Here we are again at the end of another year, and here I am pattering away on the blog as per tradition. What a year.
At the end of each year brings debate and kerfluffle on the poignancy (and pointlessness?) of new year resolutions, but for what its worth, I’ve always been pretty good at sticking to my resolutions. 2015 was my year of leaving and 2016, my year of learning, , and in both years the fulfilment of resolution taught me lessons so different from what I had originally set out to surmount. That is, at the end of each year, I realised that I knew less than i thought i did – and humbled by the year’s passing, I strove each year to try and remedy my life in some tangible sense. For all my experience in writing I find this feeling hard to put in words, I think the closest i can come is by saying that as someone who’s a bit of a control freak, I do wish i had more control over my own life. Objectively, I am proud of myself for what I have achieved, but i am also perpetually burdened by shame because of the things that I have not. Ah, well. It is what it is.
Approaching December this year, I started thinking about my annual year end post and what I should say to wrap up the year/ herald the next. I didn’t really want to write about my own year, I felt I had reached a point where it seemed a bit narcissistic to write about oneself, and who really cares anyway? 2017 was challenging, it was also rewarding, blah blah, etcetera. I did things and for those things sacrificed the opportunity to do other things. Everyone’s story is more or less the same when you distill it down to its essence. So it goes.
The year that is now past felt weird and strange to me for much of 2017, people as a whole seemed tense, and all over (at least to my perception) there seemed to be a mild and violent shaking up of what it meant to be a person in a hateful time. We are not at war with anything physically, but we are at war with anything less than absolutely perfect, and it seems that 2017 signified a rise in this thinking internationally: let our role models be a certain way, let them be politically astute and woke and empathetic and kind and fun and interesting and attractive and hold the same views as we do, let them be blemish free and never fuck up, because if they do, damn. And given that this mentality inevitably trickles down to our everyday life, what does it mean for us as normal people trying to find our place in this world if we hold others to such impossible standards?
By role models I refer to the celebrities of my childhood, the Natalie Portmans (Harvard graduate, award winning actress, published academic, and lets face it, gorgeous ), the Selena Gomezs (UNICEF ambassador, disney actress, grown up actress, television producer, has her own clothing line), the Emma Watsons (Reads a lot, played a movie character who reads a lot). But I grew up in the age of the social media boom, and so the platforms for which we can seek out people to aspire to and identify with has widened, and my role models expanded accordingly: I found Roxane Gay on tumblr (before she was so prolific, and I must say I carry a secret little cheap thrill at having been an early adopter of the Gay fandom), and then converted to her literature, I found Dear Coquette on Tumblr, I found Margaret Zhang (photographer, law student, model) on instagram, I found Shini Park (editor, graphic designer, staunch christian, writer, photographer, blogger) on bloglovin. I have real-life role models too – my producer Gillian Tan, my old writing professor and poet Divya Victor. My role models have always been women because I am one, but in today’s day and age there seems to be an increasing cynicism towards statements like these so let me say it first: This is not because I hate men, I have had very healthy relationships and friendships with them, my best friend of 11 years is a guy, and I am pretty close to my dad, so no issues there. My role models are women because I am a woman and relate to other women more intensely than I do to men, although I do admire and respect many men who I have seen online and in real life. Obviously. It’s stupid that we have to state such obvious things like this, but such are the times we live in, so.
I have come under a lot of attack for my choice of role models over the years from friends and acquaintences, mostly jokingly, but sometimes, a tad personally. Things that people have told me whenever I list role models: Selena Gomez can’t sing and makes bad relationship choices, Emma Watson is a loner and has no friends, Roxane Gay is too sensitive, Dear Coquette is a user, and it is famously rumoured that Margaret Zhang is a bitch. This all belies a certain anxiety that we hold today towards our role models, and I have to admit that I’m guilty of much of it – I fell out of love with Selena for a long time because of her relationship with the Biebz, who I mildly detest, and even for women I’ve respected in the media but not felt strongly enough about to label them role models, I’ve disavowed them for certain public statements they’d made that don’t agree with me. In other words, I have always wanted perfection – I have pedestal-complex, I want to know that there is someone out there who can do everything and never fuck up, so that I can always admire them and aspire towards being like them, because if they can do it, then maybe someday, so can I.
What I wanted, of course, was a fictional character to model myself against. I know this now. I wish I did earlier.
Roxane Gay says in the opening to her 2014 essay collection, Bad Feminist, People who are placed on pedastals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they fuck it up. I regularly fuck it up. Consider me already knocked off. When I first read Bad Feminist, I was going through a period where I was very unsure of where I stood in today’s world. I was not well-versed enough in the academia of things I believed in, and so felt like a hack, and on the other hand, felt an intense pressure to live up to the expectations of people around me. I cannot tell you how freeing it was to read those words from Roxane for the first time. Now, I am not one of those people who will tell you to ignore the expectations of other people and label all Expectations Evil, with double capitalized Es. I think people around you have expectations for you because they love you, although this love is often portrayed in miguided ways. I am less forgiving of society’s expectations, although that debate is an old cliche by now, but I do recognize that the cultural times we live in dictate certain consequences that correlate to the breaking of expectations, and I’d like to think that I’m relatively realistic about it, or at least, I try to be.
And I am no stranger to Big Expectations. I’m firstborn in my family, and for all the stereotypes of firstborns I can tell you that the weight of expectations bit is true, though I have never been angry about the responsibilities of being firstborn. I’m a pastor’s daughter and today identify as a christian, as I have since my baptism in 2014, and that brings with it a ton of expectations from within and outside the church as to how I should behave, what I should do, what I should wear, etcetera. That was a bit harder to grapple with, growing up. And finally, I am realistic about the fact that I live a large part of my life in the public eye today because of the nature of my work as a host, and that this is something I am personally responsible for because I signed up for it (quite literally, I have a contract with Clicknetwork TV), and also because I perpetually upload content onto my (very public) instagram as well as continue to accept commercial jobs for that platform. So I have a hand, I think, in allowing these public expectations to be placed on me. That is fine. I rarely feel too bothered about public expectations, I have always been more concerned with my own expectations, and trust me when I say no voice of the masses can be more exacting or punishing on myself than my own.
So reading Roxane was great for me, personally. I felt like I had finally taken a breath, after living in a stuffy room for too long. Consider me already knocked off, she says, and I ran a thumb over the line on the page, mouthing it with her.
What that meant for me in my real life, pragmatically, was learning to accept. Like I said earlier, I have a very exacting personality, which is something I overcompensate for by trying to pretend that everything is chill. I know that. But a result of this is that in addition to myself, I hold people around me to a ridiculously high standard. As a general rule, if I admire you, I expect a lot. My love is not unconditional, I dont have that kind of generosity of spirit. I think if a younger me had seen Roxane Gay send out a tweet spelling you’re as your, I would have been devastated. And I have high standards for the people around me: I am stern with my younger sisters, I expect a lot from my mother (who, to her credit, has done a wonderful job of being not just mother, but Adult Woman), and from my friends I also look for certain qualities which I value, and if I dont find them, I try to convert my friends to them, ha-ha. I also take it very personally if people I admire fail me in some sense, if I see them being unkind, especially, or making jokes that I think perpetuate a certain problematic stance, then I find that I become ridiculously upset and cannot look them in the eye for awhile. But I am also aware that I frequently fail my own expectations of what I should be like, and so I think in 2018, I do hope that I learn to be more forgiving and accepting of others and myself, and learn to allow myself to accept the complexities of being a flawed individual without disavowing the whole. This is something I’ve been trying to do in the past year, but I still have a ways to go.
The reason why this post is titled the Year of All our Resolutions and not just the Year of My Personal Resolution is because I think given the current cultural climate, acceptance is an important thing to learn, and has effects that reach much further than our immediate radius. Becca Inglis talks about the flipside of the witch hunt culture in her essay Love in the Time of Melancholia, about how we are quick to condemn the imperfect. But, she argues, sometimes the role model you need is not an example to aspire to, but someone who reflects back the part of yourself that society deems unfit. We all regularly mess up and have parts of ourselves that we dislike, but I have come to realise that when you only accept perfection in your role models, you end up utterly condemning yourself for your own flaws. Accepting people (whether role models, celebrities, or personal friends) in their entirety, flaws and admirable qualities all in, allows you to navigate the way you develop through your own troubled patches. It gives you the room to make mistakes, and not stay down. To climb back up, accept your failings, and try again.
This is not permission to be unmotivated and lazy, nor am I trying to tell you to just accept people the way they are even if they are totally awful and hold damaging views. Call yourself out and call your friends out if they say stupid, bigoted things. This is especially important in today’s political context, where halfway across the world it is considered increasingly okay to hurl racist slurs at people or abuse people who are perceived as less important, less human. But accept that people, yourself included, are multifaceted. Have high standards, but not damning ones, is what I am saying.
I am not so naive as to believe that this will make the world a nicer or better place as a whole. We are never going to live in a utopia, the world and its people will constantly disappoint us, and the sooner we make peace with that, the sooner we can move on and work on the things that we actually can impact. But I do think that it will make the world a more tolerable place to live in, especially since learning acceptance is something you do for yourself, and not expect others to do. And when we learn to live in between the extremes, we learn to accept ourselves as well: as works-in-progress, as people on our way to becoming more and more like what we aspire to be. It’s a cliche, yes, but sometimes, it really is about the journey. So let’s resolve to make the journey count.
2018: Here we go.