Works Well With Others
I can't really tell a lot of things about my life. Maybe there's a big void there or something. I can name 2-3 years of my life when I lived life with a great intensity – well maybe I dreamed dreams with a great intensity. But other than that, I couldn't really say it's been really that great. I could count on one hand the number of times I did pursue dreams with a passion. To devote myself into a 5 year or a 6 year chase would be a little out of character. I don't even remember being passionate or hungry about things. If I did it, it tends to be a bit like a procession. I wouldn't dash madly towards a goal.
Sometimes I wonder about whether my childhood would have been a little nicer if it had been guided a little better. In my earliest years, the one most responsible for my life until I was about 13-14 was my mother. She was a strict disciplinarian, which was a little unusual because she could be a little sloppy in her general life. But she probably was more attentive to the little details than the larger picture. I tend to think that she was completely clueless when it came to the larger picture in life, about asking the hard questions about what things really mattered.
Maybe there was a bit too much focus on grabbing more money. Playing the stock markets, having me make good grades, making sure that you never got played for a fool. Piano lessons. Swimming lessons. Making sure I got drilled on my assessments books, which were invariably 2 or 3 years ahead. Once they worked out that I was good at mathematics, they were always demanding 95 or higher for me. (Well this was primary 1-3 and it wasn't completely unreasonable.)
I don't really remember much of life around that point in time. But that was probably also the zenith of my mother's influence in the household. But it was a time which I was quite uneasy with. There was a lot of Japanese culture going on around that time, and the 80s was a time when it seemed that the world was willing Japan to succeed. But it was a very scary existence for me – the hard work, the drilling and the conformity that it entailed. The relentless drive towards economic success – I guess that was what slavery was like. You sorda knew that it was excessive, but you were never allowed to question authority. The Japanese had a one track mind when it came to the Samurai running the land. Then after Commodore Perry, they had a one track mind when it came to modernizing and westernizing. Then after that, their one track mind led to the military conquest of the rest of Asia, which was probably one of the most hare-brained operations ever.
Those years were unpleasant for a number of reasons. I had a piano teacher I didn't really like. I didn't like the people I went to school with – maybe they were too yuppie-ish, took themselves too seriously, too conservative. Later on in my life, I might be able to find some common ground with them, but they weren't people I'd have gravitated to. My next door neighbour, the one I might have become great buddies with – was an asshole. I went to my grandmother's house every Sunday, and the fact that both my parents were still close to their siblings was a wonderful thing. But my mother was the only English speaking person among her Chinese speaking siblings, and we were always the odd one out among the cousins. So you can imagine – I spent 2-3 years of my formative years not having any real friends.
After Primary 3, I got selected to go into the gifted program, and maybe my mother let up on the strict discipline, probably believing that that program would be pushing me however they wanted to. And I was doing quite well, probably because the work they were assigning played right into my strengths. That strength was to make that logical leap, that hidden connection that not everybody was smart enough to make.
For the first few years, I thrived. I found that I could be a class clown. (It wasn't possible in my old school because everybody was so ultra-serious.) I don't know if I had any real friends, but I'm sure I was in the upper half of the class where popularity was concerned. It was pretty good, being a class clown who was good with schoolwork.
But the transition towards secondary school would be difficult. First, my mother had a bee in the bonnet that once we reached 13, we were all going to turn into James Dean from “Rebel Without a Cause”, and we had to be clamped down on. It was already difficult enough being the average 13 year old, struggling with his change in identity. It was an uneasy and confusing time. When I did have fun, that came with the guilt that I wasn't putting in all my effort into doing what I was supposed to do. It became a bit hellish. Then maybe my grades started falling because we were reaching the stage where people were supposed to knuckle down, and get more disciplined and study harder.
Around that time, after my first week in secondary school, she got word that I was using a lot of strong language in school. So she got my father to beat the shit out of me, and there was even talk about me being a juvenile delinquent (this was barely 2 years after I had topped my class). Something snapped, I fell into a spiral of depression, and my grades fell even further. To them, it was more proof that I had grown lazy, complacent, and rebellious. So there was more getting the shit beaten out of me. In truth, it was not that complicated. I probably just needed somebody to tell me that everything was going to be OK, I just needed to calm down and do what I had to do. I just needed to understand the higher purpose. Years later, I ended up explaining this to my parents, and they looked at me blankly. How is it possible that our disciplining you could have a negative effect on you? Boy were they dumb.
But no higher purpose was forthcoming, It was just the same thing: do this because we say so. There was one or two terrible years of screaming and shouting, crockery getting smashed against the wall stuff. Eventually, this situation resolved itself by crumbling. My mother was at a loss, so she just decided to do nothing. Naturally, following that, the situation improved. They gave up trying to control and micro-manage, and it just became, do whatever you need to dig yourself out of that hole. The years that followed that turned out to be some of the best years of my life.
You see, there was always a permanent tension going on in my life (and this is one of the currents of tension going on in my household, there were a few.) The different parts of my life were not really in harmony. If I was told to attend music classes, it was because they got to decide that I attended, I didn't have any say in the matter. I liked music, but I hated practicing piano. This shit went on for 10 years, I worked my way up to grade 8, kicking and screaming all the way. I suppose it was an achievement, but also probably the seed for a lifetime of resentment and anger. The assessment books, I hated them too. I hated the way they piled up: if I didn't do the previous week's allotment, the “debt” would pile up. There was no debt forgiveness. Well maybe she did turn a blind eye after a while.
Eventually, there was a pattern that went on in my life: I would just do whatever I wanted. There was no agreement, no negotiation. But I had to sneak around and do it. I could play computer games for 1 hour in the afternoon, but I had to make sure that I did not get caught. My sister made quite a bit of mileage out of blackmailing me and I hated her for that. But things were falling apart, somewhat. There was to be no co-ordination between us. I could do something that was planned out by my mother. If I did something on my own, maybe I could get away with it because I was not tightly policed. But I would have to keep it a secret, and therefore I would have to think and act like a criminal. I was able to amass a sizable collection of cassettes and go wandering around after school on afternoons every other day. But they were almost always solitary activities. That would start me off on a lifetime of being a wanderer and a daydreamer.
I would have been nicer if sometimes my mother would ask me what I would like to do, and we could co-operate on achieving those things together. But that never happened. Everything was an order from above. But I suppose that pattern followed me through my life. I always had an uneasy relation with authority figures. Maybe I also had an uneasy relation with friends. I would say that based on the social aspects of my upbringing, it didn't prepare me well for my ability to work with other people. Then again, it's always a problem when your parents aren't good at a certain something, and if it's on you to work out how to do it.