"Film teaches me what it means to know & not know all at once." (An Interview For You)

I'm so pleased to be featured today on the blog of one of my favourite literary journals, L'Éphémère Review. Here, editor-in-chief Kanika Lawton & myself chat about my first short film, SUPERNOVAin all its wonder & terror, in its loneliness & loveliness, its solitude & strength. Don't miss Kanika's review of the film, also on the L'Éphémère blog, right here. Honoured to have this space to share the soft bright things I am spinning.

Dear Topaz, we are so happy to feature you again at L'Éphémère Review, and are honoured that you have chosen to judge for us for our Inaugural Writing Awards.

It’s a joy to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Tell us a little bit about your foray into film. What are some of the difficulties of translating written work into a visual medium? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using film as a creative outlet?

I find that when I write, there can often be an expectation of instant gratification; I spend an hour writing a poem and during that time the poem is all that exists and then it is finished, for better or worse. This film, though, had so many moving parts that the sort of laser-bright focus—and subsequent quick finish—that I’m used to was all but nonexistent. We spent a week from start to finish creating it, and during that time we were, at any given moment, writing the script and recording the monologue and filming various scenes and revising parts that felt out of place and editing the clips we had and re-filming past scenes and rerecording parts of the monologue that didn’t convey the emotion strongly enough, repeat ad infinitum. If anything, translating my work into film taught me how to slow, to still, to wait. The importance of patience in the process.

SUPERNOVA explores themes of loneliness, empty space, and self-discovery through the use of inner monologue. What was it like to write on such themes, and why did you decide to employ monologue versus, for example, dialogue between two or more characters?

SUPERNOVA put into words many of the thoughts I’ve had about being a highly anxious introvert—yet also, one who loves people, if only in the right doses. That paradox has always been fascinating to me, one that I’ve been pondering for as long as I can remember, and so it seemed only natural to have the ideas present be conveyed through the use of a sort of stream-of-consciousness interior monologue. I’m only lucky that my lovely director, Ishan Modi, saw the vision of this soft and sky-tinged film as clearly as I did and was willing to work with me to make it a reality.

The colour blue is interspersed throughout SUPERNOVA in the cinematography, lightning, and themes. What significance does blue hold in SUPERNOVA, and what importance does colour hold in your work overall?

I honestly adore this question—it’s one I’ve never received before, but the colour blue holds so much significance to me and this film that I didn’t realise until now how much I’d been dying to address it. I have a condition called synaesthesia, which essentially means I see sound and hear colour (among other modes of sensory confusion), so colour is incredibly important in my work. I find that each of the projects I create or have a hand in creating is imbued with a specific colour in my mind.

So when we were working on SUPERNOVA, I remember discussing with Ishan what loneliness means to both of us, and over & over again the colour blue surfaced in my mind. The script of the film, the settings, the costumes, everything we worked on sang something quiet and blue and tender. It was only natural to work that into the film in a very visual way, which Ishan did so much more beautifully than I ever could have imagined.

How did SUPERNOVA come about, from conception, to execution, to final product? What was the inspiration behind the script, and how has this filmic journey impacted your other creative endeavours?

SUPERNOVA was a very interesting project, because it was the first time I’d ever written or acted for film. Generally I publish my work online or in print, and I’d only had experience with performing in open mic settings before SUPERNOVA. This film creatively challenged me on many levels, but I think especially in the medium; it was odd for me to hand over so much of the control to Ishan, and I know he was many times frustrated with my lack of experience in front of the camera, just as I was frustrated with his lack of knowledge on the intricacies of the script! Even so, this creation has had an indelible impact on my writing and the way I collaborate with other artists. Since bringing it to life, I think even more in terms of the rhythm and music of my words; I visualise the way they sing and flow across the page, the colours they reflect, the names they create for themselves. Just as much, though, I’m learning that this work has to go in the hands of my collaborators, that we must hold it up together. It’s a fine intertwinement of silence and sound, and one I’m still trying to understand how to balance.

Softness, or softness with teeth, threads its way through much of your work and your advocacy for independent artists, especially artists of colour. Why is softness so important to you, and how can we employ it in our own work and lives?

I believe that, in times when it would be so much easier to forget all ways of softness, it’s the only thing that keeps us strong. The only truth I know how to fathom exists in that softness—not as weakness, but as power, as defiance, as the first notes in our battle anthems and the fires that keep us warm. Softness exists in so many shades for me, but mostly, it means being kind to the broken parts of ourselves. Making space for the stories of those who are less privileged than we are. Crying hard and fighting harder. Opening to the ache. Remembering how many debts we owe and retaining that gratitude always, always. Keeping our eyes on the horizon even when the smoke threatens to overtake everything in sight.

How has film impacted your life, both as viewer and filmmaker?

Film teaches me what it means to trust (in the process, in myself, in my co-creators, in the gorgeous and impossible belief that somehow all of it will turn out okay and we will create something beautiful out of the mess). It teaches me what it means to listen and to watch and to laugh and to yearn and to mourn and to stretch. Whether I’m viewing or making, film teaches me what it means to know and not know all at once. That’s a feeling I don’t get enough of, and one I never want to stop chasing.

Thank you very much for spending time with us today, Topaz. We wish you all the love, light, and warmth in the world.

Thank you infinitely, dear friend. I hope your day is gentler than rain.




p.s. please do share with me in the comments… what did you think of SUPERNOVA? p.s.s. it was just a kiss & six impossible things reader survey & love letters for more

In This, a Revolution (How I Am)

I am not quite sure where or how to begin writing this letter, to be honest. So much has happened, beautiful & terrifying & ugly & tender, since I last gave a life update. It's only been a few months & yet it feels something closer to a lifetime.

How am I, then? I am tired & restless all at once. I am hurting & whole. I've made mistakes since we last spoke that I'm not sure I will ever know how to remedy, & I have done things that were difficult & necessary & not wrong at all, & slowly I'm learning the difference. My ears have been flaring more than usual, & so I have, by association, been listening to lots of music.

This, friends, is how I am.

Perhaps we know each other already on social media. If so, you'll be aware of the news already, but I will share it here once more: I wrote a new book. It is called poems for the sound of the sky before thunder, & it contains around 35 poems about hurt & hope & healing, & I am so proud of it, & I can't wait for you all to read it. It's being published by Math Paper Press in November at the Singapore Writers' Festival. More details to come.

This is how I am:

excited for this book that has proven me wrong so many times & held me up so many more, but also wondering whether it truly matters considering all of the horror happening in this world of ours. Perhaps that is an uncharacteristically morbid statement - & really, deep down I do believe the act of creation matters more now than ever before - but still I cannot seem to shake the thought.

Even so, I have been consuming so much art that is funny & soft & subversive & inspiring & makes me believe there is still light glowing in this place for us to hold, & I thought you too might like to partake in it. Here: Hank Green on tolerance & forgiveness ("Hate is easy"); 11 Ways that I, a White Man, am Not Privileged ("I'll just sit down, would you like to fill in the last one?"); powerful photographs that speak so deeply to race & power & class ("So let's do our part to get an honest, compassionate conversation going, in which people feel heard and we all learn something").

School has begun again, & it is my last year of high school & therefore of living in Singapore, & I've been thinking lately about what the future holds for me & the world. My therapist & I have agreed that we will try to wrap up our sessions together by the end of this school year so that I might go to university only on medication & without the need for therapy. I have healed so much since we first met & the thought of saying goodbye already makes me sad, though I know it is for the best in the long run.

I participated & won my first poetry slam while I was in Virginia participating in UVA's Young Writers' Workshop. I am endlessly thrilled to be able to put that in words, & even more so to share the slam videos with you soon, soon, soon.

This is how I am:

trying to hold people closer. Tell my friends I love them, & hang out with my baby sister more often, & cuddle with my dog, & write more letters to loved ones across the seas. It's helped cut through all of the horror & darkness life sometimes seems to be drenched in. So many people have given me so much & I never want to forget the beauty in that.

Speaking of beautiful people... my small community of Patreon fireflies is steadily growing, which pleases me to no end. I would so love if you joined us (they have known about the new book for months now, & are also in the know about many exciting new projects that I cannot reveal quite yet).

A few fun things that have made me smile lately: this incredible photographthese gorgeously diverse models.

In case you missed it, my small sad poem "I Start Crying During the Best Part of the Film" was published in Rust+Moth. Do have a read. More poems are forthcoming from Reservoir Literary, Cosmonauts Avenue, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Tenderness Yea. I quite like most of the pieces & am so honoured that these publications have offered homes for them - & of course I cannot wait to hear your thoughts.

I am a poetry mentor for this year's Glass Kite Anthology Summer Writing Studio, & working with all of my lovely mentees, critiquing their pieces, helping them discover new literary frontiers, makes me endlessly happy. If they are the future of poetry, then we are in good & loving hands.

This is how I am: paying attention to the music of the body.

This is how I am:

I met a new friend a few weeks ago who cares a great deal about Star Wars. I have watched all of the Star Wars films on his urging, & I'm pleased to report that I too now care a great deal about Star Wars.

For all my lovely writers in the room, have you read this article? I found it so refreshing & wonderful.

Here is shocking/incredible news: my short film SUPERNOVA has received quite a few more accolades. We were an official selection in the Laurie Nelson Film Festival & Newark International Youth Film Festival, shortlisted in the Best Sound Design & Best Young Filmmaker categories at the My Rode Reel Film Festival, & I received the Overall Best Actress award in the Singapore International Student Film Festival. How lucky I feel to have had some small part in creating this soft spinning blue thing.

There are so many atrocities shaking the world to its core. These days I am sometimes afraid to wake up & check the news because I know, deep in my marrow, that yet another horrible thing has happened overnight. Because even if only for a few minutes, I yearn to postpone that aching.

But also there is hope, & there is wonder, & there are sunsets, & there are odd facts inside the caps of Snapple bottles, & there is this haunting song, & there is this earnest Instagram caption, & there are these ethereal bubble portraits. Yes, there are people filled with hate, but also there are people who remind you to take your medicine. There are people who move snails into the grass instead of leaving them on the sidewalk to be stepped on. There are people who make cookie sandwiches & laugh like they've never once been lonely.

This is how I am: holding good things to the light. Making sure I don't allow them to be drowned out by the cacophony.

Something I have been trying to keep in mind over these past weeks...

There is hope for us yet, & in this hope, there is a revolution. There must be.

No matter what, we must not go gentle.

So: this is how I am.

And you?

A Sudden Painful Joy (How I Am)

It is May now, & we are nearly halfway through 2017, which astounds & tickles me. This time of year is rain on windows & sudden sun at the moments we least expect it, clouds trickling in & out at whim. We are transitioning between the hot & rainy seasons here in Singapore, all these shades of fickle-tender wonder.

This is how I am.

Half Mystic is gearing up for our third issue, around the theme of nocturne. Issue III is full of so much shadow, but also - somehow, in the oddest & loveliest & most unexpected places - light. I am thankful every day for how much this small journal & its hardworking team & contributors are teaching me, & I hope that you too might let it into your life this summer. I would be so delighted to send it to you for sweet-sticky summer nights ahead.

This is how I am:

Anxious but well. In love with so much I do not understand how to put into words. This feeling terrifies me, & I think perhaps that is why I must hold onto it.

I am so pleased to share that the gorgeous Euonia Review published three of my poems.They are pieces that you have probably read before if you are not new to my small corner of the internet - "Lovesong to the Coming Storm", "Quell", & "The Sun's First Gift to Her Lover" - but before now they did not have a home beyond the blog, & I think this one is a beautiful place to keep them for always. Have a read, if you are so inclined.

My baby sister has gotten into brush calligraphy. She is astonishingly talented at it, & my engineer parents who cannot tell Picasso from Plath from Kahlo from Kafka now have a poet daughter & an artist daughter. I have a feeling this is not what they thought they were signing up for when they had children. ;)

I did an interview with my dear friend Michelle Tudor for The Wilds. Here is where you may take a look. It is short, but, I hope, worth the read.

Something I believe more than anything, deep in the bones where the soul lives: this world can & will & must get better. We are nothing & nowhere without that belief, so I will not let it go.

Related, a blog post I adore, shared with me by a beautiful Shadows of Cats reader: "I must remember that my track record for surviving bad days is 100%."

This is how I am:

My tiny film SUPERNOVA is out now, was shortlisted for a film festival, & is garnering so many stunning reviews from those who have allowed it into their lives. (From Debra: "It's a masterpiece." From Kaylin: "I've been following you since 2014 and I can safely say this is the most beautiful thing you've created for your audience, ever. I watch it over and over." Please excuse me while I cry.) Lydia Eileen wrote a review/essay of the film on the Half Mystic blog that is far kinder than I may ever deserve, & Kimberly Hoyos of The Light Leaks did a small interview with & profile of me as a writer & actress in celebration of the film's release. This creation that means so much to me is reaching hands across the world that hold it soft & true. For that I am so grateful.

I have been taking many long walks lately, sometimes with Hachii & sometimes without. The rain comes & goes. My chest aches with sadness, but even still it feels good to breathe in with no promise or obligation of anything else.

A bit of bright news: I received first place in the high school poetry category of the University of Virginia Writer's Eye competition, with a new lil poem called "So, Stranger". Also: I received the editor's choice award in the 2017 Brain Mill Press Student Poetry Contest for my poem "When My First Boyfriend Learned I was on Anti-Psychotics, He Laughed & Told Me He Always Suspected I was Crazier than I Let On" (which will be shared on Six Impossible Things very soon!), & I was a finalist in the same contest with my poem "Dream Sequence". Such a joy & honour.

Two things that have made me laugh (full-on-belly-ache-little-aftershock-giggle laugh, the best kind): math problems for English majors & the one sentence that makes every book better.

This is how I am:

Trying to be kinder.

This is how I am:

My baby sister's foray into brush calligraphy has rekindled my own interest in typography in all of its forms. This essay on the subject is absolutely fascinating; I could not recommend it enough.

Currently I am reading Emma Donoghue's chilling, swerving novel Room, as well as the utterly flawless latest issues of a few old favourite literary magazines - Issue 8 of Wildness by Platypus Press & the May 2017 issue of Thrush poetry journal. Recently watched: the documentary Minimalism (dir. Matt D'Avella, 2015) & the classic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (dir. Miloš Forman, 1975). Alas, I did not greatly enjoy either despite their generally high reviews, so I am hopeful my next watch will be a bit better. Listening to this lil playlist - which is slightly all over the place, but at least filled with honesty.

"Quarter-moons. Violets. 1960s French pop songs." I did an interview with Black Lawrence Press' Sapling newsletter on the creation & curation of Half Mystic; you can subscribe to the newsletter right here to have a read.

Some days it is hard to remember self-care, but I have been focusing recently on eating three meals a day & drinking eight glasses of water & sleeping before 11pm. It is simple & (in a funny blue-soaked sort of way) healing.

A few lovely destinations around the web... noise machines to calm the anxious among us; a beautiful way to make a difference with your everyday purchases; gorgeous traffic light artwork; a short film that made me cry unabashedly in front of my computer screen.

"I believe that, in a world that consistently pushes us to toughen up & sharpen our edges, the truest defiance is in softness." I did an interview with the wonderful people of Cicada magazine, & I must admit that I am still pinching myself. Cicada was such an inspiration to me as a child & played an enormous role in shaping the writer I am today, & to be featured by them is a dream come true. Read my interview here.

People are so beautiful in so many ways, & some of those ways are foreign, & that does not make them any less beautiful. I am trying to notice that. To remember it.

Do you ever read something that makes your soul let out a deep sigh, as if it has found something real & shining that understands it completely? This quote from T.S. Eliot did that for me recently: “This is one moment, / But know that another / Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy.”

I can think of no greater privilege than to keep searching for sudden painful joys. Even through the sadness & the anxiety & all those fogs.

This is how I am:

Yesterday I went out for a walk just as the sun was setting, & I stood on the sidewalk & watched all of the old men doing tai chi in the field across from my house, the small children falling over each other & discovering their own souls, the dogs sniffing street signs, the runners inhabiting tiny pulse-pounding galaxies, the sky roiling & singing & turning inside out to find a name for itself, & I breathed it all in, & I thought to myself: the universe is so large & I am so small. And for the first time in a long time, that thought brought me not fear but wonder.

So: this is how I am.

And you?