Saturday February 27, 2010
A child’s wisdom
By ALEXANDRA WONG
Whoever coined the phrase: “Kids say the darndest things”, was right. Shock value aside, a child’s innocuous remark sometimes can do wonders to change our perspective.
Say you’re in your fourth year of freelancing, and you’re drawing a fairly reasonable income. However, you’re nowhere near the league of J. K. Rowling (rolling in dough) or Tash Aw (critically lauded local hero). What happens?
You start getting greedy and impatient. You start grabbing every lucrative deal that comes your way, bite off more than you can chew, and wonder at the end of the year why, even though, your bank balance is healthier compared to, say, 2007, you feel more tired, distressed and bewildered than ever.
That’s what happened to me, and that’s how I ended up on the phone with my best friend last Saturday night.
“I didn’t quit my corporate job to sign up for this!” I exclaimed.
“Hmm. Do you know what changed in the past year?” Frank slipped fluidly into shrink mode.
The question is not hard to answer: I’ve been obsessed with nothing else for months.
“You know in the old days, I would re-write an article many times just to do the subject justice. Now? I get fixated about return for investment and how many hours I want to spend on it. When I meet people, the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘What’s in it for me?’. Do I sound like a monster?”
“It’s sensible and even prudent to think about making something financially viable,” he began tactfully.
“But to become completely obsessed with it is a different matter. What is the difference between now and when you were gainfully employed?
“You need to find a balance between doing what feeds your stomach, and what feeds your soul. When was the last time you went on one of your bus rides? Those little pleasures that gave you so much joy when you first freelanced?”
For some reason, the bus ride analogy struck a louder chord than any other thing. It was where I met my kindly bus conductors and had life-affirming conversations with strangers . . .
That was why I grasped at my meeting the next day with Fenny like a drowning man clutching at a straw. I got the chance to ride the bus from Kota Damansara to the Curve, even if it was only for a short distance.
“Babe! You look great!”
I looked up and smiled at Fenny ruefully. I’m sure she was being nice again, because I feel anything but great.
As I was debating whether I should keep up an everything-is-dandy charade or tell her the truth, the eldest among her three children pipes up, “Mummy, is that your BFF?”
I gaped at her daughter. A nine-year-old girl knows what a BFF is? Her innocuous question made up my mind. I wasn’t going to lie to my BFF.
“Actually, I feel troubled and I think I am burning out.”
Encouraged by her warm sympathetic eyes, I proceeded to unload the previous night’s conversation to her.
Fenny squeezed my hand tightly after I was done.
“Maybe you need a break, girl. Just go away by yourself for some time.”
I nodded wordlessly.
“It’s the same thing I’ve been telling myself since time immemorial but I could never get round to it. This coup of a client lah. This breakthrough door-opener lah.”
“That’s the challenge of being a freelancer, huh? You have to stay relevant.”
“Yes,” I said. “Hanging onto a steady stream of income is always a challenge. What if your one-time break sends your desperate client straight into the arms of another hungry freelancer? Good customers who value your work and are willing to pay decent rates are so hard to find!”
She nodded in commiseration, having done her fair share of freelance work.
We got up to leave. Mummies with children have limited time, and we have to visit the pet safari at Ikano and buy lunch for the kids before we went.
Now I’d never been to a pet shop, and I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe the kids’ enthusiasm had something to do with it, for I found myself oohing and aahing as excitedly as they did.
“Wah, look at that iguana! So big! What’s this?”
“Hermit crab,” she answered pithily.
At her age, I probably wouldn’t even know hermit was an English word.
“Kids these days are so terrifyingly mature,” I marvelled to Fenny.
“Ya,” Fenny whispered back. “Not like us, last time play guli and masak-masak only.”
Pet fix satisfied, we walked out of the shop to pack lunch from Uncle Lim’s. On the way to the car park, we passed by a jewellery cart.
“Their things are nice but expensive,” Fenny whispered, a longing note in her voice. I felt my throat constrict, wishing I could afford to buy something nicer for her. But aren’t some of them overpriced?
“Mummy!” her wee one knitted her eyebrows in a frown. “These earrings are just a pair of chopsticks!”
We exchanged shocked glances, startled by her frank observation.
“I guess that’s why we love kids,” I laughed. “You can always count on them to give you honest, unvarnished opinions.”
We continued walking on gaily to her car, my mood already lightened considerably. Fenny had kindly offered to drop me off at the bus stop.
Auntie Alex got into the front seat while the kids pile noisily into the back. The squishing of plastic was followed by a squeal.
“Mummy! Sai mui (little sister) just smashed the box of durian pancake with her beautiful butt!”
That’s as honest, unvarnished, and laugh-out-loud funny as you can get. My shoulders began to shake with mirth. In the space of 10 minutes, I’d laughed more than I had in the last six months.
Suddenly, in that silly, spontaneous, utterly unpremeditated moment, the weight of my troubles seemed so far away. What’s trouble when you have moments and friends like these?
All too soon, my date with Fenny came to an end. After dropping me off at Asia Jaya, she drove off but not before calling out, “Take care, and think of Alex first for a change, yah! Not Alexandra Wong the writer. Just Alex.”
What a gem she is, I thought, staring after her disappearing car. This reader-turned-dear-friend, whom I met at the entrance of Sunway Pyramid three years ago is one of the few good things that keep me convinced that I’m doing the right thing with my life.
I walked to my bus, practically floating on feel-good vibes. I knocked on the closed door of my bus.
“What time are you moving?” I asked the bus driver as the door snapped open.
“Another 20 minutes.”
“Oh. Can I wait inside the bus? Very hot lah . . .” I gestured pointedly at the cloudless sky.
It’s either my lucky day or feel-good vibes are infectious, for he gestured for me to go up.
Smiling gratefully, I dug out my purse and said, “How much? One dollar?”
“No dollar, only ringgit here,” he deadpanned.
I chuckled appreciatively, tickled by his corny attempt at humour. Ah, it must be true, when you are happy, every scene is picture-perfect, and every person you meet is a comedian.
As I settled in and prepared to enjoy the ride, I wished Frank were here if only to tell him: “Who says I have forgotten to enjoy the little pleasures in life?”
It took a child to put things into perspective.
o Alexandra Wong (bunnysprints.blogspot.com) thinks we should never underestimate the power of a kid.