For a long time, I was one of those clichés – a sheltered girl with an overbearing Catholic mother. Everything I did – from getting straight A’s to joining an after-school activity – was to please her. Secondary school was a horrible time for me, and I just went through the motions.
When I was 13, I encountered this poem called Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice. It was written from the perspective of an unborn fetus. Before the baby’s even born, it’s already asking for forgiveness for the things it will do wrong – ‘forgive me if I don’t fit in society’; ‘forgive me if I don’t make my parents happy’.
It struck me and sparked a kind of crisis in me, and I had this profound realisation that I was deeply unhappy. Everything I did was not what I wanted to do in life, and I felt trapped. I wanted to defy my parents, but I wasn’t sure if I could handle their disappointment.
I became depressed and apathetic, but literature always kept me grounded. Studying new books was the biggest source of happiness in my life, and when it came time to go to university, I undoubtedly chose literature, even if my parents disagreed with the decision.
Our relationship now? It’s kind of hard to say. I’ve become more honest and independent-minded, which has allowed us to have a franker relationship. At the same time, because I’m so strong-willed and stubborn, our relationship is also quite strained. They disapprove of many things I do, and when we do try to talk, we just end up arguing.
The friction between my parents and me does impact my work in literature. One way it has manifested is that I’m very comfortable with moral ambiguity. When it came to editing this is how we walk on the moon, my input was to pay more attention to stories that came from unusual or neglected perspectives.
For example, ‘The Sheets We Drape Over the Things We Don’t Say’ spoke out to me because I could relate to the points of view there. It’s about a girl who’s struggling with her superstitious grandfather and overtly religious mother and how she navigates her way around these different values and morals.
It’s not a universal experience for sure, but I don’t think fiction should just be enjoyable for the everyday reader; it should also make people think. When putting together this book, I thought it would be valuable to give readers access to something they may have never encountered before and think about stuff they’ve never thought of.” – Patricia, 24
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