WRITING

The remains of my many childhood journals are in various stages of decomposition in landfills in at least four different countries. I have preserved very little, and what I have kept I cannot bear to read. Nor for the most part can I make out the handwriting or the knotted thoughts I was trying to unpick underneath the writing. As an adult, if I take pen to paper, it’s generally in response to some other symptom that can only be sweated out, purged in whatever metaphoric fever I find myself fighting. Some may call this inspiration. 

The thought of leaving out a journal that could be read, (judged, really) – childish scrawls, ideas shallow and new, shocking punctuation et al caused me to panic-rip pages and dispose of them immediately. My subconscious regrettably came to some sort of conclusion that I wrote in order to be read and therefore all my words had to be read-y.

It’s embarrassing to think about now. As though every sentence I wrote began with a shot from the muses’ well, as though folk would be interested in again, the diaries of a _child_, whatever success I would go on to have in later life. Is it any less self-indulgent than your average aspiring writer?  Perhaps even on-the-nose considering my particular poison is poetry. Thankfully, this writing-to-be-read feeling didn’t last. If it did, I doubt it would have ever moved beyond a feeling. 

It took me ten years to publish my first poetry collection and I have a blog that averages one post per quarter on a good year. This is hardly the behaviour of a rational person who primarily writes to be read. Having actually experienced the pleasure of having my work published and read – even taught (!) I can confirm whilst thrilling, it was not the motivation behind the work. It’s clear now that wanting to publish a book so other people can read it, is like wanting to get married just to have a wedding. To abuse this metaphor further, I find that just like a dress that may not fit years later, there is a stylistic statute of limitation on a piece of work too. This is likely the main reason I will always write. To hear what I sound like, on the outside. It is not elegant or inspiring and is hardly less self-absorbed – but I feel a little bit better that it doesn’t presume perfection, or even an audience.

For years I would chide myself for not being prolific enough. Being a part of a spoken word community helped maintain the habit on a good day, and produced bad poetry on a bad one. I would often grasp at whatever was happening in my life at that time, ram it into the shape of a poem so I could show up on a stage and prove I had something to say, which is in itself the quickest way to say absolutely nothing. Then I would edit it within an inch of its life and find the thing that caused the poem in the first place. Sometimes, several years later. (This is why I have a particular distaste for poems that are forced to rhyme. A natural rhyme is wonderful, a forced one conjures images of a baby straining against a swaddle – parents are told it is the natural order of things, contrary to the wailing evidence in front of them.)

I also loved the extra-curriculars afforded to a writer. Reading feels like a side-hustle, participating in literary events, long conversations dissecting books, performing my work, workshopping with other writers, writing reviews and generally having a space to talk about all the parts of life we have collectively dog-earred. This also serves as a brilliant distraction from writing, and when I grew sick of reading the same poems out loud over and over again, it eventually became the fastest one-way ticket to imposter syndrome.

It’s been a couple years since my first book came out. I have made some big swings in my personal life, shed miles of skin – real, metaphorical, other – and needed to lie down a lot. I am no longer a part of a wonderful spoken word community as this is now on the other side of the world. The pandemic has meant that my goodbyes here sort of petered out, no dramatic farewell, just life that had to be gotten on with. 

The pressure to write is gone. The good kind is always within reach, but I am glad to let go of the bad kind, which would often detract from the point of it all. Some of this has to do with having scratched that childhood itch. I wrote a book, people have read it, some have even liked it, but the dream wasn’t the book. The dream was to keep writing.  

I do not regret the journals I have thrown out. The words I have deleted. Poems that start in the shower or as I am falling asleep that never get written. The times I have forgotten my notebook, or a pen, or simply forgot to think about it. I am no longer desperate to only archive the things that make me look best, because writing is a true thing, and the process is the point. I do not feel guilty when life gets in the way. In fact, for my kind of writing, life HAS TO get in the way. Just living is passive writing. In many ways I don’t ever stop. In my head, on social media, when I tell stories or write emails.  So perhaps, what I am really trying to say is that writing is the way I know true things. This is how I know there will be another book. A truer book, to reflect the next writer I am, and the next, and the next.

A Post US-Election Dash of Nash.

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I felt it deeply, you know.

For those of us who value diversity and have it reflected in our work, lives and communities, this was a strike against what we believed was the status quo. How has the world’s largest superpower followed an alarming global trend that supports hateful and divisive rhetoric?

I’ve been taught differently since Sesame Street. These ideals were imported in, which is perhaps why I personally felt let down by them. To expect better, to rebel against oppression, to demand more, and to be that change. My instinct tells me to reject anything that challenges these ideals unequivocally. Yet, here we are the morning after, with the realization that I could have done a lot more to understand the societal fault-lines that have brought us here.

The thing is, when you get to half the population that seemingly repudiate the values that many of us hold dear, because these are the same people that feel hard done by a society who they say has left them behind, maybe we should have asked why. This is not about dissent of the ignorant– though they are out there too – people who feel their vitriol is validated. They are part of, but not representative of the silent majority.

This rise of the far or alternative right is steadfast and widespread and I suspect for reasons beyond what is immediately apparent. We can’t blame it all on Caucasian men, or women not having other women’s backs, or anything else that can be explained neatly and tied in a bow. We also can’t blame the DNC and Clinton scandals without looking at why Trump’s were ignored.

When you boil it all down, the republicans had a candidate that its own party reviled, but whom the voters identified with. We saw the opposite with Clinton. Voter turnout did the rest.

We must let ourselves consider that people who vote for the likes of Trump or Duterte were willing to look past deplorable levels of misogyny, because of what more was promised. Those that support Pauline Hanson and Brexited were willing to bear the stigma of intolerance because they felt they had no control. Feelings of disenfranchisement in systems that are leaving them poorer and rallying around characters with perceived authenticity – despite what absolute tripe comes out of their mouths.

Maybe all they saw was an opportunity cost.  (Electing a climate change denier, as an opportunity cost – Holy shit.)

We knew enough to know this was possible, but what I ask now, and what I asked last night at Peel Street Poetry was how could we not know it was this possible. This is beyond policy – this is a problem at grassroots levels.

In Hong Kong, I feel as though we are in the midst of an ideological war. In many ways I live in a bubble within a bubble. When Brexit happened I was scandalized because I expected better. After last night I was saddened not because I was wrong to expect progress to prevail – but because I was so off the mark with what progress meant. I wanted to hear the shards from that shattered glass ceiling fall even here in Asia. That inclusion dispels fear, that love trumps hate. I wanted the US to be that example to buck the trend, not confirm it.

I am afraid of what will come next, but I also feel that this year has helped me realize that there is work to be done. Those imported ideals weren’t wrong, they just needed to be actioned.

I’ll keep doing it the best way I know how. A meeting of minds and merging of narratives. A place for expression and community.

We need our poets and artists, our photographers and storytellers. We need to let the communities we are a part of that are hurt most by this to know that we will validate their sadness,  and we will continue to be on the side of history that visibly and unequivocally stood by them to support equality, social justice and freedom of expression.

If you’re in Hong Kong, come be a part of the conversation. No surprises for next time.

Peel Street Poetry – Every Wednesday except the first Wednesday of the month @ Orange Peel.