The Twilight Express

Whoo. Issue 3 of RUBRIC, the online creative writing journal of UNSW, is out, with my story “The Twilight Express.” (Yeah, UNSW has two literary journals: RUBRIC and Unsweetened.)

For RUBRIC, I was actually part of the editorial team, which was interesting. If you have a story in yourself, they ask you to leave while they evaluate it and put it into a vote. It was actually pretty nerve-wracking.

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More good news

Whew. It’s been a freak year, 2007.

I’ve just been informed that a poem of mine that I had sent to be published in the University of New South Wales’s (where I studied in Sydney) literary journal, Unsweetened, has just won first prize in the postgraduate poetry category. With it comes a bookstore voucher worth 400 Australian dollars…which I can’t use, of course, because I’m working in Hong Kong now, so I’m having it posted to a friend in Sydney while I figure out what to do with it. But still, the news has made me extremely happy. ^_^ The issue was launched last night in UNSW, and with it the announcement. The judges were a literary reviewer from the Sydney Morning Herald and a professor in UNSW, and the professor even gave a little talk about my poem as well. Really cool. I wish I had been there. Certainly no one’s ever really given a talk about anything I’ve written, LOL.

Wow. Thanking the Big Guy upstairs so much for the Palanca and this.

Ah, sweet melancholy of life

Maybe it is quarter-life crisis that’s plaguing me. In a little over a month, my postgraduate degree in Sydney will be completed, another year done. Over. No direction, nowhere to go. It sucks to plan your life in such small increments.

*emo alert*

What a representation of the transience of life. I’ve been harping about transience practically everywhere, but I think that’s a huge part of being a student abroad, especially if your home country holds little reason for you to return. The people I hung around with in Beijing – they were mostly older than me and had been going through that at that time, and I had watched them consider one shaky option after another, and eventually just go home. I think I had been too young to truly understand what they were going through; either that, or because at that time I had Sydney to look forward to, knowing that my life would be set at least for another year. Now, here in Sydney, I finally understand what that they had felt then, and most of the people here that I hang around with are too young to understand; either that, or because the next few years of their undergraduate lives are pretty set. They’re in the middle of the journey; I’m already on my way back from the tail end, with the authority to decide the next step of my life in my hands, and deathly afraid of using it.

(Sucks to be older than everyone else.)

Ah, transience. What an achingly beautiful thing.

I should have enjoyed myself more here in Sydney, gone to more places, ate better food, watched more movies, met more people, took more pictures, found such eagerness for life each day. I had been hoping that I would get from Sydney what I did from Beijing  – of course, now I realize that very few things can actually compare to my time in Beijing. And I’m not idealizing my time there; it’s because I was practically on vacation in Beijing, and my friends and I had massive amounts of time to go out to (a hell lot cheaper) places, learning what you never can from books. We never had to deal with research essays and presentations (like what I’m doing now, and I deal with it by procrastinating). It’s not a lack of feeling here; it’s a lack of time (and money). Sometimes I wonder which is better, having enough time in a cheap, inconvenient place of bad hygiene and being cheated from all sides, or being stuck in a nice, expensive place where everyone and everything disappears into the deadlines.

And perhaps, most importantly, I wasn’t worried of what would come next, when I was in Beijing, because I knew what it was going to be. There’s nothing like a foggy view of the future that makes you feel like drowning in the sea of mediocrity. And believe me, in this field of study I’m in, mediocrity is inexcusable. Sometimes I can’t help thinking that I really made a wrong decision somewhere. Wish I didn’t care so much about not wanting a cog-and-wheel existence.

*end emo alert*

Anyway, back to that research essay.

A Faster Firefox

I know this is a really old piece of advice, but if you’re using Firefox and a broadband connection, here’s a really simple way of making Firefox load pages faster by allowing it to pipeline.

1. Load the about:config page in Firefox.

2. Alter the following entries:

network.http.pipelining to “true”

network.http.proxy.pipelining to “true”

network.http.pipelining.maxrequests to a higher number (or if you have any mercy on the bandwidth limit of web sites in general, wouldn’t recommend going beyond 16. Or so I’ve heard.)

3. Right-click anywhere to create a new integer string. Name it “nglayout.initialpaint.delay” and set the value to “0.” This value is the amount of time the browser waits before it acts on information it receives.

Here’s why Mozilla didn’t set the pipeline by default.

Been very busy lately with university work and more. However, beefing up Firefox with extensions and tweaks has been quite distracting.

One

It’s one in the morning now.

I’m still stumbling through getting a coherent idea for a major research essay that involves Mister Henry James and the company of Monsieur R. Barthes, Monsieur M. Foucault, and possibly Monsieur J. Derrida, none of which are made for mass consumption.

Among other things.

From hence till the end, there will be no rest.

Boo.

A Word on Voice

I have a personal bias when it comes to writing dialogue. It’s easily my favorite part of the whole affair of writing a story. Fiendishly difficult if you go in not knowing what your characters are talking about, if you’re making up the subject matter as the conversation goes. But if you actually have a good grasp of what they’re talking about and how the conversation is going to conclude, it’s pure fun.

Probably because I love voices. Not literary, narrative voice of the text, but people’s actual physical voices, the sound that comes from the vibration of vocal chords, the ups and downs in tone, accents, timbre, texture. From screeching banshees to velvety Jeremy Irons. There’s so much personality to be found in a person’s voice. It’s almost a kind of essence emanating out of the soul, if you will, since it’s easily the most obvious thing that we humans can produce. And in dialogue, you capture those vocal idiosyncracies on paper and combine them with the person’s diction, which would reveal his or her cultural background, education, and age.

I think it’s very important to know how to listen. There’s a conversation going on among a number of people on the table and you just sit back and listen to everyone’s voices. Pick out idiosyncracies: what happens to the person’s voice when s/he gets agitated? Tense and low, or high-pitched and scratchy? How does s/he use his words? Efficiently? Or a total word-spewer? How often does s/he use interjections? Rhetoric? How does the voice rise and ebb when s/he is trying to make a point?

Stuff like that.

In other matters (which does not extend to much), I’m tackling Derrida for my presentation in literary theory. After reading quite a bit about him, I think I actually like Monsieur Derrida. He had a lot of guts to say something like that.

This, unfortunately, does not necessarily make research and outlining the logic of the presentation easier. And the adrenaline high from realizing that you actually understand the dude enough to like him does not last very long.

Rambling Upon Poetry

I’ve never had much interest about English contemporary poetry. I’ve studied it, but just didn’t get the right sort of appeal. It certainly has its good points, which I won’t repeat, since you can pick up any anthology of contemporary poetry and flip through the introduction for all the theory.

It just happens that I have a qualm about it: that it can be pretty easy to imitate. Which means you’ll have to wade through a bigger pile of junk before you can get to the real gems. Consider the form of language poetry. It takes the appearance of seemingly unrelated sentences and sentence fragments to show the materiality of language, to show how language is produced. Ideally, language poetry does come up with fascinating ideas about the way we form and associate words and phrases. But the human factor is always a monkey wrench. The temptation to just mash in randomness, to expect the reader to “collaborate” in extracting meaning out of it when there really is none, is much too overwhelming for the amateur (a problem that plagues minimalism too, I should think). Like throwing paint at a wall and calling it art. Certainly there are people who have thought long and hard about the history of visual art and have come to the conclusion that the next step would be to create something that resembles paint thrown at a wall. But show this to the amateur who hasn’t worked at grasping the history and the thought, the full value behind it, and he’d just as easily get a bucket of paint and started splattering because it’s what “art” looks like. To stop only at form, to only copy what it “looks like,” is fatal.

Content has fallen out of people’s good graces lately. Postmodernism has declared language not a necessary means of expression but merely another construct that we can just as easily revolutionize and play around with, as it has been playing around with us (thanks, Derrida & Company). I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is being overly fascinated with “liberating language” so much so that there is nothing else written BUT self-reflexivity and experimentation, as if a poetic career was one big workshop that never gets serious. It’s interesting at first, quite a novelty, but jokes do wear thin quickly, even if it is a joke on linguistics.

Well. I guess I’m just one of the few who sticks a neck out for content once in a while, since postmodernism has brought in the deferment of meaning (i.e. life is one big dictionary, wherein each entry endlessly refers to another), and made the concept of Meaning with a capital M rather unpopular.

Speaking of which…epistemological caution (e.g. not “I do this” but “I see myself doing this, and did I mention I’m just seeing myself doing this, and I’m not entirely sure I’m actually doing this?”), another characteristic of poetry as of late. Philosophically it makes sense: how certain are we of what we know? A dose of epistemological modesty is always good and keeps you in line. Too much, however, turns Robert Burns’ “O my love is like a red red rose” into “O my love is not altogether unlike a generally red rose” (vide David Dooley’s “The Contemporary Workshop Aesthetic”).

Anyway, I’m as much for the progress of contemporary poetry as the next student; I’m just skeptical about the side effects, since the human factor never makes putting theory into practice easy. I bet I’m sounding like an ad for elitism and snobisme in art right now, but it’s similar to what my aikido teacher once said, when I was still doing undergraduate. Your size shouldn’t matter, theoretically. Aikido is all about defense, so just because you’re smaller doesn’t mean you’re going to get pounded by your opponent. But until you reach your fifth year in aikido, you sure as heck are going to get pretty whupped if you’re smaller. When put to application, size does matter until you reach that level of mastery. So if you’re going to break the traditional rules of art and be avant-garde and experimental, at least go through the years knowing what they’re about in the first place.

If you’ve reached this far down, I’m impressed.

Oh, and we picked up a snail from a wall and made it a pet and called it “Turtle” (don’t ask). I’m still slightly grossed out, especially when cleaning the litter, but it’s pretty cool to have a little fellow to check on when I’m starting to get fidgety with my readings.

After a Glass of Milk

Did my laundry this morning. I had one white shirt among colors. I didn’t want to wait for more white clothes to come in and spend another $1 for them, so I just hoped for the best and chucked the white shirt in with the rest. Bad choice of course. The shirt colored slightly from the denim pants, and it suddenly has faint black spots all over it, and I didn’t even have any polka-dot clothes. Natch. And it’s one of my favorite shirts too.

(One thing I like about my new room is that it’s close enough to the laundry room so I can hear if someone is using the laundry and I can always poke my head out of the window to see if the dryer’s done with my clothes.)

Classes have started. I’ve begun writing two new stories (unrelated to class, but it might come in handy in the face of an incoming deadline). Noticed that I seem to have been going for very plot movement-centered stories lately, so I wanted to do something more character-oriented. My (perhaps not-so-wise) structure is one of those things where you have two people in a room trying to resolve a conflict, and that’s all you have to work with. It can get pretty painful trying to squeeze out as much as you can from it.

Talking of stories, congratulations to Tim for finishing his manuscript of 15 short stories and having the mind to send them to publishers in Singapore to have it published as a collection of short stories.

As for class, I don’t think I made a very good impression to the lecturer. I was a little dazed and unfocused, from just having dinner and having the blood rushing to my stomach instead of my head, and the impromptu piece I had to write and read out loud was all over the place, to say the best. On a happier point, one of our assessments for that class could come from co-editing Rubric, the UNSW journal of Creative Writing which our lecturer is trying to revive. I’m really looking forward to that.

I’m reading Julian Barnes’ Arthur and George (laaate!) . It’s set in late Victorian England and the author has done away with the booming Dickensian narrator and has opted for a more modern approach to it, both in diction (it can pass for contemporary…or at least the early half of the 1900’s) and style (no chapters at all. It’s just one long novel with intervals of Arthur and George being the objects of the point of view). I like those new approaches to Victorian setting, like Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, which turns the Dickensian narrator on its head. The book itself is actually a personality in the novel and engages the reader to participate in the story, which entails so many possibilities (i.e. the book calls itself “I” and the reader “you,” and tells you to “watch your step,” or something to that effect.) I just read the first chapter of it as an excerpt from my classes last semester; I still have to buy the book.

Excerpt in the life of…

The agonistic mode of the drama, as descended from classical Athens and to the Renaissance, essentially runs contrary to the dramatization of a disembodied divine vengeance that would develop beyond the spatio-temporal bounds of classical tragedy (Kerrigan). In secular drama, then, “if divine justice were to be made visible, it had to be wreaked by the hand of man” (Matthews 87). Hence, instead of being confined to a rule, Shakespeare is given ample technical space to make use of the dramatic situation of the play to question the effort to reconcile ethical differences regarding revenge and society’s consequent demand for irreconcilable modes of action.

Just the sort of thing I’m pounding on the laptop for my research essay right now on the lovely Mr. Hamlet. That was page 10, halfway through the whole thing. One day I shall look back and laugh at how self-important I sound.

But not right now, though.

I’m so addicted to black tea. I can’t study without it.