Headspace: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department write about a place or space they go to write, read, study or create. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
How to Turn the Dining Table into the Ground of Ideas
This is not even your dining table in the first place. It doesn’t belong to your family.
Supposedly you are just ‘temporarily’ staying here. This classic 300 square ft. dwelling in Hong Kong belongs to your cousin, but then you’ve been staying here for more than two years now, since you left another city.
Of course, a dining table is just a dining table. What else could it be? It is usually folded in half during the day, but in the evening, it turns into the ultimate stage to show how good your mom cooks: chicken wings and meat loaf, salad and choy sum, cake and pudding. Then there is also this quiet kettle in the corner, with some trashy politician’s election leaflets—“LOW on RHETORIC. HIGH on IMPACT”—serving as a makeshift coaster underneath it.
Here, conversations happen: How are you doing at school? How’s your work? Your aunt is going to have dinner with us this Saturday, etc. or even, when the conversation does not happen, you get to take out your tablets and smartphones amid the soup and the fish bones.
Later, you realise you have to get used to the classic Hong Kong tight spaces. When every corner is cluttered with the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life, pushing everything else onto the dining table: books, files, your brother’s elementary grammar exercise books, hand cream, meds, necklaces, keys thrown there when you come back in and every other small thing that you know you must not forget before you leave the house.
Make the table last. Keep it in good condition. If the rest of the house is messy, make it the tidiest place so it will be comfortable for you to play with words. When the pink tablecloth gets torn, change it for a blue one. When there are many books piling up, get some bookshelves. When it’s time for dinner, just move everything to the sofa and when dinner is over, move everything back onto the table.
It is such a crowded place for creation, but this is what life gives you. This is the best you can get, especially after a busy day of work. Get up at midnight when everybody else is asleep, capitalise on the rare silence which offers you the power to think, hold the flashlight if you have to, look at the wall if you feel you are drained of inspiration, turn on the fan if that makes you more awake, see if you can gain any enlightenment from the blankness. Pen or laptop is not necessarily needed, your phone could do the job of creation for you in the darkness.
When you finally obtain your inner peace in such a crowded, messy place, then you will realise you don’t need to go to any fancy cafes or the library to write and to be “HIGH on RHETORIC, LOW ON TEDIUM”.
Bon appétit. Have a nice bite of your ideas.
Pamela Wong is a third-year student studying in the Department of English. She reveals her emotional world through poetry. [Read all entries by Pamela.]