This is an “Arts” blog, thus I should write about the arts.
Arts is broad and varied and wide and subjective covers a large, large spectrum. I personally dislike it when someone says that they have a mastery or knowledge of the arts or how it is supposed to be done or what is right and what is wrong. There is good and bad art, yet, even that, is still subjective. In my line of work, I have encountered so many people who say and demand about how a certain art form should be done better, how it is supposed to be done and so forth. Example would be teachers who think a certain form of theatre is the correct one and it should be that way. Any other ways would be wrong. Art managers who say posters must look this way, any other way is wrong. Not even good or bad, nice or not nice, just simply... right and wrong. To me, what is wrong here is that they don't know how to differentiate what is “good and bad” by saying “right and wrong” when the problem is they don't realise that it is actually what the “want and don't want”. Everything they want is correct. Everything else they don't want is wrong. And what happens to the artist? We follow and we lost our joy and creativity. We disagree and we lost our income.
You cannot blame anyone. No one asked you to be an artist. In a country where the meaning, idea, version, definition, perspective of an artist is as broad, varied, wide and as subjective as the word “art” itself. Like how someone who appears on TV is called an artist whereas a director of photography is called a cameraman.
I cannot blame anyone. No one asked me to become an artist. By my definition that is... and get paid.
Definition of artist1a: one who professes and practices an imaginative art
b: a person skilled in one of the fine arts
Why did I do this?
I've never really explained in great detail on my choice of life path. Since I got time now, maybe I should. Just to archive it down here. I don't know how it would be useful to anyone reading. I should just write them down before my memory fails and I slowly die.
The Late 80s and Early 90s
My childhood years and early teenage years were horrible. So horrible I hated it so much. So horrible that I chose to go to a faraway tertiary institution where I wouldn't know anyone and make new friends and experiences. Will explain this part later.
It was terrible, horrible. I was black, ugly and skinny with buck teeth and a specky. No Malay boys wore spectacles at that time unless they are nerds or geeks. It seems normal now, but those time, people like me were prone to name-calling, and bullying. Not just from schoolmates but even from my relatives. It was terrible. I developed fighting as a defence mechanism and was pretty good at it too. Maybe, just maybe, because of all these fightings and bullying, the teachers somehow took notice of me and made me do things like, you know, errands and stuff. They also pushed me to do stage things, like the prefect who gave commands and recite pledge during assembly, act, sing, dance, poetry recital, on stage. I enjoyed them. I realise the bullying toned down. I realise, people at that time, will not bully and are nice to people who are “seen”. So that's it. If I have to do these artsy things on stage to be seen and not bullied, I will do it. Plus, I kind of enjoyed it. It was fun doing happy things for a change.
The Late 90s
I've completed my O levels. I could continue being another data in the Singapore Formula or do something for myself. I could enrol to a couple of JCs and one of them is Yishun which I didn't want because it is too near to my house. So it was a “NO” and became a 17 year old who travelled to the east for a new start in my education life. I really badly wanted to leave the people I knew behind and make new connections and have new experiences with hopes of less bullying.
The transportation system in 1997 was much different then as compared to now. Much difference. Also note, there were no smartphones. The closest thing you can get to google was “Netscape Communicator” search engine available in computer labs. The rest of us just relied on newspapers and road signs. It was pretty daunting to travel alone at that time to a place where I knew no one. It is a new place, a new school, don't have to excel in studies as I know I am not a clever person, just don't fail any subjects. Most importantly, be “Seen”.
I took up 9 CCAs. If that is not enough to be seen, I don't know what would. I was also the class chairman for the whole 3 years. I joined the arts because it was fun. I acted, wrote, directed in stage shows. I played musical instruments, sang and was the leader of my band. I performed in gigs all over school all the time. It wasn't just the arts. Leadership as well. I was in the student union, camp leader, (a lot of camps I got disgusted with the smell of my own sweat), and a school ambassador. The only male PACEsetter at that time (and maybe to date) to sport a ponytail.
Side story: I was warned that I had to cut my hair if I would be selected to be a the ambassador but I told the staff blatantly, “then don't select me”. Yet they did and still warn me that I would get into trouble if the school discipline master and registrar would to see me with my uniform and long hair. I still refused to cut my hair. On my first assignment, in my uniform, the staff in charge and the other ambassadors gave me heads up if they see Moses (the registrar mentioned), so that I can move away and hide or something. It was ridiculous. I saw the horror faces and gasps from them when I stood in front of Moses. I remember that very clearly. He looked at my name tag and straightened it and said, “1st assignment?” I said, “yup”. That was all. He didn't mention my ponytail hair. He didn't scold me. Nothing. That was all. I kept my long hair all the way till year 3 and I met Moses many times after that. No problem.
People would see me. They would recognise me. I didn't get bullied because people knew me. I guess it was a good move and I had the best school years in my life
Still all these time, I know that these are all distractions and fun to not get bullied. I still got called names by the IT students 1 year my senior. But it was just them. The rest of the campus didn't. I didn't care because I know they were losers who took up that course because they didn't know what to do with their lives. I still knew that education and paper qualification is the way of life in a Singapore Formula. The others are just distractions and hobbies. Things to do when I have free time. So I made sure I didn't fail any subjects. I didn't. I completed my diploma with average results but I didn't fail any of them. By now, I already know what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to be a librarian and do arts as a hobby to be seen so as not to be bullied and to be happy.
The Early 2000s
I completed my full time National Service duties on the 12th of December 2002. What's next? I didn't know. Those students from IT if you remember, they all didn't get a job in IT after they have completed NS. They were nudged aside by IT workers from foreign lands. Most of them who I knew, signed on to the Civil Defence and Police Force. Honestly, I laughed at them in my heart. Those seniors who bullied and called me names.
I told myself, do not be like them and set clear ambitions in my life. So I looked for a proper job. It was harder than I expected. I was only 22. Singapore was one of the country hit by the 1997 financial crisis. People were laid off. It was difficult to get a job. In 2002, the economy was still in recovery state. There were very very few job openings. Remember, there was no Google. We had to rely on the classified ads on Straits Times. My friends and I applied for a lot of jobs.
We didn't get any. We didn't get any. We didn't get any.
One by one, signed on into the force. I don't want to. I don't like the regimental way of life. Many of them signed their lives to serve in a place where their heart wasn't in. They told me, that's how life is. We do not have a choice.
They signed. Police, Civil Defence, Customs, ICA, CISCO, Teachers, Nurses. The rich ones went overseas.
I believed I have a choice. I believed I had choices. I believed in those positivity quotes I was fed in schools.
Chase for your dreams.
Work for your ambitions.
Everything that happens will have its blessings.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining.
There is light at the end of every tunnel.
There will be rainbow after the storm.
If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.
Never give up.
You know... all those shit.
I didn't want to lose. I applied for jobs. I did odd jobs. I worked as a Mcdonalds crew, cargo unloader from trucks, exhibition movers, ad hoc cleaner, tuition teacher, relief teacher. It was hard, but I continued looking for the jobs I really would like to do in a long term. For the rest of my life. They didn't come.
And who employed me? Who didn't look at my diploma? Who didn't care if I got bullied or ugly or have average academic qualifications or an obsolete diploma? Yes. The Arts. The theatre. They didn't care about all those. They employed me for my talents. They took me when no one else didn't. Work was hard. I had to start from scratch again. It was a whole new different arts ball game. It didn't pay me well. Rehearsals were tough. But, I enjoyed it. I had something to do when no one else would employ me. I put my time and effort into it while I still looked for a proper job. An actor told me, “Work in the arts. There is no paper discrimination here. You can do it. I know you can and you will.” I had my doubts. Theatre arts is not part of the Singapore Formula. He said, “Believe it. Believe in yourself. It can be done.” He is still a full time artist until now. I don't know what he is doing now honestly. He is still alive but I really don't know what he is doing.
Year 2004. Finally a job opening in the library. That's it! I shall work there full time. In a place I have always wanted to be. And then do arts as a hobby. It was the perfect match. I applied for a job and got it. I think they had to employ me anyway because my diploma was an affiliation of it. Yes I got a job! Those IT suckers can mourn their life now. I got a job as a Library Officer. I wanted to be a Librarian but to be one, you will need a degree which I couldn't afford. I took up the job, with hopes of a stable future, career progression and opportunity to upgrade myself to finally become a librarian.
So what happened? The salary was terribly low. Even in 2005 it was very low to me. I ran out of cash 3 weeks after my pay. Always. I wondered how the people in the place survived. That's where I realise that they were mostly married ladies with working husbands. There were very very few youths around my age and I would have made friends with all of them already by then. The yearly increment was very low too. I calculated my earnings if I would stay there for 10 years and realise it did not match up to possible inflations. The career progression won't lead me to a better paying post. It definitely wouldn't lead me to become a librarian until I get a degree. A new CEO came into the board and said that monetary assistance would be given to staff who wanted to upgrade themselves and even to pursue a degree. It pulled up my hopes only to be dashed again. My heart sunk. I remember how it felt when they told us that they will help to pay only 10% (around that amount) of the total degree course fee. I was so disappointed. If I can afford to go get a degree, I would have done it. I didn't because I couldn't afford financially. And 10% obviously wouldn't help much at all. And really, the monthly salary and yearly increment was very very low..... I asked for jobs at other libraries. They pay even lower.
I was very sad. I thought ok that's it. I shall just go back to doing theatre arts and make money for myself. Real money. Money where I worked for. Doing things I like doing. Money in which I am in control. The harder I work, the more money I will get. If I slack, I will get less. Rather than being paid the same amount no matter how much or less work I do. After 2 years, in 2006, I stepped out from the comfort of a proper job to an unknown industry that is not part of the Singapore Formula.
I didn't get rich straightaway. I worked hard. I worked even for honorariums. I don't have a degree so I need to build up my portfolio to have some paper backing. I did anything and everything. So many things. Too many to list. I have my share of money and lack of it. I have my share of ups and downs. I have my share of people liking and hating me. It was tough work. Definitely not as comfortable and stable as a Singapore Formula proper job.
Numerous gigs, stage plays, writings, directions, schools, award, tv appearances, film appearances.
2020. I turned 40 this year. As you get older and uglier, the jobs get lesser, the friends get lesser, the contacts get lesser. I am good at what I do, but not the best to be valued and definitely easily forgotten. I have achieved much before this year. All the past years. I have and I admit. I am grateful. But what is important now is, what have the past done to the present?
Here I am, sitting writing this blog practically jobless. I had terrible heartaches the past couple of year. One of them being the the new staff making me lose joy in the current contracted job. Another being, received my very very low Home Loan Eligibility amount.
Basically, after all these years, I cannot even afford a house on my own and struggling with the things I need to pay. So in a sense, I practically didn't achieve anything other than.... “experience”. In another place maybe, a man with experience would be highly regarded. But here... even the new staff won't listen to me or take my considerations. Not to mention, rude. No one knows that I'm here writing all these, jobless, lost joy in working, unable to buy a simple basic 2 room HDB flat.
So where has theatre arts brought me?
So who is the loser now?
I am 40, how long more can I live?
At this age, I am theoretically very experienced..... but practically... nothing.
I really should have gone to Yishun JC. It's ok if I won't be happy or no one cares about how I am. I am not happy and no one cares now anyway. I should have just followed and be another data in the Singapore Formula. Just like everyone else. At least... I would be able to buy my own house.
Web logs of art activities on a regular basis (hope).