Old words, new words

Our colum­nist looks back at what he’s writ­ten and con­cludes that in 2020, he will try harder to chan­nel the emo­tion un­der­ly­ing his writ­ing in the hope of cre­at­ing some­thing new and worth­while.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - Dzof azmi

LET us now take ad­van­tage of an ar­bi­trary mile­stone of time pass­ing to take stock of work done past with ref­er­ence to work to be done in the fu­ture.

Or, look, it’s the New Year, let me re­cap what I wrote about in 2019, and in the process, cre­ate some­thing new by reusing some­thing old (you can in­sert a suit­able joke about the cur­rent govern­ment here).

As I went through my con­tri­bu­tions for the past year, I ran through the emo­tions of “I can’t re­mem­ber I wrote that” to “I can’t be­lieve I wrote that!”, with enough “I’m glad I wrote that” mo­ments to jus­tify this col­umn.

In no par­tic­u­lar or­der, let me be­gin with the piece I wrote in con­junc­tion with Valen­tine’s Day 2019. The orig­i­nal head­line was “Love in K-pop songs and your brain”, but I saw a ref­er­ence to it on The Star’s Face­book page where it’s ti­tled “Love is ei­ther like crack co­caine or a K-pop song” (bit.ly/star_ valen­tine), which is much catchier and much more in the spirit of what it was like to write it.

I knew the col­umn was go­ing to be some­thing about love or ro­mance (given the date of pub­li­ca­tion, Feb 18), and a quick trawl through the In­ter­net brought up two things: how love stim­u­lates the same parts of the brain as drugs do and a link to a bright and breezy K-pop video ti­tled What Is Love.

If you’ve never slogged through med­i­cal re­search pa­pers while lis­ten­ing to teeny­bop­pers sing in a for­eign lan­guage, then you haven’t lived. When peo­ple say “I en­joy writ­ing”, trust me, this is the “fun” end of en­joy.

An­other ar­ti­cle which I want to high­light is the piece on ed­u­ca­tion con­sul­tants Leaped (“It’s the peo­ple, stupid, not the tech­nol­ogy”, July 22; on­line at bit.ly/star_teach), which I wish had re­ceived a bit more at­ten­tion. Per­haps I should have taken a leaf from the pop­u­lar In­ter­net web­sites and writ­ten a head­line like “How RM600 a year fixes the Malaysian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem” (or what­ever that catches the at­ten­tion of any new Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter who may hap­pen to be read­ing).

The sum­mary is this: There are Malaysians help­ing schools by giv­ing ad­min­is­tra­tors and teach­ers the skills to pro­fes­sion­ally up­grade them­selves. I find it in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing, but un­for­tu­nately, I didn’t re­ally get that point across, I think. In­stead, I went on a lit­tle jour­ney ex­plain­ing fun­da­men­tals of ed­u­ca­tion which missed the point about what I was feel­ing. I got so lost in the de­tails that I for­got to look up and smile: The work these guys are do­ing is amaz­ing, we should be proud such an ini­tia­tive ex­ists in Malaysia, we should be try­ing harder to make them an ex­am­ple for all.

A third ar­ti­cle that caught my eye was my piece on vac­ci­na­tion in Malaysia (“Vac­ci­na­tion doubters are killing chil­dren”, March 13; bit. ly/star_­vac­cine). Not the least be­cause it’s an ex­tremely im­por­tant topic but also be­cause I quote Star Trek’s Spock in it, which is an in­ter­est­ing con­tra­dic­tion given I was emo­tional when I wrote it. Ear­lier that day I read in the news that a baby had died of diph­the­ria, prob­a­bly due to the chil­dren next door not be­ing vac­ci­nated.

As I read what I had writ­ten, I can still feel the anger that coursed through me at the time. In this day and age, when we have learned so much, to throw it all away and so ca­su­ally ac­cept los­ing it all leads me to ques­tion, “What have we re­ally learned”? Let me say this again: If you take science for what it is rather than some spec­u­la­tive

I hope­fully will also con­tinue to write about Malaysian his­tory, try­ing to com­pare what we cur­rently be­lieve our past means ver­sus what the ev­i­dence gath­ered seems to ac­tu­ally show.

fic­tion of what you think it should be, then it’s clear that manda­tory vac­ci­na­tion is what is needed to man­age this is­sue. You’re wel­come to ar­gue your ifs, buts and whatabouts, but let’s do that while keep­ing kids alive.

I picked these three ex­am­ples be­cause it feels like my writ­ing fails when I for­get to chan­nel what I’m feel­ing through it. When peo­ple talk about hav­ing “pas­sion in your work”, I think it means that some of that emo­tion, that sense that you care about what you’re do­ing, leaks into what you pro­duce.

You can see that 94-year-old Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad is pas­sion­ate about what he does. For all the crit­i­cism he gets about var­i­ous projects he cham­pi­ons, you can sense it’s all im­por­tant to him. Know­ing how hard the job is yet still feel­ing strongly that it needs to be done has to com­mended.

You can also see that Syed Sad­diq, who was 25 when he be­came Youth and Sports Min­is­ter, is also pas­sion­ate about his work. But it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of pas­sion, one of pos­si­bil­i­ties to be rather than work still not yet com­plete.

I am clearly some­where in be­tween, in that I still get ex­cited by new ideas but I also feel that I need to write while I can. I missed out on a few top­ics last year. For ex­am­ple, the sit­u­a­tion, al­leged or oth­er­wise, of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in China is some­thing that has many an­gles to it. My par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est is the role that tech­nol­ogy plays in both im­ple­ment­ing and avoid­ing na­tional pol­icy.

I hope­fully will also con­tinue to write about Malaysian his­tory, try­ing to com­pare what we cur­rently be­lieve our past means ver­sus what the ev­i­dence gath­ered ac­tu­ally shows. Far too of­ten the di­a­tribes of politi­cians have shaped our her­itage in­stead of what the peo­ple ac­tu­ally in­volved said or did.

And ul­ti­mately, through it all, to chan­nel the emo­tion un­der­ly­ing it all, be it fun or fear, ex­cite­ment or anger, in the fer­vent hope that these 900 words cre­ate some­thing new and worth­while.

Logic is the an­tithe­sis of emo­tion but math­e­ma­ti­cian-turned-scriptwrit­er Dzof Azmi’s the­ory is that peo­ple need both to make sense of life’s va­garies and con­tra­dic­tions. Write to Dzof at lifestyle@thes­tar.com.my. The views ex­pressed here are en­tirely the writer’s own.

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