the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Keeping up with the Pets

The Kardashians: Living proof that you don't need pet siblings to stamp out loneliness

Yesterday I learned a new word: pet.

Not the word one would normally use when referring to a four-legged, two-legged or even legless animal that has been bred and broken into a domestic environment, but the word one uses to refer to a person.

Like a pet sister. Or a pet brother.

I was quite taken aback when I heard Eza refer to someone as her husband’s pet brother today. My initial response was “What is that?” and after she waved her hand to disdainfully dismiss the term, she explained that “a pet brother or pet sister is a good friend who can be considered family. It’s a name we all used when we were in school.”

Clearly, the name Kardashian was not yet known to man.

Despite being rather disturbed by the fact that people in Malaysia — fully-grown, at-least-partially-mature human beings — are running around using the word pet to define fellow adults, I was quite intrigued by this trend that apparently has been running rampant on this good earth (really just Malaysian soil) for decades. I suppose at the Age of Knowing No Better, teenagers must have felt a sense of closeness and kinship by calling one another their pet sisters or pet brothers, and to some it would have been better to have pet siblings than their blood ones. By all accounts that may have also been the teenage boy’s way of befriending the girl of (his life’s) moment before venturing further into adolescent limbo. And — this one I’m fairly certain of, purely by taking into account individual cowardice and indecisiveness — it was probably the easiest way to say “Let’s just be friends.”

However, once the uniforms have been shed and these young Impressionables go out into the world to experience what they thought they already knew of as life, I strongly believe it would be most advisable to disregard all former knowledge of the term and its usage. Possibly the only definition of it that I find remotely appealing is the association with one’s family. After all, if there were ever two people in the world I would consider family, they would be Becca and Shirley, and even then, this curious little designation, however affectionate in nature, has its restrictions.

“Becca can’t be your pet sister, because she’s your age,” Eza explained, as one might explain potty-training to a toddler. “The pets are usually people who are older or younger than you. Becca would only be your BFF.” Now there’s another term which requires some utilization control before it makes the entire world female population sound like they came straight out of The Hills.

Which leaves me, according to the Malaysian Book of Idiosyncrasies (and surely there must be one out there, given the bizarreness of this country), with a tally of two pet sisters — and at this point I will use the term very loosely, because I must ask which self-respecting person can suffer the indignity of being called as such without gagging — and one BFF, and one jie jie (only because Eza calls me her mei mei).

Oh, to be young (or youth-deprived) and spouting jargon only your fellow countrymen can make sense of.


The Blindfold Effect

“Every theory is a self-fulfilling prophecy that orders experience into the framework it provides.” – Ruth Hubbard

We see what we want to see, we hear what we want to hear, we believe what we want to believe. How much of it is true, and how much of it is conjured out of our own minds? In psychology we learn about self-prophecy, where we perceive something as true because we’ve been told it’s true. And as old Ruthie put it, if we hear it from someone whom we know is speaking from experience, we’re all the more convinced that it’s true. But how do we know that’s what it really is? They may not be outright lying, but as our experiences influence the way we think and behave, it’s possible that the version of events they’re giving is merely the result of them warping the truth in their own minds.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years, it’s to always, always maintain perspective, and never be blindsided, even though my past experiences have jaded me and conditioned me to expect the worst out of people. We may think that the way we’re treated by some people shows exactly what we are to them, but we have to keep the reality that that’s just how they are very firmly fixed in our minds. We may think that the slightest inconsistency could mean a turning of the tide, but it doesn’t discount the big picture that we’ve come to know and rely on to help us make the right decisions.

But how do we know that our perspective is the right one? How do we know that we’re only thinking a certain way because of everything we’ve seen and been told, and that maybe there’s a significant piece that we’ve overlooked because it could go against the very core of our perspective and our principles? And if we’re unable to wrap our minds around, or even remotely consider, that alternative view, does that mean we could be walking down the wrong road, never allowing all the other options to show us what the road not taken could lead us to or save us from?

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my views on several issues skewed in one direction. I’ve forced myself not to look at them in any other way, which has led people to ask why I’m being such a pessimist and why I can’t just let my guard down and think that maybe at some point things could be better — or at least different. And all I can think is that given the circumstances, and seeing how history has repeated itself more than once, there doesn’t seem to be any alternate ending, no matter how much I want there to be an alternate ending.

So which perspective is it: the one we have or the one we risk losing?

Why gamble?

Watching big-screen adaptations of anything in print, such as the Harry Potter books, is like going to a casino with bad luck hanging over your head: you know you never win anything, and yet you’re hell-bent on taking a gamble anyway. The movies have never really gone by the books — with The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire deviating from the books to an appalling degree (although The Deathly Hallows, The Order of the Phoenix and The Chamber of Secrets actually made commendable efforts to stick to the original story, and the changes made to it were comparably few and nondescript) — and yet we watch them, either because of all the hype or because we know the books back to front and we want to see for ourselves how close the movies come to the books.

Why do people gamble? In a world where money is so fluid, how do we know how safe it is to risk (almost) everything we have just for all that brouhaha? We scan the room for a table that could make us potential millionaires, and we put our money into it in the hopes that we gain something. When we see something coming back, that’s when the stakes get higher, and we put more into the game, hoping that we’ll get more back. And even when we begin to realize that we may end up losing everything, we keep going, determined to redeem ourselves and at least be able to keep a tiny bit of the money that we gambled.

The exact same thing can be said for relationships. We scan the world (or the streets) for that person who could be a potential Somebody in our lives, and we put our time and effort into it in the hopes of turning it into something positive. When we see the slightest bit of progress, our hopes get higher, and we put more time and effort into it. And when this person happens to be someone we really, really like, we choose to ignore all the bad signs that it might not work out the way we want it to, and we soldier on, desperate to salvage what we thought could have been at least a semi-decent relationship, and trying our hardest to hold on to that last shred of effort that we put in (not to mention our dignity).

So when is it time to stop gambling? When we sense that we’re about to lose everything? Or do we cross all fingers and toes, keep playing, hope that we’ll get some of it back, and then stop only when we have no other choice? Or do we just play it safe and not gamble at all? Not gambling leads us to either breathe a sigh of relief that we didn’t lose as much as everyone else did, or wish with all our hearts that we had dared to try our luck and end up among the few fortunate ones. So maybe the important question isn’t why or how much we gamble. Maybe it’s when to pull our highest bet — our hearts — off the table.

Protected: A satirical op-ed

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After the storm

Well, so here we are again. Another full circle come, another year gone. As I sit here and think about everything that has transpired, I realize I actually do not remember very much about the year, and the memories have all blurred in on one another, this year more than the last, so much so that I don’t even know whether to call this year a good or a bad one. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been so busy shutting out as much noise and dissent as possible that everything else just got tuned out altogether, or because I haven’t spent as much time registering and absorbing everything as I usually do.

So maybe it was a numbing year.

Nevertheless, it is the last day of the year. When I think back (with a great deal of help from my blog archives) to all the highs, lows, the good times, the bad times, the awesome times, the awful times, the mistakes, the milestones, and the many, many lessons, it’s no wonder I’ve become muddled up with everything that has happened this year. With all the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done, and the mistakes and choices I’ve made, it’s amazing I’m still standing, albeit with that many more chips on both my shoulders.

But the new year dawns tomorrow, and with that the hopes for an improved lot in life, for new (and old) dreams to be fulfilled, and for that step closer to what I’ve been hoping to achieve these last few years.

Happy New Year!

Surprise, surprise, Afhamio!

After a month of planning, Facebook invitations and messages (one of the few things Facebook is actually good for), endless BBMs (“Who is BBMing you at 3AM?”) and calls (“Why is Angah suddenly calling you?”), Afham’s 27th birthday surprise finally happened.

The good thing is that he was born on Christmas Eve, so all the restaurants are just raring to help with the planning of a big private party. The bad thing is that he was born on Christmas Eve, so all the restaurants are also raring to make sure that they don’t lose out on any business by calling and prompting you for a deposit and confirmation on the number of guests as early as two weeks in advance.

After deliberating over which restaurant to hold this do, I went with Eza’s suggestion of doing it at Top Hat. This worked out very well because the restaurant is a converted bungalow on Persiaran Stonor, away from the Christmas barbarism that is Bukit Bintang (which still couldn’t diminish the problem of finding a parking spot because I was made to park on the street). And despite being persistent and annoying with the reminders, the staff were very helpful in putting together a buffet dinner in a private room to accommodate our number (final tally: 21).

And to top it all off, Afham got a Nike Air Force 1 DJ Clark Kent cake specially made by Raindough Desserts. It was a sign of how much he loved it that we were only allowed to eat the box it sat on (made to look like the Nike Air Jordan Retro Silver 25th Anniversary packaging), and to this day it sits in our refrigerator intact, save for the heel that I made him part with in order to give Eza and Aziah their share.

Looking back now, and even when I was looking at Afham with all his friends that night, at Top Hat and later Phuture, I remember wanting to do this for  him not only because he had a comparatively quiet birthday last year, but because with age comes life, and with life comes the difficulty of getting  together as often as we would like to. And so this birthday was my gift to him, a way for him to be with all his friends and just forget the trifles and burdens of life for one night.

And indeed, forget pretty much everything…

Happy Birthday baby!

Playing the Facebook part

Every few months I do a little cleanup of my Facebook friends list. I go through the list of people and deliberate over whether or not my absence from their friends list would be noticed, as it has been at least 8 years since we spoke and we would have nothing to talk about now. And then I decide that since they have 883 people on their list already they would never know when or how it went down to 882. So I remove them from my list, in an attempt to keep it restricted to people I have personally met and actually spoken to.

Then I wonder, Have I really met that many (current tally: 454) people in my lifetime? And if I get rid of a good 20 people every few months, does that mean I’ve actually met more than 500 people in all my born days? And if, according to TNS Research, I know extremely few people by Malaysian standards, is it really possible for some to have known as many as 3087 (and counting) people in their lives? It’s no wonder they end up developing those bizarre Facebook habits we see and eventually have to hide; it must be exhausting having to keep up with so many other people who are simultaneously promoting the color of their underwear and ingredients of their lunch-hour sandwiches.

After reading the results of the TNS survey, which state that ‘Malaysians have the most buddies in online social networks’ — half of whom I’ll wager they don’t even know, a very disturbing fact in and of itself — I have to wonder if this curious knack for collecting ‘friends’ is somehow related to the same mental disorder/national epidemic that has people excessively self-promoting on Facebook — even going so far as to incriminate themselves when they’re malingering, creating false occupations and engaging in very public warfare. Is this some form of self-validation or self-gratification that makes them feel the need to be known, liked or even taken notice of, thus breeding the insincerity and patronizing behavior that are so often mistaken for friendliness? And is this what fuels the love for partying, dressing up and going out to be seen — channeling the Western culture, so to speak — that this country is so notorious for? It would appear so, if the numerous photo albums splashed across Facebook while nursing hangovers the next day are anything to go by.

The disturbingly unanswerable question is: Why do people do this? In this day and age of staggeringly advanced technology, where whole identities can be conjured online and nobody would be the wiser, are we simply trying to appear better than what we really are, and if so, to what end? When all the adulation has been soaked up and wrung dry, what else is there left to sell but ourselves, just the way we are?

The first resolution

I’ve never subscribed to the idea of making New Year’s resolutions. I always saw it as a way of setting oneself up for failure and disappointment when the resolutions can’t be met, and eventually, when we see that we’ve set a bar for ourselves to do so much that we can’t, we end up not wanting to even do less, and just doing nothing at all.

Last week, a man interviewing me for a job told me that he has been following my blog, and even pointed out that he noticed I’ve been writing since 2004, which puts me in the ‘pioneering’ group of bloggers — a fact I cannot attest to because I don’t know how long bloggers have really been around. He also said that it was a great thing to be writing, to have that level of curiosity which drives a person to pursue a certain issue to such great depths and then present it in their own way — another fact I cannot attest to because I write about mostly personal, and not worldly, issues.

His statements, however flattering, got me thinking about all the writing I’ve been doing and how it has evolved and varied over the years. And I was once again reminded of how little I’ve been writing this year, partly due to the disillusionment of having certain undesirable followers and partly due to the lack of energy to actually chronicle everything that I’ve been thinking, feeling and observing. What I initially passed of as writer’s block had, in fact, become a form of self-reservation. That realization made me wonder why I’ve gone against my principles and held back so much this year, when I used to be as open and opinionated as I liked, and why I’ve turned into this weak, mealy-mouthed ninny who’s taken into account what a few narcissistic nonentities think of what she has to say.

So, for quite possibly the first time in my life, I’m making a sort-of resolution (besides getting a new job, which is something I promise myself all year round) — whether for the new year, old year or anywhere in between — to come back out of this shell and start writing more. If nothing else, I figure that rather than have all my anger, and recently resurfaced bitterness and cynicism, snowball into one long tirade, it’s better to have it more evenly distributed.