There are probably a number of moments that any one person can point to when trying to describe that special period in life when one begins to realise that one isn’t a child any more.
For me, one such example was a particular history assignment in pre-university for a module I was taking on West Asia (see Middle East). Given the unsettled nature of the region and the various versions of history that could be found on the subject, I was having a hard time trying to decide what would go into my paper. I couldn’t understand why no one had gone and read all these differing opinions and put the correct version of events in a neatly presented textbook. Textbooks were such a fundamental aspect of school—how had the makers of this West Asian history module forgotten to include one? All this reading and re-reading and cross-referencing was just so tedious and messy.
This memory now strikes me as belonging to someone standing on the cusp of childhood, someone realising that the bedrock of ideas upon which life is built is not as sturdy or homogenous as he thinks.
Learning as a child was a wonderfully simple experience. Fundamental verities of life could be boiled down to simple calculable equations that always turned out a correct result when manipulated carefully in school examinations:
F = ma
(a+b)² = a²+2ab+b²
2Na + Cl2 = 2NaCl
Even the mysteries of π could be resolved, more or less, with a simple 22/7 for all practical purposes.
I have come to understand that a vast field of knowledge, which includes perhaps some of the most important things that we know—the opinions we hold, the values we live by, the wisdom we glean—cannot be judged by its ability to achieve the empirical clarity of childhood math and science problems. It is produced in the course of living, as we move through a social world charged with history—and as the world changes, as we change in it, it is also subject to changing. I suppose the process of leaving childhood behind, of growing up, is partly about coming to accept the inherent ambiguities of this kind of understanding and learning to stay hopeful and dynamic in its pursuit nonetheless.
Given the times we are living, where so many ideas are up in the air—justice, participation, interdependence—and where we stand in need of alternative ways of thinking to be able to make progress, this dexterity of mind, this ability to evolve, to adapt, to incorporate new material, comes across as something of an essential survival mechanism, perhaps even a superpower, providing anyone and everyone with the opportunity to make the world anew.
The articles found here could be considered as various attempts to set down simple markers amid all this effervescence, incomplete like understanding itself, but useful nevertheless in giving form to fleeting, multifarious thoughts and determining a path forward to develop them further. They are as varied bits pointing to some forever indeterminate whole… blurred snapshots of ideas in transition.
My name is Jordan Melic. I am at home in Singapore and Paris. My novel, A Tree to Take Us Up to Heaven, a sibling coming-of-age odyssey set across time, is out in March 2020 with Math Paper Press.