Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Impact Our Stories Make on Others and Ourselves

Sometimes as a writer you wonder if your stories have an impact, a minor ripple in someone’s life, until that story comes back to haunt you, through someone else’s life, in a way you could never have imagined. I had that experience this morning when I came across the following email from a woman I briefly met while attending the book launch of Lovers and Strangers Revisited (Silverfish version) in Penang. She made an impression right away when she not only bought a copy of my book but also presented me a copy of Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia 1993) for me to sign.

I knew from previous correspondence that she was writing and even publishing her stories under difficult circum­stances and was now encouraging her two daughters to write, too. All will be entering the MPH-Alliance Bank National Short Story Contest 2009

The following is an excerpt of the email that she had sent me:

“I just finished reading all your individual stories as you explained about them in your blog [The Story Behind the Story]. Honestly I have learnt a lot from your stories in Lovers and Strangers Revisited. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t attend the [creative writing workshop] in Penang last year. “Symmetry” was never my favourite [story]. In fact I don’t like reading it at all. The reason behind it is the brother who chops the cockroach into two!! I hate children who behave in this manner. I changed my mind two weeks ago. Want to know the reason?

“Well I have been visiting this young mother whose husband has HIV. She has five children all very young. She is worried and scared to death because the doctor in the hospital wants to check her for HIV as well. She is lost and there is no one to help her. She left home when she was very young to live with this husband. Her parents don’t want to have anything to do with her, what more her children. She has this blank look on her face. I get my friends to get some foodstuffs for her children, and I visit her often to just talk to her. She is very young and she must have been very pretty last time. Now she is all bones.

“Ok to cut the story short, last week while talking to her in her miserable one room squatter house her youngest son came crying that there was a cockroach in his leftover milk. She pushed the mug to me saying that she will be like the dead cockroach. Initially struggling but finally dying!! She said she was like the cockroach lured to her death. That night I reread the story [“Symmetry”] again and I couldn’t agree more with the young mother.”

So for the rest of us who grumble about the unfairness of life, how our lives are not meeting our expectations, how we can’t find the time to write or to do the things that we know we should because of bad choices (watching too much TV, spending too much times with our handphones or surfing the internet), think instead how blessed our lives truly are. Some, as the woman above, have no real life. She’s merely waiting to die, and oh, so young, too, and with all those young unwanted children that she'll leave behind, because of a bad choice (a series of bad choices) she made.

Stories are out there, even a simple story about a little girl finding a dead cockroach in a cup of tea that I wrote about in “Symmetry” can have an impact on someone’s life, mine included -- 22 years later! I'll never be able to think of that story again without associating it with that young woman and the woman who emailed me this story.

What stories can you write that can have an impact on someone’s life in a way that you could never have imagined? For the time being, count your blessings (not your excuses or your complaints) and write. Add some magic, too, by doing something, anything that will take you a step closer to your goals. Good luck and make your life count while you still have a choice.

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I 


Krista Goon said...

Beautiful! I am glad she reread Symmetry. I can't say that's my fave story. My fave would be the one of the Caucasians and the Thai girls. I think I like it because the story leaves me a bit puzzled. Also the one about the sister who sits and waits for her dad's car. A bit sad there too.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Hi, that's "Transactions in Thai" and "Waiting". I'm always amazed when someone reveals their favorite story from Lovers and Strangers Revisited. Over the years, 10 stories have been cited as "favorite". In fact, the very first time I heard this regarding my stories was back in 1993 from an American woman living in KL and she mentioned "Symmetry". At the time I thought it was an odd choice, but stories resonate with us in different ways, for different reasons. I was glad I was able to add another dimension to the story when I revised it for MPH.

Krista Goon said...

Sharing something with you - just read it today off Twitter:

Borneo Expat Writer said...


Greenspot said...

Hi Borneo Expat Writer!

You should write something on Sarawak and Borneo!!1

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thanks. Yes I plan to. I'm still finishing up two Penang novels. Meanwhile I have two novel ideas set in Borneo that I'm keeping a file on.