Open Letter to Sharon (January 7, 2017)
Almost all my earliest memories involve words. In elementary school, you couldn't so much as check out a book without running into this scrawny kid with circular glasses tucked away in whichever nook or cranny in the library was currently unoccupied, pouring over the latest Magic Tree House series. At that point, I was pretty much as much of a permanent fixture of the library as the lamp next to me, and returning books required the immense effort of hauling a backpack on wheels to school- yes, the kind that people take through security check at the airport. Whereas my cousins brought ps4's to extended family dim sum lunches, my contraband of choice was a smuggled novel, which was strategically placed on my lap to allow me to perform the dangerous balancing act of navigating my har gao into my mouth with one hand while leafing through the last riveting page of whichever Agathie Christie novel I happened to be on, a habit which I can't say I've shrugged off entirely.
Never being much of a numbers kind of girl, I would try to finagle my way through algebra and calculus by writing out long-winded responses, or alternative responses (guess we have more in common than it appears, D Trump!). I grew up not feeling the full weight of classical literature, or perhaps I only felt suffocated by many classics, which sometimes seemed like an unnecessarily long drawn out discussion at an English tea party. With the exception of my homies Steinbeck and Hemingway, I had difficulty parsing through the work of classic literary giants like Virgina Wolfe and John Keats, choosing instead to spend my time poring over books sometimes on the -(God forbid!) New York Times' bestseller's list- which lacked all the timeless literary flair, but which pulled at my heartstrings all the same. I probably just violated the gods of the writers’ code by so much as thinking that thought alone. Oops, sorry Virginia.
In high school, I had less time to pursue reading for leisure. I was considered a decent writer— a prolific one who, when given a 12 page paper assignment, would end up producing the sequel to the Book of Thor.* Being concise has never been my forte. Fast forward to college, and my love for words was the only steadfast kind of love in a bizarre microcosm of emotionally- vulnerable- 20- year- old -somethings- with- raging- hormones. At Tufts, I was exposed to the barren, cold world of empirical, analytical writing through the lens of political theory and social science. I traded any semblance of an authentic voice for an impersonal, cut-and-dry research writing style so long as it kept my professors happy and my grades afloat.
My voracious appetite for words hasn't really diminished. But what my four years of "higher education" made me realise, apart from the fact that I would likely have to sell my kidney in order to put my future kids through school, was that what makes writing “good” is not superfluous, elevated ivory tower prose and or even beautiful, flowy language. What makes good writing “good” is how, even after cutting out all the fluff and stripping the words down to the bone, the nitty-gritty message of the words conveyed—with all their round and sharp edges—still gets through to someone. Not many people; just one person is enough. Equally important is the “stickiness” of your writing. If you can communicate nuances to someone and do it in plain layman terms, then you’re already halfway there to “timeless.”
So, with all this said, you may be asking, how does this autobiography/ stream of consciousness relate to anything at all ? To be completely honest, I’m not even sure myself. For someone who’s picked up writing again after an embarrassingly long hiatus, this feels like finding a pair of boyfriend jeans I’ve misplaced but which no longer fits. This open letter to myself serves as a two-fold reminder for me to 1) not let my perfectionist mentality become a mental block, and 2) not take writing (and life, for that matter) so seriously. To have fun with it, bend the rules, smear paint on the wall (literally and figuratively), and try out different things. Separately, this is a reminder to myself to swallow my pride and perfectionist thinking and take criticism as it comes. I figure that with the New Year, it’s about time I start reclaiming something for myself. So without further ado, I invite you to get cozy with me and explore my musings, everything from the best hamburgers in town to my views on politicizing social media.
* Sorry, Mrs. Martin, for making you read a dissertation on Buddhism in World Religions class in 7th grade.