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.
Addendum – powerful voices of note:
Rebecca Solnit (Facebook, but a feed utterly worth following from one of the world’s most formidable minds)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (video)
Omar Musa (video)