ISSUE #3: Lineage
a group of individuals tracing descent from a common ancestor
We often consider lineage in biological terms, but is that the only way to conceive of it? In this issue, we attempt to trace our LINEAGE to see how it contributes to who and what we are.
Poetry // …
Article // Why I’m Not Chinese, and Will Never Be
Short Story // The Poet’s Lineage
Food for Thought
Like our past two issues, we hope to offer you new possibilities of looking at the world through an examination of your current world. There may only be one fixed definition for things, but there is never just one fixed meaning. There is never just one way to be. Let your mind roam free, and your world be open to vastness.
Join us in our exploration of our roots. Enjoy!
Rosslyn & Daryl
POETRY // by Rosslyn
A line is but a line
till it enters a relationship:
a diameter in an unending arc,
hypotenuse in a square;
a perpendicular when rooted,
parallel when paired with the ground.
A trail of running dots shifting
with its community, a line—
never just a line.
ARTICLE // by Daryl
Why I’m Not Chinese, and Will Never Be
Lineage informs identity, and vice versa.
For the better part of the last two decades, I’ve been telling everyone that I’m not Chinese. Their expressions—varying from stupefied to offended—often led to the question, “But aren’t your ancestors from China?” or “Doesn’t the colour of your skin make you Chinese?” I suppose what they’re really trying to get at is how my identity is tightly bound to my lineage, which is based on biological factors. They have a point, but barely. My identity is indeed derived from my lineage. But they don’t comprehend what I consider my lineage. In my view, merely grounding one’s lineage in biology is myopic, and does not recognize the whole of personhood. My identity is the culmination of my experiences, worldviews, and even my education; my biological traits play little to no role in determining who I am.
So who and what am I? For starters, I am the child of my parents: hardworking and honest people who inculcated values of right and wrong in me, who raised me with love and dignity so that I might come into my own as a person when I need to face with the world. One might well retort, “But didn’t they impart to you all the values that their Chinese ancestors have taught them? Wouldn’t that make you Chinese as well?” If love, dignity, diligence, and honesty are exclusively Chinese values, then yes. But they aren’t so. These are human values, which transcend the colours of our skins. Any attempt to pigeonhole my parents disregards the agency they’ve exercised in deciding how they wanted to raise me. Assuming that they could not have done anything differently from their own parents is to ignore their individuality and how they, too, have come to inhabit this world as their own persons. I will not allow them to fade into a stereotype.
I’m proud that my native language is English, and also of the fact that I’m in the midst of picking up ancient Greek, German, and French. Between these four languages, I have access to works that are most significant to me (well, Italian, Latin, and Japanese too but, for now, I’ll pick my battles.) Language conditions the manner I perceive the world through the ideas they express. Through these languages, I learnt to think about the True, the Beautiful, and the Just. Even the familiar notion of friendship was elevated through Aristotle’s illuminating discussion. Because of these languages that provided me with the vocabulary to discuss them, my life has been so much richer.
Furthermore, I’m forever grateful for English and Greek because it afforded me access to the Western canon that decidedly shaped my cultural and intellectual landscape. I grew up captivated by the exploits of the Greek heroes who battled for Helen at Troy, and wandered around the world with Odysseus for a decade before setting foot on the shores of his native Ithaca. Other times, I journeyed to the centre of the earth with Jules Verne, enraptured by the thrill of the possible existence of a world beneath ours. In my teenage years, I developed a crush on Elizabeth Bennet, that charmingly intelligent woman who proved to me that such women should be admired rather than feared. When I was confronted with the moral quandaries I experienced as a young adult, I feared mirroring the moral decay of Dorian Gray before circumscribing my own moral universe with the notion of the mean as explicated by Aristotle; no other work has been more influential than his in directing my moral compass. Finally, we come to Socrates, oh Socrates, the gadfly of a man who persuaded me that there is no shame in knowing nothing. There is simply too much to discover in this world to let pride interfere with this way of life that promises a divine happiness. And when I encountered his death in the Phaedo, I wept, feeling “as if [I] had lost a father and would be orphaned for the rest of [my] life.” (Phaedo, 116b)
Musically, I grew up singing along to the Beatles and the Bee Gees, before turning to Nirvana and Metallica in my youth. While I was too young to be affected by the movements associated with the former two, the latter two gave me the language to articulate, as an 18-year-old, what it meant to be true to myself. Imagine being liberated from the inane mindless truisms that the individual is utterly insignificant compared to the community! When I wanted to learn more about music, I was introduced to the likes of Bach, Mozart, Brahms. The first awed me by demonstrating how pure reason could manifest itself through meticulously composed music; the second humbled me with his genius, treating my ears to sounds that I’ve never heard before; the last taught me that it’s possible, through sheer doggedness, to meet the challenge of my predecessors regardless of how illustrious they might have been, that I might one day come into my own.
I’m proud of my lineage because it tells the tale of how I came to be. We experience many things but not all of them are essential; many are accidental. By ascertaining the essential aspects of my lineage, I uncover the truth of my identity. This is why identity is not cast in stone from birth but is the malleable element of our lived experiences: experiences I’ve discovered to be essential and meaningful, I honour it by enshrining it in my lineage; what I’ve discovered to be superfluous, I am free to cast off. Don’t let others tell you otherwise.
Short Story // by Rosslyn
The Poet’s Lineage
It takes a village to raise a kid, but an entire cosmos across spatial and temporal dimensions to raise a poet.
October 18, 2018 — the dam burst, releasing the impounded tears and grief, spilling over into my journal, birthing my first poem, the second, and the third, in the short span of 24 hours. The day before, I was attending a workshop, Thwarting the Inner Critic, led by Sarita, when she broke the dam by naming what I couldn’t see for myself. She saw me, even the parts I was hiding.
The fearful, timid girl in me who had lost her voice, and was intimidated by writing, awoke to the teacher’s calling. Thereafter, I went berserk on a writing spree, freeing decades of repressed words I had swallowed. Till today, I don’t think I can fully explain that encounter. I am just extremely grateful for the guidance and teachings Sarita has bestowed upon me.
Now a dear teacher and friend, she was the spiritual midwife who drew the second breath of life out from me. And with that precious breath, my words took flight.
The Mentor & Grandmother
64 poems, 100 pages; a manuscript placed in the hands of one in her 80s, which she readily agreed to read. With a mind still keen, she went over my words thoroughly, spotting even the slightest grammatical mistake, while offering thoughtful feedback and questions. The value of my work under her care, elevated. Seeing how meticulous she was, it spurred me to take poetry even more seriously.
Gisela is Daryl’s mentor and close friend who then also became my mentor. I may not have officially been her student, yet to me, she was the key facilitator of my writing development. She opened my eyes to the world of poetry and introduced her favorite writers to me, which led me down a trail to trace the great writers who came before me.
Another sensitive soul steeped in the world of poetry and music, Gisela is another grandmother from a different bloodline.
After reviewing my manuscript, Gisela remarked that I was like a sister of Dickinson. I had not read enough of Dickinson’s work to know what she meant then, and I was too excited to prod further. The thought of being associated with the great poet Emily Dickinson was too thrilling for me to keep my cool. Were we similar in the way we saw things, or were there similarities in the things we enjoyed writing about, or was it, simply, that hint of loneliness suffused throughout our writing?
In that moment, I had not conceived of any negative possibility. Beneath the smile I wore, was a little girl skipping in the meadows. How wonderful it is to be related with a great one! It was heartening for a novice to know her poetry, in however small a way, shared a commonality with a great poet she admires.
It helped tremendously that Gisela gifted me a book of poems by Dickinson, and on a separate occasion, we watched the movie A Quiet Passion together. All these supported me in piecing a silhouette of the sister. My worries and solitude in writing, the sister puts them to rest.
This was the beginning of a budding connection and a potential community.
Being new to poetry writing, I explored different writers’ works to expose myself to various styles in order to develop and improve my own. I found wonder in Mary Oliver, comfort in Mark Nepo, solace in Rilke, vindication in Emerson, and elegance in Schiller. Most recently, I was drawn to Virginia Woolf through A Writer’s Diary. The optimism and spunk she carried in her early years of writing, inspiring; the candidness in her diary entries, a breath of fresh air. Through her published diary, I became more aware of how I censored myself in my own writing. Even in my private journaling practice, it was difficult to conceive of crude or unpleasant thoughts as I repressed many of them.
To be afforded a glimpse into another writer’s inner world was an honor. She shared her troubles living in the critical world of literary writing, her dreams of finding herself, and being true to her writing. “But I had rather write in my own way […] than be Jane Austen over again.” Her integrity and free-spiritedness left me awestruck.
As I peered into her diary, I was inspired to respond to her through mine. It wasn’t all nice and pretty though, since some of her entries were depressive; still, these much-delayed conversations nourished me through some of my days in lockdown during the pandemic.
A Chinese Singaporean who doesn’t quite relate to her racial or national roots, I often feel I don’t belong. My love for the arts, a mote in the red dot. My pursuit of the life of poetry leads me to be estranged from my homeland. To some extent, I’m also growing weary of explaining how English is my mother tongue when confronted with looks of amazement for my command of the language.
I do not have a religious inclination either. The frequent shuffling between the church and the temple in my childhood to please both paternal and maternal ancestries was fun yet confusing for the young, impressionable me. I can now appreciate the gift from that, as it allowed me to better hold religious differences; nonetheless, it left me renegade and without faith. Here, I still do not find my lineage.
I carry the blood and love of my grandmother and mother, but regretfully, I’ve missed the opportunities to listen to their stories to know the torches they carried. I’ve been working backward through my fragmented memories but guesswork coupled with a lack of faith pave a tedious path. The wanting roots and belonging beget feelings of loneliness and loss.
What happens when I allow lineage to cross blood and state lines? Does it matter if the inheritance cannot be traced as long as I can describe it?
Liberation, a rebirth, came through the Midwife, the Mentor, the Sister, and the Friends, each helping me in one way or another through my writing journey and the search for my place in this world. Eventually, the path of practice is still my own to walk, but it is assuring to know I can fall back on them and so many others. I am bound to them not by blood but by spirit.
When I allowed myself to look beyond the physical vines binding me, an entire new vista opens to me. I can now trace my spiritual roots and embrace the seed in me. A new home, a large family—not merely the daughter of my parents—I am a child of Poetry and the World. I too, carry the dreams and spirit of the many great beings who came before me. Across ages, we are each trying to uncover new grounds of human beings and of nature, each doing the best in our time to realise the truths within us, and pass on our stories.
“No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone.” ~ T.S. Eliot
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The Ever-changing River
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. ~Heraclitus
We come from a long ancestry of human beings, contributing to some form of similarity (no matter how small or minor) we have with one another across time and space.
Through both Daryl’s and Rosslyn’s examples, we see how each of their perceptions of lineage presents a different world for them, and how they took themselves to be.
For Daryl, lineage brought about his identity but it was not deterministic nor uni-directional. To define his identity, he made deliberate choices to embrace his particular experiences to constitute his lineage, which goes beyond the usual norms.
Rosslyn’s story speaks of belonging. Connection and belonging come from the sharing of common space, be it intangible ideas and values, or physical and material bodies. A search for roots that’d resonate with her brought her into a new space, where she found her lineage in what was passed down and what will be passed on.
Dear reader, have you pondered over your lineage before? Our thoughts shape our experiences:
What do you identify as your lineage?
How does your current understanding of lineage shape your worldview?
What new possibility might emerge if you allowed yourself to adopt a new understanding of lineage? What might that be? Where might you find yourself?
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