A FEW days ago, I spoke to a good friend’s mum and was pleasantly surprised to find out that she had read my articles for the column “Tale of Two Cities”, when I was writing from Melbourne.
I was 19 years old and studying at Melbourne University at the time. I remember with clarity how I called my mum up immediately when the editor asked if I wanted to contribute to the column.
“I don’t know if I can do it!” I exclaimed to my mum.
I was surprised and extremely honoured at the offer of writing a column, but I had little or no confidence that I could actually do it.
I went to a Chinese primary and secondary school and the only reason I was more fluent in English than Mandarin was because I spent most of my childhood reading English storybooks.
I have neither attended creative writing classes nor been to a single English tuition. My command of the English language has always been instinctive, which is another way of saying I have bad grammar.
The only writing I had done were essays in school and although I enjoyed reading tremendously, I had never given any thought to writing, professionally or otherwise. I have never even kept a diary.
Suffice to say, I was slightly panicky when I spoke to my mum.
“What if I run out of things to write?”
I remember my mum laughing. “You’ll never run out of stories. Just write from the heart.”
“Do you think I can do this?” I stressed.
“Of course,” she replied without hesitation. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
And then, my mum said the one thing that has always stayed with me whenever I am unsure about something. “You can always give it a try. At least you’ll know if it’s right for you. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.”
And so I gave it a try.
It was only years later that I would find out how stressful it had been for my mum every time I worried about a story or deadline.
For almost a year, I was not confident enough to send in a piece unless I had my mum read it first, so I would email her every single article that I wrote before submitting it.
She only told me years later how relieved she was when I stopped sending her articles to “check.” I had no clue the responsibility was stressful!
I am still unsure if what I write will be interesting to other people. Which is why, till this day, I get taken aback when someone tells me they enjoy reading my articles.
Whenever I write, it has never been about garnering likes. What I do worry about however, is whether an article is self-indulgent.
It’s impossible to write a column without giving personal opinions, but I have always kept in mind another of my mum’s advice, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”.
“There are always two sides to every story”, my mum would say, so it has become a habit to be as open-minded as I can whenever I write, especially when I am bias towards an opinion.
This, perhaps, is the reason why I find writing a column so magical. I call it “magic” because I can start an article with a certain thought, opinion and direction and have it completely and unexpectedly change as I write.
As strange as it sounds, I can never be sure how my article will conclude until I come to the end.
There are many things that are required when writing a column. There’s discipline to meet a deadline and being aware of the responsibility for the opinions that you put out there.
Most of all, there is always a huge amount of reflection needed to write a story.
I don’t know how to put this into words without sounding corny, so I’m just going to say it in relation to how I feel — writing a column has made me a better person.
For over a decade in writing, I have been required to sit down and be with my own thoughts.
We always find it hard to know what someone else is thinking. The thing is, how well do we know our own thoughts?
I have found that most of the time, I don’t know what I truly think and feel. Sometimes it’s because I’ve never given much thought to something until I actually write about it.
Most of the time however, it’s because of arrogance or pride that has made it difficult to truly know what I think or feel about something or someone.
Writing strips away all distractions and it gives me no chance to be defensive.
For the few hours that I write, it is a space and time where I can be vulnerable and honest.
Most of the time, it is a journey of my mind that I didn’t even know I needed to take. It takes away anger and frustration and replaces it with a certain acknowledgement.
If you are reading this and have been a reader of this column, I want you to know that I am grateful for your time and attention and I hope that my reflections, ideas and thoughts have been useful to you in some way.
As the year ends, I want to announce that this will be my last column article and express that my collaboration with The Star has been such a joy.
I have written for the Metro section of this newspaper for 12 years, from the “Tale of Two Cities” to “watchamacallit” which then became “Sights & Sounds.”
It is time that I commit to writing more often and sharing more, so I have launched a website www.xandriaooi.co.
The website is a blog that chronicles my lessons and inspirations that I hope will be helpful to you.
Like my articles from this column, I will be writing about family, love, relationships, mindset, happiness, leadership, common sense, feeling good, beauty and travel.
For every single person who’s ever read an article and liked it, disagreed with it or have your own thoughts and opinions to voice out, the blog is also a place where we can communicate.
Besides articles, I’m also introducing #quotesfrommymom.
Everyone who has ever read an article of mine would already know how much of a positive difference my mum has made in my life and I would love to have this opportunity to share her wisdom and humour with the subscribers of my mailing list.
One of the main reasons why I only write articles and don’t voice my opinions on social media platforms is because I don’t think that my life is greater than yours or that it is enviable. I don’t want to complain about things or people.
I am learning how to be the best version of myself as I go along and I hope that you will continue to be part of this journey.
Have a very Merry Christmas and an amazing New Year!