Why I write, May 2017

TL;DR: When I am sad, I write. It helps. Marginally. 

Writing helps me to deal with my inner thoughts- the layers of thoughts in head- my habits, my patterns in life. For example, my extremely private and egoistical nature, that I grew into since childhood. It is a skin that I learned.

As a kid, it was difficult for my mom to raise me, with health issues and being spoiled and what not. It was also difficult to be raised by my mom, an overly competitive tiger mom whose priority in everything seemed to be ‘do not let others know you are not good enough’, from my weight to my wrinkles and the number of As I got for PSLE. She appeared to be open and friendly, but was extremely private. There was always this fear of public failure in her, which manifested in many ways- from not letting anyone know I was the bottom of my class in primary school (near the bottom at all times anyway), to not asking the neighbour for help with the light switch when the power circuit broke one day and my dad wasn’t at home to help.

She wanted the best for me, but she also didn’t know how to teach me properly, so like most Asian moms she would compare me to the highest achieving classmates and ask me why am I not like them. This fear was learned through childhood and even up till the first semester of university. My mother’s fear- not of failure itself- but of public failure, it was one of the few constants in her.

My mother also loved me and did many, many things for me, I am grateful. She is still my mother who would sit next to my bed even though the hospital provided her with an extra mattress on the floor, just in case I woke up and couldn’t see her. She is still the mother who made breakfast, packed recess food and delivered lunch to me every day in primary school. But her anxiety rubbed off on me in the past twenty odd years and now, I am trying to get past that fear of not being good enough. 

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With my writing, I am definitely not good enough. Which is why I am putting my writing up on a public domain, not editing any of the paragraphs (hence the occasional odd phrase or weird structure), because I want to track my progress over the years. I want to go from not good enough to better, not yet, and almost getting there. I guess what they say about nurture and nature is true. I am the product of my parents’ teachings and their genes. But I don’t need to remain as ‘me’ for the next fifty years of my life. I can change. I am learning to nurture myself, to have a growth mindset and to change my environment so that I am surrounded by good influences and people who think positively.

A while ago, I had a dream about ultimatums. I was reading books about dharma and my mom threw them away when she found out, because she is also a staunch and narrow-minded catholic. This is the same mother who told me that donating my organs under the HOTA of Singapore is against her catholic religion. I still don’t know where she got that bit from, given that the catholic teachings are about love and compassion and not keeping your body in one piece so that you can have safe transport up to heaven or something. I told my mom that I am just interested in the learning process, and she went nuts about how I am converting to being a non-believer and how I am making a huge mistake. I didn’t say anything- after all, what I can say in the face of such a staunch and unmoving belief? (She has a poster on the fridge that says “how old is YOUR church”, because she believes in only the Roman Catholic church.)

Frankly, now I understand why some people stay on in cults for so long. It is because they were born into that environment and after five or twenty years they no longer know how to survive outside of that environment. Everyone in my extended family included, and the friends of parents, and even my neighbours- they are all Catholics. It is the society that I grew up in, since primary school. I need to know what the outside world is like. I don’t know what it is like to have non-religious family members. I don’t even remember what it feels like to live without the shadow of God behind me. As an adult, I am trying to make my own decisions, but even so- it is difficult for me to shake off my past and my ingrained habits and ways of thinking. So, I thought to myself- how? How am I going to start an independent life, unsullied by my parents’ way of living, while living in the same house as them. How am I going to process my thoughts in an unbiased and peaceful manner?

And that is also part of why I write. Because with writing I can explore all the things I learned, I can record them and I can see my train of thoughts running on the train tracks. I can see them for what they are, untied to any culture or philosophy. Words are words are words. Letters of the alphabet. Black ink on proverbial white paper. I don’t need to align myself to any belief with my writing.

Writing helps me to see how pointless some things are too. Instagram is like a pit for jealous thoughts- she has such a flat tummy, why is he so good looking, why is he hanging out with her?? Sometimes when I see the photos of someone I know/have a crush on it feels like I have a ball of unhappiness stuck in my throat and I know, it’s a stupid idea to view all the photos your crush is tagged in. But curiosity killed the cat, and the satisfaction of writing will bring it back to life again. With writing, I can write “it is just a social media platform for people to put their photos up so they can show other people how much they enjoy life. No one puts photos up that diminishes them or makes them feel sad. What you see isn’t the whole story, it isn’t the whole person, and why the fuck are you stalking your crush to make yourself feel worse?” I write/scold myself back into reality.

And lastly.

Writing, creating, art, anything. It is a form of building. As Muriel Barbery in ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ puts it,

But if you dread tomorrow, it’s because you don’t know how to build the present, and when you don’t know how to build the present, you can tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it’s a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today, don’t you see?

So, we mustn’t forget any of this. Absolutely not. We have to live with the certainty that we’ll get old and that it won’t look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it’s now that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. Always remember that there’s a retirement home awaiting somewhere and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity.

That’s what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people.

As a child I grew up with layers of insecurities about everything. highly unattractive, I know. I was always afraid of punishment, because my mom would cane me whenever I screwed up my tuition work or my exams. I remember once I was really impatient and I wanted to eat the gem biscuits- the ones with coloured icing on top- but I haven’t finished the Fabian Ng math assessment book, so I decided to flip to the back and reverse-engineer the workings to the questions. The thing was, I knew that my mom would get suspicious and realise that I copied the workings, so I decided to mess the workings up a bit. She found out anyway and I got smacked thoroughly. It wasn’t just sticks and sticks, there were carrots too- I got a red star sticker for every successful thing I did, like finishing a chapter particularly well, and I think it was 15 or 20 stars for a MacDonald’s large fries. After swimming lessons, if I had hit the requisite quota, I would be munching on fries while my sister had the normal food.

Maybe I was just born a people-pleaser, but the carrots and sticks back in primary school, and then sometimes secondary school, made me want to colour within the lines. I started wanting to get things right so that I could get rewards or avoid punishments, and I didn’t focus on the process, only the end results. A part of me still fears getting a bad grade because it is a bad grade, don’t you see how wrong it is to get a bad grade? It means that you are a bad person. But a part of me wants to create things. I want to write about the animals in my dreams, the bird people who share consciousness, even though I cannot explain how. I don’t want to do things that have already been done, and I don’t want to do them because I am trying to please someone else. I don’t want to know the end-product before I even start.

To write sincerely and soulfully, that is my goal. Not now- maybe in ten or twelve years. I am still a snail starting on a long journey.

Hugh-MacLeod

(Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid.com)