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.
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.
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.
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.
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