I don’t remember the day I decided to become a writer, but I do remember the day I fell in love with words. I was four years old, and it was my first week in kindergarten. Being catapulted into the world of social interaction with other children my age and strange adults I’ve come to know as teachers, it was very overwhelming for an only child like me. So I found comfort in our school’s library—a fortress containing a plethora of magical worlds contained in colorful hardbounds of varying shapes and sizes.
While I had a library of my own back home, Mum was the one who dished out the words to me in plates of bedtime stories, the warm, soothing milk and cookies before my slumber. I’d be instantly transported into the enchanted world of Oz, the curious rabbit hole, and through the starlit skies of Neverland. But it was in that humble kindergarten library where I fell in love with the cohesive stitching of the random alphabet, turned into colorful strings of words. This particular one, a simple story about a little rabbit buying his mum a birthday present. A simple love story hat made me want to learn more about this strange connection between words that told the story of the infinite worlds, universes, and possibilities.
A decade and three years later, I am sitting on one of my university’s benches, staring at hallways of students shuffling in and out of classes. I’m due for an interview with the Program Director of a pre-med course. As with what happens with most college students (especially in their sophomore year), there comes a change of heart where one questions her path. Slight pressures, slow massages that leave a dent, are strong enough to push me to shift courses. I am at a crossroad between the sciences and the arts. Sciences and the arts. I think of the people I will make proud, the lives I will save (the lives I will lose), the esteem of being in the medical field, the fees that’ll buy me my first car. I think about greener pastures, brighter futures, prouder parents.
I got up from the bench, met with the Program Director. ”Your grades qualify for the program,” he tells me. “When do you want to start taking your pre-med classes?”
“Sorry, doc. I think I decided otherwise…”
Here I am, sitting cross-legged with a cup of iced mocha, tasting like it was made of half-parts water. I am surrounded by a herd of medical students, relentlessly highlighting their photocopied handouts in colors that go beyond a rainbow’s seven. I see the human anatomy in faded, chalky photocopied black. A student slices a sausage roll with the precision of an experienced neurosurgeon, a plastic knife his scalpel. Could I have been one of them? I wonder. Could I have been wrapped in one of the glossy jackets with proud MED SCHOOL text taped to my back, instantly labeling me as one of the “smarter kids”, burning the midnight oil in a pursuit to save lives—or boobs from sagging. Yup, I could’ve been one of the adorned ones, whose parents would brag about, telling their friends, “So my kid just graduated from med school today—top of her class.” I could’ve. But I am not.
I chose to write. I’ve gotten a lot of flack for choosing the seemingly “easier” path, like I was scared to take on the sleepless nights and endless textbooks (the thicker, the better). But writing isn’t a walk in the park. It calls for sleepless nights as well. It’s agonizing and frustrating. It’s struggling to find that one word that would make a single phrase brilliant. It’s fighting through time to meet a deadline. It’s prolonged solitude and annoyance when the thought process is disrupted. It’s finding clarity in the chaos, like choosing the right stars to form the perfect, mind-blowing constellation.
And then there are the voices—the people whose judgments build or break you. There’s the dementor of writers known as Writers’ Block, tormenting you until you finally hit a wall and all the words fail to come out the way they’re supposed to, leaving you empty and soulless. Writing is not an easy task, which is why I’ve been failing to write for me, especially when most of my words are devoted to my work. Writing is not an easy task, but it’s always to have written something than nothing at all.
Writing is painful sometimes, it’s like pulling the veins that are rooted deep in your skin, giving yourself the permission to bleed sans anesthesia, giving yourself the permission to feel ache and pain and sadness. Writing is also great sometimes, like a smooth-sailing, scar-less operation. Writing leaves room for creativity; the way scientists open opportunities to conjure new vaccines that are like words because they, too, can heal. Writing means being open to failure, like a lost cause or encountering a patient with deteriorating health, but it also means success, like the birth of a newborn baby.
When I put arts beside science, I wonder why most people don’t think of writers the way they think of doctors or astronauts or microbiologists or lawyers. Words have always held a certain power for life and death—just like microscopes, syringes, and scalpels, and prescriptions.
I don’t remember the day I decided to become a writer, but I do remember the day I fell in love with words. I was four years old, and it was my first week in kindergarten. I opened a book, and maybe in those minutes of being lost in the magical world of story, something tiny sparked inside of me. Unknowingly, it might have held a muted glow, casting a dull light on the path I wanted to travel on, leading me to where I am today. It’s not an easy task, but it was one of the few good decisions I’ve made.