“I was in my early late twenties. I had just been dismissed from university after delivering a brilliant lecture on the aggressive influence of German philosophy on rock and roll entitled “You, Kant, Always Get What You Want.” At twenty-six, my academic career was over, I had never kissed a boy and I was still sleeping with Mom.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Some time in high school, I wrote a piece on identity that was rejected by the school paper for being too angsty. In it, I pondered the discrete end of one self to the next, like the limits of an integral. The piece was a testament to that time in my life, where everything was a drastic, clear-cut yes-no, on the precipice of disaster. Looking back, I’m inclined to agree it was probably terrible. Isn’t that what writing is—three parts self censorship and two parts microaggression? Where you wake up the next morning or six years later and go, why did I write such shit?
I graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Science. I am currently a medical student at Queen’s. Do you judge me for my safe career choices? Do I judge myself?
The answer, most days, is no. I had an excellent undergraduate experience. I found a wonderful peer group of pathobiology specialists, English majors, Ultimate Frisbee minors, etc. who were critical thinkers and refused to be identified only by their area of study. The science courses I took were exceptional, as were the courses in literature, in the philosophy of aesthetics, and in creative writing.
One cannot blame their parents, the easy antagonist to the child’s narrative, for the way things go. While it is true that every argument I get into with my Chinese parents ends up in some form of “you can’t always do what you want”, “why are you so selfish”, and the favourite, “think of the family”, their opinion weighs a lot in my heart, even the (few) times where I completely disregard it. My family inevitably factors into any decision making process I make.
It is one of my greatest insecurities: I am not good enough; I will disappoint someone; I will disappoint myself. I am my harshest critic. It’s a perpetual fight in my mind but it’s part of who I am and how I live. Somehow I work with this self-loathing and self-love in medical school and in my writing process.
(If you think it’s toxic, and that I can never be free until I break away from my family. Then fuck you and your Eurocentric ideals of freedom and autonomy. That’s just not how it works in Chinaland.)
Maybe years ago I would have believed that what my parents wanted was my worst fear, that is, to never to have taken a risk, in life or in love. That fear still exists, but it is one that motivates me to get up in the morning, to learn to be a good doctor, and to keep writing.
In the act of not-writing, I cease to be a writer. Writing is one of those temperamental things that only in writing can you identify as the noun-form – a writer. Medicine, on the other hand, feels like developing a professional persona that is there with you at every hour, even in sleep, or on a plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. It is ready to spring into action, listen to your concerns, lend a helping hand, and even do the right thing for you in a time of uncertainty. The parallel is not lost on me. I cannot say whether writing helps me survive as a doctor-trainee or whether medicine helps me survive as a writer. What can I do as a Chinese-Canadian physician-writer woman?
The plurality of what I do reflects the plurality of who I am. Being Chinese is not at odds with being Canadian, or the act of being in any other country. Nothing beats the feeling of opening your mouth and having an conversation with the person across from you, in the language of that place. Does my fondness for the mid-day heat and the kind of sweating-while-standing particular to Asia have anything to do with anything? Maybe there is an aftertaste of matcha in my writing and my medicine.
I have come to accept the plurality in what I do and who I am, the loosening of edges, of working parts and pieces. I am almost always ready for it all to come apart.