The Danger of Writing

If I want to write for a living, I must learn to withstand people who don’t like what I write, who think that my writing is provocative, who think that what I write promotes evil of a sort, who think I should stop.

This year, I have decided (okay, specifically, on New Year’s Eve) to collect a large body of work. I’ve also wanted to feel if I could handle being around people or knowing the people who read my work. If I ever make it in the writing world, I’d have to experience whether or not I can withstand pressure, negative (and positive) reactions, horrific comments, and any questions or misbehavior that may arise from others. I’ve been curious for a while on whether or not I’d be able to separate the different lives I have: my work life, my personal life, and what I put down on paper. I’ve been curious about whether I can withstand suspicions from people of me, whether I can take people thinking badly of me or their intolerance or discomfort or judgments. I’ve wanted to really step into the shoes of Amy Chua, in particular, the Yale law professor who had her book published in 2011; Ms. Chua has received death threats, has been shunned by members of her neighborhood and community, by members of the academic community at Yale, has gotten mostly negative feedback from people she doesn’t know online, and via post and newspapers. Ms. Chua didn’t expect strongly negative criticism on her book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother at all; in fact, she has claimed that she meant for readers to receive her book as humorously as she intended for it to be. Instead, she has had to endure stares, misunderstandings, harsh judgments (mostly based on assumptions and false information from a lot of people who haven’t really read her book). A lot of the people who have read her book have erroneously misinterpreted her book to be one that has been written by a heartless, ruthless child abuser.

I read The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and I loved it very much and felt quick gratitude for and reassurance from it because it tells of Amy Chua’s strong arm ways of raising her daughters to never settle for second best; that they must have drive to be the best. She made her daughters practice, practice, practice their instruments until she could consider them ‘masters’ in playing them (with one of them later rebelling) and she would threaten and speak severely to her daughters about studying, studying, studying to drill into their brains that they had to get straight As and not waste precious time on frivolous activities such as joining a drama club and going to sleepovers. Her daughters have turned out well, with unwavering confidence because Amy Chua never gave up on believing that their full potential could be realized; that to be good at doing something was guaranteed to bring everlasting, almost permanently stubborn confidence. Her telling of her unconventional parenting methods has brought a lot of abuse on her from passersby, colleagues who suddenly turned their backs on her (for a long time, and I’m certain even now), she’s often a lone person at events. People have been very quick to hate her, relying on their very likely on-the-surface reading without reading in-between the lines interpretation of her book. Ms. Chua has had to face colleagues and students in her lecture halls who have felt nothing but animosity towards her. She has gone through sleepless nights, had had tight and shaky nerves, stress on stress and even fear for her life due to what people think they have gotten from her work, not seeing the humanity in her, that she’s only as equally human as they are. No human life is polished shiny and squeaky clean, free of mistakes of unreasonable behavior, of behavior that’s deemed ‘strange’. Amy Chua has suffered a lengthy time that she didn’t originally expect to get in the slightest. She’s certainly still going through the effects of wrongful actions from wrongful thoughts of people.

Knowing about the results of her book’s publication in her life (work, personal, and beyond), I wrote her a long email when I was teaching at a private university in China in the room that was my office in my apartment in 2011, telling her that her book was somewhat a depiction of my life growing up (as my mother was also very strict about my education), and how much I loved the book, and I included some notes to some of the passages in her book. Surprisingly, I received a reply from her the following day stating that I GOT HER BOOK and a big thank you. There are certainly many fans of hers out there besides me but it’s always the negative feedback that anyone, including strong and intellectually gifted Amy Chua remembers. It’s likely that she gets more hate mail than fan mail.

And there are many writers who experience hatred. There are journalists everywhere that are being labelled as criminals and have become outcasts in their societies. There are (and were) many writers that have been rejected a lot. There are writers who live their lives being misunderstood. There are many who live with fame when they don’t want to or who are learning to live with it. There isn’t one writer who has clearly escaped unscathed or are without a troll seeking to destroy them, who want their writing careers to end.

Another writer that stands out in my mind is Margaux Fargoso who has written Tiger, Tiger, which is a memoir that begins with Margaux as a 7-year-old child who falls in love with a 50-year-old man who is a pedophile and who has abused her for 15 years. Many opinions that circulate around her memoir are ones that criticize her writing as a pornographic piece to ones that ponder aloud as to what the point was in writing the memoir. Again, I had a different understanding of the memoir (as I’ve had a understanding of Amy Chua’s book). I perceive Fargoso’s memoir as one that describes yet another affair, a type of childhood that can possibly occur in this world. To me, it serves as an education in itself regarding a type of relationship that can (and does certainly) exist somewhere in the world; an education of a type of psychology that simply exists; yes, my roommate gave the book to me, dismissing it as ‘sick’ but I take the book as one that has enlightened me on what else humanity is capable of being, on what else humanity just it. Surely a lot of people don’t think highly of Fragoso for having written such a book but I believe that, like Chua’s book on parenting, it should be treated as significant (though, I admit, Fragoso’s book is emotionally hard to read but I’ve managed reading all of it just fine) for the book describes another way human beings can turn out. (When I read any memoir, I tend to want to find out the origin of a person who does wrong.)

Another specific example of a writer who has certainly been made to feel ashamed and has been horribly misunderstood by a lot of people has written a memoir about having been trafficked for sex in Italy by her Albanian boyfriend for six months. In her book, she tells of being manipulated and horrifically abused by her boyfriend and strange men every night. She is British which has caused many people to think that her situation was a bizarre one (not to be misunderstood but sex trafficking doesn’t only happen in developing countries but in well-developed countries too. No country is immune to this problem). The writer has titled her memoir as ‘Trafficked’ and has chosen to be anonymous for it’s easy to understand that some readers wouldn’t think well of her judgment in her situation and would most likely criticize her and wonder why she didn’t so this or that.

Writers live to be hated and loved; it’s to be hated for writing something taboo, controversial, or weird that’s t he challenge of being a writer. Can I handle people I know negatively changing their perceptions of me overnight? Can I deal with people who give off a lot of hostile energy towards me? How about dealing with their insults and ridiculously malicious comments?

So this year, I’ve chosen to write a new piece every day (short or long — anything) and I want to prepare myself, to experience a small dose of misunderstanding of my writing for an extended period of time to see how much I can take; it’s a sort of training. I hope to move on to much bigger writing projects or publicizing my writing to a much, much wider audience. Part of being human is to withstand adversity after all. The problem with people is that we think. With mind control, with comfort in knowing who I am, I’ll be just fine as a writer. It’s about having a strong sense of self; only this can open doors, bring the right circumstances to fruition.