[PORTO] review on Perth Walkabout

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I reviewed The Blue Room Theatre’s production of [PORTO] for Perth Walkabout:

Entering the theatre for The Blue Room’s production of [PORTO] felt more like walking into a cosy laneway bar than a play. I was immediately drawn in by the set – the unassuming bar counter next to a stage with a microphone, and the funky little couch in the corner. When [], the omniscient, fourth wall-breaking narrator stepped up to the mic in his ostentatious red outfit, I knew this was going to be an intriguing show.

Read the full review at Perth Walkabout.

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?

A Perfect Specimen review on Perth Walkabout

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I reviewed Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of A Perfect Specimen for Perth Walkabout:

Haunting squeals and whistles echoed around the room as the audience descended into the theatre for the opening night of A Perfect Specimen. On a dimly lit, two-tiered circular stage stood three A-frames, featuring provocative headlines like Behold! The Monkey Woman. Then Theodore Lent emerged from the curtains, tapped his cane sharply on the ground and – in an ominous, booming voice – invited us to the show.

A Perfect Specimen, by Perth-born award-winning playwright Nathaniel Moncrieff, is inspired by the true story of Julia Pastrana. She was born in the 1830s with hypertrichosis and gingival hyperplasia, which resulted in hair that covered her body, as well as enlarged gums and irregular teeth. Dubbed the “Bear Woman” and an “ape”, among other things, Julia travelled the world as part of a freak show managed by her husband – Theodore Lent.

Read the full review at Perth Walkabout.

Fish Live in Trees, animated flash fiction

Fish Live in Trees (created with Plotagon)

A few years ago, I was going through my old notebooks from primary school when I found the words “Did you know that fish live in trees?” printed at the top of one of the pages. I would’ve been about Year 5 (aged 9 or 10) when I wrote that down, so I can’t be certain what I was thinking. But it ended up being the prompt for a weird little piece of dialogue-only flash fiction called Fish Live in Trees. It’s about brotherly love and the lies siblings tell each other. (You can read the original here if you’re so inclined.)

Now that my I’ve finished all my units for the semester, I’ve been playing around with Plotagon. It’s an animation program with text-to-speech, and works in a similar way to the now-defunct Xtranormal.

I decided to try turning Fish Live in Trees into an animated movie. Here’s the result. (The dialogue has been edited from the original, but not in any substantial way.)

What do you think?

I know the speech doesn’t sound very natural, but neither did Xtranormal’s… In a way, it was part of the charm. 🙂 The younger brother in my video kind of looks like a young Justin Bieber, which wasn’t intentional, but I do admit to liking some of his songs. 😛

Have you ever used Plotagon or something similar?

On coffee and writing

On coffee and writing

On coffee and writing
On coffee and writing. Photo by Ed Gregory/Stokpic.
I’ve often seen a writer defined (on the interwebz) as someone who turns caffeine into words.

For a long time, I couldn’t relate to this. I drank coffee as often as I drank alcohol, which was virtually never. I hated the bitter taste. I also rarely drank energy drinks because doing so gave me what felt like heart palpitations.

But I started studying full-time again this year, and these days, I find myself having a cup of coffee before my first class. I don’t actually know why I started doing this. Peer influence, maybe? At first, I loaded my coffees with sugar, but now — as I near the end of my first semester — I drink it without, bitterness and all.

I’ve met writers who swear by caffeine. For me, I don’t think I’m writing any more or less with it. And I don’t know if my writing has improved at all. But I feel like I’m one step closer to becoming the writerly cliché I always fantasised about being. Although I don’t plan on becoming an alcoholic any time soon. 😛

Are you more productive with a coffee fix?

Wearing my heart on my sleeve

Stack of books, rose, ink pot and quill tattoo by Dayne

I say words to this effect a lot, but I’ve been pretty poor with my blogging commitments lately. Although I have been ghostwriting blog posts for clients, so it hasn’t been a complete productivity fail.

In terms of my actual writing, I’ve mainly been trying to get my novel ready for submission. I made some significant structural changes in my most recent redraft, but I think it’s now a lot stronger than it was before.

Last week, I also added a new tattoo to my collection — this one is for my love of reading and writing.

It’s actually a cover-up of an older tattoo; I can still see the original but I don’t care because I love this one. Which is good, seeing as it’s the most visible of my six tattoos (The others are almost always hidden under clothing or jewellery).

I may need to wear long sleeves to cover it when I’m looking for work. I’m studying to be a library technician, and I personally think having a stack of books permanently inked onto your wrist is a mark of dedication to the job, but I know not everyone would agree with me. 😛

Talking about self-harm and self-injury #SIAD

Snapchat: leeannkhoh

A little over a year ago — in the lead-up to Self-Injury Awareness Day (March 1) — I wrote a blog post called Breaking the silence on self-injury.

My orange ribbon tattooIn February this year, I was asked by some of my classmates about the meaning of the orange awareness ribbon tattooed on my wrist. It was the first time anyone had ever asked me what it meant in the 14 months I’ve had it.

It was an opportunity to actually break the silence, instead of just writing about it.

I only had a few seconds to decide whether or not to tell the truth. When I first got the tattoo, one of the appeals of it was the fact that the orange ribbon represents several different causes, and I could decide later if I was comfortable with telling people what it meant. I could’ve said my tattoo was for Harmony Day — after all, I love its message of cultural diversity and inclusion. It’s a very worthy cause. But it’s not the cause I got inked on my wrist.

So, I told the truth: That my tattoo was for self-harm and self-injury awareness.

It’s a topic that tends to make people uncomfortable, and I get terribly anxious over uncomfortable situations. But I’m also a writer. I’m writing a novel about someone who engages in deliberate self-injury as a coping mechanism. And that comes with responsibilities that I don’t take lightly.

Here, I had an opportunity to speak up. An opportunity that had been fortuitously dangled in front of me. And not taking that opportunity — after I’d promised to myself and the world that I’d break the silence on self-injury — might have been my way of reinforcing its stigma.

The stigma of self-injury ultimately discourages people to seek help, because they feel like they’re all alone, doing something shameful that no one can ever know about. It’ll be a long time before I see my novel in print, and in the meantime, the least I can do is play my part in ensuring self-harm becomes an okay thing to talk about it.

For what it’s worth, when I told my classmates why I got my tattoo, they demonstrated empathy and didn’t freak out at all. Obviously, not everyone in the world will react in a positive way, but I shouldn’t necessarily assume that all people will react badly.

Anyway, that’s all I really wanted to say today… I didn’t manage to blog for all of February (even though I had an extra day to do it) but hopefully I’ll get some posts done in March. I’m now a full-time student again after five years away from the classroom, which has taken some getting used to. But I’m enjoying the course and the new routine. And I think my time management has improved (albeit through sheer necessity, since I’m continuing to do work for clients and revise my manuscript).

P.S. LifeSIGNS is my favourite resource on self-injury. Whether you self-injure, are trying to help someone who does, or just want to know more about it, there’s some really good information on their website.

Star Wars merch in Perth

Star Wars display at Target

Over at So Perth (formerly Tweet Perth), I blogged about the top 7 places to find Star Wars merchandise in Perth City:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens caused a frenzy among diehard and casual Star Wars fans alike on the way to breaking numerous box office records around the world.

To celebrate the release and frenzy of the seventh instalment in the Star Wars film franchise, we’ve found the top seven places to find Star Wars merchandise in Perth City. Whether you’re a kid, you’ve got kids, or you’re just a kid at heart, there’s something for everyone when you go shopping in the city.

Read the full article at So Perth.

Star Wars display at Target
Star Wars display at Target