August 6th, 2018

Roger "Come on"

A Small and Timely Victory

This morning, after my usual breakfast of M&S' 4 nut granola and an Aeropress coffee, I checked my email and found waiting for me a long-awaited reply from the editors of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. I had submitted a short story that I wrote while reading Nguyen Tuong Van v Public Prosecutor for the doctrinal chapter of my PhD to the Journal's Writing Singapore issue. It was fortuitous that I even knew about it; someone I met at the writing Meetup group (which I have stopped going to) sent me a link to it. I wasn't even going to submit anything as I didn't feel like I had anything to say about Singapore...until I was re-reading that case at the faculty one day and seized the idea for the story that suddenly came to my head.

In other words, I abandoned work on my PhD at 4 in the afternoon, the peak of my productive 3-4 hours, to write the story. I really have my priorities straight, don't I? In my defence, though, I do get intense too when I'm writing the PhD. Basically, as long as I am in the zone and the words are flowing, I will abandon anything to respect and honour the drive to write, whatever it is that I am writing. That said, I would be lying if I said that writing fiction isn't easier, more natural and more enjoyable than writing my PhD.

Anyway, so I did that, and struggled to finish it, and even finished it when I was in Taipei solely because the deadline for submission was one or two days into my Taipei trip. I remember sitting in a cafe at 7pm, so late because my plan of going to the cafe at 5 or 6pm was massively delayed by a shopping detour that my mom and I embarked on on the way back to the apartment, editing and adding to what had already been written, and struggling to finish the damn thing. In the end, I forced myself to finish it because there was a deadline and I really wanted to send it because I didn't know what I would do with it otherwise; and so I sent it a few minutes before the deadline (some things never change; I did this all the time when I was at NUS) despite not liking the ending. In fact, I didn't even remember how I'd ended it until I saw the email today and scrolled through the story and then was reminded of the lame ending.

The point of all this is: I was very happy to read that the story was accepted for publication. This happiness lasted maybe 2 minutes before I started thinking, Oh my god, I hate this story. Do I really want this to be read by other people and attach my name to it?!

I wasn't kidding when I said in the previous private entry that I hate everything that I write...well, maybe with the exception of At the Harold Pinter Theatre, or the piece that I referred to as B in this entry. (No, I have not touched it in a couple of months. No, I have not finished the Matt story, which I definitely hate. And no, the 400-word piece that I submitted for the competition was not even shortlisted, which bummed me out at first until I recognised that my piece wasn't really a story or fiction as much as it was some kind of indulgent prose poetry thingy.) Apart from that, I hate everything that I write. I hate the story that was published in 2011 based on my ambiguous friendship with Kenneth. I hate the story that will be published in September. I hate the stories that sit in my hard drive, either finished or unfinished. I do quite like a two-page reflective or whatever thingy that I wrote about Never Again, but it's so self-contained and specific to the context that I don't know what I would do with it; include it in a larger piece, maybe. I don't know.

As one might have guessed from its inspiration, i.e. a case on the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking in Singapore, the story is about the death penalty for drug trafficking in Singapore. The reason I don't like it is because...well, there are a few reasons, perhaps two reasons. First, the writing style is not my usual style because I deliberately tried to write in the voice of the narrator, who is sentenced to death for drug trafficking. So it means that the language had to be non-emotive, non-descriptive, quite simple and straightforward. As any reader of this LJ would know, I like my sentences long, florid, liberally peppered with commas and semi-colons, descriptive and emotive. I couldn't do that in this story because of what it's about.

The second reason I don't like it doesn't really have to do with my disliking it. Rather, it stems from my ever-present nagging fear that I have misinterpreted or misrepresented a case and what it says about the law. I have had this fear at the back of my mind ever since law school, and doing a PhD has not made it go away. If anything, it has exacerbated this fear. For some reason, I have never been confident that I know what the law is even though, fuck yes, I know what the law is in the area of constitutional rights in Singapore, and I know it because that's what I've spent the past three bloody years of my life doing. So I know what it is. But I always feel as though, and fear, that I don't, or that I didn't get it right, or that I got something wrong. And so I always feel a stab of uncertainty when I talk about this area of the law, or write about it--and this fear resurfaced when I re-read the story and found myself wondering if I got the law right.

Good grief, right? What is it with women and the imposter syndrome? I have been told--I can't remember by whom--that this kind of lack of confidence is a gendered thing. I'm not sure how true it is; I have not consciously felt slighted or looked down upon based on my gender while growing up and going to school in Singapore. But perhaps it's subconscious. Or perhaps it's a passive Asian thing. Or maybe it's both. Or maybe it's neither and it's my lack of passion for the law at work, making me question my knowledge of my research all the time (for if I'm not passionate about it, surely I can't be that good at it, and so surely there's a chance that I got something wrong). Or maybe it's just the very true fact that I have trouble remembering what I read, and so it's reasonable to anticipate that I might have forgotten the important parts of the cases that I have read.

Or maybe that's all bullshit and I need to let go of this insecurity and ditch the fear that I got the law wrong because I wrote it shortly after I read the case, and I don't think my memory is so bad that I would forget the salient portions of the case an hour or a day after reading it.

On another but related note, this good news was a small win that I'd really bloody needed. I have been feeling quite a bit of stress at my shitty academic CV because my supervisor informed me that NUS is actively and officially hiring, and the closing date for applications is 30 November. And then I thought, My CV sucks, I have no publications, no teaching experience, I haven't even finished my PhD, I'm not going to get shortlisted, what if I don't get a position in Singapore, wtf am I going to do, I'm never going to get a job, I'm going to be poor forever, help me what did I do to myself. The original and fantastical plan was to apply when I have a book contract. There is no way in hell I am going to get a book contract by 30 November. It is actually impossible, given that I haven't even finished writing the PhD and so don't even know what the last chapter will be like in concrete terms.

But I shall not be defeated. I shall try to eke out a publication, or at least have the right to say that something is under review, by 30 November. I don't know how, but it will be done. Also, I ought to stop under-estimating the significance of being editor-in-chief of the Journal, right?

The point is, I'd been feeling shitty over the past few days, the usual angst that hit me in 2016 at the Lake District with the Jurisprudes and which hasn't completely left. The shittiness was such that I found myself in the usual spiral of fundamentally questioning existence as such and getting bogged down in this then-conviction that I would never be happy, that I would never find fulfilment, that I will always be dissatisfied.

Perhaps all that is still true. It seems more likely than not that it is, for it seems that my personality is such that I cannot enjoy small victories or positive emotions without finding something negative to burst the bubble ten seconds later. Nonetheless, I'm happy that something that I care deeply about has worked out, even if the specific thing that has led to the general thing that I care deeply about working out isn't really to my liking.

I mean, I'm not saying the story is shit. Objectively, I think it's all right...ugh, I honestly can't be objective about it because the critique is so obvious to me, and I mean obvious in that the critique is not subtle enough, or at all (though one could say that a critique of the death penalty does not need to be subtle; the counter to this is that good literature has to be subtle regardless of its subject matter). But well, clearly I didn't think it was terrible when I submitted it; otherwise, I wouldn't have submitted it, right? Okay, here's the bottom line: there is some objective quality to the story. But because I am my own worst critic--Dr H has described my assessment of my draft chapters as 'fatalistic' on at least two occasions--I cannot help but kind of hate the story.

NONETHELESS, I am happy that I am adding another publication to my name. I had to write a biography for social media promotion purposes, and I read through the bios of the other contributors, and I just had nothing relevant to say about myself. I have not been published in all these fancy literary journals save for the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, I have not won any literary prizes, and I definitely do not have a publishing contract. It makes me wonder what the hell I have been doing the past few years; that is, doing nothing. By that I mean doing nothing about writing. One would think that 32 years of being myself would mean that I cease being surprised at my own laziness; but wow, I cannot believe how lazy I am.


Time for Orange is the New Black. I have to wake up early to go to Brighton tomorrow. I have had enough of being stuck in Cambridge when it's 30 degrees, so I decided to take a day trip to Brighton! There's a direct train which is great, even if it's 2.5 hours. I also happen to have a friend there so it's gonna be great!