This is not a new photograph of mine, but it is one of my favourites. For my daughter’s 18th birthday we took a trip to Phuket, Thailand, as per her wish. I remember sitting at the desk, looking out over the private infinity pool and further out into the exquisite ocean, while writing chapters of my novel. To me it was the ultimate writer’s dream that danced a beautiful pas de deux with photography, in tune with the world and my inner thoughts. For this singular moment, my world was intact, whole, and I was at peace.
I have admired Ernest Hemingway ever since I was forced to read The Old Man and the Sea in Middle School. His uncomplicated writing style interwoven with the depth of life’s issues is something I have carried with me for several decades. Though I cannot identify with his affinity to World War II or Cuba, I certainly understand the turmoil caused by great personal loss, death, and profound grief that propelled him to be a tormented writer. He took to the bottle during his many battles with depression, anxiety, paranioa, and was constantly worried about his finances and personal safety. It is chilling how many aspects of Hemingway’s life have now become my reality.
A few months ago I wrote about my fear of a blank page. This is an issue I struggle constantly with, not so much with the lack of inspiration or motivation, but more of loneliness and having become insignificant. The fall from grace and loss of a social role to lean on has taken a heavy toll on me, in addition to having to let go of all the anchors that I once held near and dear. I grew up as a privileged expat child, in a rose-tinted world where everything was possible and I was always safe. Then I moved on to becoming an expat wife with a major role to carry out, living in a bubble where the company took care of everything.
Then the bubble exploded.
Life outside the bubble is scary, rough, unkind, and suddenly this non-expat life with no privileges is a slap in the face. Fighting to keep my own two feet on the ground and keep my head on is more than flimsy challenge. Someone recently suggested that I relax in the evenings with a glass of wine or two. The idea of being alone with a bottle scares the daylights out of me. I have witnessed several friends lose control, no matter how much they claim to know what they were doing, and seeing what it has done to them and how their judgement has become distorted and clouded is the only thing keeping me away from the bottle. I was raised in a very conservative Asian family, where the concept of wine drinking was reserved for special occasions when guests were over, and other forms of alcohol were never encouraged. My mother was allergic to just about everything, and I have no recollection of my father ever drinking anything stronger than a beer. Later on when I married into a German family, he would politely try a schnapps here and there but just for curiosity’s sake. Otherwise, drinking and debauchery are considered taboo in my world.
Much as I admire Mr. Hemingway, there are certain areas where I will not follow. Yes, I have my dark and twisted Hemingway moments of depression and anxiety, but I draw the line at solo drunkenness, four marriages, and putting a gun to my head.