I don’t know why I write.
I kept a blog once, long ago, in the Friendster Era. One of these days, I must fully take it down. It’s probably floating somewhere in the interwebs, one of those things that will probably come back to embarrass me sometime in the near future, like how Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ is a daily reminder of how and what not to post online ever. In any case, that blog fizzled out rather quickly, after I lost interest and lost the point of posting online.
In the era of Friendster, that early dawn of social media, I had not yet seen the point (there’s probably no point still) of broadcasting silly rants floating in my head. On hindsight, my opinions as a fifteen-year-old boy were probably rather dull and unimaginatively rebellious anyway. So that experiment in ‘blogging’, which seemed to be the Thing then, died away.
Blogging did not interest me again until earlier in 2016, when I met a teacher-mentor from my JC days, who praised my ability to condense and articulate complex thoughts and emotions in accessible ways. It’s funny, because Ms Teo had also been the teacher who had witnessed (and encouraged) my resurgent interest in critical analysis and logical reasoning in the craft of (pre-university) writing, when i was in JC2.
Until 2016, I’d been pretty content with blasting my silly, ranty thoughts on Facebook and getting attention for it. I had no illusions about my (lack of) purpose, though. I was simply broadcasting my thoughts (often indiscriminately, to the chagrin of embarrassed, unfortunate friends on my Newsfeed). I liked to think of myself as a colourful, noisy monkey-spanner in the otherwise ceaseless, featureless landscape of dull, uninspired posts about the same same same same same same same same same things.
Losing My Nerve
So why write?
Even empires overstretch. Even great states lose their nerve, after generations of territorial expansion and cultural fecundity, imploding as internecine squabbling, succession crises and popular revolts tore them apart. Witness the Chinese, Vietnamese, Ottoman, Mongol dynasties. Witness the British Empire. And most recently, watch the (apparent?) fragmentation of what was once the much-vaunted (if ever real) beacon of freedom and democracy (we can ask the Vietnamese, the Cubans, the Iranians what they think).
In a vague, tangential way, I am also beginning to lose my nerve. Or rather, I am beginning to question why I write. This entry is hence an exploration, a retrospective at how this blog first sprouted out in the inter-webs, momentarily flowering exuberantly, before fading, by degrees, into more circumspect silence, into more occasional bursts of activity.
You know rockbands are screwed when they release a ‘Greatest Hits’ album…and in a way, that is true. This blog, as it once was, is coming to an end, as I re-examine the reasons for why I write.
I began this blog because I needed a space to familiarize myself with WordPress, the platform for a class I was attending in the previous semester. I also thought it would be a nice place to park all the articles I had previously written, which had been published, either internally, in the Cinnamon Roll (a USP student-run publication), or for the USP Corporate Communications. As with many things you see on my various social media platforms, Messy Lines was thus born as an experiment – in other words, an excuse for a shoddy sandbox to make mistakes in, until a day where I needed to actually make something good. Early posts on this site came from articles I had written for the Cinnamon Roll, such as an opinion piece about Pokemon, or mountains I had climbed (I have too many untold mountain stories with my dear ODAC comrades).
Then, for a moment, a hastily put together reflection piece about my first reservist stint thrust me into unexpected, near-famousness. I had 8,000 views, literally overnight, for an article that I had written just hours after a short, low-key return to uniform. That’s eight. Thousand. The wet-dream of any wannabe influencer. I was pleasantly surprised of course, and immensely flattered that people would think my raw, honest (and frankly not very grammatical) thoughts worthy of a read, and even a share. I received a few messages from strangers telling me how that article really opened their eyes. And some WANT MORE FOLLOWERS??????? accounts, of course. My conclusion from this unexpected episode is that Singaporeans remain very curious about this veritable institution known as officership.
But I refused (and still refuse) to pander exclusively to what I think readers would want to read. Firstly because I find that is a road leading to the demise of originality, but also because I had no intention of having a chain around my neck. Leadership is difficult, it’s immensely complex. But growing up in SJI means that I had been stuffed to the gills with Stephen Covey, and Personal Improvement Gurus (wow, wonder how that reads as an acronym) who champion buying their books or attending their exorbitant seminars so your life can become better. I had no intention on becoming a tiresome bore, and I didn’t want to be arrested for accidentally contravening the Official Secrets Act by yammering on ad nauseum about My Amazing Army Life and how I Am Such a Sexy Tough Officer (I’m not).
My return from climbing Gunung Tahan with a group of old, dear friends gave this blog a momentary shot in the arm in very pragmatic terms. We were/are very proud of how our plodding but steadfast pace resulted in an expedition that beat the timing published online by another team from another local university. As the expedition secretary, I was also determined to memorialize our story in an epic worthy of reading…there are still at least two more instalments to CJC ODAC Batch 12’s Tahan Story that remain to be written. But in the meantime, if you are curious about how an motley crew of seven flabby ODAC seniors who have not run Fundamentals in ages managed to summit the tallest (and one of the most beautiful) mountain in peninsular Malaysia, you can click here, here …and then click the following links from those links.
Student Life I
The fall term of 2016 began with a bang, pun partially intended, as the controversy about NUS Orientation Games being too racy and rape-y exploded into every gossip’s radar screen. It was the wet dream of
shit-stirrers , local tabloids with nothing better to gossip about every one who loved a good show. Of course, I was one of them, but I sat on the controversy for a while, probing for a more original opinion. Astonishingly, the most original opinion I could generate was to ask: ‘What’s the Big Deal‘? Sure, it was a big deal to camp organizers who had spent months booking facilities and planning games. It must have been heartbreak. But from a distance, this gigantic hoo-ha about moral values (or the lack thereof), What Does This Reflect of Our Bright Young Minds, Is This What We Pay Taxes for, Boo to the PAP smacked of incredibly condescending hypocrisy on the part of a hair-trigger public, and an emotional minority in the university trying (to all our great embarrassment) to justify how “cheers” about ejaculating on a girl’s face, or fornicating with an “opposing” team’s (metaphorical) mother, could be justified. It was such a fun show to watch, all in. Adults behaving badly, I mean. The NUS Saga about these Orientation Games, I mean. Not the fornication of an opposing “team”s (metaphorical) mother. [“Team”?? Seriously???]
Student Life II
The next show on the university calendar were elections in the USP – first the Management Committee, and then the House Committee, the latter which I decided to involve myself in, in a momentary burst of senior responsibility, and wanting to walk the talk. I lamented and reflected on why USP seniors become so jaded over the years, even as a storm brewed over the horizon. A storm in a teacup, really, smaller even than the NUS Games brouhaha (emphasis on the haha, because it was all such a bad joke).
Amidst very amusing/puzzling suspicions about why i was running for the House Captain for the second time, this time as a Fourth Year senior who had no right to be dabbling, I tried to articulate the reasons why I did so. On hindsight, those motivations might have appeared too heroic. In the Cynical Age we live in, it’s easier to believe that someone has ulterior motives than sincere, unselfish ones. For all sides involved, (including my own) the entire experience was a fascinating insight into how stubbornly parochial and insular perspectives can remain, if we choose to close our ears off and simply yell ‘WHY ARE YOU BEING SO MEAN/STUPID/CHILDISH’ instead of trying to climb into someone else’s skin and walk a few miles in them. Although I held off writing one final entry at the close of the elections (which I lost, and confessed about), my conclusion from the whole exercise is that we should leave the freshmen to do the things while they still have the vitality and the audacity of hope. I mean the energy/space to eat suppers, and the optimistic belief that People Actually Love to Be Bonded. Seniors are too jaded. Having experienced too much, they see too far into the future, and often suffer paralysis by analysis. And also the adage that while you can bring a horse to water, you can’t make the horse drink that water if it doesn’t want to…
Buying Time: Poems, Essays and Travels
As the semester wore on, I had lesser and lesser time to write, so I tried to fill the days with past writings (this had, after all, been the original intent of the blog), even as I waited for sudden cloudbursts of inspiration to drench me. Scattered across this blog are also instances of poetry I wrote, sometimes for SingPoWriMo, and sometimes just as an exercise in writing. I’m particularly proud of some of them – such as Cooled Tea, or Washing Machines. I like to believe everyday objects are charged with deep meaning, if we choose to take some time to contemplate them.
Other fillers included more academic papers/articles I wrote for different classes, as a means to showcase/flex my so-called intellectual muscle, although it may have inadvertently showcased my lack thereof. You can be the judge of that. I’m particularly proud of more recent pieces, dealing with aspects of Singapore’s past – from how our national rituals remain centred strangely (or not) on war and death, to a blistering riposte at the shrill, self-congratulatory rhetoric of the so-called Singapore ‘revisionist’ historians.
I think a mainstay is also travel writing. From the shifting sands of Egypt, to the gentle sincerity of the Thai South, to the troubled turmoil of the Balkan past I can quite confidently and (pretend)nonchalantly avow that I’ve been further and deeper than your average, privileged Singaporean uni student, who is usually better
at whining and VSCOCAM instagram filters at eating and shopping than they are at listening to the stories of a space.
Write What Write?
I suppose part of the reason why this blog has failed to go supernova despite (some) effort(s) on my part is because I have never made it a focused locus of anything other than the opinion sitting inside my head at the moment.
At least the one that can be expanded into a piece that won’t get me flamed, sued, jailed, or crucified. I mean, I don’t think I want to become a martyr for free speech, or be passive-aggressively told off by more ‘feminists’/’activists’. Despite appearances, I have learned that I don’t have the nerve (nor the wu-liaoness) for protracted online battles.
But there is a particular freedom in not being held to a pattern. This blog runs purely on my free time, and is not a money-spinning venture at all, simply because it is too small to make money, despite my earlier, arrogant comparison to great empires. What you read here are thoughts, filtered only because I don’t really want to piss more people off than I have too.
Yet we do not have to be paid in money. St-Exupery’s Little Prince says that the most important things in life cannot be seen, they must be felt with the heart. Sometimes I worry that the rush of endorphins I get when I realise you have read this far, or i’ve gotten x number of views, qualifies as an addiction. The Little Prince was more disturbingly right than he knew.
At this point in time, I have no idea, why I still write. And I’m not yet ready to confront the disquieting possibility that all this is simply an exercise in vanity. This peacock is still too vain to admit he is that vain.
A Community of Imaginations
Perhaps I write to put some thoughts down. Perhaps I write to find a community of similar perspectives, in the hope that there are some kindred spirits somewhere in the ether that is the vast ocean of the internet.
Long ago, when Benedict Anderson’s ‘Imagined Communities’ was still the most fashionable catchphrase in my undergraduate life, I tried to sound smart by jiggling around the words a little, so that instead of ‘imagined communities’, I wrote in a forum post (for Nationalism and the Arts) about how it is just as important to have a community of imaginations.
As I gradually assume the mantle of adulthood and realise how insufferably dull people can be: yammering on about how great they think their banal jobs and astounding salary is, how shiny their new cars and expensive handbags are – I begin to see the value of this nonsensical jumble of words I had put together. People can be so boring (“History? What are you going to be?” More innovative and tactful than you in asking questions, that’s for bloody sure)
No, it’s not childish to still hold that dreaming fire in your head. The one from your childhood which dreamed about great dragons, Spitfires, and ancient kingdoms hidden in the deep jungle. The one that still remains ever-curious about the world and the universe around us.
Yes, this is the answer I did not have at the start of this blog entry, the answer that has emerged, after the mud in the disturbed pool has settled again -why do i write?
The Circle of Firelight
I write for you, the reader, as much as I write for myself, and my self. I address this community of imaginations out there, those who still believe there are more numbers that matter than those on your paycheque; that there are more things on heaven and earth than even our collective philosophies.
I write to dream. I write to remember.
An Italian professor whose electrifying lecture I sat in on today remarked that we all need objects, mementoes to remind us of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. I write because I don’t know.
And because I don’t know, I write.