Rediscovering Artist Courage

Hello friends, it’s been about a year since my last post. Let me explain a little.

It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but that I haven’t been brave enough to share the imperfections and flaws – the gaps between who I want to be and who I am able to be – that are captured in my writing. Expression is in many ways a window into the soul, and being away from the comforts of Melbourne, in the bustle of Bangkok, showed me parts of myself I wasn’t sure I liked or knew what to do with. It took a little of the “spark” out of me, if that’s what you could call the more idealistic and naive hope that led me to begin writing this blog some 5 years ago.

Back then, I was looking for a way to define my place in the world, to carve out a space, and so I wrote down my hopes and dreams; the future autobiography of the person I wanted to be. But life never turns out the way you plan it to does it? The reason it’s become so difficult to share, is that all that time ago, I was in some senses more isolated, or at the very least my friendships and relationships fit into clear-cut narratives, and I could write about myself in a standalone sense – there was little ambiguity to deal with.

Yet, as I pushed myself to engage more with the world, to connect myself more to other people, and overcome my meek, cautious, introverted, and at times condescending ways, I found myself experiencing new kinds of unhappiness, and disappointment, along with shame and guilt about not being the person I aspired to be – eloquent, controlled, graceful, effortless; all the characteristics  of a fine young lady. I learnt deeply, more than before, that love is difficult, and attempts at empathy and compassion are nothing without understanding, without the discomfort of losing parts of yourself into the void of imagining yourself as the other. The trouble is, now my stories are no longer my own; they have become about the people I love, the things I care about, the hopes and dreams I have not just about my place in the world, but about the world I want to live it.

It’s a little overwhelming to go from the small, timid dreams of an ordinary girl trying to live, according to the rules that have been set – of looking for ways to become a respectable citizen; to questioning the rules, and daring to hope for a more compassionate and collective future. Having had the fortune and privilege of travel, and living the narrative we in Australia under the “tyranny of distance” are so found of – going somewhere more worldly (the UK, Europe, the USA), and going some place more exotic or down right strange (Thailand, Japan, China) – I found myself forced to examine myself as a woman of colour, a first generation Australian born Chinese, as well as a privileged westerner, or f*cking farang as I have been more unkindly called in Thailand.

I’ve found myself feeling increasingly stifled and overwhelmed by the rigid societal expectations that I so thoughtlessly used to mould myself to – the model minority, attractive daughter-in-law candidate for the discerning Tiger mother, socially minded millennial, the aloof expat. Yet, to merely say what I no longer want to be those things is not sufficient. Isn’t it limiting and hypocritical to define yourself a series of negatives and absolutes- not THAT kind of girl, not a rapist, not a monster, not a misogynist but sexist comment, not a racist but discriminatory stereotype. What space does that leave for the person I really am? Yet rejection of labels is the only option I found myself with when faced with the deeply contradictory nature of both being part of the problem (read: Western), and also a victim of arcane social norms (read: Patriarchy, Confucian Paternalism).

JUST DON’T CARE, PROVE THEM WRONG, that was the rhetoric. I just had to try to not be the stereotypes assigned to me, to prove to the men who would not shake a junior female’s hand in meetings, to the men who patronized my contributions as cute or too precious, that I was not just an ornament in the room; and to constantly justify my existence to the people (usually men) telling me I was living my life wrong – that I was not PASSIONATE enough if I wasn’t chasing after my DREAMS with single-minded bullishness, not demure enough if I couldn’t contain my HYSTERICAL, INSANE emotions, that I had too much/too little hair on my wherever, that my clothes were too revealing or too prude, that I was too opinionated, that I was not trying hard enough.

I was always doing some unspoken expectation WRONG – though no one would ever tell me what they wanted from me in the first place, because that would be TELLING me how to live my life and we don’t like that in the fiercely individualist west or even the harmonious east. As though it is SO MUCH BETTER to just silently watch and judge, and then express your expectations of the people around you in some abstract philosophical context, as principles for living life — Hello, lofty world of art, literature and philosophy, I see you trying to elevate yourself away from the baseness of human existence. How coincidental that that elevated morality should be so subtly yet undeniably MALE, and removed from the connectedness of the world we live in, because tending to relationships is something for the women. Yet, expressing the beauty and difficulties of that emotional work is too ordinary, too mundane, too self-indulgent compared to the boundary pushing, ego-stroking, courageous madness of pursuing purified self expression of torturous inner turmoil, so shut up and get back into the kitchen. Nice of you to join me, Hollywood romance and Asian dramas, how nice of you to gift me with the role models of the crazy female lover hindering the achievements of the heroic male lead, the victim of revenge rape redeemed by love, Candy and the benevolent Chaebol, the routine self-minimisation of emotional needs by female characters, which even if expressed are always either funny, stupid or insane. Are portrayals of equal, healthy relationships too boring, or too mundane, too feminine that we have not yet the artist ability to express it? To all is, I say F*CK THAT, but also what now?

Where do I go from rejecting these harmful norms? What does expression beyond the false dichotomy of the universality of the rich, white, male experience versus the uniqueness of racial, gender, class identity look like? How do I continuing moving without falling into the trap of merely trying to move away from somewhere horrible, only to unwittingly end up somewhere else only superficially different? How do I care deeply about the world beyond my sphere of immediate control without it crumpling my soul? How do I care deeply for other people without explicitly or even indirectly pressuring to be my image of them? What value does truth play in dealing with the realities of the lives we live, and navigating the complexity of expression and distance? How do I do give expression to the dynamics of my memories, and the heroes and villains of my stories, whilst maintaining a sense of humanity and the ambiguity of life? Are there even answers to these questions or is it a never-ending pursuit of living sincerely and doing the best that you can?

These are all questions I hope to explore in coming posts. BUT, important announcement! I will actually be migrating my writing away from this blog to a new home that I will be starting with a very dear friend of mine (very excited!). I’ve somewhat outgrown the tone and history of this blog, and as cliché as it is, I’m looking for a symbolic change. We are in the midst of planning a space dedicated to exploring the infinities we grapple with in our lives, the endless tangle of interconnectedness and overwhelming possibility, and how we can face that expanse with courage, dignity and generosity. We plan to discuss growing up Chinese in Melbourne, the reflections that living abroad gave rise to, the dysfunctions we’ve carried from childhood into our relationships, the confines and stereotypes we’ve struggled with, our search for ways to live with generosity and self-compassion, mental illness, amongst other things.

Lastly, thank you to the friends and strangers who have sent me encouragements over the years; it really does help with attempting to be brave and sincere despite my flaws. From here on out, I hope to share with you more of my stories of attempting to uncrumple myself, failing to staying uncrumpled and struggling with how to not (unintentionally) crumple other people.

Stay tuned for further updates, and as always thanks for reading!
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