To set the background-
Growing up, my parents never discussed politics or news or big ideas with us (my sister and I). Their thoughts were always occupied with the present- finances, tuition, other people’s kids etc. When we first started going to church as a family, my parents made us attend the Chinese mass even though it was at an un-wakeable hour on a Sunday morning, because that is the language both my parents were raised in. My mom didn’t start speaking long sentences in English until I was in college and till now, both parents still won’t read any non-church related book that is in English. But my mom knew that reading was important- actually no, she thinks that grades are important, reading is just a side-effect- and so since young we had access to both the public library and the big Popular bookstore at the MRT station. Also, we got books quite frequently- Enid Blyton, Fantastic 5 (or was it 6?), Nancy Drew, encyclopedias etc. And Harry Potter! Love it.
And so that was how I spent the spare hours of my childhood that wasn’t occupied by enrichment classes or tuition, or getting scolded. Just reading, mainly in English. But it wasn’t a strong hobby, so after I got to secondary school, books faded into the background even though I was taking English literature classes. After all, books weren’t real life. Exam grades were real life, CCA commitments were real life. Books were an after-thought, and I couldn’t see a real use for them.
Fast forward to a few years ago, when I started feeling that my inner life was a really barren place. Partly because of my previous health issues, but also partly because I grew up in an environment where emotions and dreams were hidden away and the metaphorical dirty family linen had to be boxed up before visitors, even extended family members, came to see us. My parents and sibling(s) keep things to themselves and it has been that way since I’ve ever known consciousness. I feel like I have a quarter of the emotions that other people have, and the vessel that holds the empathy…molecules (?) seems to be empty. To most things, I am just indifferent.
But I don’t like feeling empty, and hence I read. I want to feel the author’s pain and the characters’ lives, I am better equipped to be a human being that way. With stories and characters, I can imagine other people might feel. For example- losing a loved one to cancer? The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Addiction? Dry by Augusten Burroughs. Anorexia? Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi. Mental illness? The Centre Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks. Adultery? The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. Prostitution? Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino. Family? Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. Perfectionism and relationships? The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. The list goes on and on, but there is a book for everything. It is how I learn my feelings. Through reliving the pain of other people, I am able to see my ‘self’ more clearly. I feel less alone.
Maybe it is a bad idea because I could actually spend my time interacting with humans, but I have, genuinely, a very low interest in human beings. It is difficult for me to approach new humans because most of the time, my brain starts to go ‘mehhh’ during the interaction, and definitely ‘bleurghhh’ once the first or second coffee meetup is over. But being human means that I have to live a life, however boring and dull, and I have to actually work at living amongst other humans. I have to learn to feel, and then to share how I feel with other people. I believe that life is better with social support, with freely chosen commitments to people and causes. Hence books are great- they don’t complain when I have to shelve them aside for a while.
The thing is, I know I am more introverted/loner than most people. But there is no point in me griping about it. I just need to work on it. Right now, I only exist inside my head, and hence I feel out of place most of the time. I never felt that I could belong anywhere properly, without feeling awkward. But as I get older (I’m 23 this year!), I will experience new ways of living, and things will get better. There are always sacrifices, and I believe that I can find peace if I learn to recognize my emotions. Reading helps with that process. 🙂