Life is marked by milestones. By placing significance on events, we are able to frame our lives; marking chapters in a continuous narrative. For instance, my earliest memory is of receiving a tricycle for my (third?) birthday. While it serves as a starting point for all future memories and marks a monumental achievement in my developing young brain, it is otherwise insignificant. It certainly did not help me while I was learning to ride a bicycle in later years. My next milestone, however, did have much larger repercussions.
At the age of seven, I received my first book. Not a picture book, though it did have pictures. Not one with a couple of sentences per page in huge typeface. No, this was as proper a book as was appropriate for a seven year old. Its author, contents and storyline (The Magic Feather by Roald Dahl) actually bear little weight compared to the subliminal changes it made to my life. Not that I was even vaguely aware of this at the time: it would be akin to an ant being aware of the earth’s orbit. As is often the case, we are carried along unaware by forces greater than ourselves.
It would not be a hyperbole to say that reading has changed my life. In a nutshell, it has affected the way I think, write, perceive, act and speak. Proper grammar has been so gradually ingrained into my subconscious that grammatical errors cause a mental knee-jerk reaction. Oftentimes I instinctively know it’s wrong before I can even put my finger it. Yes, I am the worst kind of grammar-nazi but an unashamed one at that.
Another hazard of being a reader-writer is the way one perceives the world. While a member of the general population might appreciate a thing of beauty (a rose, a landscape, a bustling city scene), I unconsciously begin describing it as though in a novel. Needless to say, the more complex the sentence structures, the better. It is hard not to transition from being a reader to a writer.
No writer is an island. By that I mean that no writer is unique, no matter how much they try or believe it to be true. Writers are inevitably influenced by the books that they’ve read: nobody ever learned to write without first reading. When we pick up a pen, we join the legions of writers before us and continue to distill the essence of Life. As we have been influenced by Shakespeare and Chaucer, someday we too will influence posterity. This is the legacy of writing.
Looking back, one of my milestones was also a crossroad. I was about to enrol into university and had to make a choice: the path more travelled by or the off-beaten road? I could have made a logical decision and done a Business degree, thereby opening up career avenues, or done Arts. There really was no contest. I trusted the old piece of advice and did what I loved. Even though it meant that I would be graduating with thousands of others just like me. It also meant that showing up to a job interview boasting a BA (History and Classical Studies, mind you) was like telling a Marine drill sergeant that you could perform twenty push-ups. In a style that is classically me, I went ahead and did it anyway.
I loved it. While not without its challenges, a BA is ultimately accomplished through a lot of writing. To me, it was not unlike going to the dentist: discomfort masked by the promise of a treat. The greatest irony in it all is that by choosing to do a BA, which is one of the most widely produced degrees, I actually chose the path less travelled by. People will dictate that you should do what is best for your future prospects, so you should study something that will get you employed. That’s true but I still believe in doing what I love and thereby not working a day in my life.
Today, I have a job that my degree didn’t help me get but that’s alright because I love what I do (so it’s not technically work in my mind). To step back and view the ripples caused by a single book in my life is nothing short of incredible. It ultimately also goes to prove that readers are made, not born. Writers, on the other hand, are born of readers.
Guest post by Shawn Chue, BA.