Haven't written anything on here in a while. Lately I've been feeling like if I have something to say, then I want to say it on social media - which is surprising to me, since there was a time in my life when I didn't do social media at all. But it feels like there is some kind of emotional muscle I want (or maybe need?) to build at the moment, that only ever gets activated under the pressure of public scrutiny. Something like: learning how to sit with the shame of saying or sharing too much. Or maybe something like: learning how to metabolise the nervousness that comes with growing and learning in front of other people, rather than in private.
There's this anecdote that's kind of embarrassing but it keeps coming back to my mind at the moment, so I'm going to share it. When I was in primary school, I used to have a blog not dissimilar to this one. I've forgotten a lot about those years of my life (see: my memoir). But I remember that blog well because it was where I escaped to, to narrate my life - which made it feel like one of the few places where my life was actually happening to me, and not just through me.
I wrote on that blogspot page nearly every day. And I didn't really think too much about anyone else when I was doing it. I knew that people were visiting because - this being the early 2000s - I had one of those little chat boxes on the side of the page where people could leave comments like "kewl blog" or "*p0ke*" or whatever else we liked to say to each other, back in those days of Singaporean lianspeak. No one ever really commented on my writing though. So I don't think I understood that there was much of a link between the chat box (friends, socialization, the world) and my blog itself (self, personal, very often confessional) until one day, when I came home from school, and saw that the chat box had been completely flooded by almost fifty comments from my classmates arguing about how I had used the word "cum" as textspeak shorthand for "come", in one of my blog posts.
In hindsight, I feel like the fact that this upset people as much as it did is quite funny - because of course we were all primary schoolers who had not yet had sex, and it is likely that the people who were mad at me had only very recently learnt what the word "cum" meant themselves. But in that moment, I felt like I wanted to die. I will never forget the feeling of sitting there in my spinning desk chair, reading each and every one of those fifty comments, and experiencing the specific shame of being shouted at in all-caps by a troop of very moralistic, angry, and self-righteous 10-year-old boys (who, incidentally, were also the sorts of people who would never have dared to approach me at school). It felt like someone was pouring boiling hot water down my throat. Even more so because the all-caps shouting was, occasionally, punctuated by comments from other classmates whom up to that moment, I didn't even realise were readers of my blog. But here they all were now, leaping out of the woodwork to excitedly defend me, or otherwise just do the verbal equivalent of munching popcorn and ogling.
I don't remember how I dealt with this whole incident after reading through the chat box - knowing my younger self, I suspect that I simply cleared out the comments, changed my spelling back to "come", and acted like nothing had happened. I was well-liked enough at school that my reputation (and my pride) survived. But what I took from the whole thing was this very interesting feeling that I continue to live with all the time now, as an adult writer: the mix of pleasure plus fear that comes with being seen by other people. On the one hand, it made me feel very triumphant - almost exultant - to realise that so many people were invested in reading my blog and shouting at each other about its contents. But on the other hand, the frisson came with this almost unbearable edge of anxiety attached - this feeling that at any moment, all the pleasure of being seen might turn sour, and lash out into a communal, vengeful act of punishing me for missteps.
I think that in many senses, my whole writing career since then has been about finding new ways to process the two sides of this feeling, and sit with it. I feel like I'm always looking for ways to turn this fear of public shaming into something generative ("I will write more, I will exist more, I will be more present and public in spite of you") instead of limiting ("I don't want you to judge me or use me as a mirror to see your worst self, so I will be small and quiet and never write again"). I don't really know where I am going with this post. Maybe I'm using it to think through what it will feel like to have a career that involves becoming more and more visible, if all goes well with selling my book this year. As an author, I'd like to become someone who's good at sitting with gross emotions - who can feel difficult feelings or make mistakes and grow in public ways, and so free others to do the same. I feel like that's one of services that a good memoirist provides for their readers, actually. And I still have a ways to go.