What I Write, How I Write, and Why I Write

During several periods of intense sadness caused by various health-, friendship-, family- and boy- (gross!) related SNAFUs over the last several months, I have, fortunately, had a support network that was jumping at the chance to offer me suggestions for how I could improve my mood1. Most suggested that I write about my feelings, in a private journal, raw and unedited for the purposes of self-therapy.

I’ll admit, it’s something that I have thought of, but not anything I thought I would ever do. This seems counterintuitive. After all, I’m always writing anyway! I consider myself a whizz with words2!

So let’s get meta. Let’s self-diagnose and try to get to the bottom of my ick factor3. What is it about confessing to a spiral-bound notebook that seems so offensive to me?

I write constantly. Mostly with my fingers, tapping away at a keyboard. I write my thesis, the hopefully current, but probably permanent, love of my life. I write text messages to friends, I use instant messaging apps, and I update my Facebook status at times. I write posts for two blogs, neither of which will ever go viral.

I don’t know if I like writing; I certainly like having written things that I can feel proud of, pieces of work that I can slap my name on in perpetuity. I have always been an untrained, potentially arrogant, amateur writer who soaks up the praise and dwells unhappily on the criticism before dismissing it completely.

But my writing has always been performative – owned by me, read by others. Whether I am completing a chapter of my thesis or texting about a particularly interesting anecdote to a close friend4, my writing is meant to be seen, read, judged, and hopefully, loved. As a child, I often considered how I could write my private journals in a way that would elevate me to a position of fame, or at the very least, gain me some kind of recognition. I am the first to admit that I am (unfortunately?) unhealthily dependent on validation for my own happiness.

And therein lies my issue with writing. An activity that for some is therapeutic becomes a stressful race for me, a challenge to commendably entertain, instruct, and inspire my reader. If I ever re-read a previously written work of my own, I decided, Future Me would be appropriately impressed. I haven’t yet gone back through my 1oth grade musings in a starry notebook, nor have I been able to muster up the courage to open up a word document from one very emo summer during college.

However, this blog (right here!) and the piles of annotated thesis chapter drafts littered on my desk and around5 compel me to face my own work on a day-to-day basis. I am forced to review, to edit, and, because of the nature of the internet and my own self-important ways, consider how my writing can be an everlasting contribution. Writing makes me bite my nails and frown at my computer screen. It makes me pour myself just one glass of wine so that I can sit in a controlled, timed environment6 to reach a goal. It’s not relaxing, for sure. It’s only very occasionally cathartic, but certainly not therapeutic. But why I write doesn’t have to be.

And readers, will you please join me in my conceited journey of performance? Will you read my musings, engage with any provocative statements, and chuckle politely at jokes that I have crafted, deleted, and re-written many times? I promise I will do my best to make it worth your while.

 

1. I’m better now! Hooray! More to come in the next few weeks on big moves, life decisions, and other pesky things that keep me up at night but not my jetlag at bay.

2. Sometimes, however, I am prone to using a silly alliteration to get my point across.

3. Things I also don’t really have a desire to try: bungee jumping, skinny dipping, and smoking crack. We can discuss them in detail too, if time permits.

4. Or a not-so-close-friend, a romantic interest, or a forgettable acquaintance. Hell, let’s just also throw in that sometimes the anecdotes are not even that interesting! The point is, I bring all the interesting.

5. On some occasions, one will find me on the floor, under my desk, with my collection of binders. I have a secret hope that one of my colleagues will take a photo of me looking adorably, geekily frazzled, and it will the iconic book-jacket photo of my memoir as an academic. If anyone is reading this… hint?

6. I am notoriously clumsy with wine glasses, so no sudden movements and/or gestures are allowed when that amazing liquid is being consumed. My environment is also timed by the length of time it takes to drink a glass of wine. I am my own behavioural scientist.

New Year Resolutions for a more mature, professional Bun

  • Introduce myself with first and last name; learn to say such full name with intonation that just rolls off the tongue.
  • Learn to like wearing lipstick and other confidence-raising cosmetics, such as concealer for dark under-eye circles. 
  • Work up alcohol tolerance to college senior level so that I don’t get shit-faced in front of important people. The alcohol is unavoidable; I must change myself.
  • Get those business cards printed… finally!
  • Come up with updated, more professional sounding one-liners to describe my work and myself.
  • Dig out a couple of nerdy jokes for the cocktail chatter. Grammar jokes are always appreciated, I attempt to convince myself.
  • Have handy “did you know” fun facts on file, preferably in reference to Chinese history.
  • Don’t bother checking for wedding rings on conversation partners — in my field, most of the men are married. Most of the women are single.
  • Practice self introductions balanced with a healthy dose of confidence and imposter syndrome (the latter in good humour, of course).
  • Change Tinder photo of me in a suit talking at a podium to a more updated photo of me in a suit talking at a podium. I’m definitely not a junior in college anymore.

Here’s to a fantastic semester of research, writing, and above all, schmoozing!

Dear Scholarship Committee

Dear Scholarship Committee,

There are many reasons why I deserve a scholarship to study at this prestigious institution. I have decent grades, a nice range of extra-curriculars, and I am really good during networking cocktail parties with your donors1. To be fair, I do not know how well this will set me apart from other candidates, so I will stop trying to write a cover letter and instead go about this application in a need-based vein.

You should give me a scholarship because at this point in time, I need one. I have just been discharged from the hospital after a 4-day stay, slightly anaemic, dizzy in the head, and completely behind on all my work. I have been… not quite right for the past month — some undiagnosed female issue to do with hormones or endometriums that no doctor seems to take as seriously as I do. I’ve had intense pains and some other grossness I will not write about here2, so my schoolwork, gym sessions, and cocktail party-schoomzing have all taken a hit. I haven’t forgotten about your scholarship however, because I really need the win right about now.

It doesn’t seem like I can rejoin the land of the living any time soon. I am jealous of anyone who can have a beer without having intense stomach pains, go for a run without feeling light-headed, or stay awake past 10pm. I no longer dominate after-work-drinks and Friday night party routine. I have spent most of the recent money I have earned on doctors, ultrasounds, and health supplements, but at least I am no longer paying for fancy cocktails and expensive meals3. And while the doctors have shrugged me away, all the other advice I have received seem to be versions of “take care of your body!” This is baffling — I haven’t had a drink in over a month, I sleep more than 10 hours every night and eat all balanced meals. I do not consume anything oily, spicy, or icy. I drink plenty of warm water and herbal teas and use a hot water bottle (instead of take painkillers) to keep the cramps at bay4. But I can study, I promise. I can sit at a desk (or if need be, propped up in a hospital bed) with my laptop, working on some intense piece of historical research.

I could give you an argument that addresses the intersectionality of my status as a minority — I could make something up about being a female ethnic minority who had to, at some point, learn English from scratch5. The truth is that I have never felt discriminated against because of my sex or my race. However, I know first-hand what it’s like to feel alone, helpless, and scoffed at in a city of 7 million. Friends who, inadvertently rubbing it in, send “are you out tonight?” texts at 2am. A man-friend who disappeared once the sex was put on hiatus. Doctors you can’t help but cry in front of, not because you are trying to use your feminine wiles for better treatment, but because you are frustrated that they do not seem to care.

And then, a half-finished thesis and a bunch of applications that stare at you, sending the subliminal reminder that if you fail this, you will have nothing, not even your once-dependable health.

When the media discusses whether women can have it all, it comes down to three main things — career, family, and active social life. Health never seems to come into the equation, and generally with good reason. We are living in 2015! There’s medicines and cures for pretty much everything! Eat organic and practice mindfulness and you’ll live to be 100! If I had been suffering from a broken bone, I would have been given time off work. If I had contracted an STI, a course of antibiotics would do the trick. Instead, my first two visits to the emergency room were met with sneers and nary a doctor certificate. My undiagnosed gynaecological dysfunction left doctors dismissive, my uterus in pain, and me uncomfortable and embarrassed to talk about it. Writing a short email to a supervisor asking to be excused from a meeting became a nail-biting affair, with no sick note nor visible symptoms to prove my distress. Explaining my inability to drink at an alumni social left me exhausted and finally pretending to sip from a glass of wine.

This scholarship would at least enable me to achieve some kind of self-pride, and empower me to redirect a conversation with coworkers from blood tests to, finally, a piece of good news. I want to earn this scholarship because I need to regain control over my life. I want this scholarship because I want to feel like I’m being accepted into something bigger and more important. Most importantly, I need validation that I’m not going crazy — that whatever is happening to my body will pass and leave no lasting damage, and that it’s ok to feel right now that my work, which I love, is the only thing that matters.

“Undiagnosed gynaecological dysfunction” needn’t define my life right now, and nor should I let it6. I would be honoured, instead, to call myself a scholarship recipient.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,

The Bun

 

1. I can small talk about anything from the The Matrix to The Republic, from hashtags to the value of hashtag activism, from Isis the dog in Downton Abbey to ISIS in the Middle East. Just try me!

2. I understand appropriateness, how to change the tone of my words for different situations, and how to channel respect for my readers. I’m really mature, I promise.

3. This shows, dear scholarship committee, that I can be responsible with the money that you give me! I’m also too unwell to go stumbling around drinking in the middle of the week — pick me, and you’ll be guaranteed one candidate who does not embarrass.

4. I lead a very wholesome lifestyle, and I listen to my elders. While I trust western medicine (and science!) wholeheartedly, I embrace the colourful background of my eastern community, and take its beliefs and values to heart. Supported by your scholarship, I hope to continue my investigation into how east and west can grow together, harmoniously.

5. But because I learned English from scratch, I learned it the right way! Grammar doesn’t phase (or “phrase!”) me; neither do semi-colons. I have submitted a writing sample for your review — I hope it demonstrates my strength as a communicator.

6. I am an advocate for clear, specific writing that helps my readers understand exactly what I am talking about. This term does not meet my standards, and I would like you to know this.