Much of my childhood was spent coloring and doodling on my own,
often in an empty room.
When my parents used to argue, they’d shoo me into the playroom, pass me some paper and crayolas and come back to find random doodles on the wall, depending what I was into at that time. i.e Dinosaurs, clouds, mushrooms and butterflies. Ironically when dad and mum split, I was sent to my Ahma’s house in Klang for a year, where she too used to shelter me from grandpa’s frequent roars and bawls by tucking me away with sufficient coloring tools to keep me buoyant with ignorance. Unbeknown to me then, it was the marital feuds and family anarchy that inadvertently helped nurture my creativity.
As a child, art was always my fall back. I might have scored low on maths but my doodles would always get praises from my family with further validation when displayed on the fridge. When I got older though, I went through a phase of letting the inner critic shut down my inner muse. I remember when I received a C- for a painting I did in prep school. I was devastated. I compared myself to others so much so that I stopped enjoying anything art related. I just couldn’t didn’t know how to cope when my expressive outlet became gradable.
To make things worse, due to my lack of discipline and refusal to ‘cooperate’, my parents sent me to a child psychologist in Singapore called Auntie Peggy to sort out my ‘problems’. I’m not exactly sure if she improved the relationship between my dad, stepmum and I but her remedy for the breakdown of communication was to write each other letters. Whenever we had something to say but wanted to avoid confrontation, we were told to pen them down and slip it inside a little paper bag on the doorknob, like emotional mailboxes. Looking back, it probably caused more segregation between us but but in turn, helped nurture my writing skills.
I remember one session in particular, when she left me in a corner to color and draw on a piece of paper. I was estatic, until she started to analyze every single stroke in an attempt to make some sense of me. She called my parents in and started to dissect each mark, line and motion. The shape of the house tilted on one side wasn’t perfect or balanced – indicating my sense of displacement, the colors didn’t exactly jive and the sun was too close to the roof – indicating a lack of understanding and detachment from reality. Suddenly something that used to offer me refuge, betrayed me. I felt as if my feelings and emotions were being criticized. It was then that I started to shy away from my own art, not wanting my flagrant imperfections to be divulged for all to see.
Thankfully I grew out of that phase when I got into high-school in Melbourne. I took up Ceramic classes, Studio Art and Fine Art as majors and electives and started drawing again, for me. I was being graded on the thought process and the concept behind each piece rather than purely on the final result. Now being in the marketing industry, I live and breathe creativity everyday. It infuses my hobbies and work, how I go about my day, and how I express myself personally and professionally. That’s not to say that it’s all hunky-dory. The inner critic still gives me a wicked earful, almost on a daily basis. But thankfully, rather than getting intimidated by my inner voice like I did before, I can continue to carry on because somehow, along the way, I managed to cultivate a relationship with my inner muse.
For example, when I get stressed, upset and depressed, I’d let it all out through sketching in my journal and writing in my blog; a safe space for me to explore and work through my own emotions and demons. Like today when I woke up feeling like I’m at the apex of my emotional turmoil, feeling strained from various areas of my life (the feeling sweeps back and forth, resembling a resounding gong of a clanging cymbal), I did what I knew best. I took out all my stationary and crafts – stamped, stuck and sketched the day away, now finishing the day off with a blog entry.
I’m so grateful that I’ve embraced creativity into my life,
even especially during tumultuous times, because it has allowed me to discover me and the permission to be myself.