I moved back to London yesterday, after almost two years away. It's cold beyond belief here, and gets dark at an astonishingly early hour. I'm writing this while jetlagging and waiting for the melatonin to kick in.
It feels surreal to be back in this city again, especially because so much has happened to, and within, me since I was last in this particular physical space. Yesterday, someone at work asked me for three words that I would use to describe my 2021, and I gave them "transformational", "expressive" and "authentic". I feel more like myself than I've ever felt before. And perhaps part of the challenge is keeping that feeling close to me, even when I have a chance to scratch it all out and reinvent my personality again - like I did very the first time I moved to the UK, from Singapore, ten years ago. This time, I packed some of my old concert pianist scores and written criticism from childhood with me, to bring back to our flat. It feels important to have the physical proof of who I once was here with me now - just in case I'm tempted to forget about the past again. I want to hold on.
Book-writing is going slowly at the moment! I've hit a section of the narrative that is difficult for me - that involves rereading some essays that reveal parts of my self I wish didn't exist, and being honest about them. At a lecture I attended some time ago, the speaker, Minal Hajratwala, talked about how finishing a book involves this interior process of "becoming the person who I need to become, in order to finish the book I need to write". That's exactly what it feels like for me. When I feel discouraged about the speed at which I'm progressing, I try to remember that it's not only about getting words down on paper; it's also about becoming the type of person who would be capable of writing these words in the first place, and situating herself comfortably within their truth.
Some days, I write three lines of dialogue and then I'm out for the day. So I do more paid projects; I go for walks; I lie around on the couch watching the sky, and letting my subconscious thoughts slowly rise to the level of utterance. I want to give myself the permission to be this way, even though it can make me feel like less of a success than I'd like to be.
Last week, the editor of a magazine asked me how my name ought to appear in its pages. They noticed that I styled my name three different ways in the content pages, the proof, and the notes. So I've decided that from now on, when I publish, I want to move my first name around - like "Shze-Hui Tjoa" - to avoid confusion for readers in other countries. Two years ago, something like this would have bothered me immensely - it would probably have made me rant on about politics and power. But I feel that as I gain more of a sense of self with the writing, little things like this have started to bother me much less. I know who I am, because my identity is there in my story, and alive in my body. What I want, these days, is to make it easy for other people to perceive me - even if that gaze can only come through a thin veil of fantasy or compromise.