Write of passage

Swineherd and sounder (PHOTO: Teh Wen Hui)
Swineherd and sounder (PHOTO: Teh Wen Hui)

It’s been a while since I’ve made the journey to the memory of young adulthood.

I think about what it was like to be 21. I remember Pooters; parties; Perth; Peer Pressure; the Panopticon. I’m reminded of the feeling of invincibility and immortality; I distinctly recall speaking and writing about it, to someone, somewhere.

I think about whether I’d like to be 21 again. Reliving the growing pains while coming of age holds little appeal. But were they really matters of great importance – or mere minutiae? If I had known then what I now know, perhaps I would’ve treated those mountains for the molehills they were.

Therein lies the paradox of growing up. When it comes to the yearning for a golden age, departure is both the impetus and a necessary condition. It is only through crossing the Rubicon of youth that we can land on the shores of reminiscence and epiphany.

In order for us to arrive, then, we must first leave.

Somewhat bewildered

Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible (1996).
Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible (1996).

In Act 1, Scene 2 of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, there’s an exchange between Elizabeth and John Proctor that goes like this:

PROCTOR: You will not judge me more, Elizabeth. I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail, and I will think on it. Let you look to your own improvement before you go to judge your husband any more.

ELIZABETH: I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John, only somewhat bewildered.

(Miller; my emphasis)

That line, to me, has always been both the play right there and the most succinct demonstration of Miller’s craft as a playwright.

In contemporary usage, “bewildered” often means perplexed or puzzled.

In certain instances, the word could also refer to someone being confused as to the direction or situation they are heading or in.

In the case of The Crucible, it’s also instructive to return to the more archaic meaning of the word.

Miller aptly uses it, both in the context in which the play is set, as well as to describe Proctor: to be thoroughly led astray or lured into the wild.

To some extent, Elizabeth is describing Proctor’s dalliance with Abigail as an example of his being led astray by her. It’s also a reference to how he has been “bewitched” by her, hence his seemingly odd behaviour.

Yet, bewilderment goes beyond more than just the transgression of sexual and marital mores.

At its core, The Crucible is about identity, in terms of the individual, society and the individual in relation to society.

While the different characters each have their own struggles with identity, Proctor’s struggle is his search for who he truly is as a person.

His bewilderment, then, is not just about how Abigail’s womanly wiles have lured him into the wild.

Much like how Salem has, ironically, corrupted itself in its attempts to retain some semblance of goodness, John’s bewilderment is a result of how he has has lost his way in the wilderness of this corrupted society and, from which, he has to find his way out, if he is to hang on to his self, and all that is good about it.


Representation is always difficult, and nowhere more so than on maps.

In constructing a map for a project, I spent – what I initially thought was – an inordinate amount of time on it. But I realised otherwise upon producing the final copy.

What I learnt about what took me so long was the exact thing holding me back from completing the task: Wanting to be perfect. I wanted to be as exact as possible so as to do justice to the geography.

At some point, it dawned on me that for the purpose of what I wanted to achieve, accuracy was still important – but faithfulness was not.

All I needed was an approximate model for people to get from Point A to Point B. Here, I had to strike a balance between what I wanted ideally and what people really needed.

If map-making is a metaphor for sharing one’s wisdom about finding one’s way in the world, then this route stands out: art, like life, entails having to be comfortable with making choices and accepting sacrifices.

Nevertheless, these trade-offs cannot be made unthinkingly; for example, there will be situations in which accuracy and faithfulness are equally important, and approximations will not suffice.

Also, while there is much value in putting in the hours to learn the intricacies and nuances of any craft, sometimes, it’s always better – and quicker – if you have a guide to show you the way.

I hope this map guides your path in the same way it will guide mine.