A week of school talks

Nothing like showing up for a talk with students, having them Google you, and then feeling apologetic that this blog hasn't been (until this post) updated in over a month.

Ya, busy lah.

I spoke at three different schools this past week. It wasn't by design --- one school booked me a few months ago, then when other invitations trickled in, everyone wanted to schedule something for the same week. So on Monday I talked to some Nanyang Technological University communications students about exhibitions, curation and storytelling, and later in the week I talked about literature, writing and being a writer in Singapore to some mid-teen literature students at the School of the Arts and Raffles Institution. The poet Pooja Nansi was at the School of the Arts event too and read a really wonderful poem, "Mind Your Language"; if you haven't read her poetry yet, go check out what she's made available on her website.

The more we're armed with gadgets that can digitally displace or relocate us to some other place and time, the more I feel like when I show up in person to an event full of strangers, I'd better say or give them something that they couldn't get in any other encounter (or "platform", as some media professionals might say). It's like old-school classroom teaching, I guess --- the lesson is often only as good as the professional knowledge, emotional mood and psychological readiness that the teacher brings into the classroom that day. We're not robots, we're not digitally reproducible, and there is something in the spark and immediacy of that personal encounter.

The students at all three schools were great. Sure, there were some who were more interested in whatever was going on on their laptops or tablets, but that's pretty much a given in any audience these days. That aside, there were also those students with that sparkle in their eyes, the ones who smile and frown according to what they're hearing, or who suddenly twitch their heads to one side or lean forward when something they hear has caught their attention. That fleeting moment of brightness and connection is, really, all one can hope for.

Some of the things I said out loud at the various sessions that I usually don't say out loud, and I reproduce them here not as incontrovertible truths but as little things that help me do what I do:
  • You're only as good as the last 3-5 things you wrote.
  • You have to have a little bit of madness to be a writer (or indeed, any kind of artist).
  • Inspiration is everywhere if you're in an "artistic mode" --- by which I mean a sensitivity and openness to artistic possibilities springing from the encounters and minutiae of everyday life (this is why writers are often jotting down what they see or overhear around them).
The School of the Arts students had more questions than we could cover in the session, so their teacher has compiled them in an email for me. I'll post the answers on this blog soon, and I think they'll be cross-posted to the school's literature department website as well.

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