one directly before they’re all taken up.

There is also more information about Secret Rose and the stories within it at ornaross.com/yeats-secret-rose-ross/.

Thank you Orna, for letting me be a part of this amazing project. x