Malaysia should not equal Failure

Our name tags for the literary salon

I have to admit, the last two weeks have been pretty rough.

For some reason, much to my embarrassment, I ended up crying on my friend Babs outside a bar, without my coat, in the freezing cold. It happened on a Tuesday. I was already in a pensive mood when I chose to accompany good chums to a literary salon, but I told myself I had to shake it off! After all, I’m not usually such a downer.

Ignoring the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, and my failed job hunts, and my feelings of inadequacy and panic at not doing enough, I liked to think I was a pretty chirpy person. No, seriously.

So here was me at this literary event, actually having a good time (free wine and sandwiches are always a plus!), seeing familiar faces like the bouncy Sam Kelly, Ian Rankin and the lovely Ken MacLeod. And meeting new people like Charles Stross who seemed like an important bloke, judging by the quick introduction Babs whispered into my ear.

Unfortunately I was in such a state I only vaguely remembered him as “being in science fiction”. Anyway he and his friend (Nick? Nic?) were already chatting with me and happily I got a chance to practise pitching my Malaysian urban fantasy premise to them while having no idea who Charles Stross was. They seemed intrigued at least, from what I recall with a head already comfortably buzzing from a single glass of wine (yes, I have near zero tolerance).

And then sometime during that event, it started hitting me all at once. Babs announced she needed to step outside for fresh air, and that was all the excuse I needed. One awful breakdown later, I made excuses to leave early and walked all the way to my flat, feeling my feet drag and trying with my limited powers to figure out what the devil was wrong with me.

My three closest friends here (imaginatively called The Edinburgh Trio) have been amazing, with Alison constantly assuring me I am doing so well, which is a lifesaver when all you want is someone to believe in you. But all the while I can’t help but hear this clock ticking eternally away in my head. It’s the sound of the countdown of how much time I have left in this country – one and a half years – and if I don’t find something, a job or an agent within that time… I have to admit I am haunted by that spectre of failure.

Your Life is not Over

My best friend Liz, who believes in tough love, tells me I have to prepare myself for the idea of a career beyond the UK. “Your life wouldn’t be over,” she says. It’s perfectly sound advice, but when the notion sinks in that I’d have to return to Malaysia…

Part of me flinches.

“Don’t come back to Malaysia,” my dad says via Skype. “Stay in UK. There’s no future in Malaysia.”

“Come back to Malaysia,” an ex-colleague tells me on Facebook. “Don’t add to the Brain Drain statistics. Come back and help build the nation!”

…With a Creative Writing Masters?

Okay, so perhaps I can teach in Singapore or something, but one day I have to face up to how I feel about my country. Should I be patriotic, help “build the nation?” Or say, F*ck it, Malaysia’s a washout?

Will people even appreciate what I love writing, or will they continue to thumb their noses at fantasy and science fiction in favour of so-called ‘serious literary fiction’? I know there is virtually no government support back in my country for writers, and part of me recognises that I can’t compare Malaysia to a developed nation like UK. (And let’s not mention the corrupt and greedy politicians running my homeland).

No, one way or another, I have to make my remaining 1.5 years here count.

Tick, tick, tick.

Comfort Food

After that long walk home, I sat on my couch and probably brooded. And then seriously, at 10.20pm I was seized by this impulse:

I must have Japanese!

A little rumpled, but divine.

To be precise, I needed to have my Unagi Don. It is my absolute favourite Japanese dish, and I’ve lost count of the number of fishmonger shops I’ve walked into around Edinburgh, hoping I can save money by making it myself, only to be told “Sorry, we don’t sell eel”. You’re a seafood shop! How can you not have eel!?

Apparently they don’t really like eel in these parts. I get the impression they think of it as a yucky sort of fish.

Unagi Don! Look at that picture! How can your lips not smack at that juicy chunk of grilled eel flesh smothered in mirin and soya sauce, gracefully perched on a bed of steaming hot sushi rice… And it just so happened a Japanese restaurant nearby does food deliveries. I ordered at 10.20pm. The restaurant closes at 11pm. The food arrived at 10.40pm.

Talk about service! Ahhhhhhh. My world was right again.


Afterwards I found some websites and sources that seem to link creativity and depression. Disabled World posted an article which said: Edgar Allan Poe, Honore de Balzac, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Audrey Hepburn, and even Jim Carrey all had something in common. Aside from being renowned artists, they were also afflicted with depression.

This part intrigued me: Studies have established that there is a very close relationship between creativity and depression. Many artists are prone to depression due to the highly emotional aspect of their craft. The angst and solitude that usually surrounds the creative process also makes them vulnerable to bouts of sadness. The strong emotions that compel artists to create are the same forces that lead them to pits of depression.

Another website suggested that mild depression actually helps creativity. I have to say I don’t think I have depression, although that breakdown really scared me. Especially with some of the symptoms I was experiencing: lack of interest in things I used to enjoy, loss of appetite and so on. Luckily that went away, the moment I had my Unagi Don 🙂

Now who is Stross?

Much, much later, I decided to look up Charles Stross. I realised I had his name misspelled in the beginning, thinking it was ‘Strauss’. A search engine put me to rights, and I looked up his wiki entry.

Let’s see: Writer based in Edinburgh. Works range from science fiction and Lovecraftan horror to fantasy. Sometimes regarded as being part of a new generation of British science fiction writers who specialise in hard science and space opera..

Okay, so far so good. Then my eyes drifted further down and I choked.

Oh my god, this guy invented the Death Knight, the slaad and the Githzerai for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons! The Githzerai like the warrior/mage Dak’kon which is one of my most favourite tragic characters from my favourite computer RPG game, Planescape Torment!

I was talking to the guy who created a piece of AD&D history! ARRRRGH.



Filed under Computer Games, Depression, Family, Food, Malaysia, Procrastination, Writing

6 responses to “Malaysia should not equal Failure

  1. In regards to your feelings on Malaysia, I say do both!

    If the thought of going back to the country doesn’t make you happy, then you might not have the positive energy and drive you’d need to help change it from within.

    So, instead, work on helping it from without. 🙂

    You’ve already got a tool: Your words. Don’t underestimate them; you can change things with just a Creative Writing Masters. You can paint a picture for the rest of the world about what wonderful things Malaysia has to offer, and you can paint a picture for Malaysia of what it could be.

    Don’t worry about failure. If you have to do this, if you have to make this work, then you will. Tell yourself you have to, whether you think you can or not, and then everything just follows forward from there. 🙂

    • Wonderful words of wisdom! For all its quirks (and doesn’t every country have them?) Malaysia has a lot to offer 🙂
      I was in a bad way but am much chipper now. Just tell myself to keep on chugging 😉

  2. Heck, I’ve known Charlie for years and I didn’t know that!

    Sorry to hear about your bout of depression after the City of Lit salon. If it cheers you up at all, Charlie and I were quite taken with your Malaysian urban fantasy pitch, in that it ticks an embarrassing number of boxes on the mythical page of the sort of thing smart publishers must be looking out for right now, and that you’d written 81,000 words.

    Regarding jobs, try Computer People, right by Office Angels on George St. They may offer free online training in stuff like Excel.

    • Hello there, welcome!
      Thank you so much for the lovely feedback. That means a lot to me, and meeting you both was definitely the highlight of the evening.
      I shall certainly give this Computer People a try!

  3. Hello Chris,
    This comment is rather late – but I think it’s still timely 🙂

    Try not to live for goals but for principles. For example, instead of saying “I must get an agent before 2012!” That’s putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself.

    Instead, live for principles: “I’m going to write the best I can, experience as much literary Scotland as I can or soak in the friendships and show my friends how much I appreciate them”.

    These goals are not just more doable, but it’s also “eternal”. It is not constricted by the unpredictability of circumstances. It hinges on the principles you hold. If you stay true to your principles, it doesn’t matter WHERE you are, you have your principles.

    I too have the same fear. I thought: What if I don’t fulfill the conditions of my PR and fail to get one? It bugged me today, and I had to remind myself that the reason why I’m going to Oz is NOT to get a PR, NOT to get a book agent or get a book published but to find out who I am without my job, my material possessions and the expectations that I was bound with. It was about conquering my fear bit by bit. So that’s my principle – to live without letting fear shackle my potential.

    So, I hope this message gets to you, Chris. Your time in Edinburgh, no matter how it turns out, is NOT going to be wasted.

    And who says Malaysia is a write off? I think it’s still a lovely place to live. We can have a life in our country no matter what the doom and gloomers say 🙂

    • Here, here! I am perfectly okay with going back to Malaysia if it comes down to it. Heck, I have already planned a stint of staying in Kuala Lumpur to help with my research when I leave the UK.

      Sometimes the fear – of accomplishing as much as I can in the little time I have left – is so great it threatens to belittle every achievement I make. It only took good friends, and God, to remind me to: Hey, idiot, open your eyes and stop being so hard on yourself.

      So yeah, I’m giddy with finally hitting a milestone, and will continue working on the novel and making the most of every beautiful day, no matter where I am!

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