When I was in secondary school, I got into writing. I was an avid reader since the age of 10 – it’s a funny story actually. In Malaysia, (but I think this is quite common all around the world) there is a tendency to compare a child’s progress to another child, as a measure of great talent / great genes / great parenting. And my mother, whom I love dearly and respect tremendously, was probably sucked into this way of thinking. She was mortified to find out that I flat out refused to read, I was too scared of failure, even at that tender age.
I finally found out I could actually read one day, when I looked at one of those flash cards and the shapes actually made a word in my head. I was overjoyed, and really lucky because I felt that I managed to bypass all the heartache of not reading well in public (by rebelling to do it at all) and went straight into reading fluently. I was then hooked, and spent most of my free time reading all the books in our house, and because mum’s an English Literature lecturer, I pretty much had all the classics and the canon to make my way through – (thanks mum!)
Anyway, back to secondary school and dreams of being a writer. The first proper bit of writing I did was a short story about a vampire called Odette. O yes I was one of those teenagers, but mind you this was about 20 years before Twilight, so I feel I was significantly ahead of the curve. I got into vampire tales through Dracula (both the novel and the graphic novel) and through the Lost Boys (thank you to my older and cooler cousins!).
Mrs Samad, my Literature teacher rinsed my first efforts, she actually said ‘You know the phrase stick to your day job?’ to me, an innocent (-ish) 14 year old. The funny things is Mrs Samad’s husband was an editor at a publishing company, and for some reason she’d shared the work with him, probably to have a laugh. And he rated it. So the next morning Mrs Samad came into school and apologised saying she hadn’t seen the potential, but her husband had, and he had recommended that I kept writing. Advice that I then ignored until now pretty much.
And here’s the meat of it – Mrs Samad’s compliment worked a lot harder dressed in a initial insult. It helped spark my creativity even though it hurt like hell at first. Another episode like this, but much milder, was when I was at uni. I handed in a piece of literary criticism to my tutor, and her comments were, ‘you can’t go at the speed of Zizek unless you are Zizek.‘ Now I was overjoyed at this, because in my book she was saying that I was analysing and making constructions and comparisons at the pace of one of the best theorists out there. So what if I hadn’t even received my first degree yet, I was stoked. It was criticism that spurred creativity. And I think both my tutor and Mrs Samad were on to something, perhaps it was accidental or maybe it was planned, but they were one of the few teachers that really made an impression on me and inspired me to do more in my life.
A senior at my agency once said that women couldn’t be creatives because they’re too emotional and can’t take criticism. Actually we can, and I don’t think the ability to take criticism is anything to do with gender.
I’ll leave you with this great TV ad, that has turned the norm of ‘Female Advertising’ on its head: