Part Three of my thoughts on The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan

This is the grand finale, because it is also the last few chapters of The Opposite of Fate, which means that I can then move on to her other novels. Reading this non-fiction piece about her intentions as a writer was interesting because I usually read fiction as a standalone piece. I don’t know anything about the writer’s socioeconomic background or why she writes, I don’t know the inner struggles or how much hard work it took to produce a novel. The below paragraphs are about the responsibility as a writer that Tan takes on, which is that she remains loyal to her private worlds, and as readers, we have to shoulder the mantle of responsibility to think and digest works for ourselves. We cannot rely on authors to spoon-feed us their opinions and their experiences because that would be propaganda, that would not be fiction.

The assumption is that the writer- any writer- by virtue of being published, has a responsibility to the reader. According to this ethic, the writer’s musing, his or her imagination and delight in the world of make-believe, must be tamed and shaped by a higher consciousness of how the work will be interpreted – or rather, misinterpreted- by its readers.

When his turn came, he swaggered up to me, took two steps back, and said in a loud voice: “Don’t you think you have the responsibility to write about Chinese men as positive role models?”

I told him, “I think you have the responsibility as a reader to think for yourself.

 I never thought about it that way. I always thought that the reporters and bloggers and novelists had to produce wholesome content, or at least content that is real and not completely biased and skewed towards their private worlds. Because a lot of people don’t think when they read, they are impressionable (okay I’m talking about myself ah) and their emotions can be controlled by one or two sentences.

The phrase that stuck with me ever since I read Pandora’s Curse by Jack Du Brul is “Never again.” It refers to the period of the Holocaust and how the horrors will never be repeated again. When I read it I had to pause for a bit to recollect all that I know about the extermination of Jews, and the after-effects of the concentration camps. I wanted very badly for justice to be carried out against those who did not feel remorse, even though I am not affected in any way by that period. I was reminded of propaganda and how a country could turn against its people, in modern terms it would be ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Emotions, hidden motives of the author, the influence spread across all the readers, but yet the author has no responsibility to make the book more wholesome. The onus is on the reader to read widely, and to do more factual research. Because there is no standard that says that Amy Tan has to portray China as a more progressive country than it actually is, and actually in The Opposite of Fate there was a part about cannibalism and in-breeding in rural villages.

Ladies and gentlemen, please. Stop asking, “What am I supposed to feel?” Why would an adult look to me or any other writer to tell him or her what to feel? You’re not supposed to feel anything. You feel what you feel. Where you go with it is your responsibility. If a writer chooses to aggressively let you know what he or she feels, where you go with it is still your responsibility.  

I can only suppose that if writers were responsible for people’s thoughts and for creating positive role models, we would then be in the business of writing propaganda, not art as fiction. Fiction makes you think; propaganda tells you how to think.

Pastor L was the preacher for the sermon today. The title was “The Diary of a Wimpy Pastor”. He spoke about how it was difficult for him to preach to his father (in the last legs of his life) because as children we depended on the approval and validation from our parents since we were young, and evangelising to a non-believer often results in both rejection of the message and also the messenger. He also spoke about how all his friends are now successful career men, and he is the only one who is doing God’s work and not drawing a very huge salary from his job.

It is a fearful thing to have nothing to show in your life, that you have come so far but have no title, no business, no grand scheme that you are leading. For non-believers, where do they go to find love and respect, or basic human recognition, if not for their careers? What the world recognizes is usually money, power, youth, or good looks. Doing good and being a philanthropist is usually in addition to manning a thriving business, that portion of ‘corporate social responsibility’ that is mandatory for all large corporations. But being called to be a missionary or to do God’s work by being a pastor, to love one another, means risking looking insignificant in the eyes of the world.

What you do with your careers will only be one part of the whole of your lives. Your thoughts, your evolving answers to the important questions, are what will give you interesting lives, make you interesting people capable of changing the world.

Pastor L also said something that reminded me of my mother. “Doing Christian ministry to gain importance”. I thought to myself- why do I participate in DG and serve in children’s church. It is 8 hours a week, including travel time. Why do I bother? Is it to be important, to have something to say “oh sorry I have to serve I can’t make it for lunch.” Or do I genuinely want to serve? I think with my limited experience of serving so far, I can’t say that I understand where CC is going. Because I have only seen a few lesson plans and a few arts and crafts, how can I say that my work is important in the larger scheme of life and humanity and Christianity? But I do know that they are shorthanded (if you can imagine 15 toddlers and not a ratio of 1 toddler: 1 helper in the room lol), and if there is a calling, there I will go.

It doesn’t matter that I am not the world’s greatest singer, I can still do the hand actions. I can give out cheerios, I can wipe the hands of kids with wet wipes, I know where the stickers are located, when to keep the toys. I know the names of kids and when to pass them the water bottle. That’s enough, for now. The recognition I get from kids is a bonus! Hannah hugged me today before she left! And it was her first day there too 😊 I don’t need to prove to anyone that I am worthy of love or respect just because I work in a certain industry or have certain skills.

My “career”, a few years down the road, will make me instantly recognizable. Like hey, which company do you work for? What’s your line of work? My side hobbies too- it’s instant friendship- oh you go for 9am service? Me too! Or just the background, the English, whatever. But what I really pray for (when I pray, I often forget lol) is to be in sync with God’s will. Because I only have another 60 odd years on earth, I really do not want to waste my time on things which are not important. By the way art is important to me, I’m going to spend more time doodling and investigating the types of watercolour paints haha.

You will have that dream in which you have to take the test, but you will not feel at all unprepared. You will be able to see the questions and say, “I’ve been thinking about the answers for a very long time, and here they are.

Success is not how many people I bring to church. After all, as long as someone understands the message, it doesn’t matter how they react because we cannot control other people’s reactions. I would say that success is me putting in my best foot forward when I choose to commit to things. Following God to places when I am scared, and wishing that I am a better person with less flaws. By the way I am fucking scared to be an adult, I really don’t think I have enough brains or stamina to work continuously without school holidays. I don’t use vulgarities very often now, so if you see an f word in this blog it means that it is a big concern. A vehement statement from a sloth.

Love,

Me.

Part Two: Living with eczema as an adult.

Things which helped me get through the 2.5 years of eczema/food allergies/bad health. I have zero photo-taking skills so I’m appropriating the photos from the internet, until I have more enthusiasm for photography. All photos are of the exact products that I’m using/have used.

Skin care!

Tea tree oil, my favourite kind is by Thursday Plantation but I suppose any brand of tea tree oil would work! You can mix with water or other carrier oils for a nice room scent. Just don’t spray it on laminated wood surfaces because it leaves an oily stain and my mom always complains.

Tea tree cream, for the itchy rashes at night. I leave it in the fridge because the hot weather in Singapore causes it to turn into a white/yellow liquid. Still usable, but oily. The selling price at Watsons/Guardian is really marked up, so don’t buy from there unless you can’t wait for shipping.

8887501030192_0300_1_1459242905207

Oatmeal baths! Use a sock to contain the oatmeal, fill the tub up with warm water (not hot, although I know it feels good, sigh.) and let the oatmeal goodness turn your water milky. Do remember to rinse it off and don’t clog the drain up with oatmeal bits. I got scolded a few times lol. If you don’t have a bathtub, just use a food processor and blend the oatmeal really finely. In the middle of your shower, mix it with water and leave it as a paste on your skin, and then gently rinse it off to avoid irritating your skin. It’s okay if you add too much water, after a while the oats will expand 🙂

Aloe vera gel, to cool down the skin and to calm the red patches. I reapply it whenever I wake up during the night to scratch ): I’ve tried several versions of this, I find that Lily of the Desert feels a lot harsher on my skin, although it do look more authentically aloe vera. It can turn yellow sometimes, and smells very natural. For Fruit of The Earth, the bottles retail for >SGD$25 at Watsons, but it’s about RM30 per bottle in JB.  I would recommend the Korean ones (Nature Republic and The Face Shop) for those with really sensitive skin, it is a lot less viscous i.e. easier to apply, and it dries faster too. There’s a welcome side effect of scar lightening after prolonged use. There are gels with snail mucus mixed inside but I would not recommend it if you are trying out aloe vera for the first time.

DMASMAKYO5YF.jpg

Lavender room mist. I get mine from Mt Sapola. I think it’s really pricey for a normal lavender room spray, but hey I like their packaging HAHAH. Cheap- okay not cheap- thrills. It’s a conditioning exercise for my brain, whenever I smell the mist I know it’s time to sleep.

MIN_108480001_SWA.jpg

Vaseline. No one told me that Vaseline heals open wounds! When the rash has scabbed over, and there’s no more pus, make sure the area is clean (no dried blood etc), and then apply a thick coat of Vaseline. The wound will heal A LOT FASTER. Dude I was so mad when I tried it out by accident and I realised that it healed my rashes really quickly, I was like “you mean I could have avoided my scars?!” It’s something to do with keeping the wound protected and moist, like how tattoo artists will wrap the tattoo with cling wrap and tell you to heal it that way.

Okay but word of caution if you like to sit on floors like I do. It can be difficult to clean because of the oily texture. Also, try out a thin layer before slathering it on, just in case your skin suffocates and reacts badly to it.

41gPZCkD8+L._SL500_.jpg

Hiruscar – for the tonne of scars I have from chicken pox, falling down, eczema, heat rash etc etc. My skin is very sensitive, a blood donation bruise can take two weeks to fade. Bleurgh. I don’t think they work, or maybe that’s because I heal very slowly in general. Tofu once asked if I was diabetic lol.

p_550x550

Lucas papaw ointment – I think I just like the packaging lol. Does it work better than Vaseline? I don’t think so. But the texture is a bit sticky, so you don’t require as much because the coat stays on for very long. However it is also a lot more expensive than Vaseline.

91ryf5TErGL._SX522_

Crocodile oil – I started using this for my chicken pox scars, and then my mom bought an extra bottle (about $80-100 per bottle, depending on the brand you buy) so I thought why not apply it to my rashes too. I hate the smell, it is really authentically crocodile and fishy. But it works well on large patches, it has this calming effect on my skin so it doesn’t itch as much. One thing about the bottle is that my first bottle had a faulty pump, it got really messy towards the end when I had to tilt the bottle to get out the remaining oil. And the bottle is quite heavy.

By the way- TCM has medicine to stop the itch. It’s all plant derived, although it’s really disgusting in terms of aesthetic and taste. No one ever instagrams Chinese medicine, lol. My arms are healing really well now that I have only maybe one or two spots of itchiness per night, and I don’t scratch as much. That said, I don’t trust my body, so my nails are always clipped super short.

Hair care!

I don’t know if my hair is related to my health, but I used to have pretty nice hair up till year 1 of university when it got really dry and frizzy. I also bleached it twice, but I did like 3-4 Olaplex treatments and regular Aveda treatments so I don’t know why it’s still dry ): Anyway, these are the hair care products that doesn’t cause my scalp to overproduce oil/dandruff.

Right now I am just trying to finish all my hair care products- the only one that I would repurchase is the Secret De Nuit, I think it is my third or fourth bottle. Cause it has a lovely scent haha. But the bottle is really heavy ): It retails for $78+ at Robinsons I think, sometimes there are discounts at Watsons if you buy multiple Phyto products. For Klorane, I love the chamomile scent!! I started using it when I was blonde/yellow but I’m still using the same brand now 🙂

Good foods!

I bought all my food off iherb- I used to shop at Brown Rice Paradise and other similar nature food stores, but it was all really expensive. Plus, iherb delivers free to your house. I stopped shopping there when I could eat most foods, roughly around September 2016? I forgot what my iherb discount code was already, go find your own lol. They usually have a minimum expenditure for shipping but I normally buy in bulk, so shipping costs weren’t a problem.

 

Enjoy life chocolate is sold at cold storage and various organic stores, but it can go up to $3.50 at some places. Not the best chocolate, but it was allergen free so I ate a lot. That’s where I spent my pocket money ): I considered buying a box off iherb but they don’t ship chocolate to some countries/certain months, so I had to queue up at cold storage, sigh.

The gluten free soy sauce– redmart or the supermarket at Kallang Wave mall! It’s about $5, good buy haha because it pairs well with salmon and potatoes. I couldn’t eat condiments for a long time, this soy sauce saved my life.

Brown rice pasta– it is my favourite brand! I used to buy 5-6 packs and eat it daily, because I couldn’t eat noodles. Even sushi rice (had vinegar, which had gluten) was an issue for me. It is exactly as it says- it doesn’t turn mushy even after over-boiling it. But as I am typing this I’m eating char siew pau lol.

P.S. Eczema is a life-long journey, because I know that I will never completely recover. I know that I have to be more careful around dusty areas (construction sites etc) and watch what I eat (no shellfish!!). And monitor my periods and stress levels. There are a lot of triggers, but I am just keeping it cool and doing what I can to maintain my skin for now.

Love,

Slothy

Part Two of my thoughts on The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan

I want to start writing fiction. I don’t think I’ve ever tried, unless you count PSLE essays as fiction. “Alan saw a spider and it was big and scary.” But I’m also scared of the responsibility of fiction. That I can’t write about taboo topics, even though I don’t think there should be a limit on what one writes, because I am not allowed to write about sex or lust or anything that is non-Christian. The pastor once explicitly said that none of us should be reading or watching Fifty Shades of Grey and I thought, “ok that means I definitely cannot contribute to literotica.com. What a shame.” Fiction to me is a way to expressing everything in my head. All the thoughts that people don’t speak aloud, the anxiety of waiting for a pregnancy test result, the ambivalence when I really want to murder someone but I also want to keep him alive because I want to torture him slowly. Cutting off bits and pieces of his skin. I guess those aren’t normal thoughts.

There seems to be an expectation that as a Singaporean writer who writes fiction, it has to be Singapore fiction. About laksa and chicken rice and living in a HDB flat. Things that are very local. And if you are a Chinese writer, you cannot portray your culture as being backwards, but you still need to stay within stereotypes or else you won’t be authentic. To me, humans and animals are not restricted to certain geographic regions or cultures. If there is a character in my head who is a heavy smoker but also a conjoined twin and Russian, even though I know nothing about Russia, but just saying, then I would have a difficult time imagining what the character does. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t write things that are true. There are universal emotions- regret, anger, annoyance, shyness. I know these feelings.

So, yes, I was aware that Hollywood might look at The Joy Luck Club as a proving ground.

That’s a terrible burden, especially when you’re just trying to create your own vision and not necessarily right past wrongs, or set the record straight on the history of China, or break down cultural barriers, or open film job markets for other Asian-Americans, or put every single stereotype to rest once and for all. If we had set out to do all those things, we would have been looking over our shoulders all the time, running scared, and would have been unable to make a movie that was personal and intimate, that had more to do with universal emotions than specific cultural concerns.

Universal emotions, and not specific cultural concerns. Perhaps I should write something to do with boredom. “Constantly empty-headed, browsing Youtube to look at pretty girls, and then panicking whenever deadlines are due, that empty feeling in her chest when A does not reply her text messages.” Would that be very relatable? I can imagine writing things which are honest and true- a story about how “S has a friend whom she’s jealous of because the friend is prettier, richer, more well-mannered, and everything that she’s not, but she would rather be with the friend than without, because at least she can be with a popular person. It also is in line with the saying, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

The second time I saw it, I told Wayne: “I want you to remember this day. We’re going to get a lot of different reactions to this film later. But I want us to remember that on this day, you, Ron, and I were proud of what we’d accomplished. We made our vision.”

“We made our vision.” This applies to entrepreneurs and writers, painters, musicians, rain-makers. Whatever your vision is, go and do it. You will never know what will happen. I tell myself this often, but that doesn’t help in creating my ‘vision’. But can you imagine the joy and sense of fulfilment to finally say, “fuck, we did it. We made it. Look at how far we have come! Despite everything.” And then you take the life lessons to make a second movie, a third, a fourth. Going further than anyone else you know. I want to know the journey, the uphill process, the late night crying sessions, and the creating.

I chose an unnamed goddess while writing my then untitled second book. I didn’t think it was good manners to ask her for anything as crass as good reviews and placement on bestseller lists. And anyway, if she was anything like my mother, my goddess had never even heard of The New York Times. In the end, I asked only that I be able to write the best book I could, and that no matter what happened to it, I would have no regrets, no sorrows. I called my statue Lady Sorrowfree and titled the last chapter after her. I titled the book The Kitchen God’s Wife, which was how she was known, as the wronged spouse of a wandering husband. I gave her offerings of airline mini-bottles of Jack Daniel’s.

I don’t worship any statue or have any ritual for expressing my thoughts, because I am not supposed to worship any heathen idols or use images which are not Christ-like. But whatever works, works. I am glad that Lady Sorrowfree answered her prayers. Because if The Joy Luck Club remained as her only (good) novel, it would have been extremely painful for her. I can’t imagine the fear and doubt and self-reproach, that cat in my head telling me “knew you weren’t good enough, now the whole world knows it, why did you even have to try?” And year after year of writing, “told you that you can’t make it even after fifty years, just relax, go and do something else, like playing the piano.” The silent reinforcement when magazines stop calling for interviews and for the rest of the author’s life there is just this drought of publicity and muses. Better to be talked about than ignored, because at least there’s something to discuss.

I asked him what it would take to prove that his life meant something- a medical discovery, charitable work, children? It’s not too late, I said. You can still choose to do things differently. Eric underscored the false simplicity of my words: “It’s not that simple,” he said.

I thought about Eric’s spiritual malaise, a common unease that plagues many from time to time, the longing to be special, the fear that one is not. I’ve had the sense that what I do is ultimately meaningless in the larger context of humanity and its pain and suffering.

I don’t understand the part about how it is not that simple. Eric is an anaesthesiologist who works for plastic surgeons, which means he has a lot of money. Is it possible that when you reach a certain age (he was hitting 40), you forget everything that you wanted to do as a child? Or that you find meaning in your work and you like it very much, but you still know that it doesn’t matter in the larger context. If a doctor dies, another one will take his place.

There’s always someone waiting in the wings, and that is how it is with 99% of occupations. Unless you are a creative (photographer, writer, dancer), or there are many ways to deliver your work (teaching, volunteering), your work will not be unique. What happens then, what else can you do? And if one is 40, that’s half a life gone. The question is- when I am financially independent, will I continue to do what I have done? What have I learned, who did I love? Or will I regret. I think I won’t know the answer until I am 30 or 40, it is too early to know what I love when I am 23.

And I remembered also how I didn’t want to hope too much, knowing that those hopes might turn into almost unendurable pain. In spite of what I didn’t hope, the pain was still unbearable, a void so empty, so completely without meaning that it made me hope our existence did not end with the last breath and heartbeat.

Remember my previous post about Pastor C and his sister? If there is no resurrection after death, then all we have is the last goodbye. I don’t think I can bear that. I want my work to mean something.

What are ghosts if not the hope that love continues beyond our ordinary senses?

This paragraph taught me how to see my mother as a whole person. I think my love for my parents is genuine, but the adolescent years might have gone by much more smoothly if we were able to communicate well.

I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mother’s “limited” English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say. that is, because she expressed them imperfectly, her thoughts were imperfect. And I had plenty of empirical evidence to support me: the fact that people in department stores, at banks, and in restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her.

My parents grew up in Chinese-speaking families, and they are also familiar with dialects. My dad can also speak Malay and a little bit of Tamil, depending on who he is around. But my mother started being a housewife when I was born, which meant that her social circle was limited to the parents of my friends in primary school, and a lot of them are also Chinese-speaking (I have been in Chinese speaking schools my whole life, lol). She only started responding in English to me when I was in my late teens, and only at the start of my university education did she become confident enough to serve as a volunteer in English sermons and hospice visits. Did I feel that she was a second-class citizen because she could not speak English? I don’t think I did, because the majority of people in Singapore can understand Chinese. Communication with other people was okay, but communication with her own children was poor, because her two kids are lazy ass millennials who can only understand, but can’t speak it well.

The irony is that both my parents speak without the Singaporean accent because they listen to mostly American/Chinese priests, and when I am presenting my projects etc, if I am nervous, I was told that I sound a bit ang moh. It’s not fake, it’s just my nervousness pushing through. I literally sound like my mother.

Ask the important questions. What makes a story worthwhile is the question or questions it poses. The questions might be: What is love? What is loss? What is hope? Those three could take a lifetime to answer. My story is one answer. Your story is another.

At the end of my life, I want to say that I have known love, loss, and hope. I have known what it is like to struggle, to really struggle, for what I want to accomplish. And I might not have succeeded at all, maybe even disgraced myself because I don’t have the ability. I can’t control words or bring the people in my head out and watch them come alive on paper. I might lose the ability to trust myself, to move forwards, I might not care for humans at all. But at the very end, I hope that there will still be hope.

Part One of my thoughts on The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan

41ii8MEnTEL._SY445_QL70_

TL;DR: This book is a curated version of her life experiences from the past 30+ years of her writing. While I personally do not believe in ghosts, Chinese fengshui or coincidences, I do believe that Amy Tan’s experiences are real and they leave a mark on her writing. Also, I love her style of writing, her sense of humour, her quiet humility about being published late in life, her past with her family members and friends, her willingness to share how difficult it is for her to write. I love how she observes things and but does not force lessons on the reader about life as a minority race just because she is the author. Best of all, she is not a snotty person. She does not try to interpret the works and intentions of other authors, and more than once I found myself smiling because she has a ‘I protest, I am not dead yet’ attitude whenever people try to interpret her work. Because they always read too much into it 🙂

This is going to be a very long post, because I dog-earred a tonne of pages. I hope I drank enough coffee to get through this.

Starting with fate.

And later, I discovered that maybe it was fate all along, that faith was just an illusion that somehow you’re in control. I found out the most I could have was hope, and with that I was not denying any possibility, good or bad. I was just saying, if there is a choice, Dear God or whatever you are, here’s where the odds should be placed.

I am an adult now, as near to adulthood as one can possibly get without actually having a salary. I was thinking to myself- am I really meant to record my life on here? Maybe I am just meant to live a faulty existence, with lots of sporadic and wild one night stands, a failing career as an administrative assistant, and lots of books piled up at home. Was it the guiding hand of fate that made me turn to reading and writing when I was miserable in JC, and then a terrible boss at the law firm that made me decide not to do law in Australia, and then miraculously, doing HR, meeting all sorts of human beings, which further contributed to the amount of thoughts in my head, which is proportionate to the amount of words I write. Was everything just to remove the years that I learned as a child- that money and prestige and power matters a lot more than how I felt about the work I did- and to push me towards creating slotherious, in the hopes that one day I will be good at creating content. If so, it was a very long journey.

I still have hope, and I have kind of learned to embrace possibility. That sometimes things will go very, very bad. For example, my skin sucks on alternate weeks, the wounds from TCM take at least a week to heal. But sometimes it is great, and the cycle of impermanence teaches me that it is always possible that things will change. I don’t have a lot of faith, but I am now a stoic that things will be okay in the end. When I am 80+ and toothless, I will understand my journey.

In the next instant, I was aloft once more, weightless. Relieved but still puzzled, I wondered again how I could be flying with wings that cost only a quarter- and abruptly, I was falling again. But I was flying a second ago, I said to myself. And immediately, I was aloft… At the instant I realised the meaning of the dream, Pete spoke: “And now you see, it’s your belief in yourself that enables you to do what you wish.” With that, the dream ended.

I have two main fears and self-doubts right now. The first is my health, both mentally and physically. I don’t think I can take a lot of strain, and I always try to push through the milestones like exams, presentations, interviews, projects, because I know that I will be able to take a long holiday afterwards. But in the adult world it is different, there are no two-day work weeks with a two week break afterwards. I am scared of being anxious, I am scared to be sick. And my fear adds on to my ill health, the way my stomach contracts and my heart beats faster, I recognize those symptoms and I think to myself- “ok this is it, but instead of a week of hard work, it will be a year”. How can one not fail to thrive under such self-prophesying circumstances?

Another self-doubt is with my social skills. I was a team leader for some math camp in secondary 2, and I sucked balls at it. Totally screwed up, my team was unhappy, and it was only a one day thing. Since then I have never participated in any camps, apart from the mandatory secondary school camps. But the thing is I am not a bad leader for group projects, it’s just that I tire easily and I have no interest in group bonding, the process it takes for the team to get to the end goal. I just want to reach that final goal immediately. If I want to be a better manager in the future, I have to learn to be a leader first. And with that, I have to learn to like humans.

But if I left the doctoral program, what could I do instead? What could I do that was worth anything to anyone, including myself? I could see nothing.

She struggled with self-worth issues too, and eventually chose to leave her doctoral program because it was ‘a worthless appendage’. I read it and thought to myself. What am I doing that is worth anything to anyone? Am I helping to heal the sick? Am I contributing time or energy to other people. What about myself, am I taking care of myself? There are some days where I feel like I am just doing and everything is urgent and important, but I cannot see the final goal. I don’t know why I am doing what I do, but I know that I have to continue.

0a2a3252cff81f49d5708f3c273677ff.jpg

I learned to play, to discover what made them laugh, what they could not resist watching or touching or reaching for. I found myself observing not deficits but the qualities of souls.

To be honest I used to wonder at why to-be moms decide to keep the pregnancy, especially when there is a high chance of a birth defect or autism. I thought to myself, why? You can have a much more stress-free life without that kid. You can have other kids. Other possibilities. You don’t need to spend the rest of your life worrying about the needs of your child and whether or not he is happy and cared for, you don’t need to plan your retirement around him. And then I grew up and I saw a clip of a blue-collared worker, a kindly looking uncle who takes his son out for a trip on the weekends. That kid has down’s syndrome and he is quite old, in his late twenties, but the uncle was so happy that his son was happy. Just wheeling him out of the facility and touring the parks.

I am not mature enough to understand life within limits, I still believe that I can do whatever I want. I can move overseas in the future, I can marry a Belgian chocolatier, I can have transsexual surgery. I don’t understand commitment or love. But when I look at parents with special-needs children, I feel like I can understand at least 10% of their love. That they chose their burden to carry. It is ‘my child’, and not ‘an autistic child’. Perhaps it puts things into perspectives, that your life has meaning because your child depends on you. And that you can find freedom and happiness within your limitations, maybe you are content with what you have, and you appreciate life more than those without the same burdens.

I imagined myself giving birth to a baby with congenital birth defects, maybe a crooked, blurred, waxy face. Cleft lip, very little hair, breathing issues, and maybe even autism. Pictured myself saying ‘I’ll stay with him’. Because he is mine, and I think I have space in my heart to love even the ugliest child, as long as he is mine. He didn’t choose to be that way. And even if he isn’t mine, I think I will love him still- because all babies are beautiful to me. I don’t get along with kids older than 3 though, can’t help that.

Over the next five years, I had opportunities to work with more than a thousand families, and from them I sense the limitlessness of hope within the limits of human beings. I learned to have compassion.

And on her dreams, which were life lessons in disguise.

I still puzzle over what Pete’s story presents: what I fear, what I dream, what I believe. I ask myself: What’s real? What’s important? What do I gain in believing one reality over another? What do I lose?

I went for the meditation retreat at the start of May because I believed that it would possible to find another world within myself. I thought I could be a loner and celebrate being alone, so completely alone that I would start hearing my heartbeat when I walk, because there is nothing else that I could notice. I believed that being a loner was unique to me and that I could create my own reality and ignore everyone else. I thought I could go deep into my heart and dig out all the old flaws and memories and experience a new me. Calmer, wiser, more independent. I did not find that world.

I think I have realised, since the 3rd of May, that I do not need to go within me, because what is inside of me has already been turfed around so many times it’s like a burnt roti prata. There is no point in rehashing old memories, there is nothing more to find. What I need, I already have in my present. I need to go without, to find out what is the happiness that comes from other people, to find out the joy of helping others, of forming lasting social circles. I believe that being alone is important, but learning to go outside of my loner comfort zone is also important. And with these beliefs, I will act differently. I am in fact acting differently, there’s children’s church again tomorrow!

On receiving offers of other people’s autobiographies-

Most of the offers are sincere. I know this. Most people don’t even want the fifty-fifty split. They just want me to tell their story, and they need a writer to put the words down in a way that others will understand. They want people to know what they have been through. They want witnesses, because it’s lonely to go through life with your heartaches. They are people who believe that they can find some sort of redemption, if only their story is told to the world, if only they can get it off their chest.

Redemption is an interesting word, because ‘finding it’ makes it seem like there is an external place that gives out redemption. According to google it is defined as “the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.” For Christians it is God’s grace, Christ coming to die for our sins so that we may be redeemed. For secular believers, it is other human beings. Or maybe just ourselves. Forgiving ourselves for being that sort of a loser in the past, and cringing whenever we remember small details of what other people said and how we acted. We were young, stupid, carefree. And aimless.

I see redemption as the last step before hell- any version of hell, our individual worst nightmares- when we have nowhere else to turn and would like to grasp at straws to save us, because any sort of salvation is better than nothing. It might be the thousands of dollars pilfered from safe, the lies we told, the third party sex. Or maybe nothing at all, and just redemption from being an existential blank space. To be told that ‘I’ matter, and just as much as other people. To believe that someone, somewhere out there, can love us, even though we have done horrible things. Sometimes confession is the best way to get things off our back, so that we can sleep better.

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

 

Love,

Slothy

Even angels long to look into these things. 

I was reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I read the part about smoking dope (marijuana) and how the character, unnamed, would prepare for the bong party, alone. He would vacuum his blinds and clean out his room and prepare drinks and food for the four day long stay within his room, because once he starts smoking it he can’t stop, but whenever he starts he promises that it is the last one, and he will have the discipline, the endurance, the will to stop all further dope smoking. He will not purchase dope, he told all his dealers to cut him off, and he will smoke so much that it causes him to be sick and hence he will be pavlov-ed into not being able to smoke anymore in the future. True to his word he always throws away his bong when he is done, he never goes back to the same dealer, and hence he always feels that increase of anxiety and shame whenever he buys a new one or lies to a new dealer that he is buying it for his friends. Because he made a promise to his self that he will not do something, and his future self always breaks that promise. A cycle that never stops because there is no reason to stop. 

It really reminded me of my JC days, the guilt that I shouldn’t be bingeing on food secretly in my room, and the anxiety rising because I am not supposed to be able to eat whatever I want, the thoughts of not being able to control myself and pleasing the people around me by being the person they prefer, thinking about consuming food in large quantities, and that secretive preparation- like a worker ant building a room- buying of food, borrowing of library books or endless scrolling through tumblr sites, not cleaning out my room beforehand because I know that all the food wrappers will clutter the area and I will have to do a mass clean out of my room afterwards. The firm closing of the door, ignoring everything but food and the entertainment of choice. In Wallace’s book he mentions interlace cartridges. For me, it was just short, readable stories, or videos, or movies- anything that didn’t require brain cells and would not disrupt my hand to mouth food delivery mechanisms. I still remember the way I bought food- sometimes I would buy the three food groups from the same place- the carbohydrates- pretzel sticks, biscuits, never bread, bread is too soft, but Delifrance baguettes were passable, and then the salty, the savoury, chips, chips, lots of chips, and the sugary, the ice cream in a small tub for easy access, the chocolates, the marshmallows, the strawberry yanyans. 

It was exactly like what Wallace described. That preparation, the hopeful sense that this will be the last time, but deep down, uncommitted to anything but that wild freedom. Or maybe I shouldn’t call it wild, because I was quietly controlled. It was the freedom to shut the world out for at least a good three to four hours, if not a whole day, because my stomach would be distended and I would be in a food coma would last the whole day, until I got hungry at breakfast again tomorrow. It was a sense of calmness, that anything and everything could happen and I would be untouched, until the food ran out. I was at the centre of my own world and nothing could disturb me. Food coma triumphed over biology essays or chemistry revision. 

I can’t remember when my last binge episode was but it should be back in 2013. I returned to normalcy in end 2013, and for the last two years at least I might have overeaten some foods- chocolates definitely, or fried chicken, also definitely, but never have I again experienced that sense of anticipation of a binge. Not just anticipation in the way we wait for a bus, that solid daily life routine, but a slightly headier anticipation, the way we wait for a quiz result or the confirmation of good news. It had a bit of fear in it. 

Wallace’s writing brought back those memories to me, I didn’t think I would even consider eating large amounts of food while reading, now, rationally I know it makes no sense. But his writing…let’s just say that Infinite Jest so far has made a very deep impression on me. That is what I would like writing to be. Not a plot that I think as ingenious, or a plot that makes me cry because it is so damn unfair to die at the age of three, but a character whom I can identify with. The character’s feelings which I can take to be my own, because i can understand that worry- What Do They Know, What Does She know, Why Am I Such A Fuckup? A character or a paragraph that makes me think- ok, I can feel this. I will continue feeling this for the next few hours. 

Reaching out to his readers through a work that was published in 1996, finished in three years, across languages and oceans and time zones. Hats off. If I had any hats. AND I ONLY JUST STARTED READING. There are a thousand pages, literally, in Infinite Jest. This is going to be good. Damnnnn. 

(My posts will be shorter from now on. I am posting from my mobile device.) 

Thoughts on: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

I finished reading Jeanette Winterson’s “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” I was expecting a happy autobiography, after all I had never read any of her books before and the photo on the cover of the book was of a really smiley child holding a beach ball and looking like she is enjoying her day out. What I got was instead a travel back in time (this is exactly why I like books), connecting me to her childhood and all her layers of insecurities that she carried into adulthood as an adopted and unwanted child. Unwanted because her adoptive mother was a strict Pentecostal Christian and had a fond way of loving Jeanette, by locking her outside the house and in the coal hole. Winterson was given away when she was six weeks old, to a family that looked alright on paper but was all sorts of weird in real life. She only found closure when she wrote Oranges, and became famous, and decided to find her birth mother when she was finally ready.

Her memoir reminded me of Augusten Burroughs, the alcoholic writer- they were both raised by trying mothers, both relied on literature and writing to get them through hard times, and both had a difficult education. Winterson managed to get to Oxford although she fared very badly before the A-levels, and had to work at the markets and live in her borrowed car (the Mini) because she left home when she was 16. Burroughs didn’t even get a formal university education, and he wrote that he had spelling mistakes in his copywriting when he first started sourcing for jobs.

Both survived and thrived, and left their past …I wouldn’t say behind, but it is not the main part of them. Both are not using the names they were born with. And both are homosexual, and happily (currently) married to their respective partners. When I look at both authors and their works, I don’t see brokenness, although both did consider (and attempt) suicide. I see a lot of bravery, of human imperfections and fuck-ups and cat scratches on the skin.

The parts of Winterson’s novel that spoke to me were about decision making and the bible, and how her mom was passive-aggressive and how she was a ‘working-class experiment’ in Oxford. It’s not really about how she was adopted or even her homosexual acts. For example, I really liked this bit.

I am not entirely happy about that, but when I did live with someone, and for thirteen years, I could only manage it by having a lot of separate space. I am not messy, I am organized, and I cook and clean very happily, but another presence is hard for me. I wish it were not so, because I would really like to live with someone I love.

I just don’t think I know how to do that.

So it is better to accept my not quite adjusted need for distance and privacy.

I am exactly the same. While I love people, I really, really, really need to live alone. I can accept housemates, but not roommates. And the house has to be of reasonable size, I need my space to roll around and do stupid dance moves. I just can’t relax around people, even my parents- I don’t like it when my mom sits at the same table as me when she is doing church accounts stuff. Not because it is church, although since a few years back the only thing my mom does/reads/talks about is church, but because I don’t like a human being to be in such close proximity. I love babies and dogs though, they are the few exceptions to my “NO ONE SLEEPS IN MY ROOM” rule. If the babies have exceptionally well-groomed hair, then two or more are welcomed.

Also, this part:

Sometimes you have to live in precarious and temporary places. Unsuitable places. Wrong places. Sometimes the safe place won’t help you.

Why did I leave home when I was sixteen? It was once of those important choices that will change the rest of your life. when I look back it feels like I was at the borders of common sense, and the sensible thing to do would have been to keep quiet, keep going, learn to lie better and leave later.

I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.

And so she packed up, got into her car and started her new life. She had her girlfriend and her books, and that was enough for her.

Living with life is very hard. mostly we do our best to stifle life- to be tame or to be wanton. To be tranquillised or raging. Extremes have the same effect; they insulate us from the intensity of life. And extremes- whether of dullness or fury- successfully prevent feeling. I know our feelings can be so unbearable that we employ ingenious strategies- unconscious strategies- to keep those feelings away. We do a feelings-swap, where we avoid feeling sad or lonely or afraid or inadequate, and feel angry instead.

I have a tendency to work and work and not feel, because feelings complicate things. Hence, I (used to) block people online and delete everything, and throw away all my old diaries etc. But I still can’t walk that line between remembering and keeping. I remember, it is part of me- I am made from all the bits in my past. But I don’t want to keep those memories, let them be gone so that I will have space for new memories. I also don’t know what my working style will be like when I do eventually start work. There will be new people, new bonds to form, new ones to break and leave behind. Typing it out makes everything seem orderly and superficial, but in reality I will be carrying around pockets of emotions again, ready to hide them and sit on them so that they won’t affect my work.

Freud, one of the grand masters of narrative, knew that the past is not fixed in the way that linear time suggests. We can return. We can pick up what we dropped. We can mend what others broke. We can talk with the dead.

Winterson’s pain reminded me of what I watched earlier, on youtube. My newest obsession- her real name is Kristyana Truong, she is a Vietnamese American.

Peachyanas is a really honest and straightforward person, and she admits that she is selling sexual pictures to make money, to fund her long-term goals. That’s respect. I would never be able to do that, even if it delays my goals. Because I am just a really private person, I don’t want any part of me to be floating around on the internet for other people, guys and girls alike, to see. Go to her youtube account, and don’t judge her based on her Instagram photos alone haha. I love her body and her face, plus her makeup skills are really good! Sometimes she goes a bit cray but that’s fine for me.

She mentioned something that I went through last year- when I felt that I was just faking extroversion and being happy at my internships, when internally I just didn’t feel good. But I wanted other people to like me, and I wanted to impress other people. After all I am a human being living amongst other human beings, I have to at least smile when I meet people. But I knew that I wasn’t being genuine and the longer it went on, the worse I felt, because I felt like I couldn’t stop and I didn’t know how to get back to the person I was. Like there was Jessica at home, being a bit dazed from the day, and Jessica at work, trying to make it through the day. And a thick glass wall in between the two.

I am a little scared of the adult world i.e. when I start work in July, I won’t be able to take breaks like I am doing now, I won’t be able to refine my ‘mask’ because I won’t have school holidays. Hence I’m reading a lot now- it is called bibliotherapy, or the art of using books and stories to resolve mental and emotional issues. It’s not like I have any issues to resolve, and it’s odd because the books recommended online for anxiety and self-esteem, I’ve read them, like ‘The Elegance of The Hedgehog’ by Muriel Barbery or ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ by Milan Kundera and I don’t feel that they are very relevant at all. But anyway, they are sitting on my bookshelf so I’m going to re-read them before work starts. If anything, I can memorise quotes to keep my brain occupied on the train.

I’m going to finish reading The Book of Joy by tonight and then return to the library tomorrow to find the other books recommended on the bibliotherapy website. The Book of Joy, while highly recommended by other Buddhists, is really boring for me. Sigh. I can’t seem to read it, and I usually can get through books quite quickly. But anyway. there are customized bibliotherapy services, where you fill out a form and then consultants tell you which books you should be reading. But frankly I think books speak to everyone differently. I never, ever understood 1Q84 although I’ve read it I think 2-3 times. Maybe I need to do like 10 times for each book that I do not feel for. But then I would never get through my bookshelf, LOL.

Happy times are great, but happy times pass- they have to- because time passes.

The pursuit of happiness is more elusive; it is life-long, and it is not goal-centred.

What you are pursuing is meaning- a meaningful life. There’s the hap– the fate, the draw that is yours, and it isn’t fixed, but changing the course of the stream, or dealing new cards, whatever metaphor you want to use- that’s going to take a lot of energy. There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realise that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else’s terms.

The pursuit isn’t all or nothing- it is all AND nothing.

 

On the unanswerable questions in life.

instagram trial.png

I was just thinking about how some things in life are unanswerable, and sometimes I don’t even know if I am asking the right questions. My question would be- does it matter whether or not there is a true religion, could the world just exist without any religions? And be guided by ways of life that everyone can agree on. Like love, compassion, and forgiveness. Then people who choose to live in different ways- homosexuals, estranged from family, alternative jobs etc- they could live peacefully without that mental pressure that overwhelms people when they are different.

But I guess pressure is also good. Art and creativity thrives in dark times. If I was happy or content all the time I wouldn’t write, I wouldn’t want new experiences. I would just stay in my little comfort zone surrounded by Krispy Kreme outlets and consider my day to be good as long as I see five beagles strutting around.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/05/15/focus-wendy-macnaughton-courtney-martin-poster/

Reveal the fierce urgency of now. Reveal how shattered we are, how capable of being repaired. But don’t lament the break. Nothing new would be built if things were never broken. A wise man once said: there’s a crack in everything. that’s how the light gets in.

this is your assignment.jpg

I finished Buick 8 by Stephen King last night. I particularly enjoyed this part.

As for his questions and his childish insistence that the story must have an ending and the ending must hold some kind of answer, time might take care of it. Maybe I’d been expecting too many of my own answers. The imitation lives we see on TV and in the movies whisper the idea that human existence consists of revelations and abrupt changes of heart; by the time we’ve reached full adulthood, I think, this is an idea we have on some level to come to accept. Such things may happen from time to time, but I think that for the most part it’s a lie. Life’s changes come slowly. They come the way my youngest nephew breathes in his deepest sleep; sometimes I feel the need to put a hand on his chest just to assure myself he’s still alive. Seen in that light, the whole idea of curious cats attaining satisfaction seemed slightly absurd. The world rarely finishes its conversations.

For some parts of my meditation retreat, I was thinking about all my cravings and aversions. I want to live alone, independently wealthy (i.e. debt free from my parents), and not have any attachments to the world. My aversions would be people thinking poorly of me, not doing well in my chosen field, all the petty grievances that occurred as far back as I can remember. Primary 5, secondary 4, junior college, university. Things that I did or said to other people, and things other people did or said to me. Memories slowly float upwards (100 hours of thinking time and breathing slowly) and I started to realise how much baggage I was carrying around every day. Positioning myself to be seen in certain ways etc.

By the end of day 4 I think, or day 5, I was starting to feel a lot better about my skin. Partly because it got better, but also partly because I was able to see it for what it was. Usually when the rashes are fading they will leave a pale pink scar, or reddish-brown, or purple in cold conditions. I usually see it as something to be covered up which is difficult because Singapore’s weather is so darn hot sometimes. But after a few rounds of meditation I think I saw the marks and scars for what they are. They are just literally, marks and scars. It’s not what makes me feel bad, the cause of my negative feelings is because I dislike having those marks and scars. It is my reaction to them that makes me feel like hiding at home all day long.

But those are still superficial things- memories that are in my head, or things that I’m grappling with right now. It is said that when one source of pain goes away, another one comes up. And what used to be painful can become tolerable, and then accepted after a while. The bigger questions in life, like where is all this going (no one knows) and what am I doing right now (also, no one knows). To relax and enjoy the rhythm of life and to ask- “du iz tak?” Or, “what is that?” Is it a green sprout, or is an alien child? Or just nothing, nothing at all. Life can be as slow or as fast as you want it to be. Continually living in the present, or continually looking forward to the future, hoping that the years pass faster and one will finally be 30 and accomplished.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/08/du-iz-tak-carson-ellis/

My posts on this blog are mostly ramblings. I don’t know how to explain my feelings other than trying to write them out. Maybe in ten years this will be a depository of thoughts, the in-betweens of life when I am waiting for something or moving on from something. It is a lovely feeling, to know that the important moments of life are either captured on your resume, or on social media, or in diaries. All avenues of recording memories are covered and I can try and see the world in more ways than one. No fixed way of expressing myself, continuously experimenting.