An origin story
How my writing has ebbed and flowed with the seasons of life, and how I'm literally back to where I started. All good things come full circle, right?
Back in 2002, when I wrote and published my very first post online, it was mostly as a joke. I was in the final year of my Commerce and Law double degree, and I had no writing training, no design training, and no arts background whatsoever. Still, one late Friday night in the city, over coffee and dessert in a 24-hour cafe near Elizabeth Street, a friend of mine convinced me to give it a go.
Back then, the online world was sweet and straightforward. You could either publish on MySpace or LiveJournal. Talk about simpler times. I went with LiveJournal because of its friendly interface, and I went with ‘Pink Ronnie’ because ‘Ronnie’ was my nickname and ‘pink’ sounded fun, sassy, and catchy. Even if pink was my least favourite colour in the world.
If memory serves me correctly, I was single at the time (or at least, single enough) and therefore had a bit of time on my hands. It also explains why I mostly mused about the relationships of those around me and why I had no lack of material. My friends, of course, always remained anonymous, but I'm sure they knew who they were. (In fact, for one particular post titled ‘Are we on again or off again?’, I may as well have just used their actual names.) Funnily enough, none of them seemed to mind, which makes me think now that perhaps they enjoyed reading about themselves in print. After all, it was a bit like the noughties’version of tagging someone on Facebook or Instagram.
To everyone’s surprise (including my own), my writing was not terrible. My audience was small, of course, mainly friends and family friends, but it was enough to keep me going. By then, I’d also started training and working as a graphic designer and, over time, I began to crave more creative control over the design of my online space. (Little did I know this would be the beginning of my obsession with pixel perfection.) And so, I read HTML for Dummies, learnt Dreamweaver, downloaded the adorable Cyberduck app, and eventually left LiveJournal to build my own website from scratch. It was quite the satisfying task, and I was pretty chuffed with myself for doing a half-decent job. To this day, I regret not taking a screenshot of that OG Pink Ronnie site. It would've been one for the memory books, for sure.
Somewhere along the way, I ceased writing about everyone else's dating life and embarked on a somewhat serious relationship myself. His name was Rick, and our courtship was quick. Before long, we were engaged and married, much to the shock of my conservative Chinese parents. (That's a whole multi-chapter story in itself.) Suffice it to say that writing came to a grinding halt in those early days of marriage—so consumed I must’ve been by marital bliss!
In 2007, six days after we lost our first son at 41 weeks, I started a blog called Life Without Cameron. I poured my grief and my tears into that space. Writing my grief out allowed me to cope, and sharing it online helped our family and friends to care for us. The words that I wrote for Cameron’s blog eventually became the foundation of Cameron’s book. When I think of those dark days, it sometimes feels surreal and faraway. It makes me all the more thankful for the words I penned during that time. In a strange but real way, they form part of my ongoing connection with Cameron, and the solidity of the grief that I documented is, bizarrely, what gives weight to the memory of my son. Words have power, period.
In 2009, when our second son Gwas eight months old, I found my way back to Pink Ronnie (or Pink Ronnie 2.0, as I like to think of it). My posts were still far and few between but, as P, and then later J, entered our lives, I started blogging more regularly as a way of staying sane. Mostly, I wrote about my antics as a sleep-deprived mum of three kids under three. That season of parenting was glorious and exhausting and hilarious, and putting those stories down ‘on paper’ and sharing them with other mums out there brought so much light and laughter into my life. In particular, I remember creating a conversation series based on the things my (then little) boys would say, and those posts used to just crack me up and remind me of what an immense privilege it was to be their mum.
Over time, I started sharing my memory-keeping projects on the blog, and people seemed to love reading about them! Who knew?! Becoming a member of Becky Higgins' Project Life Creative Team back in 2012 was a real boon for my readership, especially in the US. Looking back now, those were such happy days. It was always delightful reading everyone else's blogs during the boys' daytime naps, and my stay-up-to-midnight routine of trying to write and publish my own posts actually gave my brain a much-needed break from the emotional and physical work of being a parent. Even when we all started sharing photos on Instagram, it was still fun, because it was the Age of the Chronological Feed when you actually saw everyone’s posts. Even now, I have so much gratitude for the connections and friendships I formed during that golden era of blogging.
In 2014, I learnt that my mother had a cyst in her brain, and something shifted in me, creatively speaking. I began feeling a sense of disconnect from Pink Ronnie and, eventually, I created The Shoemaker’s Daughter in its stead. Saying goodbye to Pink Ronnie was harder than I expected, like breaking up wth a long-time friend. Yet I was convinced it was the right move. I wrote and shared deeply personal stories, both past and present, on my new blog: Stories of our everyday rituals. Stories about childhood and innocence. Stories of heartache and tears. I guess it was a memoir of sorts—one that I named after my mother, who was, in fact, the daughter of a shoemaker.
Around the same time, my friend Trish and I founded Life:Captured. For six years, the two of us taught classes and workshops on design, photography, and memory keeping. During that period, I wrote prolifically for our Life:Captured blog, specifically on the topic of documenting and memory keeping. Writing topical posts three to four times a week was deeply rewarding but also challenging, and it certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. Working with Trish was a joy and a gift, and I’ll never forget the love and support we received from the community of students who signed up to learn from us along the way. If any of you are reading this, I want to say the biggest ‘thank you’ still.
In 2018, our family of seven (Oh yes, did I mention I got pregnant two more times?) moved across Sydney to start a new life in the Hills district. This was a momentous change for our family: new house, new school, new church, new friends, new life. L, our youngest, was twenty months old whilst G, our oldest, had just turned nine. Needless to say, I had my hands full with the transition and simply trying to get through every day. In the midst of all that, Trish and I decided that Life:Captured had run its course (pun unintended), partly because we each had an inkling we wanted to try different things and partly because I could no longer keep up with the content creation demands of an online business. We don't talk about burnout all that much as a community, but it's ugly and it's real; I could see the tip of the iceberg on the horizon, and I did not want to get shipwrecked.
Having closed such a pivotal chapter of my life, I took an extended break from blogging to give myself space for the new things I wanted to explore. It was during this time that I discovered painting, embarked on a year of journaling, and started writing An Imaginary Dialogue With My Son. The latter was a concoction of fiction and non-fiction and, in it, I created and imagined a place where Cameron and I were able to meet and converse like long-lost friends. Writing the series was the catharsis I didn’t know I needed. I may or may not republish the series in this space. I guess we'll see.
On the personal front, these last few years have been a melting pot of Covid, homeschooling, making new friends, working on my fitness, battling insomnia, dealing with family health issues, watching my parents grow older, and parenting pre-teen and teenage boys. On the creative and work front, I've been reading art books, getting back into teaching, looking for design jobs, applying to art school, getting accepted into art school, freaking out about art school, posting on Instagram, not posting on Instagram, and basically just trying to figure out what on earth I’m meant to be doing or want to be doing.
One thing I’ve known for a while now is that I want to be writing again, yet the struggle has been real in recent years. Nothing I’ve written has really resonated with me, which means I’ve been starting and quitting, starting and quitting, and—you guessed it—starting and quitting. (If anyone looks up the word ‘quitter’ in the 2023 edition of the Oxford Dictionary, they’ll see my photo front and centre.)
The epiphany came one late night in December last year. I was sharing my creative woes with Rick, about how I couldn't seem to sustain any form of writing that I was attempting. He listened to me for a ler-oooong time, with that signature expression of his—a slightly crinkled forehead coupled with the gentlest of smiles.
‘You know,’ he started to say, after I finally paused in my convoluted monologue. ‘You used to write Pink Ronnie just for fun. That's why you had energy for it, that's why it worked, that's why people enjoyed reading it, and that's why you were able to do it for so long. But now it sounds like your recent attempts at writing have been based on trying to promote your art stuff. I think that's why it's not working for you.’
Where on earth did that come from, and why did it take me so long to go to my closet therapist of a husband for advice!?
So to cut a very long story short(er than what it could still otherwise be): Rick may have been the inadvertent reason I stopped writing Pink Ronnie 1.0 back in the noughties, but he's also the reason I'm now back for Pink Ronnie 3.0. (The tagline for which could probably read, ‘The dawn of the mid-life crisis’. Because it's happening, friends, whether or not I want to admit it.) And you know what? I’m just going with the flow this time. I’m writing whatever comes naturally to me. I know the professional advice is to choose a writing niche and to stick to it, but I’m done with niches. Niches are dead to me. I’m sure all the other writers in the world are thriving because of their niches, but right now my goal is not so much to grow, but simply to write again. Writing is the goal.
OG Pink Ronnie would be so proud of me.
There's more to say, but my writing app tells me I've cracked 2,000 words, so who can possibly still be reading this thing? If you are, please write ‘chicken wings’ in the comments below, because:
a) I'd love to know, and
b) Chicken wings rock.
I call myself a writer, but I didn’t know ‘noughties’ was an actual word until five seconds ago.
I've decided not to refer to my children's actual names, to both respect and protect their privacy, which they are fully entitled to.
Chicken wings! I’ve been following you since you were a member of the Project Life creative team. I enjoyed reading this post -- I enjoy personal, meandering, processing emotions writing more than business-y influencer writing. I’m on board with what your husband said: write should feel fun for you.
Chicken wings. I read Life without Cameron having no idea how much it would help in my own grief years later. Friend of Mary and Peter.