Radio silence

Charlene general 21 Comments

I’ve been blogging since 1999, when Blogspot was all the rage. Self publishing was a revelation, as was the ability to connect with people I would have otherwise never encountered.

Once I started blogging, I couldn’t stop. Writing for the public, even if that public was three people, was my first taste of creative production, this thing we call “getting your work out there.” It was exhilarating and terrifying and confusing and delightful all at once. Awkward and trip-tongued in real life, writing allowed me to extend myself in a way I never could otherwise, and test waters in supportive digital communities. It continues to function as my truth seeking mechanism, and publishing, a commitment to that truth. Writing gave me a voice, and the small act of hitting the “Publish” button, the courage to speak.

I say all this after two months of silence, an eternity online.

In this period I’ve considered nuking this blog several times.

This site draws a decent amount of daily hits for the handful of gear reviews that live in its archives. Quite funny as I am a terrible gear reviewer. The only piece of equipment I’ve ever written about with genuine feeling is the 27mm lens, and that was more about the psychology of having it on my camera than anything to do with the lens itself.

But the number of people coming to this site has made me afraid to speak, even if most of them don’t stick around.

I was hit with a few hard truths after my father died three years ago, ones I felt safe ignoring while he was alive, because he tempered friction where it was roughest, and also because I lived in a comfortable bubble that made it possible to do so. It all fell apart the moment he was gone though. It’s the big things, you know – race, gender, and the moral politics – which come at you in small, close ways, that so often hurt the most.

“…feel myself in all places, from New York City to rural Switzerland, the custodian of a black body, and have to find the language for all of what that means to me and to the people who look at me”

Teju Cole, in the introduction of his new book Known And Strange Things, says it for me. I have never been more acutely aware of my brownness and femaleness (I want to say “femininity” but it sounds funny coming from a tomboy), what it means to be both and either, and what names these attributes have depending on where I am in the world.

I am incredibly grateful for the open discussion that is happening now and for the diversity of incisive voices bringing these issues to light. It’s well past time we got talking about this in the general arena.

I am so fresh on this particular journey though, that trying to untangle my lived experience still renders me speechless. A Nepalese restaurant owner in Germany once declared I couldn’t be a real Singaporean because only my mother was Chinese. Having eaten Vietnamese soup noodles at his establishment, the entire conversation struck me as confusing to the point of being ridiculous. But I found I didn’t have a ready response to this dismissal of my claimed identity. What does it mean to be Singaporean? I am half Chinese and half Indian, that mess of contradiction: a brown Mandarin speaker. I’ve lived away from Singapore for so long I’m entirely out of sync with other Singaporeans. I know precious little about what it means to be Chinese, and nothing at all about being Indian outside of being identified as one because of my skin color. The only place in the world I’ve been where people didn’t look at me strangely, was Mexico City, because, as a chilango once commented “you look like me.” I’m Asian, although that too starts to lose meaning once I try give it any attribute aside from the geographical one (which in itself is problematic).

So what am I really? Where do I come from? Where do I belong? What the hell am I doing?

There are too many facets to pry apart cogently at the moment, and it is futile trying not to, because I end up censoring myself to the point where there are no words left. My examination of travelling, photography, relationships, and general life comes through this lens. I’d like to consider my interests in isolation, but they’re all very much a part of living, and life always gets in the way. But any conversation about race and gender inhabits an exceptionally sensitive sphere, and invites inevitable and sometimes terrifying backlash.

All that said, I realize that I’ll never learn to write about anything without actually writing. And I really want to be able to. Because people keep telling me I have no business doing so, but what gives one person legitimacy to express their views over another?

So, I think I’ll keep the blog a while longer.

And it’ll still mostly have pictures and my usual lightweight rambling (and the odd bad review or two, when I get excited about new cameras and things). But I’ve resolved to include all of the things that give my life such color, because those are the things worth speaking about.

Charlene-Winfred-10128

Addendum – powerful voices of note:

Kirsten Han

Rebecca Solnit (Facebook, but a feed utterly worth following from one of the world’s most formidable minds)

Teju Cole and Taiye Selsi in conversation

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (video)

Alfian Sa’at

Omar Musa (video)

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Comments 21

  1. Glad to hear you’re keeping the blog going, I enjoy your posts and news of your travels 🙂 Especially the post ’bout your battered X-Pro1 🙂

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  2. Keep the blog girl! You are an excellent scribe and I am sure a lot of people get a lot out of your posts and the fact that you travel so much these days and witness so many different things, you are able to give insight into many different points of view unable to be witness by mere mortals who are locked into day to day working life…so keep it up Treasure!

    I also wonder about my blog from time to time and then when I don’t post anything for a week or more, I get emails asking if I’m OK because I haven’t put anything up for a while and I also get heaps of really nice comments at functions from people who never comment, but say they love all my posts!

    I am sure your blog is exactly the same…people are reading but not necessarily commenting as often as they should! 🙂

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      Appreciate it very much, Markie. I often question the value of blogging. But I guess, since it continues to be valuable to me, that is enough.

      PS, I’m one of those people who don’t comment on your blog, but I do read it 🙂

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  3. Best blog post I’ve read in a long time, from anyone.
    The “experts” say to have a successful blog you must post two or three times a week, I reckon it’s ok to break the rules!

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      Thanks Simon! This blog isn’t successful by any measure, but I never wanted to be a successful blogger (too much pressure). I have it simply because I enjoy it – at least, I used to. Time to get back to that. Good writing practice too 🙂

  4. I’m glad you’re keeping the blog. Great post: your words are moving in content and form. And I love (seriously) the last photograph. It practically shouted “hope” at me.

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      Sean,

      I almost lost the nerve to publish this one, but in the end, it’s about exactly that: hope 🙂

      Thank you for dropping by.

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      “You have a strong voice and an audience”

      Well, to be fair, most people on the internet do – both the voice and the audience! 😀

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  5. Identity issues are common for nomads. I remember a British lady in Azerbaijan refusing to believe I was English (and how much that threw me!) I had been talking German and Russian for so long that obviously she heard something foreign when I spoke English, but I really didn’t. Plus I was working for the Germans but they clearly saw me as foreign even though I spent 16 years there. It was all very disconcerting and to some degree still is, as I live in a small English village but with a Czech wife and kids who speak Czech.

    And yes, I realise that being a white male I have it MUCH easier than others.

    Anyway, I think you’re a good writer and I’d miss you if you vanished.

    Best of luck.

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      “I live in a small English village but with a Czech wife and kids who speak Czech”

      I LOVE that!

      I think in some sense it’s hard not to grow as a person and not question one’s identity every once in a while. Add moving around to the equation and that would happen with more frequency. I’ve noticed that how I feel about myself depends on how much worth others ascribe to my color, gender, religion, language, nationality, etc…. heck, something as banal as food preference. It’s never as simple as “I feel lousy because so-and-so thinks instant ramen lovers are shitty people,” but I guess if identity was that easily addressed, it wouldn’t be such an issue… or as interesting, considering all of the great art that arises from it.

      Thank you as always for swinging by and taking the time to comment, Ian.

  6. This post is an excellent example of the importance of expressing yourself. You’ve probably positively influenced more people than you could imagine. Five hours ago I’ve never even heard of you or this site( now permanently bookmarked 🙂 ), yet this post has more to do with me than I’d like to think or admit to myself.
    As I rarely post or comment on anything let me just say great images/ attitude/ journey to figuring out this thing called life hehe. Keep it up and don’t feel pressured to just express yourself, whatever you do and however often will always be perfect.

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      Cajun,

      I’m glad you think so, and that you took the time to comment. Thank you for dropping by.

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