Sunday, January 21, 2007

Social Whirl ... Social Embarassment

Here's a bits and pieces post from the last few days.

Last Saturday was at the International Islamic University at the invitation of Dr. Faridah Manaf to run a creative writing workshop for her Language and Literature students and other students from different departments. (And it was really nice to have students of other nationalities in the group). I didn't want to go into lecturer mode because writing is such a practical thing - you only learn from doing.

I usually teach small groups, concened to create an atmosphere of trust and openess so running activities with a larger crowd ... offers its own challenges, and I had to rely on using group work and carefully monitoring it.

It worked fine though (Faridah describes one of my favourite activities here) and some nice pieces were created which I hope the students will go on to polish up and somehow publish. But I loved the way the atmosphere in the room changed as everyone relaxed and entered into their own personal spaces.

In the feedback I was most happy that students said they felt the exercise had helped the students to get to know each other better. And one student (Sudanese, I think) was so revved up that he didn't want to stop writing about things that needed to be written about and he clearly has something very painful inside him that needs to escape onto paper. I hope he lets it.

Anyway, many thanks to Shakira for organising the event so well.

Sunday, Chet dragged me off to KLPAC to see the Harold Pinter play Betrayal, which I very much enjoyed, especially as it was a piece I didn't know at all. I loved the utter social awkwardness of the Pinteresque dialogue (wonder if anyone else speaking like a Pinter character when they walked out of the theatre?) and the way the story moves backwards in time to uncover layers of guilt and deception in this love triangle.

The acting was good. Couldn't quite believe in Ari Ratos as the Jerry though, because the chemistry between him and Bernice Chauly was a bit lacking, but I liked his outrage when he felt that he was the one who was betrayed. Vernon Adrian Emuang was nicely icy as the betrayed husband. Bernice as Emma, shrouded in clouds of cigarette smoke, was best of all. She looked a bit of a wreck in the opening scene, but seemed to physically change and acquire a glow as time shifted back to the beginning of the affair! And she has such an enviable figure when she's dressed up glam - that took me by surprise because we only ever see her in jeans at the readings!

Wednesday afternoon one of my good friends launched her book at IPBA (Institiut Peguruan Bahasa-Bahasa Antarabangsa). Jean Floyd came out to Malaysia to teach English just a few months after me, and our professional paths have been crossing ever since. She's one of the most dynamic and energetic people I know, though she's now over 70.

I used her study skills book when I was teaching on the 'A' Level Course in Kuala Kangsar, and very good it was too. Now the book has been brought into the cyber-age and rechristened Study Skills for Higher Education. Many of my friends from way back and from my teacher-training days were at the launch, which was good.

Wednesday night we had our book club meeting at Muntaj's house. Julian Barnes' Arthur and George was very much liked (note: not loved by anyone) although we all felt that it could have been shortened by 100 pages or so and the seance part dropped. Barnes style was much praised, as well as his seamless weaving of fiction and research. At least a couple of us are suckers for Sherlock Holmes stories and loved the book for giving Conan Doyle himself a chance to play detective. Our group felt that racism in Britain has cropped up in just too many of our chosen books this year, including Small Island by Andrea Levy, and Nirpal Singh Daliwhal's Tourism. Still, of course, there does seem to be plenty of it to go round.

(Thinking about Arthur and George makes me think of Walker Moore who used to drop by this blog to leave witty comments and who seems to have vanished into thin cyberspace after his altercation with Mr. Barnes over the factual accuracy of the novel. I do miss Walker. If anyone knows of his whereabouts, please give him a nudge from me. )

We also had a necessary chat about limiting numbers for our group. 10-12 is an ideal group size, up to 15 manageable. Most of our members who host have limited space in their homes, limited capacity to cater for so many. But more and more folks want to join us, so we might just have to put them in touch with each other and ask them to form their own group. Logistics!

Thursday, was of course teaching my course at British Council. I don't write too much about my classes when they are ongoing as I feel, I suppose, too protective towards the group to talk about individual writing journeys and the work that appears on the page. (I say "appears" quite deliberately, as the participants find themselves ready to nudge out into unchartered waters.) But yes, it's going fine, and my latest crop of writers are beginning to surprise themselves and write some very fresh stuff, which is what it's all about.

Then yesterday, MPH Writer's Circle. About blogging for writers. How I wish more people had shown up because the audience was a little small and I feel it is a topic very useful to writers. Ted couldn't come as he had to go down to Johor, so Lydia, Nizam Zakaria and myself talked about our online experiences. Nizam was particularly interesting - talking about how blogging his novel has created a fan-base for his work, a greater understanding of his readers' demography and how they react to his text, and bringing him lucrative script-writing work.

Lydia talked about using her blog for promoting her book, and about the difficulty of trying to not let a blog eat up too much of your time (a losing battle!) There was a real give and take discussion with audience members, some of whom were bloggers themselves. (I wish we had got Eric to talk a bit more!) David did a very good job of chairing the discussion - he has such a nice personality, can handle folks with ease and humour.

And it was great to meet local horror writer, Tungku Halim, in real life! (Or unreal life ...)

And in between all these events? Reading reading reading in every spare moment. Running away from the articles I'm supposed to be writing ...

And the social embarrassment bit?

Imagine you are standing in front of a roomful of people, trying to creat a good impression, trying to sound like an expert, dressed neatly in a new outfit with a brand new skirt from Iseten ... and you feel that the waistband is a little looser than when you bought it, and you're glad because you might just have lost a pound or two since you tried it on ... and then it starts to get a little looser ... and a little looser ... until you realise that your elastic has gone, and if you don't keep a tight grip on it you risk losing it altogether ... and that won't do at all in the Islamic University where I'm already the only person for miles around not wearing a headscarf! (Still no-one noticed my dilemma, did they? And they will still ask me back one day, won't they?)

Imagine heading out the door bound for your class in town with everything in your bag except your purse ... and you have no money at all for parking, the LRT fare, dinner, or snacks for class ... and then frantically trying to phone all your friends who know and accept the real you and who live along the route and finding they are all out ... and then realising you will have to ask someone to lend you the money because you are just so incompetent and uncool ... but finally being saved by the fact that you are SO untidy that there are ringgit notes scattered around all over the car, even in the boot, and in the debris at the bottom of your bag ... and finally finding RM16 which is more than enough to cover everything!

Dina - am I still "a brand" now?????


XMOCHA! said...

once a brand always a brand _ you will always be special Sharon!

Lydia Teh said...

Dear Sharon, thanks for sharing that social embarrassment bits. Couldn't help smiling. There is an advantage to being untidy, yeah?

lil ms d said...

sharon sharon you are smokin'!

if it's any consolation - i wore a see through robe when i taught at IIUM and flashed my knickers. i thought since it was a robe no one would know i wasn't wearing a petticoat.

if you say your bag is untidy, what's mine? a gentleman once asked me for a packet of tissues for his runny nose and i came up with a sanitary pad packet. winged too.

i think we writers arent meant to function in the real world.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks all. but i know i'm hopeless.

ms d, yes i can sympathise with the sanitary towel story. once pulled out a tampon when i wanted to give someone a pen.

if only it did make me a better writer.

(how come the rest of the world is so organised and tidy??)

animah said...

Sharon, only two thirds of the world are organised and tidy. The brilliant geniuses are messy - so be proud of it. In all the offices I've worked, there will be at least one person with a messier desk that mine - and that always tends to be the Darling that Gets Things Done!

This is turning out to be such a girlie posting. Years ago, I too handed a guy a sanitary pad with the lines, here's my card.

I was disappointed with Betrayal. It's a good play but it did not come across so well.

lil ms d said...

Animah - I cannot believe you did that. You're too poised.

(Dina's eyes pop)

Have not seen any plays for the last 2 years. Mahal!

animah said...

I'm poised? How flattering. I just went oops, placed the offensive object back in my bag and said, I don't carry my card on weekends.