Archives for category: Imperfect Writer

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been taking a lot of pictures.

I’ve also been exploring the possibility of turning this hobby into a business. I’ve built a site. I’ve read close to ten books on the fundamentals and then some. I’ve camped, Flickr and Digital Photography School for perhaps twice as long. I’ve practiced my behind off in recent months on my kids, the kids of my friends, gone on photowalks, bugged the hell out of more experienced photographers, and basically just photographing anything that’s not strapped down.

And yet, I’ve been a little afraid of calling myself a photographer. Much as I’ve been afraid of calling myself a writer (and I’ve been writing a while). Heck I can’t even call myself a blogger without feeling like a fraud because there ARE people who actually BLOG regularly who don’t even claim that.

When I go out with Lokes for his social gatherings with business colleagues, I say I’m a stay-at-home mom, and then Lokes will let slip the fact that I blog, write and is now a “portrait photographer”. I cringe because they all make me sound like I am doing everything and therefore am not good at anything. Really, a writer? One miserable short story, that’s all I’ve published the last two years. A blogger? I am perhaps the laziest, most inconsistent blogger in the history of lazy inconsistent blogging. A portrait photographer? This is the worst because I’d have my camera with me and people will start asking to have their pictures taken and my fingers get clammy and I’d stutter a little when I say, “Okay…ss-say…cheese?” and I’d start thinking, “Great, now I have to spend my evening trying to save my semi-semi-pro photos…”

Usually, the photos turn out great (without the help of Photoshop too!). Sometimes, I also blog or write something worth reading. And yet, my self esteem is taking a very very long time to catch up on whatever it is I’ve set my heart on doing. That is why I’ve had problems “marketing” myself beyond building a blog. How do I get rid of this fear of feeling like I’m not worth getting paid for my services?

The only thing that motivates me is a practical consideration: that times are getting harder, and one income may not hack it much longer, and I will need to GET OVER myself THIS MINUTE before it’s too late.

Nothing like a little tough love.


I have started blogging for Seattle Mom Blogs in my very own column, called Tea Leaf Journals: A Little Asian in Seattle, the irony being tea in Starbucks land and me being as close to “little” as game shows are to insane in Japan, so the only straight bit about that is the “Asian”, which I may have trouble holding on to but for reminders like this column. But what can I say? I’m thrilled.

Please, all three of you, go visit me there and let me humour you with my extant Asianness. 

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I told you I started writing a novel about my aunt’s salon back in the 70s and 80s but I’m beginning to wonder if I can pull it off without producing another cliche.That era is so over-written, especially in Malaysia where people seem to LOVE stories set in that era, including ads (I mean, look at all the Leo Burnett ones) or anything remotely connected to the past. Is it because so much more seemed to be happening then, that we can’t find anything exciting to write about the now?

Granted I’m a few thousand miles away and am the last person to be writing about life back home. I wasn’t gone that long. So why is it so hard to describe what it means to be Malaysian? Or Malaysian Chinese, without sounding as if I’ve heard it a million times before?

Also, I find it really challenging to peg down what it means to be Malaysian Chinese. Almost everything I can think of is a cliche (like not being able to read or write Chinese aka being a “banana” but not really because BM is actually our first language and not English). Really, what distinguishes us from other nationalities? And what distinguishes us from other Chinese? Or other Malaysians even?

I am currently reading Elif Shafak’s Bastard of Istanbul and I envy her ability to identify the nuances of being Turkish and Armenian AND Turk/Armenian American. Do other Turks and Armenians think of her descriptions as being cliched? I wonder.

It’s sad I don’t have much to write about that I don’t think is 1) overwritten; or 2) interesting enough to write about.

This is depressing.

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I got an email from Janet Tay of MPH (Malaysia’s biggest publisher) today.

“Small Mother”, my five-frigging-years-in-the-making short story, has been accepted for its upcoming anthology titled Urban Odysseys. Going to get a contract and everything, chewah!

In unrelated news, I think I might just have the world’s biggest arse. I need to go work out soon, man.

I’m always a little at a loss when someone refers to me as “the famous blogger” or “the writer”.

For one, I am neither.

To belong to the first, you’d have to be in the ranks of Xia Xue, Robert Scoble or Violent Acres. Since I am not any of these people – or belong to their social circles, not even in the blogroll sense (which is, I think, the true measure of whether one has ‘made it’ in the blog…scene. To have one’s blog linked in list of perhaps eight other bloggers, semi-permanently until they run out of ad space or when they remember to update their blogrolls and take you off because they can no longer remember who you are).

To belong to the second, well, you have to first write a book that’s not only been published but must’ve been accessed via a bookstore (online or off) or a library by at least, oh I don’t know, 30 people? People who aren’t related to you or are your friends or know you at a molecular level. A total stranger who thought your book was good enough to fork out $14 for. Or make the trip to the library to check it out. Or perhaps even deign him/herself to borrow from a friend. That’s when you know you’ve made it. Random people sacrificing time, spending money and exerting effort to read what you’ve written.

That’s when you allow yourself the title of “writer”.

Yes, I do set very strict standards for myself, standards which I’m bound to live by (the binder being yours truly) and therefore am destined never to meet. It is a wonder I am able to function at all, what with mild delusions of grandeur one minute, and the slightly psychotic self-berating the next.

“Pff, I can write better than that!”

“Then again, I’ve never even tried.”

“You suck.”

“No, you suck.”

And yet, I can’t help feeling a little pride seep in once in a while (it is a sneaky feeling) when someone addresses me that way, although I can’t be sure most of the time if he or she isn’t actually mocking me. Sometimes, I pretend it’s genuine, basking a little in the misdirected (or misinterpreted) admiration. Most of the time, I have on my ‘blur’ face, that mask of uncertainty, as though I am preoccupied with the delicate task of wiping yet another snotty nose or tying yet another errant shoelace, when I am doing everything I can not to cry and feel sorry for myself, a 34-year old fraud who will perhaps spend the rest of her life starting novels without finishing any because she has the attention span of a tick.

“You’re that Mommy blogger, aren’t you?”

I’m not sure at which word in the label I’d cringe. “Mommy” or “blogger”. Or “you?”

“I loooooove your writing!”

What this person means is, of course, my blogging, since I’m sure she’s read neither of the two stories I’ve written that’s been published in a country 12,000 miles away – a country she thinks is in Micronesia.

Again, the cold fingers of embarrassed panic seize me. Should I do the polite thing and thank her. Or the right thing, and correct her?

“Blogging isn’t writing, lady,” Obnoxious me would say. “Any idiot with two fingers can blog. But thank you anyway. I appreciate it.”

But in blog world, I do what all bloggers must do. I’ll take what I can, enjoy every morsel of fame thrown my way, holding each piece of praise gingerly between my Magic-marker stained fingers (much as one would those gourmet cheese samples they give away at the fancy deli sections at the grocery store), and slowly nibble as though it is the last goddamn piece of cheese I will ever eat.

Today, I had the pleasure of meeting Daringyoungmom and Goodisenough, two fellow lady bloggers who will be going to Blogher this year.

DYM is a well-known blogger (who’s speaking at the conference on Day One about the need for an intolerance intervention in the blogosphere).

At the playground, we got to talking about blogging for money. As you know, this is an issue that I’ve been been struggling with of late. Essentially, both DYM and GIE disagree with directly sponsored posts from companies like Payperpost. And after I told them how I gave PPP the boot after finding out its business model of rejecting posts even after the posts have been published for weeks, they were even more aghast.

FYI, DYM has a thriving business running ads on her blog from Blogher (which I’ve just applied for!) and she’s made quite a name for herself in the American blogosphere after just two years. She’s been on the Today show and even writes for a parenting site, The Parenting Post.

So the contention here is, which is the lesser of the two evils? Monetising your blog through ads, or writing paid posts? Of course, people who do both would not be asking this question as they HAVE NO SOULS (points at me).

Having gone through a little over two weeks of PPP, I am now only on SponsoredReviews, of which there have been bids few and far between. While the money’s good, what one of the moms said this morning – I don’t remember who – struck me as very true: That after a while, the readability of your blog degrades because your readers stop reading the real posts as well.

And after a while, even the quality of your READERS degrade, because no matter how well you write, your quality blog readers, those who really come to you for your stories and anecdotes, your honest reviews, don’t read paid posts. Sadly, it’s already happening. Traffic has gone down about 30% for me since I’ve gone all money-minded. Of course, if you don’t care about that sort of thing, it doesn’t really matter since neither PPP nor SR lists ‘quality of readers’ (nor quantity, which is odd) as one of the requirements to be paid.

After an afternoon spent pondering this whole messed up issue, I’ve decided to stop bidding from today onwards at SR, and to commit what I’ve bid on, if they are accepted. I am going to stick with the ads and hope that my attendance at Blogher (and acceptance into their ad program) will help me gain some exposure as a writer and to pursue, instead, alternate – and more ‘honourable’ – ways to earn some money.

Wish me luck. Sorry to make all of you a part of my whole monetising my blog rollercoaster. If only I wasn’t so damn fickle…

Dina Zaman, the illustrious gal behind the recently published I am Muslim, is calling for submissions for I am Muslim 2.

And you don’t even HAVE to be Muslim!  


1. Write your essay. 800 to 1000 words. If it’s a series, title them so. Yes, poetry is accepted too. Save on word document.
2. YouTube videos, posters, jpegs accepted.
3. Your name. Age range. Location.
4. Socio-religious details: you can be Muslim. Non-Muslim. Practising. Non-practising. But the theme is this:
It’s got to be about Islam and faith, and how you view it.
This is all about you, you, you. And a cat named Boo.
5. Malay/English. If you write in another language, please help us get it translated. We can do our best… but knowing your editors, we may conjure fantastical tales.
7. This project will last as soon as we get 100 best stories published on this blog. When we source the funds we’ll publish the best 50 + 20 which were already published in
8. Email to
To: IAMMUSLIMBOOK(UK/ZIMBABWE/MALAYSIA – so we know la and the editors of each region can work on their areas only)
Name, address, ic, no we don’t want your photos!
Attached word document. Make sure there’s no virus!
9. You will not be paid until we figure a way to get the site sponsored! But it’s your chance to be published :)

So much writing, so little time!

Seattletimes has a helpful story about self-publishing today and a site called Booksurge was recommended. $2799 is a little steep for the likes of me especially if it’s to squeeze my half-arsed writing out into an already brutal market but hey, who knows, it might work for you!