Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What I've been up to

Before...

After...
Painting
and scriptwriting, on the sly. Oops, that was a secret. Dialogue is hard. It sounds super fantastic in my head, but when spoken aloud... yuck.

Proposals, artist statements, proposals...
So much effort without knowing the outcome. I console myself with the fact that architects are forced to prepare proposals, too, but in a costlier fashion than artists!

Gardening and exercising again
after a long bout of sickness.

Immersing myself in New Zealand poetry and a bit of local history.
I'm a not-so-recent immigrant but am still trying to find a place for myself in my adopted country. New Zealand poems seem to help me understand the local psyche better than any history book can. I'm discovering how the older generation (Allen Curnow, Keith Sinclair, Jim Baxter) tried to carve out a cultural history for New Zealand. Their hang-ups about living in a remote country ("A country with no momentous present, but with a future," as CK Stead explains Curnow's take on the subject) is comforting to me, in fact, because Malaysia is going through an identity crisis herself. As far as Malaysian art and literature goes, we've only just started finding our own unique voice.

Speaking of which
Funny to think of a time when the "New" in "New Zealand" actually did mean "new". In those days, the pioneers, including the generation that followed, looked back to England for an identity. This act of looking back interests me greatly, for I often 'look back' to whence I came - the distance provides a tension that is useful in my creative life. Hence I completely identify with CK Stead's sentiment that "remoteness is not something our writers should deny or regret, but something to be acknowledged, and exploited as an analogue for the immovable tensions which are universal in human experience" (from his award-winning essay (wah, essays in New Zealand can win awards, ar?) For the Hulk of the World's Between written in 1961).

As for contemporary poets, I'm dipping into some Manhire, CK Stead and Sam Hunt whose lyrical evocations of the New Zealand heartland feel like a welcoming hug.

Feeling fresh again!
Spring, la la. Makes one feel young, la la. Few months ago, I was struck with a case of mild career anxiety. You know what I'm talking about. "I'm pushing thirty and what have I achieved? I may as well die glueing paper tole in the suburbs!" or something like that (for the record, I don't actually indulge in paper tole). But now I've got that fresh-out-of-art-school mojo back. I don't know how it happened, but it did.

Related post: from a year ago

Above images (c) Lydia Chai

Monday, September 7, 2009

Zesty Zadie

I am totally chuffed that the brilliantly clever Zadie Smith has a collection of essays due out in November. This will sate my appetite while I await her next novel.
"When you finish a novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second - put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal - but even three months will do. Step away from the vehicle. The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer...

"...You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it's not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professorial editor who's read it in twelve different versions. It's the head of a smart stranger who picks it off a bookshelf and begins to read. You need to get the head of that smart stranger somehow. You need to forget you ever wrote that book.

"...After I read Alan Hollinghurst's magnificent novel The Line of Beauty, I met him at a dinner, and drunkenly I think I asked him how he got his novel to be so magnificenty. He said: "Oh; I left it for a long while. And then I tinkered with it. Five years, actually."

"That's the best piece of writing advice I ever had."
From a lecture given by Smith to students at Columbia University in March 2008. The full lecture may be read in Believer magazine.