Heaven live vocal cover version

So… This is me performing “Heaven” in front of actual people. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ The song is originally by Bryan Adams, but I’m doing the Candlelight Mix version by DJ Sammy featuring Do:

I was pretty nervous as usual, but it was only my second real performance so I figure that’s to be expected.

Gareth at VocalTech has been teaching me for a couple of years now, and I’ve come a long way in that time. (I have some lesson recordings that prove this, but you won’t hear those, ever. ๐Ÿ˜› )

Also, my outfit is colour-coordinated thanks to my favourite beanie from Carrie’s Beanies 4 Brain Cancer. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Stepping out of my comfort zone

Woman sketching a businessman climbing stairs

I recently started working in a library, which (contrary to popular belief) isn’t just about books and knowing the alphabet. I do help people find books, but I spend more time helping them with computers. And above all, it’s a customer service role.

I understood that going into the job — but verbal interactions don’t come naturally to me, especially when I can’t see the other person (to read body language, see what they’re seeing, etc). So I was pretty flustered during my first couple of attempts at picking up the phone. But I kept doing it, and it got easier. I’m happy answering the phone now and I love being on the front desk. I like the people I work with too, which is always nice.

Anyway the point of that was not to brag, but to demonstrate that I can step out of my comfort zone — and even become more comfortable in it.

Woman sketching a businessman climbing stairs
Trying to reach your potential (Image: Jack Moreh)
You see, I have a manuscript for a novel that I’ve revised over and over to the point where it’s probably time to let it go and see what happens. I’ve been meaning to research agents and publishers to send it to, or investigate indie publishing as an option. But I haven’t done it. And while time has been a factor (I was studying full-time until the end of last year), I realised the biggest reason was fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of ridicule. Fear of waiting anxiously for weeks and months on end. Fear of failure.

Years ago, I watched a movie called Little City (mostly because Jon Bon Jovi is in it, but I ended up really enjoying the film). There’s a scene where Penelope Ann Miller’s character says:

At least I have potential. It’s a wonderful thing, potential. Because as long as I don’t do anything, I’ll still have it.

And I think that’s where I’ve been. Knowing I could potentially achieve one of my lifelong dreams, knowing that maybe I won’t, and being too scared to do anything.

But in the moments when I’m not plagued by fear and self-doubt, I can see the progression I’ve made. I probably wouldn’t have been able to handle my current job 10 years ago. I’d certainly never written a novel-length story then either. So I’ve come a long way. And while there are never any guarantees, I shouldn’t let fear stop me from trying to go further.

My 2017 in review

fireworks

As I type this, it’s just after 9pm on New Year’s Eve. There are plenty of places I could be, but I opted to go out to dinner with my family, then head home for a quiet one. New Year’s Eve often brings back unpleasant memories for me, and while I’m sometimes able to brave the hoards of drunken revellers and have a good time in spite of those memories, part of effective self-care is knowing when it might be too overwhelming to handle. This year was one of those times.

Nevertheless, 2017 wasn’t actually that bad for me now that I think about it.

Writing highlights

In February, my short story “Aiden’s Flowers” was published in Issue 1 of Flash Fiction Magazine. It’s now available from Amazon in both eBook and print. You can buy Issue 1 alone or get the book bundle featuring Issues 1, 2 and 3. If you do purchase a copy, it would be awesome if you could also take the time to leave a short, honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. ๐Ÿ™‚ (You don’t have to, obviously… it would just be a nice thing to do for everyone involved in the publication.)

I wrote four theatre reviews and one film review for Perth Walkabout over the course of the year:

Between my various commitments, I didn’t end up pitching my first manuscript (I didn’t want to half-arse my pitch to an agent or publisher) or working on the second as much as I wanted to, but hopefully I’ll pull my finger out in 2018.

Personal milestones

I finished my Diploma of Library and Information Services in 2017, which means I’m now qualified to be a library technician.

In July, I had a four-hour tattoo session on my ribs to get a black and grey koi fish and some coloured cherry blossoms down my side. It was probably my most painful tattoo, but only by a little; it wasn’t unbearable or anything like that. However, it’ll probably be my last for a while because I want to start donating blood next year, and you can’t if you’ve been tattooed in the last six months.

I sang Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” in front of a live audience in October, which was my first ever non-karaoke performance but hopefully not my last. I was very scared. But on reflection, I think it’s less scary than public speaking and not that much scarier than regular speaking. ๐Ÿ˜› (Your mileage my vary, of course. I also practised the hell out of that one song so I knew on some level that I was prepared.)

In November, I attended the Perth premiere of The Disaster Artist and met Greg Sestero. For the unitiated, there’s a movie called The Room, which has been dubbed “the best worst movie ever made” and “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” but has attracted a cult following around the world. Greg, who played Mark in The Room, wrote a book called The Disaster Artist about the making of this infamous movie, as well as his friendship with its mysterious star/director/writer/producer Tommy Wiseau, and their struggles to make it in Hollywood. The Disaster Artist book has now been made into a movie starring James and Dave Franco; James Franco also directed it.

I also reaffirmed my commitment to teetotalism. I’ve never been a big drinker, but I’ve gone through phases where I’d have one or two when I went out with friends. I’ve now cut back to zero and intend to keep it that way. I’m trying to be healthier in general, and while my sugar binges are probably more of an issue than the occasional drink, not drinking alcohol is easy for me, so it made sense to start there. The only reason I ever drank was to fit in, and I no longer care what people think because I no longer care about people.

(Just kidding. I threw that in there to hopefully get a laugh out of anyone who might actually be reading this. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But seriously, your life gets so much better if you’re able to let go of the constant need for others’ approval.)

Other highlights

Other highlights (for me, anyway) of 2017 include:

  • The release of the polarising latest instalment of the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi. I liked it, but I’m still trying to figure out where it ranks for me.
  • The release of the similarly polarising Star Trek: Discovery, the first Trek TV series since Enterprise was cancelled in 2005. I wish they hadn’t completely redesigned the Klingons for no discernible reason (unless it gets explained when the new episodes premiere in 2018?) but overall, I’m enjoying it.
  • Seeing some awesome concerts, including Bruce Springsteen (for the 7th, 8th and 9th times) and my favourite Aussie band, 1927 (for the 17th, 18th and 19th times).
  • My friends (and others) in same-sex relationships finally being able to have legally recognised marriages in Australia. (But it came with a lot of vilification and heartache.)

So all in all, a pretty good year for me personally, but I know it was awful for many others. It’s now almost 11pm, so here’s to a happy 2018. I’ll see in the new year with this song by one of my favourite bands…

New Year’s Day – Bon Jovi:

Since U Been Gone live vocal cover version

When I’m not writing, I love to sing. I rarely do this in front of people, but a little over two weeks ago, I took on Kelly Clarkson’s song “Since U Been Gone”… in front of actual people. I was beyond nervous, but managed to get through it.

Here’s the video. I know where I went wrong, so try to be gentle. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thanks to Gareth at VocalTech for the guidance, endless patience, and encouragement. ๐Ÿ™‚

Let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why

Clay gets Hannah's tapes

Let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why.

I mean, there’s a good chance you already are. It became one of Netflix’s most popular original series shortly after its debut on March 31, but soon also became its most polarising. Supporters of the show say it starts important conversations about difficult topics including suicide and bullying. Those against the show say it does this in a dangerous and/or inaccurate way.

Spoilers ahead.

What is 13 Reasons Why?

Clay gets Hannah's tapes
Clay gets Hannah’s tapes. (Anonymous Content/Paramount Television/Netflix).
The basic premise of 13 Reasons Why is this: Hannah Baker has taken her own life, but before she did, she recorded 13 tapes detailing the 13 reasons why she killed herself. Each of these tapes is addressed to a person at her school. Hannah intended for the tapes to be passed along, in order, to each of these people. As we watch the series, the tapes are in the hands of fellow student Clay Jensen.

The show is based on Jay Asher’s debut novel Thirteen Reasons Why, which was released in 2007 and already had a cult following. However, the series differs from the book in a number of ways, including the characters’ back stories and the method by which Hannah ends her life. (It’s far more graphic in the series.)

Is 13 Reasons Why dangerous?

Many experts, including Australian youth mental health organisation headspace, have issued warnings about 13 Reasons Why amid reports that counselling services have received a spate of calls directly related to the show.

Here are some of the arguments as to why the show is potentially harmful:

  • It graphically depicts suicide and rape, possibly leading to suicide contagion.
  • It romanticises suicide and presents the idea of suicide as a revenge tactic.
  • It places the blame for Hannah’s suicide on others, and does not specifically address Hannah’s mental health.
  • It discourages viewers from seeking help; the only time Hannah reaches out to someone is when she goes to the school counsellor, Mr Porter, who is unable to do anything because she sets him up to fail.
  • It does not tell viewers where they can get help if they are triggered by its content.

Kati Morton, a therapist and YouTuber, details her concerns about 13 Reasons Why in this video:

My personal thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

I liked 13 Reasons Why for the most part, but one of my friends felt it was a horrific representation. Both of us have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts. The first time I wanted to die was when I was about Hannah’s age, but as my friend and I demonstrate, I cannot claim to be able to speak for anyone else who has gone through it.

I’m wary of the fans who are borderline evangelical about the show and think everyone needs to watch it. Even though I was hooked on the series, it did bring up some unpleasant memories for me. At one point I was curled up on my bed and needed a good cry and some sleep before I could watch the rest. But teenage me also felt understood, and adult me found that comforting.

I didn’t feel like it romanticised suicide — seeing the brutal way in which Hannah ends her life and how it impacted on her parents did the opposite for me, which I believe was one of the reasons why the show changed the way she died. I also didn’t think Hannah killed herself just to get back at everyone; rather, she felt hopeless, like she couldn’t do anything right and had not one friend left in the world. And frankly, I could relate to her.

Maybe it’s over-simplistic to say that what the subjects of Hannah’s tapes did or didn’t do caused her to come to the conclusion that she had to die. Just like it’s over-simplistic to say that X, Y and Z made me suicidal. But there were things that happened to me, that piled up until life became overwhelming and seemingly unbearable. And like Hannah, I felt completely alone. So while saying “these people killed Hannah” might be an oversimplification, to suggest that external influences played no part in how she felt (and how I felt) is also inaccurate. We could all treat each other a little better because you don’t know what someone is going through. Yes, Hannah made her own choice to kill herself, and if I’d done the same it would’ve been my choice, not anyone else’s. But bullies and rapists make a choice too, and sometimes their choices have consequences like what we see in this series.

Things turned out okay for me. I eventually got a diagnosis, some therapy and a prescription. Hannah never did. Maybe she would have if she’d talked to her parents or a professional, but we’ll never know. I do think avenues for help could have been made more obvious within the show, in the same way that news stories in Australia include numbers for relevant organisations, such as Lifeline. Perhaps they could’ve inserted a news ticker at the bottom of the screen, for instance. The 13reasonswhy.info website provides crisis lines for different countries, but you kind of have to go looking for it.

I believe 13 Reasons Why does have value, but there’s no such thing as a show for everyone, and some people are safer avoiding it.

Have you seen 13 Reasons Why? What do you think of it?

UPDATE: Netflix has since announced that they’ll be adding extra trigger warnings and have “strengthened the messaging and resource language” for the most graphic episodes.

Aiden’s Flowers in Flash Fiction Magazine

Flash Fiction Magazine - issue 1 cover

I have news! My story “Aiden’s Flowers” appears in issue 1 of Flash Fiction Magazine, which is out now. It features 50 bite-sized stories from 50 authors around the world, and you can get it from Amazon.

This what you can expect (from the product description):

Stories that wonโ€™t waste your time.

This enthralling anthology of flash fiction features very short stories ranging from a paragraph to one or two pages. Flash Fiction Magazine has compiled a sterling collection of exceptional contemporary examples of this unique fictional form covering a wide range of ideas and genres, from literary to romantic to humorous to horrifying.

Exploring the last moments before a death, the heartache of unrequited love, the sweet high of revenge, or the sad truth about human obsolescence, these brief tales touch briefly but profoundly on who we are, the ways we commit, the ways we move on, the ways we get byโ€”sometimes shocking, sometimes funny, sometimes deeply emotional, and always remarkable.

“Aiden’s Flowers” is told from the point of view of a mother who’s lost her partner in tragic circumstances. Although I’ve never been a parent, I tried to imagine what it would be like in this situation.

Flash Fiction Magazine is available from Amazon. Click here to get issue 1 of Flash Fiction Magazine from Amazon.

Feel free to give me feedback (on my story and the issue as a whole) and/or leave an honest customer review at the point of purchase. I’m sure it would mean a lot, not only to me, but to the other authors whose work appears in the magazine. ๐Ÿ™‚

You can also check out my author page on Amazon, which includes a poetry chapbook and a flash fiction collection I self-published a few years ago. I mostly did it so that I’d have some idea of what to do if I decided to go down that route for a novel, but they’re also a pretty good reflection of who I was as a writer back then.

Help me 2017, you’re my only hope

fireworks

I had just woken up in my hotel room in Sydney when I heard the news that Carrie Fisher had died, four days after she stopped breathing on a flight from London to Los Angeles. While 2016 saw the passing of many iconic figures, this one probably hit me the hardest.

Like most of the world, I first saw Carrie as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

But the hilariously honest way in which Carrie wrote and talked about her battles with addiction and bipolar disorder made me admire her all the more. So I got her likeness tattooed on me in February 2015, and I’ll treasure that for the rest of my life.

If you spend half as much time online as I do, you’ll know that 2016 was widely dubbed the “worst year ever”, in part due to the deaths of so many beloved famous people. I was fortunate enough to see Prince live at Perth Arena early in the year — which would turn out to be just eight weeks before he died. No photos or recording devices were allowed, so I can’t show you anything from that concert, but by the time I left the building, he was in my top three live acts of all time.

On a more personal note, someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, but as I write this, they seem to be doing well. So I’m quietly hopeful that 2017 will bring good news for us.

fireworks
Fireworks for the New Year. Photo by Freerange Stock Archives.
While it’s easy to focus on the negatives, last year had its highlights too. I returned to full-time study with the goal of qualifying as a library technician. And after a few false starts, I began writing what I hope will be my second novel during NaNoWriMo. (I’ve had some rejections for my first novel, but I will keep trying to get it published.)

I also flexed my writing muscle for other websites:

Other highlights included:

  • Seeing 1927, my favourite Australian band, four times — bringing my total tally to 16.

    A photo posted by Lee-Ann Khoh (@leeannkhoh) on

  • Attending the midnight premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I don’t watch many movies, so actually going to the cinema is usually an event anyway.
  • The 50th anniversary of Star Trek and the release of what I consider to be the best of the “Kelvin Timeline” reboots, Star Trek Beyond.
  • Spending the holidays with my Sydney family, which includes my brother, sister-in-law and nephew.

In 2017, I hope to keep writing and improving as a writer, as well as continuing my studies. While 2016 wasn’t entirely awful for me (despite the rather dramatic blog title), I know some people who had genuinely horrific years, and I hope for a better 365 days for them too.

Happy New Year.

On depression and creativity

Depressed person thinking. Photo by StuartMiles/Freerange Stock.

Earlier this month, Sydney-based professional dancer and YouTuber Damian Parker, aka HeyoDamo, posted a vlog he describes as “a mildly light hearted look at a very serious issue”. It’s basically a visual representation of his personal experience with depression and you can watch it below. (Damo is quite fond of profanities though, so don’t watch it if that’s likely to upset you, and consider using headphones if there are young kids around.)

The video depicts a kind of war with your mind, which tends to be what happens to me when I’m spiralling into a bad place, though different people experience depression differently. I was diagnosed with depression in 2014, but in retrospect it had first hit me back in high school, about 10 years earlier.

Depressed person thinking. Photo by StuartMiles/Freerange Stock.
Photo by StuartMiles/Freerange Stock.
Someone emailed me an article the other day called Why Writers Are Prone to Depression. I dare say it’s one of many, many online articles on the topic of depression in writers or artists, but here are the reasons this particular article outlined:

  • Being familiar with suffering may enable writers to write about their characters’ pain;
  • Writers are often working on their own and may not get much social interaction;
  • Writers face lots of rejection, which can take its toll;
  • Writers may write at odd hours, adversely affecting sleep schedules.

I’ve always been a bit of a loner and night owl, so I guess that fits the profile… But I’m an introvert with social anxiety and many writers are not.

I was writing long before I ever felt depressed, but I do think my best work has been when I’ve been able to tap into those dark thoughts and feelings and transform them into a new story. But it’s hard to be creative when you’re in a depressed state. I’m at my most productive when my head is above water.

These days, I’m doing okay. I use a combination of prescribed medication and self-care activities like keeping a daily journal. I was also in therapy for a while. I have good and bad days, but I’m getting through them.

If you’re reading this blog post and you’re struggling, I won’t patronise you by saying everything will be fine. But it can get better. If you find something that works for you (which may or may not be what works for someone else), then bit by bit, life gets a little more livable.

What if I never succeed?

Sulky and angry young kid on the couch. Photo by Jack Moreh / Freerange Stock.

John Green recently posted a video on the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel he shares with his brother Hank.

In it he talks candidly about the pressure of trying to write a novel after the runaway success of The Fault In Our Stars. He mentions the novels he’s started and given up on since then, and admits he may never publish another book.

Watch John’s vlog here:

It got me thinking about things that, truth be told, are never far from my mind. I’ve written one complete novel to date. I want to get it published, but what if it never happens? I tell myself it doesn’t matter; that I can just write another manuscript, and another, and as long as I persevere, one will eventually stick. But what if the first manuscript was a fluke? What if I never actually finish another one? Or what if I’m just not good enough? I love writing — it gives me a sense of purpose that nothing else has ever matched — but could I really be content to do it for the rest of my life with nothing to show for it?

Sulky and angry young kid on the couch. Photo by Jack Moreh / Freerange Stock.
Photo by Jack Moreh / Freerange Stock.
Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that. I’m only in my 20s. But at the end of the day, I think most of us — regardless of what we do — doubt ourselves from time to time. Or maybe all the time. It doesn’t mean you can’t do what you want to do. I’m full of angst, but I’m still a writer. Because a writer is someone who writes, not necessarily someone who has a great deal of self-belief or confidence in their ability.

Going back to John Green’s vlog, I liked how he said he’s become okay with not knowing whether he’ll publish another book or whether anyone will like it if he does. Perhaps I could learn to be genuinely okay with the possibility of failure too.

But not until I’ve done everything within my power to succeed.

Libraries and why they matter

Why libraries? Photo by Tom Grandy / Freerange Stock.
Why libraries? Photo by Tom Grandy / Freerange Stock.
One of the best things my parents ever did for me was to read to me. Despite not being voracious readers themselves, they still recognised how important it was for me.

Another wonderful gift they gave me was to take me to the library every three weeks. It cemented my love of books and stories, and that’s an integral part of who I am, even if I never make it as a successful novelist. Books have been my friends and a source of comfort during hard times. And a recent study suggests that people who read books live about two years longer than non-readers, so I think bookworms are onto a winner.

After a somewhat meandering career, I returned to the classroom this year as a Library Studies student. The other day, someone asked me, “Why libraries?”

I thought about this for a moment. I mean, I’d thought about it before applying for and enrolling in the course, but I’d never verbalised it before.

“A lot of people think libraries are just buildings with books in them, but they’re much more than that,” I said. “Libraries play an important role in the community. They provide resources and information to people who might not otherwise have access to them. I think I can use some of the skills I already have, and learn some new ones, to help people.”

I don’t know whether the person liked my response or thought I was a bit wanky, but it is what I believe so I’ll stand by it. Moreover, the library was my safe space when I was a teenager, and I know it is for many other people too.

Libraries are evolving, too, and that’s great. I love reading about libraries doing interesting things. Like the library in the US that’s doing readers’ advisory based on customers’ tattoos (which combines two of my favourite things — books and tatts). Or the library in Finland that’s installed a soundproofed karaoke booth (another two of my favourite things — libraries and singing).

Do you visit your library?