This is what vulnerability looks like (a brief note)

It’s difficult to write without inspiration, and lately, I’ve been experiencing a dearth of inspiration.

Usually, this means that everything has been going rather swimmingly in life, because otherwise I’d be a bundle of complicated ‘feels’ dying for an outlet for emotional outpour.

Tis the Catch-22 of writing: there’s no writing without experiencing some degree of distress. And yet, not being able to write for extended periods of time stresses me out as well; it’s a hollowing feeling, not having ‘output’, even though most of what I write is just diaristic catharsis masquerading as erudite essays. Ha. 

But hey, I’m writing now, so does that mean I’ve been going through some roadblocks in life lately? Well, yes and no, depending on what your definition of ‘roadblocks in life’ is. Without revealing too much, let’s just say that I’ve been forced to adjust and reflect on some of my personal values and relationships these days. It’s difficult, because at 23 years old, I’m quite certain that my values system is pretty much set, so asking myself to adjust it isn’t exactly an overnight kind of project. 

The other ‘roadblock’ that I’d like to share, though, and one that is more relevant to the nature of this blog as a bibliographic record, deserves to be conveyed in the form of a confession. So, here goes – confession:

It’s taken me 3 months – yes, you read that right – 3 whole months, to plough through one book, and at this point, I’m still only halfway through it.

What the hell. Such progress is almost unheard of in my history of reading, and I can’t help but feel rather ashamed about this. Saint Augustine, where art thou. The vexing book in question is Joyce Carol Oates’ We are the Mulvaneys, which is a family saga that centres on how the rape of the Mulvaney daughter slowly disintegrates relations both within the family and between the family members and their surrounding New England community.

It’s an engaging plot, the writing is human, and while it isn’t the shortest of novels (400+ pages), I’ve definitely finished books of similar length in half the time I’ve been spending on this Oates book.

Really, then, I don’t know what my problem is. I can’t even remember the last time I spent that long on a novel. At one point last week, I seriously considered abandoning it and taking up a, uh, novel venture with a Houellebecq book, but for reasons of pride, I jettisoned that idea and sallied forth with Oates, which is why I’m still reading it.

It’s going slowly, though, very slowly. Annoyingly slowly.

I hate it when real life gets in the way of me living virtual lives.

It’s been more than 2 years since I started ‘Classic Jenisms’, and one of the biggest reasons as to why I insist on keeping this blog alive (despite periods of hiatus) is because it gives me a space to scrutinise, share and come to terms with my vulnerabilities and imperfections. It may seem silly, but my inability to finish reading a book, to opt for commute snoozing and web browsing over picking up a book, makes me feel incredibly vulnerable and imperfect.

Are these the self-indulgent words of a First-world bibliophilic perfectionist? Perhaps, but at least I can take solace in my willingness to lay bare this moment of weakness with the world, which is the one thing that’s making me feel slightly better about my choo-choo train reading progress these days.

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The one thing that underlies misogyny

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

– ‘Daddy’, Sylvia Plath (1981)

Fun fact: It was International No Bra Day yesterday.

i support no support

If you already knew that, more power to you, sistah (or brutha!) Until I caught it from the airwaves yesterday morning on my bus ride to work, I wasn’t aware that we had a commemorative day for bralessness, so it was with a tad bit of wistfulness that I missed out on a chance to legitimately unbound myself from the lady diaphragm wall, albeit for just a day.

What I have been aware of, though, is the Harvey Weinstein expose that’s been at the top of my BBC reader for the past week.

weinstein monster FT

Following from the Roman Polanski case in the 1970s, the Bill Cosby accusations a few years ago, and recent speculations of Oliver Stone also being a creep, it seems that sexual preying is endemic in Hollywood and the film industry at large, even in Asian regions like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China or South Korea, where they call the unspoken agreement between directors and actresses to exchange sex for casting opportunities “潛規則”, which literally means “latent rule”.

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Jay-Z bein like ‘You WOT, mate?!’

I find such news to be both saddening and intriguing; saddening because these men’s actions show how power pollutes, and intriguing because of how absolutely power pollutes. While I definitely think predators like Weinstein et al should get their just desserts, I don’t believe that these men, or anyone for that matter, are born ‘bad’. I’m sure they’re not stupid either, being super rich multi-award winning producers and directors, so the burning question for me is this –

Why do some men treat women with such criminal disrespect, even when they clearly know it’s against their better judgment?

fear woman

This overpowering force, I believe, is fear.

In fact, it’s never not about fear. Even when there’s no ostensible thing to be fearful of, people – men or women alike, fundamentally act out of fear.

Why do parents give their kids a hard time about not doing well at school? Because of fear they will grow up to be a ‘failure’.

Why do people stay in jobs they don’t like? Because of fear they won’t be able to find another job.

Why do couples hold on to unhappy relationships? Because of fear they will never find someone else, or that their ‘investment’ in the other person will all go to waste.

Weinstein and Cosby may be rich and powerful, but they are also human – mortal men who battle the same feelings of insecurity and inadequacy like their fellow non-Hollywoodians (oh, and who can forget about Woody Allen, Mr ‘The Heart Want What It Wants’?) Perhaps as directors and producers used to overseeing massive, multi-million projects, they fear the loss of control, from the ownership of their production company to the editing of the movie down to the bodies of actresses on the set.

power

Perhaps, as men whose incredible professional success has convinced them they are deserving of more-than-average adulation, they require validation from every woman they see possible to victimise. After all, if he can ‘control’ their fates simply by deciding whether or not he wants them in a potential blockbuster, surely he’s entitled to controlling their bodies as well, goes Weinstein’s line of thinking.

This is why sexual abuse is almost always about the ego of the perpetrator, not so much the actions or the appearance of the victim.

Sure, a lot of the women whom Weinstein preyed on were physically attractive, but he preyed on them not because their beauty was too arousing for him to bear, but because his ginormous ego couldn’t stand the idea of beautiful women not wanting to throw themselves at him and be in awe of his masculinity and power.

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From left to right: Lea Seydoux, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan

Disgusting? Yes.

Monstrous? No, just all too human.

 

What to do (and not do) when encountering misogyny

So far, I’m lucky to not have encountered sexual predators in the workplace, but I’ve had my fair share of misogynistic experiences, be it in a social, professional, or personal setting.

It doesn’t matter if it was the time when a casual hand travelled up my thigh at a club in Beijing, when an ex-colleague told me I should just ‘sit there and not speak’ in a meeting, or when a guy made awful comments after I adamantly refused to give him what he wanted, the point is to understand that such men do and say disrespectful things out of fear: fear of losing out on a piece of the ‘standard nightlife action’; fear of losing dominance in a work situation; or fear that a woman’s rejection of his advances implies a lack of sexual attraction or prowess on his part.

But here’s the thing: understanding what motivates them is the first step to prevention and protection, because simply by not being fearful ourselves, we as women are better able to not give in to men’s fear.

Instead of being afraid that speaking up will subject us to others’ judgment, know that there is nothing shameful about speaking your truth, because only by speaking our truth can we communicate the importance of our self-worth.

Instead of being afraid that men will taunt and scorn (and some will) when you rebuff their advances, say no if you don’t want to, because that’s the ultimate gesture of self-respect, and something that no amount of sardonic comments can take away.

So say no, firmly, reasonably and yes, I repeat – firmly.

And heck yes, shout no if you need to.

shout no woman

This reminds me of a painful moment in the book I’m currently reading, Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys, in which the daughter of the Mulvaney family, Marianne, suffers in silence after being raped by her prom date, out of fear that she will bring shame upon her family in their insular upstate New York community.

Notice the self-censoring impulse of her responses, and the self-denying nature of her thoughts:

IMG_7842“Who was the boy, Marianne?” Dr. Oakley asked quietly. “What did he do to you?”

Marianne didn’t reply at first, then said, in the same near-inaudible voice, that she did not wish to say the boy’s name. She did not believe that what had happened had been his fault to any degree more than it had been her fault. She’d been drinking at the party, and she had never been so sick in her life. She had made a mistake to drink and believed that friends had warned her but she could not remember clearly. She could not remember much of what had happened and even the memory of the prom itself had become blurred like a dream you know you’ve had yet can’t recall. It was there, it was real, yet she had no access to it. And she did not wish to speak in error.

Dr Oakley said, frowning, “But something was done to you, Marianne? You’ve been – ‘hurt’?”

There was the evidence she’d discovered. Marianne said slowly, of certain injuries. On her body. She had struggled with him, the boy whose name she did not wish to say, but he’d ripped her dress, and might have struck her – unless she’d fallen, slipped and fell in her high heels, on icy pavement. Trying to run from his car. It had been very cold and windy and she didn’t know where her coat was and she’d been sick. She had never been drunk before but believed that that was what had happened to her – she’d been drinking something made of orange juice and she’d been warned but had not listened, or could not remember having listened, and could not remember who’d warned her. She did not wish to name any names and to involve her friends or anyone for no one was to blame except possibly herself. She might have been running and stumbling from the boy’s car because she was going to be sick. Ashamed to be sick, vomiting in his car. […]

For the past few days she had been praying and meditating upon what to do, and she had decided she must do nothing, for it was she who had made the mistake and not the boy and she must not bear witness against him. And Marianne began to cry again, helplessly.

(134)

“Did not wish”, “did not want”, “must not bear”, “she must do nothing”: Like many of Weinstein’s female victims, Marianne would rather write off the truth and white-out her memory, preferring to suffer in silence instead of seeking for help.

She fears that people won’t understand – won’t even try to understand, but do what’s far easier: speculate and shame the woman for seducing the man.

It’s the classic Genesis narrative – had it not been for that minx Eve who fell trap to Satan’s stupid fruit bid, poor clueless Adam would never had sinned.

Jan Brueghel and PP Rubens_Fall of Man

‘The Fall of Man’, by Jan Brueghel and Peter Paul Rubens

Misogyny, as we know, is no new thing under the sun.

Ultimately, people treat us how we want and teach them to treat us, so if we don’t think much of ourselves anyway, predatory men will pick up on our fear of not being enough from a mile away.

I’ve noticed, then, that the more confident and certain a woman is about her worth, the less likely she is to be a victim of misogyny.

But instead of seeing predatory or disrespectful men as ‘enemies’ or ‘monsters’, understand that deep down they harbour deep, crippling insecurities about their manhood, and as such are desperate for sexual validation, which they can only obtain from the other sex. In this sense, perhaps no one is more human than them.

So choose to feel sorry for these souls and step away, because your time is better spent with people who truly value your worth, be that your loved ones or yourself.

Namaste, ladies.

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Joyce Carol Oates, circa 1999

Feature image credits: Vanity Fair

 

When traveling starts at home

To flit…
From high to low, from low to high, yet still
Within the bound of this huge concave; here
Must be his home, this valley be his world.

– William Wordsworth, The Recluse (1888)

Who doesn’t love traveling?

I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t. From the anticipation of jetting off to another place to the experience of seeing and tasting new things, there’s no denying that traveling is one of the greater joys in life.

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An interview with Samuel Ferrer, Man Asian Literary Prize-nominated author

“I find it amazing that the most prominent kingdom of the Indian diaspora completely evaporated, leaving nothing behind other than these stones.”

– Samuel Ferrer, The Last Gods of Indochine (2016)

I will admit it – I’m a picky reader.

There are certain genres that I used to love but now wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole (chick lit lad lit I’m lookin’ atcha), and I secretly wish that Top 10 Bestseller shelves could be consigned to the dusts of bibliographic oblivion.

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Fie! Fie! Get thee gone

I’ve written about my (much contested) aversion to sci-fi before, and I’ve always found the idea of fictionalising history a bit unsettling.

This is why, when author, double bassist and jazz musician Samuel Ferrer reached out to me a while ago with an invitation to read his historical fiction novel, The Last Gods of Indochine, I was skeptical. Looking back, I’d say I was thrown out of my ‘reading comfort zone’, given that a large part of it is set in medieval Cambodia – a period in history which I have absolutely no knowledge about.

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How women show their strength

What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.

– Susan Sontag

Back in October last year, I took up strength training as part of my fitness routine.

Since then, I have been lifting weights every week in full badass mode; headphones in, West Coast hip-hop on, huffing and puffing while I bust out 20 squats with 20-pound dumbbells in each hand.

workout selfie shot

Not the most flattering self-portrait, I know, but no one looks flattering when they’re working out. And if you disagree, you’ve either not worked out before, or you weren’t actually working out when you thought you were.

#FACT #sorrynotsorry #keepinitreal

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Lessons & impressions from my trip to Shanghai

Shanghai people are distilled from traditional Chinese people under the pressure of modern life, they are they product of a deformed mix of old and new culture. The result may not be healthy, but in it there is also a curious wisdom.”

– Eileen Chang

In the past month, there’s been a fair few shake-ups in my life, hence the silence on this blog.

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At some point, I know imma have to retire the ‘life gets in the way’ excuse, but the fact of the matter remains that life keeps getting in the way – of writing, of thinking, of sleeping, and sometimes, even of living.

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I’m breaking up with sugar, and it’s been hard

Endless conveyor belts of sickness or litigation poured clients and patients into these midtown offices like dreary Long Island potatoes. These dull spuds crushed psychoanalysts’ hearts with boring character problems. Then suddenly Humboldt arrived. Oh, Humboldt! He was no potato. He was a papaya a citron a passion fruit. He was beautiful deep eloquent fragrant original – even when he looked bruised in the face, hacked under the eyes, half-destroyed.

-Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift (1975)

Everyone has a drug.

What’s your drug?

Before you answer, I’ll clarify what I mean by ‘drug’: I mean anything that you find addictive – substance, food, drinks, activities, people.

But no, this post isn’t about that kind of coke; instead, it is tenuously related to the (marginally) less harmful kind one finds on supermarket shelves, because I’ve recently discovered that one of my biggest ‘drugs’ is sugar.

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