The Star Malaysia - Star2

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.

- 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” ( 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, 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 The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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