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.
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!
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.