I almost did not write this entry.
The inspiration for this piece started out simply enough: a friend sharing her experience with being the best she could be, and how that quite nearly drove her crazy. The quest to achieve a goal never stopped. It simply became an obsession with wanting to do better, because enough wasn’t enough once you’d had enough.
The Itch that Doesn’t Go Away
We’ve all been there haven’t we? The itch that never goes away, especially if you live in a society as claustrophobic as Singapore’s – the obsession to be better.
Some of us grew up with that didn’t we? That elation with finally getting a string of As, and bringing it home for Mummy to finally be happy with you, only for her to nonchalantly say “you can always do better”.
And so, semester by semester, season by season, year by year, it gets beaten into all of us. That enough isn’t enough. That even the thought of “enough” was anathema – to the self, and to some supposed cultural values. In Singapore, values of “enough” have sometimes even been insidiously associated with other ethnic groups, so it becomes (implicitly of course, behind closed doors) almost wrong to be satisfied with where you are.
You can always do better. Until a few years ago even a 75 was not enough because there was always an 80 or a 90 to go for. 100 becomes an albatross on your neck because anything less becomes a sign of decline, and depravity.
[Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party has, in the past, freaked out over a 2% decline in their overwhelming election majorities, so one has to wonder if the chicken or the egg or the albatross came first]
It’s dangerous to have enough. Especially if you are governed by a state that bases its political legitimacy on always, always doing more. This is why the landscapes, the skylines of Singapore undulate every year, every decade. Change, change, change. In part, this is the undeniable, relentless logic of the developmental state – a perpetual state of development. If you don’t do anything, you’re not doing anything. If you slide, even a bit, it’s a slippery slope downwards. Nevermind if the logic of that kind of reasoning is in itself quite a slippery-slope fallacy too.
It bleeds through into all of us, and how the future of our nation has been moulded. Because if you are continually vulnerable, continually under threat, you will always have to keep running, even to stay still right? Your whole life becomes an unending arms race to improve and improve, for peace, progress and prosperity for our nation.
A Blade Always Sharpened
And so perfection is our answer. We take pride in it, because it is all we have. For some of us it is all we know: the continual honing of a blade, a spear, a skill. But Lao Tzu once mentioned in the Daodejing that a knife continually sharpened will blunt itself.
I’m Going to Write Again
For all intents and purposes, this blog has been dead for quite a few months. I have stopped blogging.
I thought that it was because I now have a job, and I was afraid to post anything that would get me fired. But that is a really lame reason, considering that while I am snarky, I have not said anything really revolutionary nor offensive (sadly). So I have come to see this as an excuse. I had to dig deeper to think about why I had stopped writing.
There were many answers, wriggling in different directions. I followed one squirming, writhing one until I could tease it out into coherence, into words. It came down to this:
The fear of knowing enough to know I was no expert.
After all, what more could I tell you? I didn’t really want to be that guy, you know? Showing off in a space where real experts could tell you he was just acting all smart and clever. I’m in a place where I’m beginning to know what I don’t know – and how far away I am from being any sort of authority on anything.
And I have no stamina to be an activist either, so I’m just not the kind of dude to post two hundred Facebook notifications about an obscure grave at the back ends of Singapore. Also because graves are too grave for me.
Or what, to tell you about love? To tell you about pain? Or grief? Again, I didn’t really want to be that guy, you know? I didn’t want to be Mr Buzzfeed
only with better grammar and better ideas and less lame quizzes. If I wanted to be a tape recorder there are many jobs out there where I could perfect that skill more quickly…
Another Existential Crisis
And so I guess it was another existential crisis, similar to the one I’d had at the start of the year. Another time of asking myself why I kept this blog, if nobody read it anymore.
In January, the conclusion was that I wrote to clarify some things in my head. Somehow, that has never really been completely satisfying to me. We can use scrying bowls, we can use private journals. Why subject the world to the dirty laundry of your messy lines?
The answers to our own questions change as the contexts around us do. I think a few months have given me a better answer. This time, it’s related to the idea of perfection.
I almost didn’t write this article, because I’d been worried. I worried that I would never get my sentences right. I would never get my theories and my arguments in order. And so I gave up putting out academic jargon on this page.
But I’ve since learnt that this is a blog, and not an academic journal. There are places to be sharper, fiercer, more lucid.
And then there are places where you should do things, just for the sheer, sometimes quiet pleasure of doing them. Like listening to old songs. Like drawing. Like sketching. Like writing poetry. Like doodling. There are other ways to be perfect, not subject to red pens or ridiculous cookie-cutter quantums.
It doesn’t have to be their perfect. It can be yours. There are many ways to be Singaporean, that don’t involve elaborate charades, or political sophistries, or accepting political costs….
There are other ways to be perfect too. There are other perfections we can seek. Your writing, your drawings, your stories, are your own. They don’t have to be publishable. They just have to be something you’re happy with.
This blog doesn’t publish anything perfect. As its names suggests, it is a collection of messy lines. These messy lines are mine, which I share with the world, because it gives me a quiet, serene pleasure to do so.
To tell my stories, to share my perspectives. I have no edged, cold perfection measured to the millimeter, cut by laser, governed by a ruler.
I give you only myself and these lines: warm, fuzzy, and necessarily messy, because they are mine.
And momentarily, in the screaming rushing fury of this world, it is enough.
I am enough.