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.