I HAVE YET TO BELIEVE IN FATE, BUT…
This freshman summer has been so amazing: doing Project Malaysia 14 (video here, reflection note here – it’s very long so feel free to read in parts), teaching English at Yola, interning at a tech startup (both are challenging and rewarding), meeting old & new friends (all great people).
And I was telling people yesterday that I didn’tgive myself enough personal time. Lo and behold, my body fought back: Last week I was rather unwell, and this week, this epiphany.
It first started a morning a few days back while I was listening to a podcast interview of Seth Godin, the marketing guru. (I often download random podcasts and shuffled them into a playlist to listen on the way to work.) He mentioned his resolution to posting one blogpost per day, even if the posts are shorter. He believed that such discipline would over time lead to better content. I took a mental note of that, since some people have advised me exactly the same thing.
Then in the afternoon I listened to Tim Ferriss’s interview with writer Neil Strauss of The Game. Neil said there wasn’t any specific tip to produce good content; he just had to keep writing and rewriting. I asked myself if I was too outcome-oriented with my writing; in other words, thinking too much about the readers.
Then at night I listened to TED Radio Hour: it too was on creative process! Did TED predict my mind? I got to listen again to Elizabeth Gilbert’s favorite talk on creativity: she talked about the origin of the word “genius”: it used to mean an external thing, not a person. The latter meaning was only taken on a few hundred years ago, thanks to the Enlightenment thinkers. (side node: Man, the way we think about ourselves is influenced by philosophers years ago. What’s the chance that what I am thinking today will influence others in the next 200 years?)
Right after that my host mother turned on the TV. The program was “Window to Literature”… That was the final blow, leaving me obsessed with the thought ever since.
BUT WHAT CAN I DO WITH WRITING? I’M AFRAID.
I have never thought of making writing a bigger part in my life. I have all the more reasons to ignore that option, since this summer has been a very practical, career-oriented for me. (I was so blown away with all the opportunities in Saigon – will write more on that in 3 weeks when I’m back in Hanoi).
I’m not too afraid of the uncertainty; even if it’s the uncommon path for many of my peers. I think I can find a way to earn a living somehow.
I’m afraid that I’m not good enough. I struggled with literature in high school, being the non-native English speaker analyzing poems which I only understood half of the words. In retrospect, I thought the whole trauma was caused not by the subject, but rather the discomfort of getting a low grade. (Oh the grade-oriented education… We will probably never be with each other).
Deeper down though, I think my greatest fear is that I’m not committed enough. I believe with practices I can improve on my writing. Yet, will I commit to the practices to the point that I can live on it, or will I jump to something else more attractive?
Commitment is scary because we are afraid of regret – perhaps the cow thinks the other side of the pasture is indeed greener? Or, perhaps I wasn’t even a cow at all; I didn’t want to write that much in the first place.
Finding excuses to soothe myself gets easier with age. In this case, I recalled a TED talk on regret by Kathryn Schulz. (As you can see, I love to connect with people, their stories and thoughts. I’m obviously a TED person)
“The point isn’t to live without any regrets. The point is to not hate ourselves for having them. [……] Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us that we know we can do better.”
I also listened again to the lovely voice of Abigail Washburn singing in Chinese with her banjo during the TED radio hour too. She said “We’re only as great as our ability to negotiate and take advantage of our limitations.”, and I thought of my fear of not committing enough. It helped.
After dinner, I opened my laptop, turned on my favorite text editor to write my daily journal. The first two lines were this.
And that was when I realized writing has become a central part of me. Have you ever been in one of these strange moments of gratitude when time froze and you realized, rather sheepishly, that your best friend in front of you had always been your best friend?
It felt exactly the same for writing and me.
Elizabeth Gilbert articulated so well the struggle as well as the beauty of the creative process: we create to fulfill our basic need; any other purpose is secondary. We keep showing up not because we have to. We do so because it is who we are.
The moment was like a calling from a voice in my head. It’s always there, but this time I’m quiet enough to listen to its words. I only know that I will keep on writing, but I never thought of testing out this option more seriously. (you can see my problem-solving, experimenting mode of thinking just turned on. How these modes co-exist so well in our brain is such a fascinating mystery).
Next post: Part II: An exploration into the Whys – including a need to read more fiction, and a gap year.
P/s: Watch Abigail Washburn’s lovely talk here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDIy58g9n2k#t=171