My father proposed an explanation the other day. His rationale was that I grew up primarily sustained by a diet of books and thus consequently developed the mind of a reader in a nation of non-readers. This led to eventual difficulties in relating and emphatizing with not just my peers in school, but with essentially everybody around me. Nonetheless, like searching for Oz, I remained stubbornly invested in the idea that a more ideal environment still existed out there, maybe not in Malaysia but certainly somewhere. This conjecture of being better understood in distant lands led to leaving for America with bated breath and zealous idealism at the age of twenty, only to confront the reality that even in a land of supposed readers where made readily available were an abundance of libraries begging to be explored and all the books I’d ever wished for easily available via my 1-click Amazon Prime account, the real world would never be able to account for the concrete ideal I had designed in my head. It was exactly this vile mismatch between expectations and reality that I needed to be rooted back down to earth and leave the dank yet comfortable adolescent dreaminess which had so consumed me.
Not wanting to be subjugated so easily by this theory which stung in so many respects, my natural reaction was to immediately refute it. Yes, I can’t deny I’ve thought about this theory for numerous times afterwards, so whimsically thrown to me by a parent in the wee hours of a random morning, and considered the startling accuracy of some of the points. Even more so, it fascinated me not just from a personal navel-gazing perspective but in terms of how it brings to mind closer examination of the narrative of a reader. What do we subconsciously yearn for as we delve into a piece of text, into the land of books? Is there a verification that we yearn for to enable us as thinkers and as significant individuals amidst the privacy of hidden narratives and lands?
I watched a Youtube video today by a literature major who aptly described the beauty of literature as gaining permission to examine various psyches. There lies a profound loneliness and yet absence of loneliness which I find in the world of a reader and consequently, as a writer. Loneliness, because of exactly what was said above about being able to relate less to non-readers, about how even while being in conversation with non-readers there is a palpable sense of an almost emotional disconnect in some areas. How is it that we are reading the same passages in a book, yet you are unable to experience the same delights, the same stings, the same terrors? We share the same sky and yet we are so different, we have such different loves. Saying all this now at a later age, I understand how gratuitous it sounds, because it is so narcissistic to only want to be limited to people of the same supposed ilk. To want to idolize only a certain type of intellect or beauty seems so unjust and even unkind. And surely reading and writing is about humbling down to look at both differences and similarities in order to put it all to pen and paper to understand better?
Yet there still is the problem — I tell people I am going to pursue Creative Writing only to elicit polite glances or condescending responses that hint at doubts as to why anybody would want to pursue such a line in the first place. I understand the assumptions and the doubts, about how our society has been conditioned and how perhaps to study language and writing is such an unwarranted luxury, have grown almost immune to the lack of conviction in its importance or success as a career path which even I admit is not as appealing in forecast as say, perhaps more practical options would be. How important can the study of language and its aesthetics be? I feel isolated when most of my loved ones don’t understand. Yes, this is all good, but to what effect then, my dear? Shouldn’t we agree to disagree that we are in pursuit of different things, even if we may be unable to regard them of possessing the same value?
There are many things of which I owe to reading which would always be accounted for. It was through reading that I, simply put, found the appetite and strength to live. Without it, I felt, and considerably might even still feel, powerless. Reading was an escape and I fell in love with the world of prose, with the beauty of understanding that others can convey how I feel towards this life in all its splendor. Even better, it shed light in unfound perspectives and nourished the beauty of meaning. This all still seems naive to profess now in a state where I still feel very much adrift with a lack of direction but I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than to inspire or prompt thoughts in others through the channel of language and fiction and prose. It might change your life — I know it did mine.