There are times when cultural stereotypes hold us back from going after our dreams and creative passions. As an Asian Australian of Chinese descent, I’ve often felt this way. But then there are also times when we somehow find the strength and spark of courage to challenge expectations that we have of ourselves, and the expectations others have of us.
For a long time, I struggled to call myself a writer. My migrant Malaysian parents encouraged me to pay more attention to maths and science subjects at school – and I did and was much better at them than English. Two years ago, stringing words together for posts on this blog was a struggle. Today, I’ve written a draft of a book.
Culture needn’t be a barrier towards what we can achieve if we have self-belief. Finding that self-belief, however, usually means standing up to what we’ve always believed in.
To chase creative passion and overcome perceptions we’re not good at it, we need to practise. practising our art is key. Just like how Rome wasn’t built in a day, it takes time to craft art from the heart. Art can be learnt whoever we are simply by making time for it.
When I wasn’t memorising maths formulas as a kid, I scribbled words, sentences and chapters in a green leather-bound notebook. Hobby, as what my Chinese-Malaysian mum thought writing was to me back then. Hobby, which is what many whom I know think writing the book is to me today. And they leave me to it; we’re all entitled to “hobbies”. When we get engrossed in practising what we love doing, we dream and forget what holds us back in the first place. On getting lost in her thoughts, Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine says:
“I try to maintain a healthy dose of daydreaming, to remain sane.”
At some point, the artist in us might feel confident and long to share our art with the world. But sometimes the status quo might work against us. Tired of getting rejected by publications in an Australian media where non-Anglo voices are seldom heard, blogging beckoned to me. When others have a social life, I’d stay home and blog. And enjoy it. Liberation. No limitations. By starting something, creating our own opportunities and doing what others have not done, we move closer towards smashing bamboo-ceilings and stereotypical perceptions of us.
Being Asian Australian or coming from any culture that often stipulates what we can and cannot do, we have to forget what we’ve always known for one moment and simply be bold to chase that dream of ours. Being a part of a tribe helps us to see who we want to become and become them. Surrounded by others with like-minded interests, we come to think of becoming someone outside of our skin, look beyond the “barriers” of skin and realise focusing on potential rather than where we’re from helps us see that anything is possible – we find acceptance amidst positivity.
Stereotypically in Asian cultures, listening and respecting others is a virtue (see Confucianism) and growing up, I was taught to keep to myself and let others speak. Ironically, speaking out once or twice is not the end of the world and expressing emotion is what makes art convincing. Talking to other bloggers on their blogs, some have been nice enough to visit my blog and that’s inspiring: with a supportive crowd behind us, we feel comfortable to be anyone, comfortable to share our worth. By looking to others we become confident, as Florence offers:
“You can forget anything, and actually being a part of a crowd, of a group, can itself be freeing.”
Not all of us will have the privilege to live off our creative passions. Sometimes life gets in the way. It’s also fact we play many a role in our lives; we might fit the stereotype in some instances and not fit the stereotype in others.
Sitting at home some months back, writing my book with money on my mind. Sitting at home more recently, looking for a job late at night. Sitting at home the other day, packing my bag for work the next day…and looking forward to tomorrow. Not “losing face” and being able to provide for myself has stuck with me for my entire life as a person of Asian descent. While the past is past, at times we’ll still hold onto it and it’s nothing to be ashamed of as we chase our dreams. On moving along, Florence suggests:
“It’s important to not reject the past. It’s (about) a sense of not feeling like it defines you, but accepting it, embracing it, and then letting it go. It’s not about turning your back or pretending that things didn’t happen. It’s about trying to be in the moment.”
There’s a time for passion, and there’s a time to be realistic. “Balance”, as one might call it. To put it more simply, when we allow ourselves to live both passion and reality, we chance upon and live opportunities from the best of both worlds.
When we challenge creative cultural stereotypes often we get attention and are judged, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Countless times others ask how my book is coming along and each time I end up saying, “I don’t know” – and yet again question if I like what I’ve written. Flattering moment but also a reality check: no matter how different someone is compared to us in terms of background, what they do and the way they live, they can inspire us. As Florence says on feeling the intensity of day-to-day intimacy with those around us and humility:
“It’s good to be vulnerable in amongst the grandeur; you shouldn’t lose that sense of intimacy and vulnerability with people.”
The other night I leaned against the front barricade at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl watching Florence and the Machine. Florence pulled a fan up on stage for a hug. Lucky fan looked so happy as the 12,000-strong crowd cheered. Creativity, and art, lifts us when we all share it and share in it as who we are. Putting my camera down during the next song, Florence hopped in front of me. As I sang her song, she looked at me. With such a twinkling, sparkling eye. No regrets putting writing aside for a night.
At the end of the day, achievements and challenging stereotypes don’t wholly define us. Not a means to an end. Instead, it’s the simple gems of fleeting moments past and present that will stick with us whoever and wherever we may be as we chase passion. Work hard. Dream hard. Have no expectations. Have fun.
Have you made your dreams come true? Do you find concerts inspiring? (This post is my last for a while. Be good).