On the metaphorical laryngitis

An idea softly lands on my mind. Out of reflex, my hands start hovering over the keyboard. It is as if the clickety clacks startled the idea. It flutters its translucent wings and away it flies, leaving me empty and defeated.

1.

Around this time last year, I was—in the literal sense of the word—voiceless. As a 39°C fever turned me into a human heater, my vocal cords decided that enough was enough, got inflamed, and swelled up so badly they would not budge.

I wanted to say all the things, but I physically could not make a single sound. Even with my quiet nature (most of the time), it was a frustrating experience.

 

2.

It is now eight weeks into my Honours year, and I have not written a single word besides for my coursework assignments and the shapeless fragments of my thesis.

An idea softly lands on my mind. Out of reflex, my hands start hovering over the keyboard. It is as if the clickety clacks startled the idea. It flutters its translucent wings and away it flies, leaving me empty and defeated.

Sometimes, on the train back from work in Sydney, two days a week, I wonder if I really am so busy that I just cannot find time to think and write. But this would have been an excuse, and a poor one at that. The two hours each way, with my headphones on to put a soft line between myself and the world twirling around me, give me plenty of headspace to think. Contemplate. Mull things over.

Yet I still find myself staring at a blank document, the blinking cursor taunting my frustration.

IMG_20190104_144758
taken on a tranquil summer day

Normally, random bits of thoughts would be pouring like pieces of scrap fabric into a mental basket; I would sift out the ones that intrigue me, lay them out in front of me in the form of sentences, then sew them together with more words until a thinking-quilt would take shape. Now, the thoughts are there, the ideas are there, but it is as if I physically cannot pull them together into any meaningful form, that another person can look at and go, I get it.

The written word has always been my sixth sense, even at times when I was not aware that it was there, quietly piecing together all the stimulus picked up by the rest of my senses. Now that I have suddenly lost the ability to assemble my thoughts, I can feel its absence so acutely that it is paralysing: I am constantly being in that uneasy state when your eyes have yet to adjust to the darkness and you cannot tell when they will.

And so the helpless sense of voicelessness—this time mentally—consumes me.

 

3.

I have witnessed my (academic) writing go through a series of autopsies in the past eight weeks, more than I had ever seen in my three year of my undergrad degree. Each time, the verdict was slightly different, so I patiently changed my work little by little, for it to better fit a frame.

I am grateful that it makes me a better (?!?) novice academic writer, but the blinding side effect is that all the grades and the feedback have overflowed into every aspect of my writing. Now I second-guess everything I type out, judging if it is good enough, when I honestly am not sure what the standards are anymore.

 

4.

So here I am, trying to get back on top of writing not for a number on my transcript, but first, for myself, then to hopefully spark a serendipitous idea in someone else. It is harder than ever, but it is worth it.

Until next time.

Minh-Anh Mia Do

On the Right Foot

I am starting 2019 on the right foot, and to whoever is reading this, I hope you are, too. Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best.

My birthday’s in January, so naturally, every turn of a new year to me marks another year of age. I am turning twenty-two soon, and most of those twenty-two years, I have rarely ever missed a single moment of transition from one year to another, always stayed up past midnight. Last year and the year before, I was even among the crowd, counting down, bursting with joy when the Habour Bridge was lit up by fiery flowers in front of our very eyes.

This year, I’m sitting quietly in my bedroom, in a quiet house, in a quiet neighbourhood far from the excitement in the city centre. Continue reading “On the Right Foot”

Mirrors and Prisms

This session at university, I took a class that not only opened my eyes to the actual way uni and the work future are connected but gave me rich insights into what a beautifully tangled web each of us is in, in work and in life.

1. Webs

This session at university, I took a class that not only opened my eyes to the actual way uni and the work future are connected but gave me rich insights into what a beautifully tangled web each of us is in, in work and in life.

Continue reading “Mirrors and Prisms”

Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and the ‘Human’ in ‘Humanities’

In my version of the future of work, STEM will not dominate over the humanities. For the “human” in “humanities” is what allows us to work with ambiguity and make sense of our complex narratives.

“Humanists ‘have known there is no right answer for hundreds of years,’ and they are comfortable with that.”

(David Blei, cited in Mackenzie 2013)

A few days ago, in my Future of Work seminar, all of us made a human bar chart which I titled in my notes ’30 Average Uni Students’ Level of Tolerance of Ambiguity’.

Later, I added a line about where I was among those 30—the highest end of the tolerance spectrum, along with another friend. I scored 30 (the median was about 55-60) on the Tolerance of Ambiguity Scale, a psychometric testing instrument of which the design alone seems to be another embedded test for a person’s patience towards confusing instructions. One is supposed to reverse the score they get for even-numbered questions, and the higher the final result, the less tolerant they are of uncertainty and change. Continue reading “Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and the ‘Human’ in ‘Humanities’”

Puff Pastries

It’s 10 p.m. on a Friday, and I am stress-baking.

It’s 10 p.m. on a Friday, I have a metre-long to-do list for the weekend, and I am typing away while waiting for my batch of puff pastries to rise nicely in the oven. Stress-baking, that’s what it might be.

1.

When I was around 11-12, my Mum, my very Vietnamese Mum, took up bakingat the time, to most households, a convection oven was treated as a luxury. French gâteaux. French pastries. She printed out stacks of recipes on A5 sheetswith ingredients put in bold, measurements underlined, important notes in italicall neatly laminated, hole-punched, and bound with a gold ribbon. Her proudest moment, one that I can recall vividly, was when she took a tray full of puffy croissants out of our tiny oven, joy dancing in her eyes; she had spent that entire Sunday folding and rolling out, from scratch, a batch of puff pastry.

For years, up until her career took a turn, Mum had kneaded and mixed and baked. These days, whenever they are flooding back, my teenage memories always fill me with the smell of dough and fresh cream and butter. Continue reading “Puff Pastries”

A reflection on writing reflections

Dedicated to the celebration of—finally, finally—handing in my last assignment of the semester.

Dedicated to the celebration of—finally, finally—handing in my last assignment of the semester.

Also, this post has not been through my usual religious routine of proofreading and editing, so everything is everywhere. But since it reflects (no pun intended) my current post-final-assignments state of mind, I’ll be this unruly version of me for a while.


For one of our subjects this session, the final task is to write a (compared to the usual 300-level word limits, very) short reflection that is worth 20% of our final mark—no scholarly sources were required, the only criteria were honesty and insightfulness.

That, to me, was the hardest assignment to write in this first half of my third year. It is not the academic rigour that challenges me anymore; it’s original thinking that does. Continue reading “A reflection on writing reflections”