Sep 5, 2017

Tell Me a Secret

That one word always gets us.

Secrets.

It either strikes fear or curiosity in our hearts—depending on who we are. Some of us have secrets we'd die to keep, little guarded truths we'd cling to for life. And others, have secrets we're dying to know. Few words have the power to accomplish what this word can. "Secrets" can steal someone away, hide a big part of them, and force them to put up a front.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash
At least, they can with me.

Growing up, I developed the habit of keeping secrets. There were many reasons why, but the main one was being too perceptive. I realised pretty early on that, in some situations, it's better to act dumb and detached than to explode in a fit of emotions. At a young age, I saw just how destructive those emotions can be. Instead of reacting in front of everyone, I'd curl into a corner, bite back my tears and turn up my music so loud that the vibrations through my headphones practically felt like another heart beat. I'd shut the whole world out and barricade myself with a fake front and a convincing smile.

I had to be the strong one for others. The person who'd pick up the pieces and put them back together—no one noticed the rest. No one saw that my broken pieces had never mended. To them, I was strong. So I became the caretaker so many times that I now mistake the sound of laughter for a chocked cry before realising that, wait, no, I was wrong and that everything was okay. I buried myself in layers of numbness, sealing my true feelings in a casket so no one would find out what they were and feel helpless beside me.

Secrets.

They're not just hidden truths, but scary habits we keep that hide stories of hardship and struggle. They expose us to our very core, where we're at our worst and most vulnerable self. Mine are like that. They may not be "big" and "worthy" secrets, but they're my weaknesses. The opposite of how everyone sees me: strong, independent, confident, compassionate ... they're more of who I am than I let on—shoved into a corner so deep for so long that they turned into shadows, darkening the edges of my mind and vignetting my perspective.

Because they're so deeply sown into our consciousness, secrets easily change us. We see the world differently. We see ourselves differently. But we also see the difference between who we are now and who we used to be. They integrate into our lives so well that we become them. It's a transformation that permanently alters our identity—defining us, whether we want to be defined or not.

And I'm no different.

I've moulded with my secrets so well that they literally feel like all I have of myself. The one thing I have left to really offer. The one thing that's entirely me. Raw and unfiltered. I see that as something beyond just "personal." It's revealing—the act of voluntarily sharing a bare part of myself. It's, well ... intimate. 

When you share something, you give partial (if not complete) ownership. And since secrets are so personal... it's like giving a part of myself away. I don't trust anyone to safeguard my secrets—to safeguard me. Having been disappointed by people enough times, I stopped thinking (maybe even hoping) someone would fully understand. That there would be someone who'd say and do exactly the right things.

But I also know I don't give people enough chances to really try.

I'm good at getting my hopes up and having them shot down. I'm good at following an impulse and getting caught up in the moment. I'm good at feeling an urge to share and have it quickly die out. But more than that, I'm good at feeling a creeping sense of disappointment each time I've risked that slight exposure. Emotions, by nature, are fleeting. They don't last long. So I've learned to never base my actions on them. After all, they can be destructive.

The subsequent regret can be crushing, and the sound of hope shattering right after can be so loud.

It isn't worth hearing over and over again.

I spent my childhood blocking that sound out, nearly going deaf in my vain attempts. I don't want to be the direct cause of it, too. My problems are my own. My struggles are mine alone. Obstacles I face are ones I'll learn to overcome by myself. It's stressful and confusing and scary. It's something I keep running away from, and something I know I need to face. It's a heavy burden. But it's one I'm comfortable carrying alone. I'm comfortable being the only one uncomfortable (if that even makes sense), lifting my own weight. I even grew to relish in that feeling of discomfort--of solitude.

No one else has to know.

No one else would really want to, anyways.

Not if they actually did.

These thoughts were so central in my head that I stopped feeling entirely "normal"—sharing anything became a big challenge. Things that weren't even important or private became things I guarded and hedged around until they were forcefully ripped out of me. My desire to feel anything was unceremoniously hacked down by numbness. My desire to learn was severely stamped out by a lack of will. My desire to write was, well, what went next.

Basically, my instinct to share anything just ... vanished.

I kept enough secrets to know that they never truly stay confidential. People share them so easily, either out of weariness from carrying such a weighted burden or out of sheer glee from sharing something so private. So I stopped believing in people who keep secrets... well, secret. That I wouldn't be "shared" around so easily through whispers and murmurs. That I wouldn't lose the part I gave away, somewhere in between time and a disconnected relationship. That, simply, I wouldn't regret sharing myself.

And so, I lost faith in truth.

Instead, I turned to intrigue and mystery. I'm drawn to things that scream bad choices and people who so obviously make them. It's a mixed feeling of admiration and magnetism. I look at them and think of how badly I'd like to lose myself and make those bad decisions, too. To get out of my head and get lost in it at the same time—to forget and remember simultaneously. I think of tricking myself into making them—but I'm too clever to fall for it.

Sometimes, anyways.

No one could really tell just how deeply they should be concerned.

Or worse, how unconcerned they should be.

So I hide behind small truths, little warnings conveyed through hints and vague answers. Maybe that bit of honesty is my excuse. Maybe I'm clinging to it to avoid facing something else—my real problem. Maybe I'm clinging to the pain and the hurt I've saved up over the years as a distraction from that something.

Maybe that "something" is just... nothing.

And "nothing" scares me.

It's hard to express that feeling—being lost, confused, scared, and a little bit hopeful (despite everything). But the lyrics in "Prey" by The Neighbourhood does a good enough job:
Something is off, I can't explain
You know what I mean, don't you?
Something I saw, or something I did that made me like this
Could you help me?
We need to fly ourselves before someone else tells us how
Something is off, I feel like prey, I feel like praying
Something is off, I feel like prey, I feel like praying
So, in the end, I'm left with stolen moments where I could be myself. And those can be easily ripped away—by interruptions, by questions, by expectations. Whatever it is, it's about honesty and my lack of wanting to stick to it. I'm still human. I still want to share my burdens. But I'm too cautious for that. It's a struggle for me to fight that small voice in the back of my head that wants to cave into instinct and just be human with someone else. To fight my "vagueness," which is enough to tell people that, no, I'm not okay but I'll pretend to be anyways. I hide behind the implication of "please don't ask" and despite that... I find myself wanting to find someone who would. Someone who would get up and say something.

I'm looking for someone who'd care enough.

But I'm always surprised when I find them—and then, like a backslider, I step back, run away, and lie. Because, really, I'm not ready for it. I'd rather go back to my own little corner, huddled quiet and hurting. If someone asks, I'll get up, hide my secrets, and smile.

That's the image anyone would need to see.

So my secret?

It's that I don't have one.

Not one for you.

Not for now.


Jan 20, 2017

Writing Differently for Fiction—An Exploration

For any serious writer, improving their craft is a never-ending desire. As one myself, I've picked up on some tips that I think many tend to overlook. Writers often stick to what they know, writing in one field until they master it. But really, I don't think that's how it should work. You learn more (and better) when trying out different things. The same goes for writing. 

You write better when you've tried writing different things. 

Words by Rich Mason

In this post, I'll be sharing some personal insight. I'm not a particularly wonderful writer, but I have been writing for nine years now. So, I like to think I've progressed quite a bit over the years, and that I'm credible as I write this. My advice covers different types/ forms of writing, but is given with novelists in mind.  


POETRY:

Even if you're not a poet, there's a lot to learn (and love) about poetry. As you try it out, you'll notice that you'll start focusing on word choice. Things like rhyme and rhythm start to matter a lot. You want your words to evoke emotion, imagery... something.

Poetry pushes you to break the rules of typical writing as you begin to learn how to paint with words. The more you write poetry, the more descriptive and aware you become of the "showing not telling" concept. In some ways, poetry is all about what you don't say as much as it's about what you do

Writing fiction is a lot like that, too. Novel readers need proper pacing, steady rhythm, and effective word choice to stay gripped in a story. So, poetry is a good place to start practicing. 


SCRIPTS: 

If I were to describe scriptwriting, I'd say it's an odd combination of poetry and prose. A script's layout looks a lot like a poem from a distance. Paragraphs of action are broken up by centered dialogue—and it has to flow and engage the viewer.

Like writing fiction, scriptwriting tells a story with basic elements of plot, character, and setting. Unlike novels, scripts are written for staff and actors. Not the audience. Descriptions can't be vivid and flowery. Action should be simple and direct—no insights into the character's thought process. What you get is what you see, so everything has to be clear and natural.

Scripts force a novelist to limit and filter the flowery prose, and get to the heart of the story. Each page is a minute onscreen—and no minute should be wasted. 

No page, either.

And that's a very important lesson for a writer. One that people easily overlook or undermine way too often. Scriptwriting helps a novelist understand how to link individual scenes into an action sequence. 


ARTICLES: 

Although it sounds completely unrelated, non-fiction writing is pretty instrumental to a novel. Voice is something that either makes or breaks a story. To better understand and "hear" a character's voice, the writer should be able to know their own. When writing articles, the writer has to overcome the distance between themselves and the reader—something main characters do all the time in prose.

It's also important to know when a voice is genuine and when it's being forced. Or, occasionally, borrowed from the author themselves. 

More than just voice, non-fiction teaches a novelist how to make prose interesting. Boring facts become interesting anecdotes or valuable information. This transformation isn't an easy one to master, but writing articles is a good way to start.

Ever tried writing a lead? In thirty words or less, you have to write an attention-grabbing first sentence. If you fail, then your entire article is deemed unworthy. That's a lot of pressure. But books work the same way, too. 

It's not easy, but it's definitely valuable. 



In General:

I used to consider all these different types of writing as ... well, different types of writing. But they share a lot in common—despite their differences. There's something in each form for any kind of writer. By trying them all out, a writer grows and is able to approach the task of writing with more tools at hand. It's just advice in the end, but I think it's worth more than cursory consideration.

After all, learning never ends. 

Jan 2, 2017

Abnormal Summit— A Good Korean Non-Drama

I'll admit, the title is a bit misleading. This show isn't just "good," it's up there in my Top 5 Favourite Shows—a list reserved for truly great shows. And here, I'll explain why.

Many people hype about Korean dramas and music, but most forget that regular Korean TV shows can be just as great. They're a solid, practical way to understand and learn about Korean culture. Especially when these shows are relatable, fun to watch, and culturally accessible to (almost) everyone.

Abnormal Summit's Official Logo by JTBC
And Abnormal Summit (비정상회담) is all three.

The show is hosted by three Koreans who invite around eleven international, yet fluent Korean speakers, to a mock UN table where they discuss social matters and news. It may sound a bit dull, but it really isn't. Multi-ethnic perspectives and a lot of (good-natured) laughs are constantly exchanged.

The current season is so diverse, with representative speakers from: Mexico, United States, India, France, Pakistan, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Italy, China, and Japan. The show opens up with a discussion of some current global news before introducing the main topic through the guest speaker. Each episode is packed with interesting topics and gripping conversation—with guests being musicians, actors, and even psychologists (among so many other careers). 

You get all their insights—as well as comparisons to different cultures—in a convenient package that is highly-entertaining, highly-educating, and well-edited. 

And if it's your first time watching Korean TV, then here's a heads-up: there's a lot of post-production editing. 

The screen easily fills up with superimposed text and images. Though it may be distracting at first, you quickly get used to it. And eventually, you'll start looking for them, expecting them, and maybe even missing them in other shows. Korean-style TV editing is by far more engaging than others I've encountered—and definitely more "language learner"-friendly.

By reading the text on-screen, you can pick up on dialogue faster than you would in dramas. The conversation, in a way, would be more realistic and genuine as people speak their minds—people who are actual non-native speakers. It's pretty inspiring to see a panel of foreigners speaking a foreign language, too.

It may not turn out to be your thing, but it's certainly worth a try. In 129 episodes (thus far), it has everything good going for it: comedy, culture, language, news, and the surprise element of a refreshing guest.