I often suspect my writing in English may occur to a native speaker as clumsy and dull – they don’t tell me only because they are being polite. Or perhaps it is not as bad as I imagine, but actually endurable to a moderate degree – there is no way for me to gauge. In no position I am to assess it objectively. After a perpetual wrestling with English, the language remains out of my league – I still can’t write without consulting Google Translate constantly, for all the subtle connotations obscured in a wording can be slippery for me, not to mention I have to double check the spelling all the time.
However, there must be something about it that suits me, to an extent sufficient to keep me in bondage to the wrestling ring. As contradictory as it may sound, at times I even have a faint sentiment that writing in English is liberating for me, despite my lack of sophisticated skills that inhibit me from expressing freely. Somehow, the situation reminds me of a Chinese idiom 掩耳盜鈴 (“Covering one’s ears to steal a bell“), with a story going this way –
In the courtyard of a declining aristocrat, there was a bell cast in high-quality bronze. A thief, pondering he could sell the bronze for good money, proceeded to steal it. Since the bell was too heavy to carry, he decided to break it into pieces with a hammer. With the first strike, the bell produced a sound so loud that it frightened him to the core. He dropped the hammer and covered his ears. The lingering of the sound became faint. He then cut off a piece from his clothing and plugged his ears with it. Now with his own hearing muffled, he felt that the sound of the bell was no longer an issue. So he went on hammering the bell, one blow after another, until people came and caught him in the act.
A more befitting translation of the idiom for my peculiar liking would be “The cat shuts its eyes stealing cream.” It is exactly how I feel while writing in English. I figured as long as my writing could meet some dubious inner measure of my own, people would find it legitimate as well. As long as I don’t see the crack in my front tooth, others wouldn’t notice it either. If only I could make myself oblivious to my own wrong, God would turn a blind eye too.
Self-deception, it seems to me the secret of a daring life, the prerequisite for enjoyable self-entertainment, the ultimate credential for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The thief in the story, he failed only because he set out to deceive others, I tell myself. If he didn’t try to steal anything from elsewhere, but stayed at his own home hammering his own bell, believing people wouldn’t hear the noise as far as he kept his own ears plugged, he might stand a better chance of sustaining his self-entertaining business.
Exactly I am doing just that here, confining myself to my business, honing my own craft, making the noise that myself couldn’t hear. I suppose, as long as I am not bothered by the sound of my bells, it wouldn’t be a noise to the outside world.
Come to think of it, self-deceiving is applicable to all areas of life. You can get yourself believing you’re a rare beauty, despite the mirrors everywhere that keep trying to point out the opposite. You tell yourself the best is yet to come, despite the fact that things have been imperceptibly slipping downhill. You cover your car with bumper stickers affirming ‘life is good’, however much you find sadness overwhelm the pleasantness … Simply, you convince yourself that the grass on your side of the fence is greener, that you can be anything you want to be, that everything is a blessing in disguise – until it turns out not too much of a blessing, then you could always rephrase it as ‘everything is an illusion of the mind’ and get away with it.
It is what everybody is doing on earth or online. All bloggers on WP are wrestling with some secret baffles of their own. From time to time, it gives us a sense as if we’re exercising the freedom of expression. Like all phenomena in life, the truth might not be what it appears to be. Just because you are making speeches of all kinds, it doesn’t mean you have the freedom of it.
Oftentimes, we say something because we are driven on autopilot by habitual tendencies. As much as we would like to be unbridled, we can’t help but comply with rules by saying what is nice and easy to the ears, flinging flatteries around like overcooked crayfish in all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, fearing to be excluded from the gaggle of group hug, trying too hard to fit into the last spaceship escaping this lonely planet.
Sometimes, we say something merely for the fun of saying it. For some reason we just like the sound of it. It is not freedom of speech either but a spark of gaiety triggered by batty hormones, not exactly a light of sanity torched by well-managed composure. Although, at the end of the day, it is what you live for, like a smile that happens accidentally when you didn’t plan it – a sudden flash of sunlight hitting the lake, spangles of delight flying all over the ripples … so frolic and festive, that for a moment all you can think of is those alluring candy wrappers you collected back then in the old days.
The best smile must be the closest we would get to freedom. Although it is something you could meet only by chance, never by design. And it doesn’t always display on the surface – a slight upturn may appear around the lip corners, but the most part of it twinkles behind the pupils, with an origin leading back to the hara center, presumably three inches inward behind the navel, where allegedly all the zest and zing are located.
For the rest of time while we are not driven by habits or by hormones in particular, we endeavor to say things demonstrating we are righteous and virtuous, culturally sensitive and spiritually enlightened, politically-correct and morally-superior … not as prejudiced and self-centered as we are behind the scene, full of insecurity and anxiety. It is not freedom of speech either, but a showoff of the self-important self, propelled by obsession and compulsion.
So the mind at all events is like a puppet attached to many strings. The speeches taking place are merely the performing art of puppet plays, manipulated by forces either habitual or hormonal, or hyper-tensional (for the lack of a better word, due to my scanty vocabulary). The puppet has no control over its limbs. The whole world is an enormous web interwoven with empty talks and puppet shows. Let me not mistake blogging as the freedom of self-expression, for everything is interdependent and conditioned, the self is too empty to be free. As long as I still have this need to write, I am not yet free.
If one day I could get to that perfect state where I don’t have to express, then I would truly have the freedom of expression.