If you were to write one book in your entire life, what would you write? (Question asked with the assumptions that 1: Most of us never write anything close to a book and 2: A decent book is a crazy task that we might never want to attempt again after the first one). One snuggly night as I was settling into Dreamland, I started musing about a book that I could write- what the title would be, and what it would be about. I settled on:
The Art and Science of Talking to Yourself: A fictional novel that follows the ordinary life of Mathea through the four seasons of her life- spring, summer, autumn, winter. It would be written as a first-hand account, by a senior Mathea. Born right when Singapore had just got its hard-won place in the world economy, Mathea enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing. Everything was in order, law by law, which meant a good life. Right? Senior Mathea reflects that her ability to talk to and question her own musings is one of the best gifts she has- pity she had beat herself up for all the unease brought about by “your relentless overthinking” in the past. On most accounts, and even her mother will concede, she has had a good life. Starting her working adult life as lawyer (‘a choice out of no choice’), Mathea spent 3 years questioning the meaning of work and life in general. A sage self-observation and question (a self-compliment there) shook her to the core: “You are driven by fear rather than love. What are you really afraid of?” To the dismay of her parents, she quit her job and started a small coffee place while training to be a barista on the job. That decision began the spring of her life, as friendships with regular customers blossomed through the nourishment of conversations and a good cup of coffee. In a way, the book is also about the seasons of these friends, as each takes their own journey through life.
Socrates’ “An unexamined life is not worth living” rings powerfully true especially for the world today. I believe that Socratic discussions/questioning is a skill that is direly needed for today’s modern human. We are assaulted by a barrage of expectations that keep us at a hectic life and then there are different complexities of the globalised world unfolding at our doorsteps (e.g. immigration policy and welfare for foreign workers in your country). The recent and rising anti-Asian assaults and hate crimes point to a deep fear, fuelled by an unexamined and entrenched schema of the ‘Other’ who is diametrically different from ‘Us’. More than seeing it happening at home, I feel it too- the anxiety over whether there will be enough and the future of the country I call home. I feel it when there is talk that living costs will go up if migrant workers are to be given better welfare. I feel it when I hear Parliament debate about foreign talent and the SG economy. And yet- are we not all part of the human race and interdependent on each other, however imperceptible the connection may be? (An interesting thought exercise: Look at or pick up any item around you- Where did it come from? How did it come to be part of your environment? Who might be part of the process?)
I was first introduced to the skill of reflexivity when working towards my social work degree, and since then it has been a constant process of learning to have better discussions with myself. I really do think that it has made me a better person. To the anxieties and fears (whether personal or broader), asking myself what are assumptions or beliefs behind these feelings has helped me to better understand (some of) the personal biases and broader complexities involved. To the problems I observe, trying to peel back how I approach these ‘problems’ and define them has helped me arrive at more nuanced understanding of issues- more ‘grey’ and a lot of ‘I guess’ because I realise that there is really so much more that I don’t understand.
Back to the book- my vision for it is to, through narrative form (because people enjoy a good story and it sticks with them), to explore these different themes:
- The pervasive modern fear of scarcity that drives our lives;
- And the sources that fuel this fear
- Examining ‘commonsense’ theories of and in life
- The beauty of talking to yourself
- Relationships that nourish the modern person’s soul
Its not a personal memoir, but I guess a distillation of precious conversations, thoughts shared (by it through articles or personal communication), and observation of the good things that is one step towards a world without strangers.
Wow, sounds like a proto- book proposal right there… any agents? 🤣 Seriously, but not too serious because I have a research project and dissertation to complete, plus another research idea that has been at the back of my mind… But this might just be the/a passion project that I’d embark later on, when I have chalked up more life experiences to craft a more realistic senior Mathea.
P.S. No expectations there, and be surprised, Kang Li~