Let it be known that for me, 2016 has been The Stagnant Year aka The Year Where Nothing Happened (except for an ever growing list of celebrity deaths).
2015 had been a whirlwind: I published my collection of short stories Faith and the Machine at the same time I was sitting for my final exams to become a neurosurgeon. I actually passed said exam, and my title changed from Dr to Mr. I finished my gazettement at my home base Hospital Kuala Lumpur, and I'm still serving here, alhamdulillah. I finished my first novel-length work, and submitted it to multiple agents in USA & UK. I was getting full requests along with rejection slips.
2016, however? I'm the longest serving registrar in Neurosurgery HKL & it's not because of incompetence. I'd like to believe that, because bigger and more complicated cases are thrown my way. The registrar pool is severely understaffed, and I feel guilty letting the Master's Degree candidates doing 10 calls a month. Recently, as I was grinding a World of Warcraft dungeon, I had this thought: I did exactly this 8 years ago. On-call, surgeries, WoW (plus other MMOs). On-call, surgeries, WoW. Nothing changed for me. I'm just a glorified Medical Officer with a new title that doesn't really mean a thing to everyone around me (including myself) with no life other than online gaming. Well, there are some changes, I must admit. Now I have more nieces and nephews stumbling into my room seeking attention (and the occasional "Milk please Mo, milk please Mooooooooooo.") Other than that? Exactly. The. Same. My life has become an endless loop that I can't escape from.
I thought being in a position where I can officially help my juniors, I'd be of some actual help. I entered the Master's program with next to no knowledge. While I was more than competent with the surgical knife, theory-wise I had lagged behind. I don't want this for my juniors. I believe that they should enter the program far better equipped than I had ever been. But it's been a frustrating ride so far. I don't think anyone sees me as someone they can learn from. All attempts I've made have been futile. I even got called to the Head of Department's office once for scolding a Medical Officer in the ward, in front of patients (also for using the word "fuck". Yeah. My bad). I got berated for fraternizing with the MOs. There should be a division between specialists and MOs, they said. It becomes all the more frustrating because I've always believed in working in a family-mindset environment where hierarchy is an abstract concept that we only acknowledge when officially needed.
Maybe I wanted to leave a mark too much. Maybe I wanted the juniors to one day tell their juniors, "I learned this from Fadz" like I've been telling my juniors about my teachers Datuk Saffari, Mr Azmi, Mr Ramesh, Mr Ng, Hafiz, Kak Siti, Kak Azleen, Saiful Razman, Wei Ming, Rahmat and the rest of my seniors. Or maybe the juniors are just not used to hardship as I had been -- you know, that Gen Y & millennial thing. My friends keep reminding me that I cannot impose my standard on everyone. But here's the thing: what I'm able to do, everyone should be able to do. I'm nothing but a professional accomplished loser.
In the writing front (what writing front?) I have been attempting to finish my second novel-length work, but I've not written any new words for the past 3 or 4 months now. Actually, it's not my second attempt at writing a novel; so many previous efforts have been abandoned in the elephant grave of my mind (and cloud storage). I completed a novel while I was supposed to be studying for my final exam early last year, and to date, it has raked over 120 rejections from agents and competitions. I don't think it totally sucks; I've gotten over 30 full requests, and several requests to submit another work when it's ready.
I haven't written a short story in over a year now. The one that has made the most bill to date has its publication pushed back indefinitely. Payment has been made (and completely spent). Oh well. I have somehow been consistently rejected by local venues while at the same time solicited by international ones. Again, oh well. Maybe my writing is not dipped in belacan enough. I think I've decided to stop submitting locally. What's the point? The lowest blow came in the form of a local editor asking me, "Why don't you write in Malay?" I think that conversation has left a permanent scar in my mind.
I didn't share this earlier, but I almost sold 507 copies of Faith and the Machine to Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia (our national library) thanks to Azida, a fellow writer who has a book under the same publication house. That's RM12,675 -- RM6337.5 to bring home after splitting 50% with the publisher. What was more, the book could have found a home in every single district library throughout the country. Could have being the key word. Since the publication house is a small-press one, it didn't have said amount of copies lying about. After multiple delays, the sale didn't come through. I also need to publish under a different house if I want to submit a new request to sell Faith and the Machine to PNM. So that ain't happening. Oh well.
Oh. I think I almost fell in love, but it wasn't meant to be. That's all I'm going to say about that.
Also, I can't even afford a studio apartment. Can't apply a government loan for it, and banks are only willing to provide an 80% loan despite it being my first home. Credit cards. Personal loans. I'm bad -- no, terrible -- with finances. Saving up means planning for the future. I don't want a future.
Maybe it's completely natural that The Year Where Nothing Happened follows The Year Where Big Things Happened. Maybe it's God's way of telling me to take a deep breath, to take stock and to appreciate where I am, where life has taken me. Maybe it's a prelude to another big year ahead. At the rate 2016 has been going for the world however, things don't look so good. I guess I should be thankful for my health and family, and for my achievements. It's just that having been raised believing that I'm never good enough, I don't think that I've achieved anything. Being a doctor -- a neurosurgeon -- is nothing special. Being a published writer is nothing special. Saving lives is a normal daily activity. I wrote this in an Instagram post: We have normalized hardship so much that we forget that what we do is hard.
Yeah, sure. For those of you who have read this far, you must be thinking to tell me, "Fadz, it's time that you settle down, build a family." You may not understand it, but it's not something that I want. I'm just broken that way.
Maybe I am stagnant because I don't want to change. Finishing that brilliant, totally publishable novel means putting myself out there. Acknowledging myself as a specialist means creating a rift with my juniors and support staff. I really don't intend to build a family, so let's not even go there.
Well, change is about to come. Starting from next month, I'm officially in the specialist call pool. Maybe I should embrace it. Maybe I should just finish that novel and let it get rejected again and again, or let it get picked up by someone who believes in my work. I don't fear rejection; maybe I should embrace the the fact that what I actually fear is acceptance. Maybe I should start saving up. If not for my own future, then for all the Johanabas 2.0. Maybe I should also accept that the juniors will come to me when they are ready to learn, and not a minute earlier.
I had many false starts with this post. I didn't think I could ever write again, but here I am, 1380 words and counting. Maybe it's a sign that I'm going to write again.
Or maybe the world as we know it will end in 2017.
Oh, well. Happy New Year!