When I was growing up, I dreamt of being many things but the one that still sticks to date is wanting to be a writer. You know how some kids think about what kind of pop star or athlete or scientist they’d like to be, well, I wondered what kind of writer I’d be. In the early stages of this fantasy, I wished to be Enid Blyton who wrote Noddy and a few years later I wanted to be Enid Blyton who wrote the Famous Five. This was followed by a brief delusion of wanting to be an Apollo astronaut, which lasted an embarrassingly long time. Then the Harry Potter books came into my life so I obviously wanted to be the next J K Rowling. This fantasy also lasted a very long time. To be honest, it was active until a few years ago when I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire. This was when I realised where the Harry Potter books actually stand in the fantasy genre. No offence, Miss Rowling gave me some of the best years of childhood fantasy but my over-confident young adult ego was grandly mistaken about the entire genre. I don’t blame myself too much though, I didn’t know better back then. Now I read epic fantasy and know why the name is fitting. And no, I don’t want to be the next Robert Jordan (who is featured heavily on this blog recently, if you’ve noticed), I’m not that delusional.
Before I get to the kind of writer I want to be I must mention the Jane Austen phase. It didn’t come about when I first read Pride & Prejudice or Emma even. The inkling to follow in Miss Austen’s footsteps came upon me when I read Persuasion, undoubtedly her most mature work. I was lost not only in the plot, but also in the nuances of her storytelling and her first-class talent of writing complex and complete characters. I wanted to write like her so much that I started writing letters to her. I never posted any of course, I’m not a weirdo, and she’s long dead so there was no where to post them, really. But I did write quite a few of them in, what I thought would’ve been, a style pleasing to her. They all began with “My Dearest Jane”, as though we were sisters separated. I would write to her in a very honest manner about my health (and enquire about hers), my work, about any gentlemen who were courting me, any impropriety I’d experienced and other Austen-ite things. This one-sided correspondence was one of my most memorable attempts at being the type of writer I wanted to become. Once it was clear that I had none of Miss Austen’s eloquence or mastery with prose, I stopped writing to her regularly. Yes, I say “regularly” because I still write to her occasionally. I understood my limitations, I didn’t stop being “a little bit strange”, as I’m referred to by my friends.
So, on to the type of writer I want to become, the answer is the Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling type. I want to make you laugh and think “Oh yeah, I’ve been there”. I want you to feel warm and comforted without weighing too heavily on your intellect. I want you to feel like you’ve understood me a little bit and think that maybe I understand you a little as well. I want to give you a glimpse of what’s in my head. I want to certainly discuss a few serious issues but I don’t want to take you down the deep and dark recesses of my psyche (I’m saving that for a psychiatrist who will need to get his own psychiatrist when he’s done therapising me). I want to be this writer because there is a part of me that believes this might be an achievable goal. This is my “I’m not eating chips for 15 days” rather than my “I give up chocolate for a week” because as we all know, chocolate is basically addictive and it’s not our fault that we want it so much. I’m not saying that I won’t try my “give up chocolate” gig, that will be my attempt at a young adult fantasy series. That’s still very much on the cards. But for now, I will try my hand at Fey and be happy if I end up with something even slightly close to Kaling.
It usually starts around the first week of December when that one over-excited annoying friend pops the question, “What plans for New Year’s, guys?” If you listen closely you can hear a thousand grumpuses like me roll their eyes. “What’s so new about the year, anyway?” we ask ourselves. You’ll make the same resolutions as last year and break them before you can even plan them. The parties will suck as they inevitably do. I hear you disagreeing with me here, and let me tell you that you are wrong. Think you had that one epic party in 2005? It’s because you’ve probably forgotten the horrendously loud music, cold food, warm beverages, sweat, excessive body contact, piercing shrieks at midnight, or the throw up you definitely saw somewhere near the dance floor/bar/flat balcony. Considering that around 90% of the New Year hype is about the parties, that’s a pretty poor show.
The few sensible ones among you out there will say, it’s not about the party, it’s about the actual New Year—the beginning of something new. Well, that’s at least an acceptable way to look at it, I think. But bear with me for a second and let’s think of it as a restart rather than a start. That way you don’t discard your past mistakes, failure, etc. Instead, you make them a part of the journey. Because let’s face it, there are times when we all need a reminder of that one embarrassing day when we drank too much in front of people we wanted to impress and ended up with memories we wouldn’t want to discuss with our mums.
A restart also means renewed hope and faith. Faith that you can be better this year and hope that you manage to pull it off. That’s quite nice, isn’t it? Now if only I could manage to forget how this same new hope can be a crutch quite a few times, I’d be sailing calmer seas. But calms seas usually indicate a lack of adventure, or warning of a gathering storm, and I guess we wouldn’t want either of those things. So, fine; go on with your pointless parties and useless resolutions. But also remember that this is a restart with renewed hope and faith in you. Sail those rough seas because you can and want to. The shore will find you eventually, if you don’t manage to find it first, that is.
I know I’ve gone from complaining to some sort of sailing metaphor but that’s just how things go sometimes.
I have possibly been more involved this year with a fragment of a dead man’s imagination than I have with any real person (barring my biologicals). I’m referring to reading The Wheel of Time series, nothing weird. I’ve also realised that maybe that might not be very acceptable anymore. What if this version of reality is the only one I’ll experience in this life? What if those book characters really aren’t going to magically appear in front of me? What if the only dark lords to defeat are the ones in my head?
What if the optimists are delusional, the realists are too hopeful and the cynics are the only ones who’re right?
I haven’t been here in a while. I was chasing dreams that evaded reality. I’m hoping to be this elephant:
© Eric Dufresne
The latest episode of HBO’s Girls (S03E06) really struck a chord with me. I generally find myself relating to Hannah’s stories but never has one struck so close to home as this time’s. For those who haven’t watched the episode yet, please note that this post contains MAJOR SPOILERS. So, please stop reading now. For those who’ve seen the episode (or don’t care enough), I beg your indulgence for a while. In this episode Hannah gets a job as an advertorial staff writer for GQ magazine. She ends up being surprisingly good at the job and her peers even think she could someday replace their boss. This immediately sets off warning bells in Hannah’s head and she argues that she, unlike the others, is a “real” writer, and is only doing this job as a temporary gig. Her peers knock her off the pedestal she placed herself on, and enlighten her about how they’ve actually been published in better publications than her, took up this job as a temporary gig themselves, and are quite definitely “real” writers. This is when Hannah feels these people have been sidelined from their dreams by the lure of corporate comforts, and agonised over not wanting to end up the same way. She quits but then is convinced into reconsidering by a peer who tells her she can do her personal writing on weekends and at night. The episode ends with her coming home, wanting to write, but being too tired and simply falling asleep.
It’s like they picked up my life and adapted it for this episode. I’m at a job that was supposed to be a “temporary gig”, for almost three years now. I thought I’d write on the side and maintain a blog and figure out what I really want to do, while working 9 to 5. I’ve barely done two of those things and I haven’t even done those regularly. On the show, Hannah is concerned that the money and the corporate perks will hold her back from quitting at a later point. I feared this as well. However, that’s not what will hold Hannah back later. I know this now because it struck me after watching that episode. It’s not the money that’s keeping me from pursuing my dreams and it’s not the perks. It’s the fear of not being good enough, or rather, capable enough to successfully follow my dreams.
I haven’t quit my job yet because I like the money or anything. I haven’t pursued my dreams because I’m afraid of failing at them. At this point, I don’t need anyone to tell me I’ll succeed, or give me an inspirational speech. What I need, and Hannah will as well, is a push. I need someone or something to come along and shove me over the deep end or else I’ll just be stuck here admiring the view off the edge. Scratch that. What I really need to do is make the jump myself.
I recently completed a course in Social Psychology and amongst the many interesting things I learned, one came to mind today: the Self-serving Bias. To put it simply, the theory of self-serving bias implies that once we hold a certain belief, we will look for evidence to prove that belief rather than seek to disprove it. Isn’t that natural, you might think? Well, yes, it is, but it can lead to problems when left unchecked. We may at times hold certain negative beliefs that might later cause us problems, change our relationships, or affect others. Thus, social psychologists simply suggest that when it comes to certain beliefs, say for example, you’re introduced to someone new and you are led to somehow believe this person is boring, it would be better to look for interesting aspects of this person’s personality rather than dismiss them as someone you’re not interested in. You might just end up making a new friend, rather than shrugging someone off based on an unfound belief. After being made aware of the self-serving bias, I regularly try to question my judgements. This has turned out to be a useful exercise, however, sometimes I’ve found myself explicitly searching too hard for disproving evidence. This happened recently in the case of some friends that I had side-lined from my life. I was left wondering if I had made the wrong decision, if what I had believed about their behaviour was too harsh a judgement. I could think of many arguments against my decision to keep them aside, but I realised that I could find even more arguments in favour of my decision. I looked to the friends I had kept, and it was so easy to see that I had made the right choice. So, I’m glad I took the time out to question my beliefs, it showed me that what I had done was in fact the right thing to do, and wiped out all doubt from my mind.
If you are reading this and were not aware of the self-serving bias earlier, I hope you’ll try to keep it mind now on. It could help you save a friendship, or help you get past one.
You could see blue skies from my window. I remember. I would take a break from work, turn my chair to the sun and gaze at the vast expanse of blue spreading endlessly across the horizon. It would occasionally be dotted by green; green trees. I remember. But no more. Now there is only sleet grey. Grey of buildings. And black dots of human beings silhouetted against the glow of their living spaces; “homes” they call them. These buildings, these “sky scrapers” are a solution to humanity’s problems. I know. But they scraped my blue sky away, and made inspiration a little out of reach for me. Unfortunately.