Why did I hate writing earlier?

I hated writing in the primary school.  The negative feeling lasted through my years of middle and high schools, college, and beyond.  Writing was such a struggle.

Luckily my engineering career didn’t require much serious writing.  Just some Powerpoint slides with bullet points would do the trick.  The truth is that, most of my colleagues had similar attitudes toward writing.  We were good at numbers, and horrible at words.

But, right after my early retirement, suddenly my hatred toward writing was gone.  Thank you, retirement, you changed who I am.  As a surprise, I do have a lot of my own thoughts, would love to write it down and share it with you.

As a result, I finished my first book in 2016.  It is a small memoir, ebook, called “Dad’s Bicycle – Journey of a Chinese Family”.  Late last year, this blog was launched.

Today, I like to share my experience why I hated writing earlier.  That’s mainly because of the political environment I grew up with.  Let me explain it.

Writing was not my trait from the beginning:

When started learning writing in Chinese, I was probably in the 3rd grade.  That was mid 1970s, when the Cultural Revolution was still going on in China.  What did I learn?  Most were Mao’s quotations, and the revolutionary stories.  Those really were not good materials for a 3rd grader to learn about writing.

So I had a bad start.  As the time went on, I didn’t have a chance to develop my own thoughts.  In that stifling political environment, everyone had to think the same way.  It’s so called “Unifying the thoughts or views”.  Nobody dared to think differently.

As a result, kids’ writings were all from cookie cutters.  The tones were just like the editorials of the government newspapers.  Those red slogans were copied over to our writing notebooks.  Blatant plagiarism.

When a new semester started, our first writing assignment was always: “My plans for the new semester”.  Well, for an elementary school kid like me, my real plan or hope was to have more candy, fruits, flour, sugar, eggs, and meat, and less corn bread and hunger.  Food was scarce then.  And probably more play time with my friends, and less time in the classroom.

But, obviously I couldn’t write down the true thought. Otherwise, my family and I would be in big trouble.  As a result, I had to fake out: okay, my plan was to study hard, follow Mao’s instructions, and help other people selflessly.  It sounded so bizarre and ridiculous.  Come on, that’s not what an 8-9 year-old was thinking.  From that early age, I learnt how to wear the political face mask.  Sad.

Every time when my class went out to the corn field helping the farmers, the teacher asked us to write down our experience.  Some kids made up the story like this: “The red flags were waving high, and the songs were sung loudly and proudly.”  That was a lie.  There were neither flags, nor songs or pride.  Only brutal sun, sweat, mud, and complains.

At the end of each semester, the wrap up writing assignment was: “Summary of the current semester.”  Well, every semester was the same in my eyes.  Why bother to summarize?  I had to keep going to school every day, attended classes, and played (sometimes argued and fought) with my classmates.  That’s all I did.

I couldn’t write what I thought.  Instead, I was required to write down the good and bad things I did, as a kind of self-criticism.  This B.S. is similar to the employee performance review in US.  I guess the nonsense did have legs to cross country borders.

In the high school, I was really struggling on writing.  Every writing assignment was a torture to me.  I could write a short paragraph with about 100 words.  After that, my brain became empty.  Now what?  Sorry, Teacher, but I don’t’t have anything more to say.

During the national college entrance exams, my Chinese (including writing) barely passed.  My other courses scored well, especially math, physics and English.  And I went to a college in Beijing.

College and beyond:

In the college, no Chinese courses were required.  Yeah!  Quite a liberation.  Finally I was able to say goodbye to writing.

Looking back, I feel I was never trained or encouraged to look at the world and things in different perspectives.  I was brainwashed by the political propaganda, and lost my own identity.  More accurately, probably I was never allowed to develop my own identity when I was young.

I was a kid when going to the college, and became an adult after the college.  The 4 years completely changed me.  I started seeking and developing my own identity.

In America:

Coming to America helped me to realize who I am, and what kind of person I wanted to be.  Living in America freed my brain and mouth.  I just say whatever I’m thinking, good, bad or ugly.  Face mask no more.

Sometimes my straight talk caused frowns to my parents and friends.  In China, diplomacy is the key for good relationships.  I feel that is hypocrisy and lies, not diplomacy.  If you disagree with someone, just say it directly.

After retirement, writing became one of my hobbies.  It’s a great way to sort out my own thoughts.  It also helps to improve my English.  Plus it’s good for my brain.  And it’s free!

Blogging is fun.  I don’t have to be a professional writer in order to blog.

Dear readers, what were your favorite subjects when you were in the school?  Do you like writing?  And why?

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10 Responses

  1. I like to write for many of the reasons you do Helen. As for school, accounting was my favorite subject. How boring is that? 🙂 Tom

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Tom, yeah, writing is fun. I took two accounting courses in the school, and still got confused about the debit and credit concepts. It looks I’m not an accountant type. Accounting is a great profession.

  2. Joe says:

    I never liked writing either. My strength was math and reading. My writing was bad, but it didn’t matter that much because I was an engineer. Eventually, I started blogging and it was a difficult transition. At first, my writing was very bad, but surprisingly it improved. That goes to show everyone can improve at anything. I really enjoy writing now, it’s strange.
    My son is kind of like me when I was young. I hope his writing improves much sooner than it did for me. Cheers.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Joe, we are in a similar boat. I liked math and physics. At work, when we had to deliver some formal and lengthy technical proposals, usually some folks (who were good at writing) were selected to do the writing part, and we contributed ideas on the technical part. It worked well. I agree, practice makes the writing better.

      Regarding your son, he wrote pretty well for the article “Do you want to be a farmer?” He had a lot of humors, too.

  3. GYM says:

    I love your writing! I also like your comment about Chinese diplomacy. I always forget about that but it is very ingrained in the Chinese culture it seems. That there is agreeance but when it comes to actually following through on what you’ve discussed there is no action (because they don’t actually agree but just said they agreed to be diplomatic). As a ‘banana’ (sort of) I have trouble thinking about that. Thanks for giving me a glimpse into what it was like growing up in China!

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi GYM, thank you. I feel a good relationship is not based on diplomacy, or lies. It should be based on mutual respect, honesty, and openness. What you said is a good example. If I say to follow through it, I’ll do it. If I don’t like the idea or have changed my mind later, I’ll let them know immediately. So they don’t have to wait and guess. The vague guessing game causes a lot of unnecessary stress. Yes should mean yes.

  4. Caroline says:

    Working in the corporate world teaches you a lot about diplomacy too if you want to get anywhere!
    I never liked writing and still don’t! But I love sharing experiences which is why I write for my blog. I probably would enjoy a podcast better but I am very self conscious about my accent so didn’t look into it yet.
    I think your writing is excellent:)

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thank you, Caroline. You are right, corporate world does have a lot of diplomacy involved. I almost forgot that.

      Your blog looks great. Yeah, podcast is not for me either. I know it’s a good way to promote the blog, but I have concern exposing my voice.

  5. Katrin says:

    Very interesting insight into your early school years! No wonder you weren’t too hot on writing. I actually loved engaging with literature and writing from quite an early age. But then I grew up in a family very much into books and reading, and both my parents were teachers (not always an advantage but in that case it probably was ;-))

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Katrin, the China in 1960s and 1970s was a very twisted country. Everyone was influenced by the ugly political movements. That’s cool your parents were teachers and you got more chance accessing books. When I moved to US 22 years ago, I fell in love with the local public libraries. It’s free, and there are tons of books and materials to explore. It’s really a blessing to me.

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