"You're too cautious," she wrote, except the last two words had been crossed out.
"You're not taking any risks, which is the formula to boring yourself to inertia."
As a group assignment for the Writing Workshop participants, our mentor Jessica asked all of us to collaborate on a story--all sixteen of the workshop attendees were tasked to write a minimum of 500 words each. The goal of the exercise was to test our writing skills and challenge our ability to adapt to other people's voices without sacrificing our own.
I recently got feedback for my contribution, and it stung precisely not just because she's not one to mince words, but because the blow was more powerful as I've been entertaining these thoughts as well.
Way back in college, during one of the rehearsals at a play our theater organization, Tanghalang Batingaw, was producing, I remember having told off some of my co-actors: "We're not here to make friends; we're here to do our best."
It was years ago, but I remember that scene very clearly. I think it took a while for me to realize that it wasn't exactly the nicest thing to say. But I said it because I meant it, not caring if it won anyone to my side.
I don't know what changed in me. I guess gradually I realized that somehow, the world is full of conflict because there are a lot of people wanting to prove themselves, wanting to struggle to the top, regardless of who they step on. Our survival instinct pushes us to claw our way to the peak and annihilate anyone who stands in our way. Imagine this situation happening millions, billions of times over, and here we are, exactly where we're now: a world riddled with wars, with unimportant fights, with bloated egos ready to strike at the slightest provocation.
Maybe it's too simplistic to say that; someone out there might say, but what about healthy competition? But--I don't know, maybe it's just me--I think all competition is aggression, in one way or another. You can't do it halfheartedly and expect to win. It's just not inspirational. It's not the stuff that gets celebrated. We celebrate fierceness and violence and a take-no-prisoners attitude. The ones who stay in the middle are forgotten.
I'm not the nicest person, admittedly. I wasn't; I'm still not. A lot of my friends will tell how I am not as kind as I would like myself to be.
I think I try though. I think I try my best to reduce the amount of conflict in the world by being more understanding. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and make leeway for faults and flaws, because hey, no one can be perfect, right? Everyone's just trying to make the best of their circumstances with whatever shit they're handed in life, just trying to survive--I found out about Blaise Pascal's quote last week while reading biochemist-turned-Buddhist monk Matthieu Richard's TED Talks transcript, which went: "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
So I try to be nice and try to be cautious and try very hard to not offend. I try not to create more conflict than what is necessary. I try to hold back as much as I could, breathe, calm down, control everything, be less emotional and more dispassionate.
I participated in a Facebook discussion on whether we can separate the art from the artist. I was arguing that we can't and we shouldn't--that one's unique predispositions and circumstances contribute to the results. What we ultimately produce or create (again I might be speaking in absolutes; if you think I'm wrong, you're very welcome to say so) should be seen through the context of our lives.
So every time we celebrate an artist who makes amazing things while fucking up their lives in the grandest way possible, I think we should acknowledge that we actually enable them. Multiply this situation a thousandfold and we see a lot of messed up individuals trying to entertain us with magnum opuses at the expense of their lives.
It's not just artists. I think it applies to various instances. We like celebrating heroes and highlighting the good things they do and looking past the mistakes that contributed to their success.
What kind of people do we enable? What sacrifices are we asking from them?
Then again, like what I said earlier, nobody's perfect, right? Sacrifices will be made. Compromises will be done.
But what if, just a little bit, we can try to create less conflict in the world? I'm not saying anyone can save the world on their own. I'm just saying that, what if we can reduce the amount of suffering, just a bit, by looking into the intentions behind why we do the things we do?
Maybe John Green was right in his book "The Fault in Our Stars":
"Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. But the marks humans leave are too often scars. You build a hideous minimall or start a coup or try to become a rock star and you think, 'They'll remember me now', but (a) they don't remember you, and (b) all you leave behind are more scars. Your coup becomes a dictatorship. Your minimall becomes a lesion.
We are like a bunch of dogs squirting at fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths.
We're as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we're not likely to do either.
The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention."
Maybe being a little boring is not that bad--but I really wonder what good will that do for my writing.
HELLO, MY NAME IS EVAN TAN.
I'm a writer and communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. Outside of my regular job, I like to travel, work out, volunteer, watch movies and plays, go to art galleries/ fairs and museums, read books, and eat vegetarian food.
More about me here.