The second time around:the NST Niexter Young Writers’ Awards

The one thing truly great people who change the world have something in common with us everyday people is that they rarely have a good idea of what they’re doing. They’re all blundering through, just like we are. That said, what sets them apart is that they try where we stop and claim it’s not worth it.” — Dreaming Human

The first time around, three years ago, I found an official-looking card in my postbox cordially inviting me to the New Straits Times inaugural Niexter Young Writer’s Awards 2010. Back then, I admired the design on the card, took little note of the date, put it back in its envelope..and with the admirable, unmatched speed of the ignorant and the unconcerned, managed to promptly forget all about it.

I ended up blinking in bewildered disbelief a month later when I was informed by my auntie who was informed by my uncle who was informed by my auntie-once-removed (who we can assume was informed by her brain while she was attending the above-mentioned ceremony) that my name had come up during the 2011 Awards for four of the awards I was apparently nominated for.

Mind you, the awards I won wasn’t anything truly significant; it wasn’t the Young Writer of the Year award or anything like that — I just got the Contributor awards for both Schooltimes and Niexter, the Clean Copy (I now know it means ‘free of any editing’) and most delightful of all for me was the Best Poem, for a poem I entitled ‘These Fools’.You can read it here.

Here the snarking human would like to remark snidely that considering the far more prestigious awards some other talented writers had gotten, the awards I had won was somewhat lame.And I knew it.Not that I was unhappy with what I’d been awarded for — no, I assure you this snarker was grinning fit to burst for weeks — it just that as far as achievements went, I didn’t do much. All I did was write, submit and make sure no issue I headed had any discrepancies in grammar and that my poem rhymed where they should/could, without sacrificing the message I was trying to get across — in other words, I did mundane little things that I know most other people could have too: I wanted to write, and I wrote.

But even though most people could do it, I (and of course, the other esteemed Niexter writers who got FAR better awards, just saying) was one of those who actually stepped out and did — that’s what differentiates a winner from the masses, in this case the mass of people who can write, I guess.

Try and you might just win something; never try and all you’ll win is nothing — now that’s a life lesson for you. You already knew that you say? We-ell hey, so did I, but this event just serves to illustrate the point. Now the dreaming human is convinced that if I just continue to write new posts in this blog of mine, I will eventually reach million-page readership, have people actually commenting and generating discussions, et cetera.

The snarker has to add that of course, to achieve that vision I’ll have to brush up on strategies of blog-promotion and advertising, lest the revenue generation from ads might be a boost to the blog readership.(The snarks keep coming out, which is never pleasant, but extremely less so if you use it on yourself, like I do. One of the (dis)advantages to having the dual persona of a realist and idealist, I would presume.)

Whatever it is, I wrote for Niexter for the simple joy of writing. Basically, I did it for the simple joy of doing it, and to my luck and utter surprise, a jury I didn’t even know existed decided to give me awards to immortalize this activity of mine forever in my memory.

And of course, to ensure that I keep writing for Niexter, the ever-cynical snarker chips in; and now I”m thinking that I really should stop sounding like a bipolar maniac.

Yes, yes, of course I continued writing for Niexter AND Schooltimes, a weekly issue NST publishes weekly on Thursdays, now (let it be noted that they actually paid a little, and while the sum is not much at all it’s still better than our old pal Niexter McScrooge, which doesn’t — did you guess right?). Year 2011 and 2012 passed without incident, though; there was absolutely, heartbreakingly no mention of the awards ceremony (this means that I wasn’t fit to be invited, by the way, not that there wasn’t actually any ceremony held. Blame my constantly preoccupied form 4 self, or the torture masquerading as the convoluted examination system known as SPM). There was no sign even of Niexter as the large writing community it actually was. Assignments ceased to come to my inbox, and my queries for further tasks was met with silence or brush-offs (which hurt more, curiously enough, but you never heard anything from this softie). I was left feeling abandoned, disillusioned…and when I reached Year 2013, under the assumption that I was too old to write for these news pullouts, I stopped writing for it completely.

And then the invitation came through the mail. Bearing the grand title “NST Niexter Young Writer’s Awards“, it bore the missive that a certain delighted dreaming human was invited to bring herself and one person (read: parent/guardian. Recall that Niexter writers consist of old senior hats like me to young eenie-wenie 9-year-olds who probably look as sweet and innocent as the Golden Trio did in the first two Harry Potter movies. Age has a way of getting to you when you least expect it, hmm??)

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Seemingly innocuous things rarely are. Yes, Snape, we agree that the Golden Trio are a prime example.

Harry Potter references aside, what was the First Thing that came to my mind when I got the invitation card, you ask?

Firstly: I got a card, so I must have been nominated for something!!

Next: “Hobbits of the Shire”??What in the blazes is that??
If any snarkees are completely clueless as to what the hell I’m talking about, do take note that the above-mentioned piece of seeming garbage is actually the dress code printed on the card.

The delight being irrelevant, I was already fairly sure I would not be going, and so I did the obvious thing anyone in this day and age does when they’re fairly sure they won’t be attending something: I RSVP-ed saying that I would attend. “Hey, you never know–I might be able to go!” is what I’m sure most people will say, and on this particular occasion, I’m no exception.

And here I would like to report that I DID NOT ATTEND the ceremony, held on April 6th with much gusto. Neither did I get a call in the days that immediately followed, which led me to believe that If I HAD attended, I would have returned home empty-handed (and possibly brokenhearted), with no awards to highlight my name and bolster my regular-sized ego.

Then, the day right before my week spent in the inferno known as BUSY, I got a call (among other calls — read the linked post above for further explanation) through my poor overworked phone from Kak Lydia of NST, who holds the position of…er, whatsitname in NST and is in charge of us young Niexters. The call was garbled and lacked clarity on account of my being rather preoccupied with freaking out about the packed and nerve-wracking events I had scheduled for the following week (again, see above for explanation; gosh I’m starting to feel like a parrot) but I did understand that I had been nominated for, and actually received, some awards (yay) and that I had to collect them by Monday, otherwise it’ll all burn. As in be disposed of. As in ka-poof.As in bye-bye, no award prizes and/or money for you.And since any of you who have read about the busy week I would be having would already be aware of, there was no possible way I could go pick that stuff up miles away in NSTP Balai Riong KL on Monday or any day before without splitting myself and my darling starting-to-look-frighteningly-harassed mother into two. Even if I were so inclined to try, it wasn’t like we knew the way either, and anyway compared to everything else that was cropping up, really, automatic disposal of prizes I didn’t know I won until a full week after was the least important for me.

Didn’t mean I wanted to ‘dispose of it’ any more.

What could I say? Boo.

Fortunately, from past experience (e.g. the first awards I mentioned above) I was well-equipped to deal with this sort of thing. Within seconds, I got Kak Lydia’s permission to send a representative instead, wrote a letter of identification and contacted my aforementioned aunt (hi MakLong!) to ask her to get the services of her courier to get the prizes on my behalf. Sounds complicated? It is, somewhat. Sounds like I knew what I was doing too well? I did, because (and here appallingly I’m imitating the habits of a parrot again) I’ve done this thing before already.

So, by Monday, my Niexter Young Writers’ awards were reclaimed and saved from expulsion by virtue of quick-thinking, experience and the services of an unknown but extremely appreciated courier. I wasn’t to have the prizes in my hands until Friday, though, when my UEM interview took place. I was quite surprised by the number of items there were inside the unassuming bag containing the prizes, but then it was explained away when I realised that I was awarded the prize for Best Poem (titled Seven Wonders, click here to read) but also Best Story, alhamdulillah.

Let’s take a look at what the prizes were, shall we?

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It looks like a lot.

There’s really no other way to say it: It.Is.A.Lot.

Not much that I could really use, which resulted in my giving a little of this and that to my lucky little sister, but still. I’m happy that I even got anything.

“Hang on, the picture’s too obscure. What kind of trash did you get, Dreaming?”

Hmmph. I’ll have you know it’s no trash. There were predominantly comic books and things to do with comics — which I’m no great big fan of; I’m more of the bookish kind — but since Gempak was one of the main sponsors, I suppose this was to be expected.

And here is the inventory list, so that in the future when I’ve managed to lose a.k.a. strategically misplace everything, I’ll know exactly where to find it, accurate memories of it that is. Ho-ho-ho, Santa knows this is no wish list. Neither is it listed in particular order, I would like to add.

  • a trophy bearing the words Best Story 2012. What makes it priceless for me is the beautiful picture superimposed on the glass.
  • four English comic books from Gempak Comics, all of different genres
  • a book titled Logomania, which I happen to know was offered as free copies in some major bookstores. Har-di-har, I caught you, prize-givers.
  • Kidzania vouchers, two of them to be precise, one for an adult and one for a kid. I guess we know what my twin and my lil sis will be doing the next time we go to theCurve.
  • a blue velvet box which opens up to reveal paperweights bearing the artwork of Gempak artists like Kaoru and I don’t really know the rest. A rather useless but admittedly pretty present.
  • three certificates, for Contribution, Best Poem and Best Story respectively, which will be invaluable for my future in the way of applying for scholarships and universities, or so I’d like to believe.
  • a recommendation letter, with which I’m deliberating over the wisdom of actually displaying it on this site.
  • an artworked T-shirt which is apparently size L but must have been mislabeled — no one with a size of less than XXL can wear that thing.
  • a fancy card-clip chain
  • one free copy of you-guessed-it, Gempak
  • a six-month long subscription to the Gempak magazine, which will invariably end up in my sister’s room
  • a ‘survival kit’ in a nutter’s sense of the word. When I open it, out spills postcards, readily disassembled cardboard boxes as well as stickers. Then I realize that ‘Survival Kit’ is the name of the series portraying the characters on the items. I think. My clueless state will hopefully be sufficient to signify that I feel no attachment whatsoever to such objects, and have offered it to my sister, who I must offer congratulations for being wise enough to reject it. Goodjob  for knowing when I’m trying to load off on you, lil’ sis.
  • a special artworked bag of Gempak
  • …the greatest deal, a fairly large sum of money which I shall not divulge, and all for a simple poem I wasn’t initially aware of its publication.

Wait, you mean to tell me that my poem Seven Wonders was actually worth almost RM200??

Curses.Had I known, I would have charged them for publishing that poem.

…Obviously, I’m joking. With a completely straight face and a serious heart, I can truthfully attest to the fact that in the end, it’s not what you achieved, but the fact that you achieved something that will give you the greatest sense of accomplishment.

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These gifts are nothing.

Compared to that, the gifts I mentioned above are nothing.

So here’s to the fierce joy you get when you realized that the second time around you won was not purely due to dumb luck and a little bit of skill anymore, but due to your own initiative and perseverance.

I think my experiences above illuminate clearly what it really means to “just try”, and what you can get out of the simple act of taking the initiative to do what you want.I read (or was it said, I wonder) somewhere that the difference between those who change the world and those who remain insignificant is the willpower (that’s right; the initiative) exhibited by the former.

And if these great blocks of text haven’t spurred you dear snarkees on to do that one thing you’ve been putting on hold, or knew you could do but somehow never get around to, I’ll make it plain and LOUD so that your ears ring and your brain reverberates even if you technically can’t hear any text:

JUST.TRY.IT.

And no, this is no imitation of Nike’s catchy phrase dominating all of their ads, alright? Just to be clear.

Now, then. Since I’m too old for Niexter and Schooltimes now, I think I’ll see if I can do anything for ReMag instead…

The prelude to hell, a.k.a the start of the busiest week in my life

“..challenges give meaning to a life full of pursuit. ” — somewhere online

The week leading up to SPM is going to be the worst in your life, they said. You’ll be so unimaginably busy, SO very much stressed, they said.

Well, whoever said that can start eating their words with a fat helping of sauce, because I just finished lining up what will be the busiest week of my life–or at least one would hope it should be, for the sake of sparing everyone the terrible fate of losing their heads upon seeing it due to sheer incredulity.

Let’s take a look at my most recent schedule for the upcoming week, shall we?

…starting from today, Saturday…

Saturday, 13th April : My twin‘s Petronas Youngstar’s Day 2013 scholarship interview. Notice it’s my twin’s interview day, not mine, per se — since obviously, it would be too hard to interview a pair of twins on the same day to save the time and cost it would take their parents to attend the interview. Right, Petronas Sponsorship Unit?Right? 

If it’s my twin’s interview, why is it in my calendar, then, you ask? Elementary, my dear snarkees, the right answers would be either  a) I wanted some experience and possibly tips,  or b) I wanted to ask some questions anyway or ..

…oh, who am I kidding? The answer is of course, c): If I stayed behind I’d start climbing walls in a first-class exhibition of crumbling control and (not) staved-off anxiety.

Sunday, 14th April : My interview day with Petronas for its 2013 pre-u and undergraduate scholarship. Nothing said, you can read all about my experience here.  That means you aspiring Petronas scholars from the future, too, you little tip-scroungers. I’m winking, don’t worry — once (as in right now) I’m in your position, I know how you feel — I was(am?) desperate for hints too. So long as we’re all trying our best in the right way and for the right reasons…and yes, I did just call you desperate.

Monday, 15th April : Give a speech at my old high school about how I achieved excellent results in SPM. After taking ten subjects and receiving 9A+ 1A , I suppose I should have expected the call from my school’s deputy that requested I do this. And I was perfectly willing, perfectly ready to do it, till everything else came rolling around. Read on.

An interesting aside, though — last year my seniors, those who were the best students of their time, came and gave a series of talks not unlike the speech I’m supposed to be giving on this day. It truly inspired me, not because they were good speakers  (they were, by the way, but this is  a little taster of what it takes to truly impress on me what an exceptional orator you are) but because they were real, living proof that with enough hard work  — or apparently, just plain luck, which some seeming layabout never fails to claim was how they achieved success — you could reach what seemed impossible to me at the time.

Well, note to my past self, and all of you readers (HI MY DEAR SNARKEES) out there who was like lil’ old me, especially to those students aspiring for strings of A’s: it IS possible to achieve your dreams — possible, but not promised, and I guess therein lies the problem — so believe in it. Try your best, and NO this does not necessarily mean your hardest, go out there and do it, then after all is done sit back and pray, take a step away and hope. If you’re successful, be happy. Celebrate! Then look forward to the next great part of life. If you’re not, remember this: Dreams are never everything. Especially not when they’re in the past. Because yes, they are in the past now that you know whether you achieved them or not, and right now you’re free to find a new dream and chase it, discover a new meaning for you to make your life out of it. And if you think “Easy for Dreaming to talk, she got what she wanted” and “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,”  I DO happen to know what I’m talking about, and NO, I happen to not have gotten what I wanted. I wanted a perfect 10A+, now I have only 9 of them, and one A.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking (“It’s just one measly A+ off the mark!” and “That dream is insignificant”) and YES, I purposely utilized my sharp wit in a manner different from my usual snarks just to make this point clear to you, ESPECIALLY you readers with broken dreams who completely understandably aren’t moving on so well from your disappointment. I understand, I really do, because that dream meant a lot to me too, and it was broken, not completely, but still broken. And to even the best, most empathetic of you, I know that you’ll be feeling that in the end it’s irrelevant, in the end I’m still the same as I would be even if I had fulfilled my dreams properly, I’m still chasing after scholarships and thinking about how I want to contribute myself and the rest of my life to the world.

In the end, life still goes on. Life, and what you choose to make of it.

Readers with no broken dreams or at least no bitter feelings of failure, bear with me a paragraph longer; readers with, keep reading this properly, because damn I did not type this just so that you can simply skim through and not let it help you in some way to feel better about yourself and happier about your life. If you think my basically telling you that even though your dreams were relevant once, before they weren’t broken, they aren’t anymore and is insignificant now, realize that I told myself this. Realize that you would have been telling me this if my blog entry had been about my one missed A+ and how much I failed to reach it. Reread the above most recent paragraphs and note exactly where you’d be telling me hey, cool down, it doesn’t matter any more, you still did a great job, now move on, don’t fixate on this, don’t let it ruin your life for you, it’s not worth being miserable about life for.

Now be strong and do the brave thing; do what I did, and tell this to yourself. Tell this to yourself in regards to your broken dreams. And I’m not going to  ask if you can do it, because that wasn’t the purpose of this wildly off-topic venture — I wasn’t trying to get back at you for belittling (yes: ‘belittling’, because I know that’s what you fell I’m doing towards your hurt feelings and your broken dreams, and I’m trying to show you NO AND I UNDERSTAND.) my dreams, as you no doubt did when I revealed the above. I’m truly, seriously asking you to not be so hard on yourself, to view yourself the way you did me, to allow yourself to admit you aren’t a failure and move..on. You’ll soon see it does not matter now, even when it mattered before and again I repeat, you’re free to chase another dream, free to get another “great” in a different, better way than you thought. Don’t you feel liberated? I did.

And hey, later I realized that even if I failed to achieve my goals, I’m not a failure. There’s something I won, no wait, not won, something that I taught myself — and if you did as I asked above, you taught it to yourself too, which you never could have before. It’s resilience, what you taught yourself, that’s what it is.

And as I mentioned above, I’m still the same as I would have been if my dreams were fully fulfilled, still just as good. Still chasing after scholarships, still living my holidays and trying to sort out packed schedules, still chasing after an even greater dream..you get the idea. And this thing I taught myself, this resilience, will help me through it all.

That makes it more valuable, doesn’t it? Come on, say it doesn’t and my inner snarker’s leveling a sword of made of sharp words in your direction for lying.It doesn’t make up for my broken dreams. Merely.. replaces it, shall we say? And I hope, for your sake, for your happiness, for all the great things you’ll ever be, it’ll be the same for you.

…wow. What great block of self-help text did I unwittingly conjure? I guess I know at least half of what I’ll talk about in my speech scheduled for Monday. What on earth am I talking about, you ask? Well, snarkees (there’s no need for distinctions between you readers now, as that bit of motivational text is now firmly wrapped up), if you’ll recall, I was talking about (re)scheduling the busiest week of my life. Yeah, I got carried away too. And all I wrote isn’t even going to help with that Monday speech, because in lieu of scheduling the next few days, I decided to be a cunning old snake and eliminate the word ” Monday” from “speech”, or  “speech” from “Monday” now, it would seem. What I meant was that I decided to not give the speech on Monday, for fear of screwing up and/or overloading myself with all the other events I have to prepare for.

This is also the day I have to reclaim my Niexter Young Writer’s Award for Best Poem, but you can read about how I dealt with the insane strain it would have put on my schedule by getting the services of a courier here.

Tuesday, 16th April 2013 : my MARA 2013 scholarship interview day. An event I had considered as one of the more important ones in my life, except that it wasn’t an interview, and who knows, it might end up as less important than I thought, whichever way you looked at it. I explain more in my entry concerning  MARA stage 1 interview experience.

Wednesday, 17th April 2013 : go through one last driving lesson before the driving testThe last bit of preparation I’ll ever have before the JPJ test. In case you’re a cross-boundary reader, or are ignorant of the Malaysian driving education system, the JPJ test is the final test for you take, the passing of which gives you the right to your driver’s license. As retaking it means forking out another RM150, I’d much prefer to pass, thanks.

Thursday, 18th April 2013 : do the JPJ test. If you’ve forgotten what this is, reread the above. If you haven’t, let’s all pop the big question to me later, since I know you’re all wondering it: did I pass the test and get the driver’s  license, or did I fail abysmally, cry, fork out another RM150 and do it all over again?

Nice to see you all have so much confidence in my driving skills. It’s fair, I suppose, I myself never did anyway. Regardless, you can read how my JPJ driver’s test went.

Friday, 19th April 2013: my UEM scholarship interview day. Holy — three interviews for three different scholarships in one week??? And all of them spread out at “convenient” venues that means it’s too near for me to book a hotel room to stay over the night before, but is too far to contemplate getting up at any time after the crack of dawn? That’s getting to be a little too much, even for the workaholic that I’m just suspecting I might possibly be. Sadly, beggars can’t be choosers, so I’ll have to bear with the interview days, and try to reschedule the other things planned for this week– which led to the Monday speech being shifted, as I’d mentioned.

I then thought, as I penned this latest appointment in my journal the day before my twin’s interview on Saturday (re: see above), that this was surely it…

..NOT. Really, I fancied myself genre-savvy enough to know that when you think something’s settled, it rarely ever is.

Saturday, 20th April 2013 :  attend the Hari Anugerah Cemerlang at school and receive trophy and ovation. Translated literally, ‘hari anugerah cemerlang’ is Day of Awards for Excellence. It’s like the Cambridge Excellence Awards Day, I guess, where they give students of all forms prizes in the form of trophies and certificates (as well as honor. Never forget the honorfor being first, second, third in their year, for getting the highest mark in a subject, and for getting straight A’s, but since last year the number of award recipients at school has swelled so much that the HAC is for everything purely academic. My high school has a different ovation day for those excellent in extra-curricular fields now. SMKBJ deserves a tip of the hat, I say!

Actually, the trophies I’d gotten from attending these HACs over the years have been gathering dust in a black plastic bag, as I didn’t know what to do with them. I remember last year pondering whether the time it took to attend it last year should have been used on studying for my then-upcoming mid-years…but I’m a permanent holiday from high school this year, now that I’ve finished form 5, and besides, this awards ceremony is different for the mere fact that it recognizes me and my peers as ex-students who have all achieved excellent results and are now returning as the glorious faces of the school’s past success, ready to inspire the rest of our juniors — or something like that. You get the sentiment; it’s not everyday you graduate high school and get hailed for that — employers these days are asking for at least a degree, I hear. Note that no offense is meant to any party out there who might be offended, I’m just stating the news.

Update: this might also be the day I go ice-skating with some hopefully lifelong friends (some attending the same ceremony!) at Sunway Pyramid. No promises made, but plans are being construed. If it happens, there Will Be An Entry, but if not, you’ll hear about it.

And that’s it, for now. (breathes a sigh of relief) I’m sure you all must be tired just hearing about my week. Now imagine living it. Ah well, it’s my life, I’ll live it. Can’t very well go and live yours, can I. So long as there’s no other plans, I’ll surv—

–wait, wait. I am more genre savvy than that, I am not going to fall for that same fate-authored gun on the wall again.

Why do I get the bad feeling that I’m going to end up updating this with a new appointment scheduled in somewhere?

Update: ‘cos I did. See above.

So what do my dear snarkees think about the week that’s been inadvertently planned for me? Thoughts about the distinct benefits an awards ceremony that might be held to encourage other students to imitate their high-achieving peers? Or how about the little bit of self-help inserted in between Monday and Tuesday, in a manner of speaking — how it made you feel, any experiences of broken dreams you’d like (or should I say be willing) to share, or simply telling this dreamer whether it helped you in any way? It takes a lot of work to shut the inner snarker up, so obviously the topic means a lot to me; don’t fear ridicule.Do say something, even if it’s just to say that Dreaming you dolt, shut up, I’ve moved on already. As for those aspiring high achievers who want to know the latest study tips, interview experiences, etc, look around this blog and especially this entry for the rest of the helpful (blog-promoting?) links or failing that, you can contact me through the various social media and/or email links I’ve left lying around.

Uh-oh, my phone is ringing.. I only ever get important appointments scheduled that way, or through email. Excuse me — and don’t forget to comment!–while I see what’s cropped up now…