Time and again

Ironically enough, it's become extremely hard to write anything that I feel is heartfelt and of significant worth nowadays. I've been feeling so ever since I made writing my official career path, I think.

Funny, isn't it, since you'd think that because you're devoting more time perfecting your craft, you should be better at it and everything should come so much more naturally than it did in the past?

But this is how it's been. Regrettably too, might I add.

I revisited the old, first proper blog I ever wrote, Veritas Project, recently. It surprised me just how differently I used to write. So uninhibited. So candid.

In some ways, I wish I was back at that place and time of my life, and that I had utilised those moments more fully to revel in the emotions of that season more, to write more wholeheartedly. Because now that I am where I'm at in life, here in my 30's, there's a great difference in the things I'd write and how I'd write them.

Yet, of course, I'm not discounting the value of experience and where it has gotten me. I write now through the lens of someone who has seen more, who realises what she is capable of, and who now knows so many more precious things about the world and the seasons and rhythms of life.

Time and again, though, I keep returning to this point of contemplation that I need to put forward a more genuine version of myself whenever I write. Particularly when I blog for a wider audience, like I do here.

The difficulty here lies in the fact that having been a journalist in the not-so-distant past, my writing disciplines have been shaped to habitually involve the practice of self censorship. We do it all the time in the newsroom, although the reasons for doing so may differ each time. The words we allow to escape our keyboard are filtered: tapered down in its depth of feeling, politically correct, shifted and sorted to take on a supposedly neutral form, appealing to the average reader. Which is, in reality, probably no one.

Here in Blogdom, everyone is writing nowadays to garner as much Likes as possible. Building a band of followers that will faithfully swallow whatever you put out for them, just because they feel like you know them. You are like them.

For that is what is being peddled. Writers putting on a front of being an expert and knowing something special. Teasing readers with minimal prose, abandoning the art of it all, and replacing it with GIFs, memes, haphazardly compiled lists of things that nobody needs but everybody identifies with and wants to know about. A place where words are money, so make as much as you can, with as little beauty infused into those sentences. Because, what is the point in poetry? It is unnecessary and underappreciated.

Then there are those writers' circles, those exclusive associations formed amongst writers on social media platforms. Where writers rant and rave about the perils of the realms of publishing and lament the naivety of rookies seeking their way into the fellowship. Spouting advice like, "If your writing is rejected by publishers, it's because it's worthless. Please move along".

I somehow cannot fit into this landscape.

As it is, I already have trouble believing that I am a writer, and even more so calling myself one. And all this… this massive community of successful people before me; corporations who make profits from the words crafted by others; the formality of it all; the formatting of pages, columns, fonts; the rigours of being part of the publishing process… all of this feels stifling to me.

I want to go back to that spot where simplicity and freedom of expression were. That quiet corner in the middle of nowhere that I could sit at for as long as I needed to, use as many paragraphs and pages as I wanted, and express precisely how I feel without fear of judgment or ruthless editing.

Where it was just me and you, my darling reader.

I still want to tell my story. But (and this may be hard to believe, coming from a person with a history like mine) I am having trouble finding the right words.

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Awkward alien

Image source: Flexo

Becoming a Work At Home Mum (WAHM) is a double whammy. Not only are both those roles tough to navigate, there is this additional problem of becoming an awkward alien. 

What do I mean by that? 

Well, basically everyone else in your life who isn’t a mother and/or isn’t living a homebound lifestyle (which is probably like 90% of your social circle, if you’re in your 30’s like me) will be unable to understand you and the things you go through on a daily basis. This transforms you, essentially into an alien. And this then leads to some pretty awkward situations and conversations. 

To give you an example, here are some questions and/or comments I had to field lately: 

“So you guys don’t eat out much anymore nowadays, right?” 

– Hmm, while that is the truth, what this question reeks off is the underlying assumption that because I am now at home, therefore I must be cooking all the time. And also, since we have less household income, that we would probably want to be frugal and eat in seclusion, thus morphing into kataks di bawah tempurung.

“So when are you going to go back to work?”

– Thing is, I am working. Just not in a way that most people would comprehend since I don’t have fixed hours or fixed clients (except for one that I have been doing work for since last year). Read: I freelance. It’s not much compared to what I used to do in my old full time position, but I like to keep my career alive and options open. AND I’d like the freedom to be around to raise my son rather than let someone else do it for me. 

“Ah, so it helps you keep your mind active lah, gives you something to do.” (In response to finding out that I am taking on freelance work wherever I can.)

– I guess you can’t blame a person who hasn’t really spent day after day at home at all hours, because they would not have realised just how much there is to do at home. Even if I don’t come up with a list of things to do, or my son doesn’t throw a tantrum or mess up something and give me things to clean up after, there will ALWAYS be things to do at home. My home is my office, and whenever you are in the office, your working mode will be on. Which pretty much means I am almost always working on something and the chores never end. This isn’t even taking into consideration my actual freelance work. And, the fact is that just managing the household requires plenty of brainwork, because instead of doing it mindlessly, if you are a mature, educated adult, you will always want to find ways to improve things at home, be it the efficiency and speed of accomplishing chores, the organisation of furniture, storage solutions or other things. 

There was also this incident where I was having a conversation with two other ladies around my age. The two of them were going on and on about how kids are like this or that, citing examples of nieces and nephews and children of other friends. Perhaps it was them trying too hard to identify with me, the only one in the conversation who was a mother. Mmm. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about young children since I have one myself, but there is an invisible boundary somewhere, which once crossed, makes it uncomfortable and unnatural to carry on discussing this topic. It is especially so when the people keeping the topic going are those who don’t have kids in the first place. 

Just to clarify, being a WAHM doesn’t make me hate all these other more normal and sane people in my life (yes, I’m probably getting more and more queer with each passing day, if I have not yet morphed into an oddball) . But it does make it feel like a large chasm just opened up between us. And that makes it a bit harder, though not impossible, to connect. 

Well, I guess I should apply the same rules of conversation as a WAHM that I had used in the past: Always seek to understand more than to be understood; to ask about the other person and to care for them, rather than to expect them to be concerned for you. 

And then, all will be fine, and no one will suspect what an awkward alien I really am. 

It’s just that… it would be nice if everyone in general understood the WAHM situation better so less misunderstandings and explanations would need to be provided. 

Of being a storyteller

Someone asked me recently what it’s like to be journalist.

He said he was young and still figuring out what to do for his career and was curious about the profession.

Since I do actually love my job, I did my level best to tell him in a few sentences what my work was like. But looking back, I think those brief descriptions I tried to muster weren’t quite as adequate as I’d like them to be.

So I’d like to try, through this blog post, to put down in words what being a member of the media really is like.

But before I proceed, here’s a small disclaimer: this account of my experiences as a journo may differ quite significantly from that which others have faced, as I have taken the road less travelled, so to speak. I never did study journalism at university (although I had really wanted to, but that’s a story for another day), nor did I start off my foray into the working world as a writer. It’s taken some time to get to where I am today, and even this, I feel, is not quite the final destination I’m meant to arrive at yet. So take these words in, but do so with the awareness that I am probably just a rookie, and am still learning.

Now, let’s begin.

To inform and empower 

If I were to sum up what the primary duty of a journalist is, I’d say that it is tell stories. However, there is something that differentiates us journos from other writers such as the authors of a best selling novels: we tell stories that are based on facts, rather than fiction.

Aha. I’m sure some of you out there may be just about to scream bloody murder since apparently not all journos adhere to this principle very well. Yes, well, I’ll admit though that we do get our facts wrong at times (we are but human after all), but what I’m saying is that this is what we aspire to achieve. I cannot speak for those who deliberately twist facts though.

The other equally essential part of our role as reporters is that we are there to educate and inform the public.

If you put these two principles together, you basically would have the gist of what our job is about.

Now, let’s talk briefly about the implications of carrying out the two core duties of reporting which I have already mentioned.

Irregular routines  and random introductions

I’m not sure what other people actually prefer when it comes to work schedules, but I’m guessing most would like some degree of certainty. A predictable kind of routine.

Well, as journalists, we are often subjected to disruptions to our routine. Some new development could crop up on any given day, and with one word from the editor, you’d have to drop everything else you are doing and focus on getting that one particular story (usually of the breaking news variety) out.

On other so-called normal days, we still face a degree of unpredictability in our job in the sense that, for instance, we are handed out assignments just a day before. So, for example, I’d be told today that I have to attend an event in Putrajaya for a certain company’s product launch tomorrow.

Well, if you’re like me and enjoy it whenever a bit of variety is thrown into the work routine mix every so often, then I guess journalism would suit you fine.

Another thing worth mentioning is that you’ll have to get used to going out solo for most assignments. Getting a photographer to come with you is a bonus. But even then, you’re likely to only rendezvous at the venue. This is because both you and the photog would need to each have your own mode of transport to keep your own set of appointments on that same day.

Meeting new people all the time is a given, so although it’s not impossible to be an introvert and hold a job as a journalist, you do need a certain degree of boldness in going up to people and getting acquainted. And being unafraid to ask for whatever it is you need to get the job done, as bizarre as it may be. Hehe.

Writing it right 

And, of course, you cannot leave writing skills out of the equation when it comes to journalism. At the end of it all, no matter what traffic you had to endure to get across town to get your story, however tough it was coaxing someone to talk about something they’d rather not, regardless of what hour of the day it may be, you will still have to sit yourself down in front of a screen to hash out a story to be sent off to the editor’s lair.

Mind you, your job isn’t altogether done even though your draft has landed successfully in the editor’s queue.

You will next need to brace yourself for the brutal dissection of your prose and the interrogations that are likely to follow suit.

Editors (bless their dear souls, it is a tough job that they hold) will often need to ask you tons of follow up questions to clarify what exactly it was that you had meant in the paragraphs you had just crafted.

It may seem rather intimidating at first, especially since you’ll probably feel you had already done your level best to get every possible bit of information you could glean for the assignment. But somehow, mysteriously, horrendously enough, the editor will somehow manage to uncover some stone you had left unturned and ask you about it.

Not sure how other journos felt when faced with this scenario, but I always would get this sinking feeling  in my stomach and this worrisome thought that perhaps my job might be on the line should I be unable to answer my editor’s queries right away.

Well, it’s something to get used to, since it will often happen, but really, the worst that you will typically endure is a harsh scolding, but you’ll normally leave the editor’s desk with your job intact.

Just make sure that you do your best not to repeat whatever mistakes that the editor has called out, and you’ll generally be fine.

While I’m at it, I might as well say something else about writing while on the job. It’s not as much about perfect grammar and sentence structures as you think.

In journalism, it’s more about brevity and logical presentation of facts. I’m referring to news reports in this case. There are other types of writing styles that a journo will need to pick up in the course of his or her duties, of course, but that will require a bit more explaining, and I’ll leave that for another post.

So, in essence, if you have a fairly decent command of the language you’ll be reporting in, and have a functional brain that can think logically and arrange facts into neat, comprehensible sentences that the average man on the street could read and easily understand, then you have generally what it takes to write for the media.

In a nutshell

Well, there you have it, a little glimpse of what it’s like to be a journalist. There’s plenty of other details I could bring up, but so as to not be too overwhelming, these are the basic things you will face. I hope this post will help some of you out there who have been curious all this while about what journalism is really like.

And so as to make my life a little easier, I will probably refer those who ask me about my job to this post in the future. Hehe.

If for some reason you are reading this post and would like to ask me further questions about this profession, please feel free to drop me a comment 😉