my writing dreams might have to wait

Friday, March 29, 2019


Full disclosure: What you're about to read is a personal tell-all about my beginner's journey in writing, and a dilemma I've been dealing with over the past year. Although everything I've written is true, if you're expecting a relevant or compelling story, I'm afraid you might not find it here. Feel free to surf through my other stories through the links on this page, or simply stay tuned, for more from me, should there be anything. Thanks for stopping by. x


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Two roads diverge before me and I stand at the crossroads, not knowing what to choose. Two paths call my name and invite me to take a step. They lead to separate places, hence the further I go, the harder it will be to turn another way.

But the two roads, they diverge, and I still do not know what to choose. I've spent a year trying, yet have not come any closer to a decision.

It is the biggest dilemma of my life, and I am torn about having to decide. Two roads diverge. I could not choose. How could I, when to embark on one, means to sacrifice the other?



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It's no secret that I love to write.

I started this blog around the time high school began. To this day, it's a semi-personal space meant for the small audience it brings, usually not far from circles of friends.

Over the last few years, I've realised I've gradually fit into the "Captionfluencer" personality—long, introspective Instagram captions interspersed in a well-curated feed. Although my follower count is small, it's still funny when someone approaches me and says they've seen me on Instagram. How something as simple as an interesting colour scheme could lead them to find my blog. They soon became readers, they'd tell me, and would follow and enjoy my writings too.

I've said this sentence a hundred times before, but my heart flutters when people read what I write and resonate with it. The feeling of opening up a discussion. Of hearing someone say, "I like what you wrote the other day," or "Hey, I read your blog, and this is what I think..."

I've kept the blog because it's good writing practice, but soon enough I realised talking about myself in extended lengths gets tiresome. I also don't enjoy the feeling of sounding self-absorbed, so I felt inclined to write about other things that actually mattered.

In this world, if you try, you could find a million other things that matter other than yourself, I promise.

Through social media and reading, I delved deeper into social and humanitarian issues this past year. I listened to podcasts on political advocacies, equality, and other compelling subject matters I'd grown to care about. As my interest has grown more and more apparent, I haven't felt confident enough in my knowledge to write about these issues yet, but from when I learned them, I knew I wanted to at some point in the future.

I'm passionate for literacy, but at the same time, for culture, humanity, advocacy, and the arts. I've been writing since I was in 4th grade, but within the past couple of years, my heart had been set on becoming an actual feature writer. I realised it was work that mattered. It was work that helped speak for people.

The only journalistic thing I remember from my childhood, though, was a journalism class I took in sixth grade. My teacher told me my writing was "very deep", and at age 11, I had no idea what that meant.

When I entered a writing weekend workshop in my hometown, a month or two before my big move to Melbourne, I'd won first place in the class, which allowed my travel piece to be published in a local start-up magazine.

In a short writing course I took during my first semester in uni, I refined and submitted that article for my last assignment. My teacher, whom I admired for her achievements and decades of journalism experience, laughed at the article's humour (which must've succeeded), and told me she liked it.

"It's really good!" she smiled and said, "If anything, you could even try pitching it!" Knowing her background, it was one of the biggest compliments I could hope to get. So pitch it I certainly did.

Following her minor revisions, I refined that article again and pitched it. The Jakarta Post's community page welcomed articles from scholars, professionals, and anyone from different backgrounds to contribute articles and share their insights and features. Within my young age and lack of academic or professional prestige, it looked like I was hoping for too much. It was the first article I've ever pitched. Enthralling, but a little daunting—look at this cliché teenage girl blogger trying her hand in publishing relevant articles, my inner critic uttered.

"Hi Joanne, thank you for writing," the e-mail said a few weeks later, "please find the published piece here." I felt so happy I could burst.

Being published on a platform with an audience was game-changing, in that I became a little braver in putting my work out there. The world suddenly became endless with doors of opportunities. I continuously pitched to editors, and by grace, seven writings have been published over the past year, online and in print in little publications.

Not a considerable number, I realise, when compared with other student writers, those with proper journalism degrees, or any other "emerging writer" for that matter. But the process had motivated and excited me like nothing else had.

The most revealing and confrontational piece I've written was the article Magdalene published about my disappointment towards the Indonesian media. It was the first time I found the audacity to mention anything remotely political or active, outside of my personal blog.

I wrote that article in a small town hotel lobby.

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My family and I went on vacation to Semarang, Central Java, during that time. Around the day we boarded the train, news were robust about a recent prostitution scandal that had taken place in Jakarta.

Being slightly media-obsessed, I'd seen many headlines and articles about it. But after my eye-rolling phase of thinking, Okay sure, another "big news" scandal, all I felt in my heart was anger. Towards the media for exploiting a woman's identity as clickbait, albeit found guilty, and for not giving us the slightest clue of the men in the story—only teasing with terms like "businessman" and "the initial R."

The whole thing frustrated me, and when it came up for 15 seconds in a casual family banter, I was reminded of it and became instantly re-triggered. That night in the hotel room, I e-mailed Magdalene's editor through my phone—lying on the bed, much like I was texting a friend about something weird I saw that day. This time, I pitched to her—professionally—an article idea for how lame and unfair I thought the situation was.

"It's inspired by a Tweet," I said, honestly wishing I had a more academic reference, "In the piece I'll talk about how society repeatedly chooses to protect the ego and identity of the male, while failing to do the same for the female subjects of the story."

It wasn't my best-worded pitch, but miraculously, she agreed with the idea and asked me to send in something quick, as news were still hot and circulating.

I was in Semarang with no laptop in sight. In our hotel room there was nothing to type on, let alone to write a whole article. I could write it once I get home, I thought, but I knew it wouldn't be the same—I'd lose many details of the idea, and honestly, much of my rage would've subsided by then. Anger is useful for writing something good.

Writing on my phone wasn't an option too. It was an article, not an Instagram caption. I decided I'd need a keyboard, and many tabs to open for research. So another miraculous thing was a computer—just one, sitting in the lobby of the hotel we happened to be staying in.

It was provided for "guests' internet access" and when I went down to the lobby that night, it was thankfully unoccupied. I started the document, did all my research, and spent a couple of hours before heading upstairs to rest.

The next morning, it was the first thing I worked on after finishing breakfast. I wrote a few more paragraphs, and had to leave shortly before finishing it. On that night, I went back downstairs, seated myself in the single desk, with businessmen lurking in the lobby, possibly wondering why this girl was using the internet for so long.

After finishing, re-reading, editing, and being happy with the article at last, I e-mailed it as soon as I could. It was published a few days after. It was an experience I'd never forget. All I could think of was, Thank God for that hotel lobby.

When people read or share my words, as a young writer, it is all I could ever ask for. All these different moments that took place within the last few years have encouraged me to validate myself as writer, and if anything, confirm a lifelong dream.

If I want to try this, I thought to myself, I can.

Or at least I thought I could.

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I wasn't an ambitiously artsy kid in high school. But I guess I did have a way with pencils and paintbrushes, a camera and somewhat creative ideas. I wasn't too aware of a "calling to write", I just knew I liked to do it. I knew I liked art, too. And there's a word for art that communicates. Most people call it design.

A broad and competitive field, design was what I chose, almost undoubtedly, as my university major. It's a perfect blend of communication and creativity, I thought. And I was right. After planning ahead and spending days and nights making a student portfolio, I did all my tests, applied, and fortunately got accepted.

They say RMIT is a top university for art & design in Australia. I couldn't tell if it was true, or if it was just because artists and creatives tend to pretentiously self-acclaim.

But the credibility of the program was felt the minute I stepped foot into it. 170 other students sat in my position as first-years. Also highly creative, and some just as, if not more, ambitious and hard-working. We were taught by real practitioners—industry players, some with PhDs in their respective fields. I felt placed inside a sandpit of creativity, learning, and opportunity.

And I felt like I didn't belong.

It might've been the fact that I was never commended for design the way I've been for my writing or other creative practices. It might've been the fact that my designs never "shone" or wowed particularly anyone, not even me. It might've been the fact that I never felt inclined to spend my free time turning to design for leisure, or trying new skills, or feeding myself with "design inspiration" from the likes of Behance, Pinterest, or Instagram. In my free time, I'd write. I'd read, listen, photograph, draw, or paint if I have the luxury to.

It might've been the fact that I can never care about typography, logo, or packaging, no matter how hard I try. It might've been the intensity of hands-on projects in which I often lost direction, and had no idea how to approach. It might've been weeks and weeks of labour that always result in a mediocre outcome—my best ideas I'd place on the table, still couldn't live up to who I thought I could become. It might've been a sense of insecurity from being in a class among 20 students with more experiences and skills up their sleeves. Either way, I realised I never had a clue on how to think like a designer does. I realise that now I still don't.

"People change programs all the time," my counsellor told me. I had confided in her about my agitation, and how I considered transferring because I "don't know if design is for me."

"It would be harder to do down the road," she said, "but it is possible, and it does happen."

It only eased me the slightest bit.

The truth is I already felt out of place from the day I began my major. Feelings of uncertainty interspersed with a sense of wonder about what the course could offer me, led me to think, Okay, I'll give it a semester. See how I go, and maybe at one point I'll start loving it and being more passionate for it.

I'm now 3 semesters deep and in all honesty, that day never came.

The talk surrounding "passion" is complicated, so complicated that I'd rather save it as a story for another day. But was passion worth being this torn and indecisive for? In what feels like the biggest dilemma of my life, I am certain a decision needs to be made. I know it wouldn't be wise nor ideal to choose to continue down the middle.

One thing was made clear to me, though—design at RMIT was the place to be. "Hundreds of students applied and didn't make it," one of our lecturers said to us, "but you did." My heart dropped. How could I be so ungrateful?

How dare I crave for a different career path, when it could just be that I'm running away from adversity? Am I just weak and fearful? Avoiding a hardship? A David running away from his Goliath? Am I just stressfully indecisive because of the relentless over-thinker I normally am?

Why not be a designer and a writer? my ambitious inner self suggested. It wasn't a bad idea, until I had spent the past year trying to establish this.

Alongside my current part-time job, it was borderline impossible. Trying to thrive in all fields was just as hard as it sounded. A person's time and creative energy, I realised, are like any other resource—limited. Walking the middle road meant I couldn't wholeheartedly be in one path or the other. I was just staying afloat—barely making it in both of them.

This middle road is where I am now. Too clueless to be a published journalist. Too inexperienced and—I shamefully confess—un-driven to be a full-time designer. I hold separate resumés and none of them scream employability. I love to write but have no journalism degree. Out of 5 design projects, I'd only have one that my tutor and I would be proud of.

Simply put, the middle road isn't working. To be both is to be none.

Where two paths diverge I simply can't choose. An impulsive self wants to take the leap—drop everything and pursue writing and storytelling. The mature grown-up in me speaks—tells me to suck it up, get on my feet, fight through, and finish my degree the best way I can. To establish myself as a designer because that was the decision I'd made, which led to where I am now, therefore what I must now commit myself to.

I still love art. I still enjoy much of my program—its knowledge, its inspiration, its community. What it takes for me now is to dedicate more time and thought into it. Easier said than done, but passion is workable—at least I hope it is—and at this crossroads, it seems like the safe and realistic option.

The only thing left to do now, though, is for me to stop writing so much.

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Growing up, I've never heard a lot about placing dreams on hold. It's either go chase it or find a new one, never pause it if you've made a commitment to a path your dream doesn't necessarily align with.

I still have a writing elective to finish this semester. Much like last year, it's the only course I feel thrilled to be in. I do the readings so excitedly, and take notes down whether or not I have to. Reading a book about features and media in the library might sound boring, but strangely, I'm having the time of my life doing it each week. I only have two hours of it, but the class is my favourite part of the week, and semester. I listen to absorb as much as I can, and prioritise the learning process over everything else.

Deep down I know I love the things I'm leaning in that course more than anything else. I know I couldn't say the same for the major I'm currently in—after a year, I've never been that invested in any part of my design program.

With a heavy heart, though, I'm taking a few days to fully process that I might have to stop a lot of my writing this year. When I juggle both feature writing and a design degree to complete, one of them gets the least of me. And it discourages me just as much to try to pursue something I couldn't give my whole heart to.

I've been planting myself in different patches of soil, and therefore, blooming in none of them.

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Letting one go is best to ensure I'm making the most out of my degree. It seems irrational, and for the time being, uncertain. Plans are subject to change. So are minds, and people, especially me.

But until decided or proven otherwise, I'll have to put a long hold on writing.

I wouldn't blame anyone for reading this and going, "What are you thinking??!!?!?" From my tone, it's obvious which one I would truly love.

But I'm simply thinking this is what responsibility is. What patience and endurance is. What adults do. Face Goliaths, work the field, and finish what they started no matter how difficult it may seem.

Dropping everything to chase a passion is so reckless anyway, it seems. Aren't things like passion and love are all but feelings anyway? I'd think to justify myself. The idea of changing a whole major for the sake of them just sounds naive and elitist.

It is no question that my journey in writing is forced to hit a very rough patch. It is the last thing I would want to sacrifice, but within the scope of my life there are still things I have yet to complete.

It's an odd way of saying this, but I hope the writer in me understands. I hope she's not too discouraged, and still holds onto hope, even though I hear her heart break. I hope she keeps her stories in voice notes and journal entries. I hope she remembers everything, and remembers this, and takes note of every moment that happens in her waiting.

They say dreams don't wait. I hope hers does. They say opportunities fly away. I can only desperately hope they come back around.

But as I learn to prioritise what's been placed in front of me instead, and as I tell her to pause, to stop writing so much or ambitiously, I can truthfully confess, that in the deepest of my heart,

I silently hope she doesn't really listen.

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If you've reached this point, I hope you bear with me that this wasn't as inspirational as another story you may have read before. A lot of perspective is gathered on a situation when I allow myself to write about it. So I'd like to disclose this isn't a cry for attention—if it were, trust me, I'd find better ways to do it than have an existential crisis.

Towards the end, I felt like the "big kid big sister" barging into the room to tell everyone playtime's over. So like many of my previous posts, writing about this has put me in a vulnerable place. While every word of advice or wisdom would be appreciated, worry not—it's also not vital, nor entirely imperative at a place where I need to make my choice. 

My dilemma continues. To this day, the door is still open for that leap. While at the time being, logically, I've decided my path, truthfully, I have not even remotely come close to a decision. 

Was this a blog post or a journal entry? My God, Joanne, get over yourself.

Have you ever hit pause on your biggest dreams? Ever had dreams you just need to put on hold?

To hope in silence, and the pain of waiting,
yours truly.

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7 comments

  1. Do what you need to do, however long.

    Myself and I'm sure a lot of others, will await the writer in you.

    And when she's back, she will be filled with the experience of the other side of you.

    And that, will be worth the wait.

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    1. How touching. Thank you so much for saying this.

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  2. Your passion for writing is very obvious but I understand the decision you have made. I really believe that once a writer, always a writer, especially when the writer is as gifted as you are. So, I know you will always find your way back. Good luck with your degree Joanne, wishing you all the best. xx

    Coco Bella Blog

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  3. Oh goodness, my heart goes out to you. You'll always have your love of words, Joanne. You have such a gift. Even if it has to go on the back burner for a bit, I thoroughly believe that it's something you will never lose.

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