Interview with MyPaper for Hands Down at Going Local 4

MyPaper interviewed me for a story on Going Local 4.

Going Local is a production by Buds Theatre Company. Find out more from yesterday’s post.

The transcript of my interview, as follows:

  1. Name, age, occupation:
    Mr Laremy Lee, 32, playwright.

    I am presently a schools correspondent with The Straits Times. I will be moving to the School of the Arts, Singapore at the end of the month (June 29, 2015), to teach literature and literary arts.
  2. How do you feel about your play being picked as a feature of Going Local 4?
    It is both a privilege and an honour to be part of a proud tradition started by Buds Theatre Company’s artistic director Claire Devine.
  3. Summarise Hands Down in 14 words or less.
    A married couple discovers their incompatibility while in a competition to win a car.
  4. What inspired your passion for playwriting?
    I have always had a love for writing and the English language. Theatre is one of the avenues in which I express myself creatively.
  5. The play on paper can be vastly different from the creature on stage – are you prepared for any potential changes?
    Staging a play is like sailing a ship; with all hands on deck, everyone – from cast to crew – works to move the play forward.

    As with all ships I’ve built, I leave this vessel in the good hands of the director, who will steer it in the direction she thinks best.

    I’m fine with it taking a different tack – so long as it doesn’t go off course.
  6. What do you hope to achieve with Hands Down?
    I wrote the play in response to a trend taking place in Singapore society and mirrored in my circle of friends.Because of the way housing policy is designed, many young Singaporean couples ballot for public housing at a young age.

    When the key arrives some years later, some of these couples – having grown in age and maturity – realise they are not as in love with each other as they used to be.

    Understandably, the sunk cost is, sometimes, perceived as greater than the benefits of backing out of the impending nuptials. These couples end up entering an unhappy marriage, along with all its attendant ills.

    Is there a better way for Singapore to enact pro-marriage policies, while balancing housing considerations in a country with limited land? Or is it a case of mismatched expectations versus a practical reality, when it comes to finding a companion and a life partner? I hope the play gets people to start thinking about these issues – or even finding a solution, if possible.
  7. What are some memorable things theatre practitioners have said to you?
    One common sentiment expressed by many writers – playwrights, poets, novelists, etc. – whom I know: For every play that goes to stage, or every book that goes to print, there are dozens more that remain as unfinished drafts or rejected manuscripts, languishing in the bottom of the drawer.

    The Pareto principle suggests that 80 per cent of an artist’s best output is going to come from 20 per cent of his input. So it could well be that 80 per cent of your time might be spent achieving 20 per cent of your work.

    Having said that, don’t settle for inefficiency. Learn from the mistakes you make, and and don’t make the same mistake again. Better yet – get a good mentor who gives good feedback. It’ll cut down the time you’d need to take to get to where you want to go.

Book your tickets here. If you’d like to, you can read the 2012 version of Hands Down here.

Selling it for what people want it to be

I first fell in love with Cassandra back in 2006.

Then an intern with Pioneer magazine, I had been sent to report on the results of the previous year’s Chief of Defence Force Essay Competition.

It was pretty standard military fare, with ideas centred on whatever was the rage of that post-9/11 and Iraq II age. The first-placed essay, for example, was a paper on terrorism, while the bronze-medallist wrote about peacekeeping operations.

Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan (1898)
Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan (1898)

What caught my eye was the runner-up’s paper – “The Laments of Cassandra: Reflections on Warning Intelligence in the Information Eden”.

As an English Literature undergraduate with a keen interest in military affairs, I was impressed. Officers of that era were not particularly known for their knowledge of culture, especially when compared to their predecessors from colonial times.

The irony of the metatextual context amused me further; a paper on the pitfalls of ignoring prophecies coming in second, almost as though its prescience were itself being disregarded.

Mostly, I was intrigued by the Greek myth of Cassandra. How tragic, the Romantic in me thought. To be blessed with the gift of soothsaying, but to be cursed by never having anyone believe your predictions.

Nine years on, the story of Cassandra still fascinates me. I’ve started to wonder, though, if we should uncritically accept Cassandra’s fate for what it seems to be.

It began a couple of months back, when a contact expressed a view about the nature of communication and recipient receptivity.

In his words, if the recipient has already rejected what it is you have to offer, then:

If you keep selling it for what it is, of course people are going to say “No”.

So in the modern day, where we understand so much more about human psychology, design thinking and the nature of communication, can Cassandra complain if no one believes her, especially when she persists in peddling her prophecies in the same way?

It seems to me that Cassandra has two options:

  1. Carry on with tradition, and hope her recipients see the light one day; or
  2. Reframe what she is saying – instead of selling it for what it is, sell it for what people want it to be.

Perhaps more people will finally start listening to her then.

Three lessons from my 20s

About 10 days ago, a new and younger friend asked me what the 10 most important lessons I learnt in my 20s were.

We were walking to the train station from Empress Place, so I only managed to come up with three lessons before we parted ways.

While sitting on the train on the way home, I realised I really only needed three lessons for two reasons:

  1. These are the fundamentals; you need to work on getting the basics right before working on the rest.
  2. Cognitive load, yo. We can only remember so much, so two to three lessons, objectives, etc. is optimal.

I wish I had known these three things earlier, or at least have someone tell me what to do and how to do it – then I wouldn’t have felt like I was floundering at some points in time in my 20s.

But, hey – better late than never, and I’d like everyone to benefit from this too.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the three most important life lessons I learnt in my 20s:

  1. Value yourself
  2. Set boundaries
  3. Let go

If you have the time, here they are, fleshed out in detail:

  1. Value yourself.
    This is the most important. Read about it in detail here and here.

    If you can’t value yourself, figure out what’s stopping you from loving yourself.

    Perhaps you’re a manic-depressive or you lack self-confidence. Then talk to a mental health professional. It’s OK to not be OK, but it’s not OK to not help yourself.

    Let me reframe this for you: We visit doctors whenever we’re physically unwell, so there’s no shame in visiting a counseller if you’re mentally unwell. Figuratively speaking, they’re both mechanics – but for different things.

    Feeling fat? Exercise and lose weight.

    Friends are messing you up? Stop hanging out with them. Cut them off or don’t meet with them so much. Join activities where you can make new friends who’ll be healthier for you.

    Ultimately, you don’t need toxic people or people who don’t add value to your life to bring you down.

  2. Set boundaries.
    Don’t know how to do it? Google is your friend.

    Your boss is making you work on weekends without compensation (time off, overtime pay, etc.)? Tell your boss you don’t do weekends, and stick to it.

    Or find a new job that values your skill and pays you more, without you having to spend precious “you” time doing work that should be done on weekdays.

    Most importantly, learn to say “no”.

    Again, if you value yourself enough, this will come easily; you’ll be less inclined to commit yourself to emotional vampires or productivity thieves – things or people who steal precious time and energy from you.

  3. Let go.
  4. Stop hoarding that shit already, yo!

    But how do I go about doing that?, you ask. Well, ask yourself the difficult questions you’ve been shying away from all these years, such as:

    • Do I really need to maintain contact with that friend or family member?
    • Do I really need to keep that mug?
    • Do I really need to file away that lesson plan?

    But how do I find the answers to that?, you ask. Well, use this litmus test:

    1. If I really needed it, I’d have used it already (or, in the case of human beings: made contact with that person/benefited from that person’s presence).
    2. If I haven’t already used it, I’m never gonna use it (or, in the case of human beings: contacted/made contact with that person/benefited from that person’s presence).
    3. If in doubt, throw it out.

    So that friend or family member who adds completely no value to your life? Cut her or him off.

    That mug which you haven’t drank from and which you probably won’t use because you have five other mugs like it? Chuck it out.

    That lesson p- What are you doing keeping hard copies of lesson plans when they should be in soft copy and filed away in the folder system GP>2009>Term 3>Week 4>Lesson 1?

Again, there were other lessons I learnt too, such as why it’s important to:

  • Always be closing;
  • Have good role models; and
  • Have a good grasp on financial matters, among others.

But as I’ve always maintained: Focus on the fundamentals and work on the root problems first, before going on to improve the other things.

Hence, remember to always value yourself, set boundaries and let go.

(Background music: “Nothing Better” by The Postal Service)