Oh, what a Whimsical year it's been!
THEY say that time flies when you're having fun (Janet Jackson even had a song about it, if your memory can stretch back that far). And like most of the most banal sayings, it is true to a frightening degree; there you are happily clicking on FarmVille/Twittering away at Starbucks/levelling up on DOTA, and you find that the week has flown by faster than your salary leaving the safety of your bank account for the comfort of the arms of your various debt agencies (credit cards/bank loans/utility bills/your spouse/etc).
And although we only tend to acknowledge it on the first of January every year (unless you are Chinese/Muslim/Hindu/Orthodox Jew/denomination of your choice, in which case you have your own new year) and/or on one's own birthday, the fact of the matter is that time has passed — and each day has seen 12 months/52 weeks/364-ish days/8,742 hours/524,520 minutes pass since the last time it occurred. So, it has been just over a year when my colleague John asked me if I would be interested in writing my own column for the company that we work at, the fabulously fantastic The Edge Malaysia — and a year to the Wednesday when this column made its debut.
The premise was simple: the site would have daily columns based on various topics. Mostly, they would cover current events and fads about the Internet, and John said that they needed something to fill a gap in the middle of the week. Knowing that my sense of humour is sharper than Edward Scissorhands's jewellery, he said that the main goal was that it should be light-hearted and fun.
Needless to say, I did not so much say "Yes!" as start planning what I would write about. Within 10 minutes alone, I had 16 topics that I had thought of to write about, although not at the same time; some would be immediate (based on whatever fad I found caught my attention at the time), whilst some would be timed to appear at significant points (like writing about love nearer to Valentine's Day, for example). For a moment, John had a what-have-I-done look common to any tomb raider who has unwittingly released the demon from the banished temple — but my enthusiasm is nothing if not infectious, and he seems to enjoy adding a delicately light polish to the gems that I come up with every week.
At least, that's what I think is happening; he hasn't started screaming, "OHGODNOIT'SHIMARRRRRRRRGH" and cowering under the desk if I show up at his workstation, so I assume everything is all right. He merely shudders each time I go up to him, because he knows that I will have a really bad joke/pun/story to tell him, which will cause him to lose at least 12 minutes of life due to excessive laughter — and since it happens roughly 17 times a day, it's a miracle we both get any work done. But we do, and the column you are reading now is the result.
I don't get paid anything to write any of this — but like my two favourite Russian composers Sergei Prokofieff and Dmitri Shostakovich, I am doing it for love. Prokofieff wrote all his ballets on commission, but his magnificent operas were composed because he wanted to write them. Shostakovich did a lot of serious composing "for the desk drawer" as it were, because of the musical purges that dominated life in Russia during that time (kind of like how the media is dominated here in Malaysia, come to think of it).
Now, I am nowhere near as competent and artistic as the two late and great composers — but I do know how it feels to create a work just because it speaks to you and demands that you propagate it. And so, gentle reader, I write week in and week out in the hopes that these little nuggets of fun brighten your day, if only for a little while — and that is all that I can ever ask for, frankly.
And what a list of things I have written about! It all started innocently enough with TV mash-ups that tickled my fancy, followed by a write-up on The Wonder Girls. I've talked several times about football (even though I do not like the game), once on buying a house, concert cancellations and a whole host of hilarious things (from silly names to sticky love to McLawsuits).
I wrote about my dear friend Jeganathan Ramachandram, who is one of the best painters in Malaysia (and the world, I dare say), at the start of this year. Anyone who has ever been fortunate enough to see his works will understand why it was easy for me to write about this wonderfully talented man — and Jega has paid me the ultimate compliment, because he loved it so much that he uses it as his official biography now.
It is rather gratifying to note that people actually appreciate the effort I pour into my articles. Even though I have been in the newspaper industry for eight years (goodness, I feel old), I still get a thrill when what I write gets a reaction out of people. And I must say that this column has given me a chance to do some of my best writing yet; I am particularly proud of the piece I wrote for Mother's Day (dedicated to my late mother Faridah Haron) — especially since people have told me that after reading it, they feel that they actually got to know my mother. Those who did know her (ie, my family and my friends) all said that they missed her deeply, and that my article would have made her proud. And as I said, I owe it all to her for getting me hooked onto reading, writing and speaking.
There are times when my carefully-crafted-and-planned writing schedule gets derailed: it happened when Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died on the same day, when Beyoncé cancelled her concert at the last minute (I shoved the literally-ready-for-transmission article, and immediately wrote the new one — and created the graphics for it — in half an hour flat, on top of doing my normal work. Damn, I'm good...) and when I unexpectedly won a laptop in a lucky draw. I also get inspiration from silly news articles (like when budget airline Ryanair contemplated charging for the use of toilets) and also from regular news (like when they raised cab fare prices in Malaysia).
And there are times when I wish to write about sticky subjects which could possibly get me and the organisation that I work for into trouble. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. As such, I write those without linking it to this column, so as to spare my bosses any extra headaches. One such example is this one which, as I had disclaimed, is my opinion and not that of my workplace. I find that my friends and readers enjoy these the most, as I get extra sarky and outrageous when making suggestions in the form of veiled insults, but I still put as much thought, passion and vinegar in my normal work for this column, so never fear.
In case you haven't read any of the articles in this column before: shame on you! You have missed out on a whole year of zany (though oftentimes simultaneously serious) stories that will cheer you up longer than a whole oiltanker full of Prozac. And you won't get any ill side effects too! So go ahead and read up what I have written about for the year — and get ready for more stuff. No one knows what the future holds, but I do hope you'll join me on the journey ahead.
Oh, and by the way: in case, like me, you have read the Chaos Theory article in Wired magazine's June 2010 issue (adapted from Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows), you may fret that I have added so many links to the text, and that it may be too distracting. Carr's work argues — very convincingly — that the Internet is an interruption system that seizes our attention only to scramble it. In other words, disruption of concentration weakens comprehension.
My answer to that is very simple: I don't mind my readers taking their time reading my words. Like a chef who has prepared a meal for you, I am happy to have whipped up a delicious little treat — and I am all for you enjoying it quickly (more time to read it again and again!). However, it can also be savoured slowly, giving you time to enjoy all the subtle flavours and spices that I added, letting it settle in gently so that you can digest it leisurely and with enjoyment. As you can tell, I was quite hungry when I wrote these words — but you get the picture...
Thank you once again for the support. Gifts and food, while not necessary, would be appreciated too...Ahmad Azrai can't wait to see what else he will write about in the days, weeks, months and years to come.