Proving Patience

Junko Chodos, Dead Flower Series, No. 8, Byoobu, Pen-and-ink with wash.

Junko Chodos, Dead Flower Series, No. 8, Byoobu, Pen-and-ink with wash.

Over the second SWF weekend, I met two friends at the Festival Bookstore, who had browsed through Deeds of Light and were unimpressed. Their main gripes seemed to be 1. an aversion to any treatment of the local, 2. the book being too cerebral, and 3. a mixture of both, i.e.: “what are you doing to Bak Kut Teh? That’s not how Bak Kut Teh is supposed to be written about!”. The book is all about conceiving the local in a different, perhaps defamiliarising manner; clearly, I’m on the right track.

If you missed the SWF launch, BooksActually is doing another one on the 4th of December, again a joint one with David’s book, but this time with Daryl as our moderator. In the whatsapp group Daryl created to discuss the book, I said that the SWF launch didn’t focus as much on the personal aspect of my book than perhaps it deserved. Part of that is my fault—I wasn’t sure I was ready to be that personal to a whole group of potential strangers, and it’s so much easier to talk about craft and form and theme. The other part is that Deeds of Light is decidedly non-confessional; I think it uses the personal in a very different way from, say Cyril Wong or Jollin Tan, even David.

The heart of the matter, I suppose, is that I don’t come to the same aesthetic or perhaps even moral conclusions that attend the use of the self in writing. Yes, there is divorce, there is deep loss, there is death, there is questioning and abandonment and rage and sadness. But the I, still struggling to understand, doesn’t want to make pain a thing to be aestheticised. There is power in pain. But I think there is a deeper power in patience, the decision to look through the eye of the pain and see something beyond, possibly imagined— and what are we apart from our ability to create, anyhow?—and suggest that somehow, it will all make sense:

after Octavio Paz

tall tree in the ear,
garden of face—
when you burst this brittle
pot, will I, now broken,
learn how to listen,
lie face down,
bury my head in the richest
earth, and, mouth
full, go praising
each fruit?

Hao Guang Tse