There’s always one or two quotes that hang about for a mental game of ping pong after an episode of Doctor Who, just the best TV show in the entire universe. But this one quote strikes a particular bell this Birthday. A juxtaposition of birthdays, end of year and Winter reflections/memories/dreams. Who knows from whence these feelings come from and to where it will go, but let me catch as much of it and pour it on to here.
I have been many different people all my life. Thanks to parents and families who raised me the best they knew how, I was an awkward child who was happier with books than with people. Happier at home with families that I knew well and books that I can take my time to understand, then outside. My usual reaction to people has been aggression when they didn’t behave in ways I wanted them to. But I wanted them, people. I wasn’t happy without them and didn’t know how to be happy with them. Aggression was just hiding the insecure child that wanted so badly to be ‘normal’ and accepted and loved. But instead, all I was was a chubby clumsy little girl who wasn’t pretty, smart nor sporty. I wasn’t even the average girl next door, I was the tomboy loudmouth that the cool kids make fun of. I could count all my friends on one hand. And I was that person until my early 20s.
Then I became a wannabe filmmaker. Maybe because stories has given me solace in my youth that I thought it could also be a way to carve my livelihood. My memories of college years were mostly of the dark editing room which was a sanctuary for all the wannabes, even when we weren’t editing, or running around on someone’s film set carrying strange poles and scattering away when security discovered we were shooting illegally. Although there was one semester where I tried again to ‘fit in’ like the rest of the pretty college girls and played make-up, I quickly took to filmmaker’s wardrobe of more casual comfy clothes that is more suitable for running around with 10 packs of chicken rice and said a gleeful farewell to ‘fitting-in’. Anyway, only people who appeared in front of the camera were expected to use make-up and be pretty. I had started to embrace the fact that I wasn’t normal and pretty (see how I had equated normal with pretty? What a bizarre society we live in.) but that it was fine, I still could find a space behind the camera with the rest of the abnormal creative kids who dreamed to make it to the big screen someday (not as a face to be remembered but as one of the names at the long list in the end credits that noone bothered to look at after the film). I was this person for a few years. My friends had probably increased by another hand.
Then it was as if my rebellious phase just kicked in, and since it had come quite later after my teenage years, it had kicked in big time. I wasn’t fighting with my parents, getting drunk every night or experimented with huge amount of drugs; no, that would’ve been ‘normal’. I got involved with human rights and activism. I went against the government, went to protests, got gassed and arrested. Sometimes with a camera in hand. I had become the activist, who still tried to make films but apparently an activist who makes film was not a filmmaker but rather just an activist with an agenda. I had learnt to anaylze the cause of my anger and frustration, and the idea of ‘normalcy’ as a social construct and found a more productive way to vent it. I had found a cause, my reason for being and I was probably the most passionate person then. I was still scared and insecure about many things, but I had begun to understand where it was coming from. That it wasn’t because I was abnormal, it was the social system that doesn’t permit or embrace differences that had to be changed. I had the most friends (and probably enemies too, can’t have one without the other) at that time, some whom prefered to be addresed as comrades. That few years after college were the biggest learning curve in my life thus far.
Then I became a lost soul. After years of frustrating work and perpetual poverty, justice and change seemed to drift further and further away, leaving me in the desolate darkness, wondering what have I done in my 20s. ‘Normalcy’ was never far away, taunting me, friends from highschool and universities, and families have achieved ‘careers’ and ‘families’ of their own. What have I done? With no savings, no money-making careers, no award-winning films to my name and prospect for marriage; I had done nothing, according to the standard of ‘normalcy’. Change and justice, like other abstract ideas could not be measured in the same way, I knew that but it was always a hard path, going against the herd. I had become hard and desperate. Some other activists had gone through those phases too, it was called ‘burning out’. I’m not sure whether it was because there was a part of me that still believed in going against the grain, or that the opportunity never really came, but I never did join the corporations fully. There was a few flings with commercials and production houses but never as a full-time worker. I don’t know how I held out those last few years of my 20s, but I remembered crying an ultimatum to the night sky in my rented room in PJ, that if no windows opened in the next month or 2, I’d pack my bags and return to my hometown. From there, I’d accede to ‘normalcy’ and follow my parents’ wishes (sound like a robot doesn’t it?). Then a window opened and a plane ticket to England, flew in.
I had never thought I’d become a student again, after graduating from college. But there I was, in a new country, a new course of study, a new identity. I took it as a new beginning. I’ve always read and watched films about stories of people from different cultures but never knew one personally. I’ve always helped with campaigns for workers but never really worked either. So then, with no burden of social expectations and some remnants of idealogy, I assumed the role of a student, a waitress, a backpacker, a hitch-hiker, a gardener, a care-worker, a coffee-barista, an English teacher, a sustainable living enthusiast and twice, as a translator for some poor Chinese immigrant who was having her first baby in a foreign country that would charge her £4k to give birth if she didn’t have the right papers. I’ve hung out with friends and fellow workers from India, from Palestine, from China, from Japan, from Africa, from Latin America, from Eastern Europe, from working class England (yes they have working class too!) their struggles and their stories now have a face, a name, photos of families from back home and a warm smile that greeted me when we meet. The stuff that I’ve read and the films that I’ve been moved by, has become incredibly real to me. Strangely enough, I didn’t become harder, but quite the contrary, I think I’ve become kinder, more gentle, more patient. Before, I’d be quick to engage in most arguments, now, I’ve learnt to listen more, and would happily choose the path of a pacifist or a quiet observer. Maybe it’s aging, but I’d like to think I’ve grown a little wiser. Neither have I turned into a saint, like anyone else, I still had my limit and was very capable of blowing my top or throwing sarcastic remarks sometimes. But I was definitely not as lost, hard nor as desperate as before.
Now I’m a wanderer that teach English. Discovering the joy of interacting with different stories up close, I’ve decided to do a bit more wandering in a distant land that has always held my fascination since young. Latin America. It is my first time living in a country that I had to learnt the language from scratch and engaging in deep, meaningful conversations are such a rare luxury. But it is thrilling and I’m pleasantly surprised that it is still possible for me to learn a new language and start a new life in my 30s. As fun as new adventures are, there will come a time when the vagabonds have to return home. This is my 4th birthday away from home and I know, that the next one, I want to spend it with my family and close friends.
But what kind of person will I ‘regenerate’ into next? I guess only time will tell. But I hope, it will be someone kind, joyful and still retain some curiosity about stories and the universe we live in.