Thursday, July 8, 2010

Obligations

I've been remiss on writing these days. It's not from lack of ideas, or even lack of inspiration. It's mostly from lack of energy, and the weather.


For those who don't follow my LJ / Twitter / Tumblr, I've been home in Malaysia for the past month now. I work downstairs at the kitchen table, because my bedroom doesn't have a writing table and I've found that I cannot tolerate sitting on a bed, writing, for long periods of time, unless it's just for an evening or two. Also, hot air rises and it is really warm in my bedroom, but I don't like having the air-conditioner on for long periods of time, due to sinus issues. 

But much of the problem stems from the fact that I spend all day trying to catch up on news around the world on my Google Reader, and by the time I'm ready to sit down to write, my family is home, and there is no nice way of saying this: dealing with my family is exhausting and costs me more damned spoons than I should ever have to give up for them. I do it because it's less spoons than fighting back.

Right now as I write this, my father is pottering around and asking me to help him out in the kitchen. Which I can do, of course, and as long as I live under this roof, I will help out around the house as much as possible. This doesn't mitigate the fact that I need quiet in order to work, a kind of quiet I only get when he's not in the house. (Yes, he's distracting even when he's reading his own emails, because then my Gmail alerts are constantly pinging to tell me of another forward he's sent me.) I love the dad a whole lot, but it is counter-productive to live under his roof. I get more done even when I'm juggling reading two books at a time; hell, I got more done when I was doing my 9-5 job. 

I also get complaints from my mother, on the occasions that she is home and downstairs, often staring at me while I work. Usually, I take long periods away from my computer where I walk around the living room, just thinking. I do not do this with an audience. So, when she is around, I am less likely to walk around. Then she tells me that I need to get away from the computer more often. 

The complaint of parents never seeing us do what they tell us to do is, I think, fairly universal among my set. Yes, I did study, when they weren't looking. Yes, I do actually wash the dishes / hang the clothes / clean my feet / [chore du jour] when they are not around. I just don't happen to do it when they tell me to do it immediately because! As you might notice! I am busy doing something else! And I also don't happen to do it when they are watching because! I am more likely to do a wider variety of stuff when they are not around! 

I don't know why, and I suspect I am not alone in this, but being away from parental supervision is freedom to be oneself in a way that one cannot be when around parents. 

Although over time, conditions in my parents' household have gotten better, I have never been able to shake the expectations I have been told to live under. There is a certain way I need to look, to do things, to be. And as it happens, because I do live with one chronically-anxious mother and one constantly-energetic father, both of whom have certain and varying expectations of me, complete with inane observations about things they should know by now that I, as an adult, will not be changing and thus it is pointless and a waste of all our collective time to tell me about (like the fact that I bite the inside of my cheeks, twisting my mouth in due process, something I only do when I'm concentrating on something other than my appearance) (which I suppose is most of the time) (oh but why do you do it? it makes you look so ugly!).

Things have gotten better: if I tell my parents to leave me alone, this is generally honoured (my mother likes pushing my boundaries, and I don't think she's clued in to the fact that this generates the sulkiness she dislikes from me). Because I am no longer a high school student, with exams looming in front of me, I am no longer told to go study when I want to be doing something else (studying, again, is something I do best when no one is around). This is one complaint off her roster. It doesn't minimize the other complaints she has left, which she will probably keep having until the day she dies. 

When I tell people jokingly, I'm home because my dad doesn't want to pay my rent in Canada for the summer, I'm semi-serious. The usual response is, "he wants you home!"

I think this is supposed to make me feel better, and grateful, that after years of giving my parents hell, they still want me under their roof. This is nice, of course, but it doesn't detract from the fact that living with my parents for an extended period of time is difficult. 

There is no nice way of saying this: for me, and for many like me, living with family is exhausting, even if we don't have abusive relationships like many people I know do. From living up to ingrained expectations, to passive-aggressive intimations on appearance, to outright distraction, it's yet another slice of energy taken off. 

I resent the idea that wanting to live away from my family reflects badly on them, as opposed to being a case of simple incompatibility. If I have a roommate I cannot stand, I'm not expected to put up with them. Yet, by virtue of blood relations and a history of living as a family, I'm expected to forgive them, constantly, the fact that being around them is exhausting. 

There is a strange culture surrounding nuclear families that I know. Family is where we rejuvenate. Family is where we draw our strength from. Family is the backbone of our lives. This is common wisdom. This is an acceptable truth.

An unacceptable truth runs like this: family is what screws us up, front, back and center, as we grow up into adulthood. Family hurts us. Family holds us back from reaching for what we really want. 

I'm told, over and over again, cutting family off is a Western thing. That family values is an Asian thing. Only Westerners think it's okay to cut off family ties. Because family is naturally a good thing.

This is a damned ridiculous idea, trotted out by Asian conservatives to discredit my contrary opinions, to mark me as some wayward child who just needs to be schooled in proper Asian values. Family as we understand it, particularly the [nuclear family + satellite extended relatives] standard is all over the world, particularly in areas developed to match current standards of modernity. An abusive family is an abusive family, no matter where you come from, no matter what values you live with. No one should be under obligation to put up with more than they can tolerate. For many of us, we don't cut ties because we can't afford to. I come home because my dad buys me a ticket home, not because I want to be here.

I'm not in an abusive family, although it certainly did feel abusive during my teens, when my parents were working extremely hard and thus were too tired to do more than snap and yell. This isn't a failure of family, it's a failure of a societal capitalistic system that refuses to acknowledge and support family as an emotional priority. 

I am, however, one of those people who can't do anything productive when around family, especially on holiday. Because on holiday, I'm apparently at the disposal of anybody who wants me to do anything, even though it's something they can do perfectly fine on their own, when I'm not around. I am, after all, not a guest, I'm a family member, and thus obligated.

So, while I can fulfill these obligations, it does mean that I end up with less energy to write and think.

And hence, the radio silence, not because I've abandoned the blogosphere. Just in case you missed me.

1 comment:

  1. you sound just like my sister when she's home to do some research :) ("i can't work in the house with the family around, oh my god") she usually takes her work out to coffee bean and stays there the entire day hiding out from mum. good luck with your work!

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