How Writing Saved My Life


Well, “saved my life” is a hyperbole.


1013067_10151515698409702_1351553181_nAfter living in Canada for 10+ years, my dad got a teaching job at a university in South Korea, so we (the family) followed him abroad. I knew a bit of Korean so my parents thought I could handle attending a Korean public highschool. YES, I was able to handle the all-Korean speaking environment. In fact, a great deal of my happiest memories are from the time I spent with my Korean highschool friends.

BUT, I wasn’t able to handle the workload. I’d study for hours and fail tests with grades ranging an average of 10%-30%. I once even got a ZERO on a multiple choice test. I soon gave up trying to study for every subject but my English class (this class made me feel super smart) and my Chinese-characters hanja class (only because that teacher would hit us for every character we got wrong. I probably had the most swollen hands at the end of each examination. Yup, those were the good old days…)

216701_5351059701_8537_nNaturally, my parents grew concerned about how much time I was wasting. School would start at 8AM and end officially at around 4PM, but without a legitimate excuse, all students had to remain at school self-studying until 11PM. Teachers would monitor the halls to make sure none of us escaped (though, when my friends and I did escape, we’d venture through the dark halls pretending to be secret agents, sneak out to buy snacks and then sneak back into the classroom before we were discovered).

So my parents worried: What was I doing with all the hours spent in classes if I’d given up learning from teachers? What was I doing with all the hours meant for self-studying if I wasn’t studying at all?

What was I doing?

I was writing most of the time.

I was writing plot outlines. And if I wasn’t plotting, I was writing chapters of a novel.

In other words, I was living the dream. I got to write for 10+ hours, during school, five days a week.


I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for novel-writing I’d have been psychologically worn-out. Writing added thrill and purpose to each day.

Writing gave me a much-needed confidence boost. Because of the language barrier, I ended up being overwhelmed by the thought of studying, giving up even before I tried. At one point, I began to think that I must actually be ‘stupid’. I filled pages of my journal with self-deprecation, ink smeared with angry and helpless tears.

Writing, however, gave me something to hold onto during these moments. I’d tell myself: my mind IS valuable. Why? Because my mind IS capable of creativity.

So THIS is the story I’d share if someone were to ask: How has writing been a therapeutic experience?



Margaret Atwood Interview

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood’s dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood and I @ the book signing

Yesterday my friends and I went to attend  the annual Pelham Edgar Lecture where Margaret Atwood would be interviewed by CBC’s Carol Off at our school, the University of Toronto. Margaret Atwood is actually a graduate of our school [along with Michael Ondaatje, who wrote THE ENGLISH PATIENT!!! #$@$$%^– something I discovered just yesterday] so it was very exciting for us to learn about the old days. The days when street-level pubs did not exist, as there was the potential of a pedestrian looking into the pub to see people drinking, which would surely corrupt them… The days when people would say: “What is Canadian literature? Isn’t it a second rate version of American or British literature?” 

 Good times, good times, I’m sure.

To be seeing and listening to Ms. Atwood, the author who contributed greatly to the shaping of Canadian lit, I imagined someone…not quite human. But she seemed pretty ordinary. And super humble about her achievements. Carol Off would, several times, praise Atwood for her great contributions not only to the literary but also to the political sphere. But Atwood would constantly disown the praise, saying that she did not deserve the red badge as an activist. She mentioned that the only reason why she would take a political stance was due to the fact that there would be hundreds of people pushing behind her. Towards the end of the interview, Carol Off urged Atwood to accept some credit, and the crowd broke into applause.

The interview wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. Atwood rarely talked about her books. As I was telling my friend Kerrie, who was unable to attend due to a cold, I could summarize the interview with two words: Martians and turnips. The chunk of the interview was focused on the reading materials Ms. Atwood said she’d recommend to Martians to read if they ever visited North America. Another chunk was focused on….well…I don’t quite recall because it was rather confusing, but something about how she would vote for a turnip to become prime minister? President? Not sure. But that was her answer to Carol Off’s political question on her thoughts of this year’s election. Atwood’s reason for wanting to vote for a turnip sounded quite intelligent though…

Though I wished she could have talked more about her books, the inspiration behind her writing, I really enjoyed the interview. Ms. Atwood is a quirky, humorous and superbly intelligent woman. It’s always a great experience to get to know a bit about the author before reading her works. And I’m ashamed to say I never read past the first few pages of her books. I always meant to. But they’re a bit difficult to get into, I find. Anyway, time to try again. I’ll be starting with ‘BLIND ASSASSIN’ which I got signed by her.

Have you guys read a book by Margaret Atwood? If you have, do share your thoughts : )