It's a lovely sunny London morning to be indoors blogging! But this morning I woke up with a thought on my mind, about the very first thing I ever published.
The first piece of writing that I ever published in a journal was this essay in berfrois, that I wrote when I was like 19 or 20 or something (if you scroll all the way to the end of the post, you'll see that I still looked like a baby - I still had the bangs that I used to have back in junior college in Singapore). It was an essay where I read the work of two artists, Gertrude Stein and Sebastião Sagaldo, side by side, and talked about issues of framing... and for a long time, thinking about this essay used to make me feel somewhat uncomfortable and ashamed of myself.
Inexplicably so, perhaps - since the writing itself is by all accounts pretty solid. But for a long time, the feelings were there, and I struggled to find a satisfactory explanation for them. In fact, when I was building this website two years ago, I struggled enormously to include this essay in my list of publications... wasn't it too pretentious? Too preening and bombastic? I had written this piece as part of a mentorship programme, back in Singapore, that wasn't a good fit for my emotional needs as an artist at the time, at all. And for a long time, I wondered if my bad feelings were somehow tied to the programme and the broader regrets that I still feel about it.
I've written on here before that for me, the temptation has always been to erase the past from my own artistic record, and present myself like a person who has always been fully formed - instead of as someone who has had to grow over many years, and discover what works/doesn't work for them. So it really amazes me to see that now - aged 30~ and finishing my first book - my mind has come back to this first baby-steps essay about Sebastião Sagaldo again. The core themes of the memoir that I have spent the past 4 years making - control, power dynamics, the complexities of the author-character relationship in a piece of literature or art - they were all there to begin with, in the very first thing that I hesitantly tried to put out into the world. It makes me think about this tweet that I recently saw, from the author E.J. Koh, where she says:
And that's something that feels important for me to hold onto - as a person who, generally, tries as hard as possible to run away from their past and past selves. Realising that I've come back to the very beginning again, after years and years of going on a journey - it puts me in mind of that famous Louise Glück quote where she says that people only look at the world once, in childhood, and the rest is just memory. Beginnings are important! In some ways, I'm starting to understand, maybe they are all that there really is.
Over the last few weeks, revisions for my memoir have really kicked into high gear. I've been getting feedback from beta-readers, solving the last few structural puzzles of the book by going back to old feedback from workshop groups and friends again... and I can feel that the book is becoming more and more like its final, finished self. Originally I wanted to go out on subs before the end of the year, but I'm starting to feel differently now that I realise that waiting can give me a chance to bring other people into the process, so that I feel like I'm not alone. Honestly, I never thought I'd be the kind of person to say this - but I would pick the feeling of having a community of fellow writers over the thrill of being first and fastest, any day. Ending off with another quote-tweet that I think expresses the feeling (or at least my own aspirations) better than I ever could: