Singapore Writers Festival 2015 (Part 1)

Humor as a mirror to society. Humor is all about seeing things from different perspectives and questioning the normal state of affairs. One should keep asking questions to push boundaries and to challenge assumptions. Learn to see how far one can push a joke till it becomes offensive or distasteful. Humor is in essence learning how to process what people say and then push it back to them. It should be relatable to the audience. The panelist felt that the humor that they produce and what is currently available in Singapore is generally indicative of Singapore society. It is a skill to laugh at yourself when you are stuck in a difficult situation. In Singapore, humor that people find attractive is usually of the slapstick sort, where puns and wordplay are being employed. For instance, ‘Tampines’ was mis-spelt as ‘Tampenis’ during the recent train breakdown incident. There are various forms of humor, one of which is observational humor. For stand-up humor, one needs to constantly re-invent new material. In Singapore, political humor shouldn’t be pushed over the line and direct references should not be made to the current set of leaders. Humor, is in essence, about saying things obliquely. One should stick to the ‘OB’ markers and stay clear of commenting unfavorably about someone else’s religion. It is important not to take a joke too far and cross the line. Sometimes, humor can be employed to bring to light certain important social issues. Although it may not pay well, one should believe in one’s work and be passionate about it.

The Future of Work. Technology disruptions like social media etc have changed the way people do business. They will continue to happen in the future. How should people react to this? Students should learn to think innovatively and solve problems in society. In modern times, there is an advent of digital work and the heavy reliance of software. Creativity is becoming something which is highly valued. There is increasing competition for talent in the global marketplace. One should read about Reid Hoffman’s LinkedIn. Is there a trend of ‘3 year tours’ instead of sticking to a single career role all your life? Skillsfuture emphasizes on the fact that there are multiple paths to success. Some types of menial jobs might be deemed unnecessary in future due to improving technology. However, work should be seen as solving the world’s ‘pain points’. There will always be problems in the world which need solving. As long as you can meet a need in society, you will be employed. It is crucial to practice self-reflection and ask questions like ‘What do you deeply care about?’; ‘Who are you?’; ‘What is your role on Earth?’ Learn to be a ‘fuller’ you. Do not externalize responsibility and claim all the credit when things go well. Simon Sinek realized that most people view work from ‘outside in’ and start with asking ‘what’ first, before the ‘why’ and ‘how’. He proposes that we should view work in reverse and go from ‘inside out’. It requires a great amount of time to master something. Technology cannot change who you are. In modern society, rigour and mastery can be generated from play too. Is technology making us less human? It is still important to study the humanities and understand what it takes for us to be more human. It is important for employees to recognize their job responsibilities (not just their work description) before they can demand their workers’ rights. Be proactive about your learning. Do not simply let your identity be inextricably linked to your job description. You are much more than that. Thinking about mortality can give you clarity and make you more aware of what is truly important in life.

Asian Speculative Fiction: Has our time arrived? SF was new in Asia in the 1970s and there weren’t many SF writers at that time. Asian writers have a tag over their heads which white writers do not have. Writers of Asian descent are supposedly to write a certain type of story, which should be set in a certain setting etc. It is difficult for an Asian writer to write completely with no Asian elements in the book. Should the characters in your book be imbued with Asian values etc. The author’s intent of how they intend their works to be read is irrelevant. What’s important is how readers unpack the work, view it through their own lenses and then re-package and interpret them. As a result, readers can often interpret the work differently from how the author set it out to be. All authors will have their influences from the past. Asian writers are valued if they write in autobiographical style. They are also lauded if they can insert certain Asian elements in the book. Translation of English works into Chinese and Japanese can be tricky. Translators play a huge role in not just translating, but sometimes, interpreting the works. Certain languages like Chinese have nuances which may not easily translated to English. Translators who are required to ‘re-interpret’ works are known as heroic translations. SF is basically not a new genre to the East as the Chinese often wrote about mythical creatures in the past. The view of the Chinese scholars could be that Chinese culture is backward etc. It remains a challenge for Asian writers to play two hats, how to write for the American audience and the post-colonial audience.

Power to the People. Philanthropy can create its own set of problems. Your background is important as it shapes your worldview. Sometimes, one needs not consciously of wanting to do good for the community. The feeling can be unconscious as well. How do we foster good? Instead of asking ‘what needs to be done?’; ask ‘who you are?’ If you are surer of your identity and what your purpose on Earth is, then more active citizenry will emerge. It is not advisable to put too much pressure on your current students. It is important for people to see themselves as part of the global solution. Do not see yourself as part of the elite group of countries and think that is beneath you to help others from developing countries. Children really need to laugh and celebrate more. It is unwise to have big dreams like changing the world etc. Learn to start small. Singapore is a capitalist country and there are too many social stereotypes and labelling that is going on. We value materialism and have we truly given up on the colonial mindset? It is worthwhile to think carefully of how much time you want to spend on a certain goal in life? Look at life in terms of ‘pockets of time’. Is giving purely altruistic? If you want to give, spend some time to understand the beneficiary well so that you will able to better contribute. It is true that people are busy but it is all about time management. Work should always aim to solve the world’s problems. If your work is about solving pain points already, then you are in essence already ‘volunteering your time’. Do not advocate this idea of working very hard to earn money and then to give it away when you retire. Giving should happen in the present. Social enterprises should have a social mission, while yet staying commercially viable. If you give people a cause, they will most likely volunteer and use their time to help others. Volunteering should be linked to a core purpose. If you want to influence people, it is important that you lead by example and do not remain cynical, contemptuous. Once you turn cynical, others will see that you have lost hope in them and that will be the end of social change which you tried fighting for. Political education should be emphasized as this will have an impact of youth volunteering in future.

Female Power, Deconstructed. Should the author’s persona be completely detached from their work? Is there a need to understand the author’s background to see how his/her background has shaped their writing? The author’s work should stand on their own. Is it important how an author finds their voice? An author should not lose their childhood wonder as creativity usually stems when you question long-held assumptions. You can draw inspirations from different mediums for your work. Do you require a purpose when you write? Or do you simply let the story flow? The modern world is arranged in a disadvantageous way for women and children. There has been a gradual shift of personal power. There is an issue of power vs fragility. Can they co-exist in a character? Is it okay to appear vulnerable and weak? Do fragile person receive more attention? All characters in a book should have compelling problems which require some form of solving. They should not simply be likeable.

Final Programme Booklet Cover


One thought on “Singapore Writers Festival 2015 (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Singapore Writers Festival 2015 (Part 2) | Book & Quote Monster

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