Writing for Tembusu

Hello you. If you’re reading this you must know about the opening of Treehouse – this website – here. I only know glimpses of the effort that has gone behind its launch, and it hasn’t been easy. My congratulations to the Treehouse team.

Salima, the editor, asked me late last year if I would like to write a piece for Treehouse. I told her I wanted to share my experiences of writing for our college, Tembusu.

I thought that would be easy enough: just a recount a few things here and there, say something about what I had learnt from them, and done. Publish and thank you, Salima. But I’ve rewritten this piece in its entirety for a third time now, including this version you are reading. And that doesn’t include the numerous drafts in between.

That’s one thing I’ve learnt about writing: the importance of redrafting. It is a process of refinement – a sharpening of your ideas, and how you communicate them – which can be tedious at times (actually, every time). You have to read and re-read and re-read your work to weed out grammar mistakes and typos and sentences that could have been said clearer. Sometimes it takes all this editing for you to realise you need a fresh perspective. Into the recycle bin your drafting goes. Start again.

In many ways the writing groups in Tembusu are like articles in redrafting. For the third year now different people in the college have had their hand at establishing a culture of writing. And that excludes the compulsory Ideas and Exposition modules.

I remember from my first year a writing Interest Group, called The Writer’s Voice. We wanted to discover our voice through expressive, introspective musings. We made it as far as to produce one publication.

A slightly more organised effort was made with tStudios, an Interest Group in Tembusu. We envisioned it to be a team that supports the college with our creative talents in photography, videography, writing and design. It was a rather slow birthing, but the writing branch took a journalistic turn and began reporting college events like Tembusu Forums, Master’s Teas, Family Day and such. However, we found that hard to sustain, so that profile in tStudios’ portfolio is now closed.

That didn’t stop our ambitions from growing. Bertha Henson, our journalist-in-residence, started an online “viewspaper” based in Tembusu. It was called Breakfast Network. Its aim was to serve a fair and honest critique of Singapore’s mainstream news sources with a dash of humour. Tembusians (and also a few Cinnamon rolls) were involved in almost all aspects of running the site: writing, reporting, editing, illustration, marketing… The “oldies” and Madam guided us. Personally, it was the best mentoring in writing I had ever received. Sadly, even that met its end.

Yet deleted drafts aren’t always bad drafts; and in the same way, many of these past writing platforms just didn’t work the way it was planned. Maybe it wasn’t well-organised, or it lacked ‘perspective’. Many times it’s the things that are beyond control. Things sometimes write themselves into ugly endings, and the best solution is simply to start again.

That’s how we now have Treehouse. That’s also how we have Chapalang, Curios, The Verse and Writer’s Block. These are the redrafts of previous writing groups. Their writers, form and style may have changed. Some, like Chapalang, have a reach beyond Tembusu. But the inner hope for a writing culture in Tembusu College is very much intact. You could say they are different versions of the same ideas. Hopefully with a bit more clarity too.

So it isn’t a marketing hoax when we say that Tembusu is the Home of Possibilities. This has been made evident enough with the way different initiatives – not just the writing ones – keep popping into the scene. It is an elaboration of the shared dream, to make Tembusu a college where things can happen.

What seems underdeveloped though, is how to also make Tembusu a college where things can thrive. It’s not quite enough to just be able to pursue some line of curiosity only to have it folded in a year. Sure, it’s okay for now while we’re still young and working things out, but don’t let it become ‘our thing’. Don’t make Tembusu a Home of Endless Attempts – Please Try Again.

So how do we sustain our Interest Groups? How can we create traditions?

On one hand it might take a lot of failure for a little bit of success. There’s figuring out the mechanics of how to administrate and hand over these groups especially in an ever-changing college populace. Then there’s the social side. How can we make our productions meaningful to our college community?

Like it or not, all of us are writers for Tembusu. We may narrate different chapters, and at different scenes. Within our own reach, we are drafting and redrafting the stories that are most important to us.

Even as we do that, perhaps we can do more to help each other. It’s a bit like proof-reading. If we were to engage with each other’s work, we can help one another to spot mistakes, and find better ways of achieving the same things. There’s much growth and learning to be reaped from that.

But it’s not just about collaboration and constructive feedback. Whatever our interests are, our stories are interconnected. We all belong to a bigger story: a community, Tembusu. To ignore that would be like dancing alone in a dark room: it is great fun but nobody cares.

And it’s totally cool if you’re into that. We could run off on a tangent chasing our own interests – that, we already know how to do. But that alone would make Tembusu just a Place of Possibilities. Our aspiration for Tembusu is greater than that.

Our aspiration calls us to care about the dreams that aren’t our own. It calls at us like a seam. A seam that will quilt our stories. It may be patchy at first, but hopefully they will bind to form one cohesive piece:

Our aspiration is Home.

The image used in this article, “written in slumber” by matryosha, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.