Oliver Sacks on Writing

I am a storyteller, for better and for worse.

I suspect that a feeling for stories, for narrative, is a universal human disposition, going with our powers of language, consciousness of self, and autobiographical memory.

The act of writing, when it goes well, gives me a pleasure, a joy, unlike any other. It takes me to another place — irrespective of my subject — where I am totally absorbed and oblivious to distracting thoughts, worries, preoccupations, or indeed the passage of time. In those rare, heavenly states of mind, I may write nonstop until I can no longer see the paper. Only then do I realize that evening has come and that I have been writing all day.

Over a lifetime, I have written millions of words, but the act of writing seems as fresh, and as much fun, as when I started it nearly seventy years ago.



We all go back to here.


This morning, strolling on the streets on the lead-up to the Edinburgh Castle, green grass all around, sunshine. Lying on the grass in the middle of the Edinburgh University grounds, watching clouds pass, pigeons landing on the heads of statues.

On the bus to the city yesterday we all talked about our collective memories – I think about my parents, younger and more weighted down by life and hopes and expectations; the kind of things that they must have been thinking about while they were cajoling us on to the streets of Clarke Quay for the Buskers’ festival, while my dad was sipping coffee at that coffee shop outside the National Library – the place where so many alternative universes were carefully shored up within sacred pages.

Unconditionality – it’s that ache in your heart when you feel helpless and protective at the same time, when you are fearful but strong at the same time. It is tiring to love, but so immensely rewarding when you have learnt the right way of doing so. Unconditionality – for once, I am reminded that this is the most important state that I can find myself in – that I don’t need to feel like I have to BE BETTER for anybody, that who I am is exactly what and how my parents and my brother want to find me in. For that, I am thankful.

And I have learnt to reciprocate this. No more comparing and measuring, thinking that I / we can be better off, happier, living a ‘better life’ doing this or that. We all share the same powerful tool: the state of not wanting or expecting more than what we already have, the creativity to bend our minds around even the most challenging of circumstances.

The way my mother looks when she poses for a photo; no longer stoic, with a grim hard line on her lined face; just small and shy and tentatively curious about the environment, taking it all in. The way she couldn’t take it when the sunlight hit her face on the way down Princes Street, the way we all looked out for each other. The way we all talked about our trip last year, relieving meals, memories, apartments, places….

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. — Thomas Merton

Love is my dad taking me to the bookstore on my birthday to pick out a book I wanted. Love is eating at the hawker centre in Toa Payoh instead of attending speech and drama class because I threw a tantrum and suffered from anxiety about engaging in extraversion during class. Love is my mother treating me to a McDonald’s ice-cream cone and telling me to hush, not tell my brother because otherwise he will get jealous. Love is time, places, memories, stories of struggling on together….

Reborn – Susan Sontag

We said that one should always expect the worst in life – life being one long sordidness and mediocrity – that one should not protest, but, although assuming the necessary social responsibilities, withdraw, not involve onself, and, in the anticipation of the worst, perhaps be granted a few moments of happiness, not accepting life ‘conditionally’ was what I said…Take what you can – none of it really matters…

There is nothing that stops me from doing anything except myself…What is to prevent me from just picking up and taking off? Just the self-enforced pressures of my environment, but which have always seemed so omnipotent that I never dared to contemplate a violation of them…But actually, what stops me?


But, happily, between me and this wild, green ocean was the glass of the Wall. Oh, the great, divinely bounding wisdom of walls and barriers! They may just be the greatest of all inventions.

Mankind ceased to be savage when we built the Green Wall, when we isolated our perfect, machined world, by means of the Wall, from the irrational , chaotic world of the trees, birds, animals…

Yevgeny Zamyatin


Of late, I have been thinking…

• How important it is to harbour a positive outlook in your heart and have that framed in your mind

• How important it is to be able to readily adapt to different segments of society, to understand details in culturally-specific ways

• To keep your expectations moderate, to understand life in terms of its meaning and purpose, to value your contributions to the world and society on its own terms and not by any external source of validation

• To listen to people and understand where they are coming from

• Consequentially, if you have given some people a chance to prove their worth to you and they do not step up, forget them

• To understand that there are bigger universes and possibilities out there

• To find gratitude in simplicity

• To know that life and time transforms your perspective wholly, to accept what life gives you but to also not accept that as a permanent reality

Sitting in the British Library, having breakfast in Angel today and walking along the Regent’s Canal this morning with Allan, both of us wondering about how we will settle back into our societies, talking about double consciousness and the value of being independent minded. One more month, and somehow there is this deep sense of security and faith in my heart – I have already walked through this, so far, on my own. I will always be able to mould myself, to adapt to new structures and institutions, to take comfort in these little glimmers of meaning and my own daily reminders of what it means to work hard and put effort into things that matter. x


“Life is too short for us to be upset. And life is also too cruel for us to take it too seriously.”

I am…

Forever thankful for the role of the arts in my life.
When nobody was there, when there was no hope, no beauty to cling on to, only this kept me going.

And then

And then I was cruising along the canals on my bike this evening
Thinking about events that happened almost a year ago
The feelings I had when I was cycling home and got a text that I was grappling hard to understand

And then I was so proud of myself

For making it this far on my own
All by myself

For being surrounded by places and people and things that I will miss so dear
For coming to new revelations that will hopefully be strengthened with time.

Just finished watching Two Days One Night, what a beautiful film. There is a dignity towards carving out your own fate, towards possessing every day with strength, towards living life by your own measures.