Saturday, 31 December 2016

A letter to myself (a year from now)

Dear Mel,

You're probably working on your essay right now, with a cup of Earl Grey tea, slightly sugared and perfected with a dose of semi-skimmed milk, as usual. You're not the type who gets excessively flustered or stressed over things, unlike Marcus. On the contrary, you're pretty laid-back, you sketch occasional time-tables to remind yourself that you don't actually have that much time left to reach your deadlines. Even though you almost never seem stressed out, there are times when you experience sudden breakouts on your face, your period comes couple of weeks late and you suffer from consecutive nights of insomnia. Those are signs that a burnout lies a few steps ahead of you. Dad once shared about the 'second wind' phenomenon. In a marathon, it comes when you think your legs are about to give way. All of a sudden, you're filled with renewed strength and you 'cruise' through the final lap of the race. Don't give up. Wait for it. (And definitely, as observed from past experiences, do not start binge watching Korean dramas!)

The next, and more important, thing that I want to remind you is how blessed and privileged you are. You're a fervent believer of 'living in the moment'. It is impossible for you to envision your life five years from now. You take ages to reply your text messages, but you're snap-chatting every little thing that intrigues you (and that really annoys your friends at times). And while you're 'living in the moment', you tend to forget and take for granted how far you've come to get to where you are today. You get angsty about temporal things that don't go your way. You become appalling ungracious to others and forget the immense grace has been poured out to you. No, it's not how far you have come, but how blessed you've been and how much support you've received from the people around you.

As a millennial, you were told that you were special, that you could make a difference to this world. And in the competitive society that you were brought up in, your worth was determined by your academic ability. You never believed in this bullshit (probably because studying was something you hated, as many of your primary and secondary school friends can attest to), but you started buying it when you did surprisingly well in your 'O' Level exam. When you got into the Humanities Scholarship Programme in Junior College, and subsequently received a conditional offer of the prestigious SAF Merit Scholarship, you thought that, maybe, you were quite the genius. You started to dream about studying in the world's best universities, rising the ranks as an SAF scholar and maybe, embarking on a political endeavour one day. And then, you were proven wrong in the 'A' Level exam. You reported your results to the scholarship board knowing that the scholarship would be taken away from you. You sent in your transcript to the prestigious universities that you had applied to, knowing that you would be rejected. From being placed on a pedestal, you were humbled to the point of sobbing in your shell scrape during field camp. You went to the other extreme and had a poor attitude in everything you did. From then on, everything seemed to go on a downward spiral and you were in a place - a labyrinth - where you thought you could never get out from. You were wrong.

When Marcus received his overseas scholarship, he urged you to go to the UK with him. You knew you did not have the means to pay for an overseas education when you were only given a humble local study award. Yet, he assured you that everything would work out. With your meagre savings, you managed to pay off the additional sum needed for tuition fees at the University of Manchester (your third choice on UCAS) but had absolutely nothing left for your daily expenditure. Instead of living lavishly, out of an overflow of his love, Marcus decided to spend his scholarship allowance on funding an extra person. No, he did not just apportion a small amount of his allowance to ensure that you were living comfortably. He took care of your interests equally as well, or even better, than his own. Because of this, you were given the opportunity to fulfil your desire of studying in the UK, albeit not having a fully-funded scholarship of your own and not in the university of your dreams. But by the grace of God, you excelled in your undergraduate programme and was, again, given another shot at studying in your dream university - this time, for your post-graduate degree.

This is only a truncated version of the full story. Behind every essay that you wrote, every application that you made and every conversation that you had with your academic referees were the utterance of prayers by your family and friends, the kind words of encouragement that kept you going and the sovereign hand of God that opened each and every door. Do not ever forget this.

In the good times, don't forget those who stuck with you in the bad. When someone gets on your nerve, show him or her grace that has been shown to you again and again. Although it's tempting for you to camp at home and keep to yourself, go out. Step out of your comfort zone to meet people from different backgrounds. (You always tell yourself to do this at the start of school term but you never maintain your resolve.) Finally, praise God in the good and the bad. This earth is temporal. Whatever comes your way, keep your eyes to the heavens and know that it is well.


Friday, 18 November 2016

I am 22 and no longer who I used to be

Since a couple of years ago, it became a ritual for me to reflect on how far I’ve come, every time I turn a year older. It’s a tad bit belated, but here we go.

I think one of the biggest changes since last year (as some of you might have noticed) is that I blog much more infrequently. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. “Have I lost my (youthful) passion to write?” I ponder with regret. “Has inspiration shut its door on me?” I yearn with an unspeakable longing. “Or am I just too preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of life final year?” Reality finally strikes.

But no; I do not find satisfaction in any of these questions answers. Deep down I know that it is because I no longer have (in a myopic sense) an opinion. When the UK voted to leave the EU, I flipped open my MacBook, ready to draft out an opinion piece (as politics student are expected to). I opened a blank page on Microsoft Word, stared at it for a good 15 minutes and finally shut the MacBook without having written a single word. When Donald Trump was elected president, I, again, felt the need to say something. Anything. But I realised that I had absolutely nothing to say.

At this point of time, you’re probably thinking that I’m an uninspiring politics student who probably can’t figure out my allegiances. Or you might not even give a damn about me (although I don’t understand why you’re still reading this, up to this point). I don’t know. Okay, I just proved, again, that I lack an opinion.

The point is: I am not blogging (as much as before) because I have nothing to say. (I know, it’s ironic that I’m currently blogging about not blogging – that’s beside the point.)

Yes, I don’t have an opinion. But it’s not what you think. It’s not that I’m impassive, apathetic (whatever you wish to call it). I believe think it might be because I’m no longer the person I used to be. I used to be assertive in my convictions, be in politics or in defining love. Without considering every piece of evidence, every individual (loud or soft) voice, every (possibly insignificant) experience, I came to my own conclusions and flaunted them to my world. I’m not saying that it was wrong but I grew out of it.

Maybe I realised that people don’t actually care about what you think. Maybe I realised that having an opinion is a privilege that shouldn’t be abused. Not when there are people who are not allowed or do not have the ability to express their views. Not when there are citizens of the world who have greater concerns such as having to survive each day, day by day. Not when there are boys and girls, my age, who have not received basic education. Maybe I realised that having a view is something that society expects of us – to conform to one side, to prove that you are a critical thinker, to define who you are by your opinions. (And yes, I know, this is an opinion in itself.)

In academia, we are forced to pick a side. “Never sit on the fence” is one of the top tips to writing a good essay. In debate, we are assigned with proposition or opposition; there is no fence-sitter. The same goes for social media. You don’t write a post saying, “I don’t know if Britain should leave the UK.” You’re expected to write either something emotive (“Britons should be in control of their future. Not the Germans!”) or supposedly rational (“It’s the economy, stupid!”).

I wrote nothing. And I, still, have nothing to write. The truth is, I don’t know if the UK should leave the EU. I don’t know whether a Trump or Hillary victory would’ve been a worse outcome. I did some research, I chatted with others and I still don’t know. There will be people who will (probably) look at me with contempt and retort, “What?! Can’t you see the obvious?!” I can’t. And it’s ok. I’ll leave it as that. I think it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” I’m not God, I can’t see into the future and I don’t want to make judgements on things that are not certain. I don’t want my convictions to make the person with a different view feel like an idiot. I don’t want to be a know-it-all when I (in fact) know nothing at all.

Blogging has always been my safe haven. A place where I pour out my convictions (like I’m doing right now), speak my mind freely and, hopefully, influence others in the way that they think. I, still, am speaking my mind freely but I, now, choose to withhold forming opinions when I have yet to quench an issue in its entirety.

I am 22 and no longer who I used to be.

If someone were to ask me about my opinion, I would probably say: I don’t know. Is it the right approach to life? I don’t know.


P.s. I’ve been endeavouring to write an article on Christianity and Feminism (it’s been more than a year). Who knows, I may post it one day when I’ve actually scrutinised every nook and cranny of Christian and Feminist literature. Or I may just carry it to my death bed. I don’t know.
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