Saturday, September 26, 2015

Don't tell me you read that book ages ago...

One reason I hate discussing with other people the books or authors I love is because they will either tell me they hate that book or author or that they read that book ages ago. That second answer, that's what I really hate. It doesn't matter at all, but the way they stress on the 'ages ago' makes it seem like they are showing off. It's as if you can only enjoy or truly understand a book if you read it ages ago.

I'm just beginning to really understand books. There are still so many stories and poems I don't understand but I feel like present-me understands books more than, say, fifteen-year-old-me. I know that if I read Haruki Murakami when I was fifteen, I wouldn't have really understood the story or the stories wouldn't have had such an impact on me.

Thus while I'm just beginning to really understand stories, it's only now that I buy books that I want or have heard of. When schooling, I did manage to collect my pocket money but I could rarely afford to buy any new books. When you don't have much money, you tend to choose five used books you don't really need over one new book you want. So while I did read specific authors, for instance, John Grisham, I mostly bought random books. I managed to read books that are usually widely read by borrowing them from the school library but I mostly read random books or Grisham.

I read books that I hear of or read about and books that I feel like buying. I usually don't buy widely read books and I didn't enjoy The Hobbit and I couldn't even read the Harry Potter or Game of Thrones series. While at the book fair this year, I decided to buy The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Now I'd heard of the book a lot and had, for some reason, put it in the 'too widely read so won't enjoy' list. I generally avoid widely read books because telling people I read that book would lead to that 'Oh I read that ages ago' comment.

I won't deny it; it bothers me when someone makes me feel like less of a reader simply because I haven't read certain books. This happens with Sinhala novels a lot. I didn't read Sinhala novels until a year or two ago. It's not that I can't read or understand Sinhala but I don't like the various writing styles. I find most Sinhala novels to not have uniformity with regard to punctuation and I generally find it difficult to read books that don't use the words and phrases I'm familiar with. But even now there are moments when people, not because they are cruel or vicious but because they don't even realize it, make me feel like I'm less of a reader because I don't read pr haven't read particular books or authors.

Anyway, with The Catcher in the Rye, I'm glad I waited until right now to read it. I know that if I read it a few years ago, I wouldn't have appreciated it as much as I do now. It's not about the language or metaphors or symbolism or any such thing. They do matter but the feeling a book leaves you with; it changes each time you read a book. For instance, I read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami in 2012, when I was 18 and still in school. I remember I loved the book and the author but the book didn't really affect me or shake me. Reading Norwegian Wood now leaves me with a completely different experience. I feel like the incidents in the story and the characters are more clear to me. They will get clearer in the future, but for now, they are much more complex than they were three years ago.

Something people, even I, sometimes forget is that it's not only about reading a book. I've read books that I haven't even thought of after putting it back in some unvisited corner of my book cupboard. There are books I can't even remember reading. Reading isn't difficult and merely reading a story isn't enough. You need to feel something.

When I read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami I felt so many emotions at once. I was puzzled and confused, I was happy, I was sad and I was even angry. Right after reading The Catcher in the Rye I felt empty. Not in a bad way but in a 'there's something huge missing in my life and there's so much more I need to know about Caulfield' way. After reading Looking for Alaska I feel like the world needs to be straightened out and people need to be given the answers they look for. After reading Malak Katha Karayi I felt like running around, telling people to please read the book. Once I read Funny Boy, I wanted to shout at the world, plead with the world to please be fair and kind.

So reading words isn't all you get out of a book or story. It's what you understand and what you feel. And what you understand and feel, at least to me, depends on your maturity, experiences and what you can related to. A year ago, death was a distant thing in my life and so when I read Looking for Alaska or The Book Thief or On Sal Mal Lane or any book with death in it, I sort of got through that part of the story. Now it's more difficult because, say, while reading The Lovely Bones, I kept remembering my grandmother. Sure, she wasn't murdered or anything and there is no mystery surrounding her death but the way Susie sees her family sort of moving on, it made me realize how we too are moving on and shaping our lives to accommodate Athamma's absence.

And so it pisses me off when people say things like 'oh I read that years ago' or 'You actually like that author? I can't stand him.' See, what you got out of a book isn't what I get out of it. You may find the characters depth-less but I may find the characters interesting and human. So don't expect people to dislike an author or book just because you do.

And this is why you shouldn't only depend on reviews. The Hobbit has 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon. I didn't enjoy it. I would give it a two, maybe. So just because I give it a two, doesn't mean that other people won't enjoy it. But people fail to understand this. I remember how I tweeted something about John Green sometime back and people I don't even follow started telling me how his writing isn't good and how I should read some other author's books instead. While reading this person's tweets, I kept wondering when I asked for her opinion. Sure, I did tweet and sure she can reply in any way she liked but why were these 'the author you like sucks' tweets necessary?

This is why I rarely tell people about the books I read. This is why I rarely discuss books with people. I never go for book-related events and never join any groups where books are discussed. While we all have the right to have an opinion, I'd rather stay away from places where you can be insulted and ridiculed just because you like a book or author no one else likes.

Readers, I've realized, can be quite arrogant. And I sometimes feel that by being arrogant, we sometimes disappoint authors, even though they don't even know we exist. For instance, if I'm passionately defending John Green or Haruki Murakami, I would suddenly realize that the authors, if they are as amazing as I think they are, wouldn't want me to argue with someone else. They wouldn't want me to join in the mud-slinging just to protect their name or words.

But it's so easy to forget this and just sling mud. It's so easy to insult people and ridicule the books or authors they like. I still make jokes about people who like Nicholas Sparks and other sappy romance novels. It's something I do without even giving it much thought. But would I want someone making fun of my favorite books and authors? Of course not!

We are all hypocrites at times. We are all messed up. And we continue to forget to treat people the way we want to be treated.

In Norwegian Wood, Murakami writes, "If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking." But as much as we don't want to be ordinary and as much as we want to be different, we also want people to read the books we read and like the books we like.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pros and cons of being a freelance journalist

I’ve been at The Nation since the beginning of 2013 and I’ve always been a freelancer. However, this doesn’t mean I rarely go to office and mostly work from home. I don’t make much use of the ‘free’ in freelancer. Instead, I’m usually at office from 8.15 to 5.15 (thanks to the staff transport van) at least four days a week.

From time to time I’ve been asked if I want to join full-time, which to me means signing a contract, being tied to the company (a thought more terrifying than marriage) and having to answer to the company. This is how I look at full-time employment in general and in the two jobs (three months as a substitute assistant librarian at school and 2 ½ years at The Nation) I’ve never signed any sort of document that will tie me to either place.

However, I was in my teens when I started working and as a teenager I obviously shouldn’t be signing any contracts. But I’m 21 now and suddenly I’ve been pushed into the adult world where I’ve been forced to think about pensions, retirement, savings, insurance and EPF or whatever.

Now to be completely honest, after working since 2013, I’ve saved only one month’s salary. I once saved  three months salaries and then bought books or food or something like that. I can’t save money. The thought of saving money gives me a headache. The reason for that is I expect the worst in life, which isn’t illness, sudden need of money or poverty but death. So if I save and save and then just die before I can spend my savings, what would have been the use of my life?

(But I’ve started saving a specific amount per month and since I’m forgetful a standing order will be set up or fixed or whatever starting from next month. So don’t worry, when I’m 55 and old and alone, I’ll have saved around 900,000 which might be enough to live the last 20 years of my life relatively worry-free.)

And yet the question of ‘do you want to join full time?’ keeps haunting me.

Let me tell you this. Besides a bit of unavoidable unpleasantness with certain people, I’ve got along with the people here. The job is amazing and the place is… nice (no, really. It is. I love this place. I cry whenever I think of leaving). So this isn’t about me not wanting to be tied to this particular company. It’s a general dislike of being a slave.

Since my answer to the question ‘why don’t you want to join full-time?’ was ‘I don’t want to lose my freedom’ which sounds quite young-rebel-who-can't-be-bothered-to-do-any-real-rebelling, I Googled the pros and cons of being a freelance journalist.

Most results were ‘pros and cons of being a freelancer’ which is slightly different to being a freelance journalist. But that doesn’t matter. So find below the pros and cons of being a freelancer (according to the internet!)


You get to be your own boss

(Laughs hysterically)
I have a boss. In fact, I have many bosses and one main boss and in the labyrinth that is the editorial, I have to answer to many people depending on the section I’m working on. So no, I’m not my own boss.

The money is better

Maybe. Yes. Definitely. But that’s only if you work your ass off and stop being lazy.

You get to work on a variety of projects

Not me because I have no time and really can’t be bothered to deal with more than one company at a time.

You get to work from anywhere

Yes. I handle the youth section so Friday is when I have to go through articles and whatnot and Monday is when we work on pages. So if I well… procrastinate on Friday I can still spend the weekend working so that while typing an article I can also watch a TV show. Multitasking!

But the work I have to do are the youth section, articles and the crossword, none of which I can really do at home. Except a few articles, of course. So while I technically can work from anywhere, it isn’t practical.

You set your own hours

Yes! This is what I love about the job. I get to set my own hours but this is a right I don’t make use of so…

You determine your rate of pay making your financial freedom limitless

How is this a good thing? Whenever I’m asked how much I charge… okay… here’s how it goes…
Magazine/website guy: so what are your usual charges?
Me: ummm…
Guy: Well… what’s your usual rate? Tell me and we’ll work something out if my company doesn’t agree to it
Me: just pay me whatever you feel like paying me
Guy: No, you need to decide that
Me: *fuckbucket* *asks for ridiculously low amount*

You have the ability to only take on writing assignments that interest you

Yes! Huge advantage.

Freelance writing is a great way to express your creativity

Isn’t writing in general a great way to express your creativity?


You do less of what you really like doing

Nope. I love writing and journalism is what I want to do. So I get to do tons of what I like doing, including blogging during work because you know… I find the time (sometimes… rarely.)

You have to manage yourself

Doesn’t apply to me since I basically live in office.

You have a lack of security

Yes. I live in the constant fear that one day I’ll walk into office and find that my corner has been given to someone else.

When first starting out, it can take some time before you land your first job

Yes! Unless you hit jackpot like I did. Though I think this applies to proper freelancers

There are dozens of ways to make money as a freelance writer; it can feel overwhelming exploring each option


Some writers find it hard to know when to step away from the computer and take a break

Yes! There’s so much work to do! Which is then followed by a period of writer’s block and then procrastination.

Now for my own list based on my own life and the place I work


I can leave office whenever I want to

This is a great advantage because I love buying books and I also have uni work. And if I have a way to get home early, I can always leave early without having my salary halved. So while I spend most of my time in office, I do know I can leave whenever I want to without having to fill forms or anything.
And I can freely go shopping during work hours without feeling guilty.

I don’t have to worry about how many days I’ve stayed at home and how much of my salary I’ve lost

I can walk away whenever I want to

Which I won’t do but I know I can.

I can work for various people

Even though I don’t…

Company rules don’t apply to me

‘No wearing jeans to office’
‘You must work from 8.30 to 5.30’
While I don’t know if these are actual company rules, I don’t need to care because they technically don’t apply to me. (Okay, who are we kidding?!? They obviously do apply to me although I pretend they don't)


I don’t have a fixed pay on a fixed day

So when all you full-timers talk about pay day, I have to just pretend to be excited because my pay day is random. This is mostly my fault BUT I do love the surprise that awaits me when I check my bank balance and find I’ve been paid. Whoohoo extra money!

The company can kick me out whenever they want to

Just as I can walk away whenever I want to, the company can kick me out whenever they feel like it. (but please don’t, okay?)

Being a full-timer sounds better

Somehow full-timing is considered better as if you are better at your job if you are a full-timer.
I had to fill some form recently attach three articles I've written and it said that you need to also attach a letter from your editor certifying the articles are your own BUT if you are a freelancer you need to get a letter for each article. Gah!

No bonuses or holiday gifts (or whatever)

*Cries in a corner while full-timers get vouchers and whatnot*

No insurance or EPF

I think I’m too young to bother about any of this though.

So that’s about it. Pros and cons of being a freelance journalist.

I also think that a company is in no way obliged to give us holiday bonuses (like, omg it's Christmas, here's some more money even though you don't even deserve it), leave (hello! Unless it's for unavoidable reasons (illness, death of a family member etc. you should just work five days a week or have your salary reduced) and casual or half-day Fridays. So it goes against my (silly) principles to agree to such things.


And so I think I’ll stick to being a freelancer for at least a few more years.