journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

enforced travelling

I have come to a point in my life where I don’t actually look forward to travelling anymore. I feel like I haven’t gotten enough of SF even after two years, so I am always leaving her with my heart heavy.

I have fallen in love with other cities, but it is always SF that feels like home. It doesn’t matter where I go, how much I loved my experiences while travelling – ultimately I still want to be back home.

I have flown into Seoul with a serious case of homesickness. I was supposed to stay here for 10 days, only to half my trip so I can be back earlier. It isn’t the first time I have written about feeling this way, and probably wouldn’t be the last.

But being in Seoul reminded me why I force travelling upon myself. As much as I love being in SF, it has admittedly turned into a comfort zone for me. In some ways I am so blinded by the peace I feel, that it has become more challenging to have my thoughts and emotions provoked.

It is during my travels that I become acutely aware of the diverse beauty of humanity, that no matter where I am, grace seems to find me in unexpected places. I found myself thinking today while looking at the people attempting to make the best out of their own lives, in ways they know of – that this world is worth saving, it is worth working hard to preserve the work of our human forefathers.

I don’t always believe that is true. Half the time I really don’t feel any sympathy if we self-destruct. Considering that we pride production over preserving our source of oxygen and that we seem not to mind using the ocean as a garbage dump, it is difficult for me to envision us surviving the rate of destruction we’re causing to this beautiful planet.

Yet it is during these travels, these travels I force upon myself, that I get reminded over and over again, we can be a species capable of so much depth and intensity.

I just wish we can be much better at maximizing our human capital instead of putting our kids through factory lines of numbing education and false narratives. Or that one day soon, we will recognize that diversity is neccessary to our own evolution, so we can stop treating poverty and disempowered minorities like it is not our problem to solve.

out of breath

I feel like I can’t breathe in my own country.

It has been two years since I had moved, and this time coming back was a lot harder than the previous. I tried several times in the past few days to write about my conflicting feelings about being back – the extreme ends of my emotions where I get to spend time with people I deeply care about, and yet ever single fiber of my being is slowly disintegrating.

I wasn’t able to articulate how I felt, except that I feel like I’m on a limited oxygen tank, and I’m gradually running out of air every single extra second I spend here. It feels terrible when people I love ask me why I’m only back for a week after flying eight thousand miles once a year.

One week is all I can afford to have my senses constantly bombarded by the stimulation that exists in a small dense city with five million people.

I have tried to write about the complex feelings I have for this country and yet the words struggle to form even till today. Perhaps one day I will be able to, to find the words that describe both the new-found gratitude and ongoing resentment of a country that has given me the privilege that tons of other countries would have never been able to give, yet she is the same country that made me believe that life wasn’t worth living, that her people never stopped reminding me that I wasn’t worth a space in her society, because I couldn’t fit into the standard mould of how a contributing citizen should be.

Sentiment

Sometimes I think about the trajectory of my life for the past few years, and I end up feeling this mixed bag of confusion, gratitude, sentiment, wistfulness, urgency. These are just some words for the feelings that I can describe, and then there is this whole other spectrum of feelings I don’t have words for.

I have since learned there are a lot in life that is out of my control, because apparently I evolve my identity so much that things that were once important to me are no longer such. I spent quite a bit of time the past week thinking of the paradox between how sentimental and ruthless I can be at the same time.

Sentiment is a huge part of me. Till today I still feel wistful about certain people and situations I have chosen to leave behind. Some part of me wishes that there can be an alternate universe where I stayed and would be happy. But in this universe my desire to maximize the life I had been given is larger than my sentiment, so I can only let go by breaking parts of me, in order to become the person I hope to be.

Sometimes I think I have gone overboard. There are parts of me that died along the way. I can no longer feel in specific ways anymore, and as someone who prides on her emotions, that is a very scary thought. But I wonder how much of it is dead and numb to the world, how much of it is me being unable to recognize that I have simply moved on and grown stronger? I worry when I no longer react as much to situations I used to be a crying mess about.

I am not sure whether is it resilience or apathy.

the work I want to do

I try to watch a movie every Sunday evening, and yesterday I picked “Dead Poets Society”. I think I was too young to appreciate it when it was released, so I am glad that I’m watching it at a point of my life when I’m able to fully appreciate it.

I make a conscious effort to read a lot more and watch more movies than my old self used to, because I think I need to deliberately design time for my thoughts to be consistently provoked. Sometimes I get to caught up in the day to day, and I forget why I do the things I do in the first place.

It could have been me, the young boy who took his life in the movie.

Each time I hear about someone taking his or her own life, I always automatically think – it could have been me. In the context of the movie, I remember how I used to feel, how it seemed like there were no other options, how it seemed like life was not worth living because life didn’t allow me to be myself.

I still remember the pain and suffocation of being made to feel like everything about me was wrong and I was just letting down the world by existing as me.

Watching the movie jolted me back to the reality that I am in, that I am working this hard not because I want to achieve any typical milestones of success. I have a very specific goal of working towards a world that will empower more people to fulfill their true potential by being unafraid to be themselves and pursue their highest calling.

I do forget that sometimes. I worry incessantly about unimportant details and over-indulge in my neuroses. I still think too much about how people would react to me when it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

I am not here to be likable. I am here to do the work other people are unwilling to do. I think I am willing to risk alienation in order to do that work.

But I have a feeling I wouldn’t be alone, because I know I will find my kind of people, no matter how far and few in between.

writing for the sake of writing

There was a spurt last month when I wrote almost everyday, then I fell of the bandwagon, because, well – life. A while ago I came across Paul Ford’s tilde.club post and it made me severely nostalgic. I remember the tilde sites, I remember writing for the sake of writing. No metrics, no agenda, no personal brand-building, just pure community-spirited sharing of yourself and your thoughts.

A couple of days ago @buster tweeted:

I started to poke around those posts. I cannot exactly find the words to describe how I felt when I started to read them, except that it makes me really wish we can all go back to those days when we simply. Just. Wrote.

There were no stats, no google analytics, no twitter following. We just put a piece of ourselves out there and let the magical serendipity of the internet bring the connections in. There wasn’t even RSS, so if we really wanted to “follow” somebody, we literally had to bookmark them and make the conscious effort to return. It makes it difficult to forget and see this person as a virtual stranger when it becomes part of our daily routines to anticipate the next post.

I have always desired the quality of authentic connections over quantity, though in this world where everything is a number, it gets increasingly noisy even for myself to remember what really matters. I wrote a Medium post yesterday about consciously wanting to break myself in order to rebuild again, and I am now wondering how far am I actually willing to go.

I want to consciously redefine my own communities – it was a natural consequence that my existing communities were built around what we did for a living, but now I want to build them around who we are as people. I want us to connect over our stories, philosophies and purposes, not over the overlaps we have in our professional lives.

Along the way I’ll continue to strive for putting myself out there as much as possible, even if it means being unafraid to write as my longwinded inane hypocritical paradoxical self – simply for the sake of just writing and just being me.

happy poetry day

how do we hold on
when there is no beginning and an end
how do I let go
of a hand I never had

but stories are ruthlessly binding
despite skipping the now and then
how does one unfold the words
without the pages to bend

because I promised myself that I will publish my poetry even if it sucks

new york, with love

This is the third time in six months that I’ve been in New York. I didn’t expect my love affair with this city to be so fast and furious. I was adamant that I would have the opposite reaction. The idea of seeing crowds everywhere really does not appeal to an extreme introvert.

But the cliché goes, opposites attract. I can’t put an exact finger on what had truly made me fallen so in love with this city, except that it is the epitome of life, diversity and dynamism.

Each time I am here, I am deeply moved. From the very first time she transformed me profoundly, to the deceptively mundane moments that induce tears in my eyes, to little frames of surprises that I capture –

New York has been teaching me love. That love, exist in ways that I would never comprehend, that it can appear in nooks and corners I least expect, that through loving New York I have found the capacity to find a source of love I never knew I had within myself.

They ask, “are you going to move here?”

And I respond in return – loving an entity, even with my entire heart, does not equate to needing her presence with me all the time.

It is having the self-awareness to understand that loving a city does not mean belonging to her, cherishing a landscape does not mean I fit in it and sometimes, being able to return out of conscious will, can be an extremely beautiful thing.

New York will probably never be home to me, and perhaps that is how I can always love her freely.

recollection

I was chatting with one of my co-workers and someone asked her how she got into tech. She said she was inspired as a user of livejournal, and memories started flooding back to me.

I have six years of my memories archived at livejournal, from 2001 to 2006. I almost wish it had existed earlier, because I have almost no record of my thoughts and emotions prior to 2001. Back then on livejournal, nobody cared who we wrote for, whether it was getting any traffic. We simply wrote our hearts out and broadcasted our moods.

I wrote for myself back then, and I still want to write for myself now. I think this is why I am back to writing whenever I have the space and time to write, because my memories are precious to me. I don’t realize how precious they are to me until more than a decade later I am sitting here trying to recollect and you have no idea how thankful I am to my past self for consistently writing during those six years.

I gradually moved to more topical writing, but I really miss those livejournal days when I’m just really just journaling without any agenda or purpose. Those entries are like a time machine for me.

I still smile at my old dramatic ridiculous self, and it amazes me how far I’ve come. And here lies one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about my self and life and general. Our past selves are not a great indicator of who we can become.

The people who knew me when I was 21 (including myself) would laugh their toes off if I told them I would be the person I am today. This is what I tell myself now, that I have absolutely no idea who I will be or what I will be doing in ten years time.

How would my 43 year old self react to the 33 year old me? I hope I will make her proud. I laugh at my 20s self, but there were things that remained constant – my desire to question and analyze every single bit of my life.

Thinking of my current self and the one in my early 20s, even though it seemed like a quantum leap if you put them both side by side, I could find intricate details in my accumulative journal entries that showed the early trajectory of the person I am today. This is from an entry on May 6th, 2002:

What is real, really? Who are we to define what is real?

I am anticipating all that amusement that I will derive from looking back at all my writing, decades from now, over and over again.

the power of words

One of my old Medium posts, “The power of your writing” has been blowing up in traffic again, thanks to the official Medium accounts re-sharing it again:

I wrote it over year ago, and it was the only post I have written in probably my entire life that took more than a day to write. I have written intense posts that take six to seven hours in one sitting, and the thing is I don’t actually like writing in more than one sitting. I like sitting here and just letting my thoughts flow into my hands and transform into the written word. Obsessive editing and agonizing over presentation is really not my thing.

But this post was special. It took me hours to write the first draft, and I let it sit for two weeks, before editing that first draft heavily. It is the only post I sent to multiple people for feedback (including a real writer – thanks @verbagetruck!).

It meant a lot to me back then, it still means a lot to me today. I took it upon myself as a personal mission to make more people take their writing seriously, and I in turn took my mission very seriously.

Yet that post took so much out of me, that I never really wrote a post like it again. I went back to writing posts straight from my heart and onto the screen without putting a filter in between. Most of the time I am really just wanting to write for myself. So this may strangely be the only post that I would ever write that could carry this sort of resonance and impact:

Words have this magical way of being in existence. They will find their way to people who need them, at the most uncanny time. Our job is just to write them out and let the universe distribute their power. I knew this is one of the posts I had to write and it was worth the time, and I am thankful that it reached people the way it was intended to be.

I still feel warm fuzzies whenever I receive notes or tweets on the impact of this post and it serves as the best affirmation of the power of words to myself – why I truly love writing and how it has thoroughly transformed me.

contrast between worlds

I’m in Nicaragua right now, surrounded by astounding beauty:

I can see why this is an up and coming tourist spot. But I am unable to truly immerse myself in the beauty, because of the obvious contrast I see.

I see buses packed with children, and I wonder how long do they have to travel to attend school. I wonder what do they learn, how much can they learn, how much they will have to do in order to get even a decent chance at a better life. I think of the life I have had growing up back in Singapore, and no matter how much grouse I may carry with the political system, ultimately I admit my luck of having being born in a country where at the very least I could still weld some freedom of choice in what I want to learn and who I want to be.

I learned that Nicaragua was once occupied by the United States and they fought hard for their independence. I ask myself what is true freedom and independence, and at what cost does it come? I think about what Singapore had to do to fight for her independence, and I think about the tradeoffs she had to make, and I ask myself constantly if the price was worth paying.

I spent hours talking to my good friend Spencer, about the role of governments, on countries where the governments provide so much that the people no longer seem to desire progress and innovation. We talked about basic income, on what is that balance we have to find in order to ensure our fellow human beings are well taken care of and yet foster the environment for creativity and ambition.

I don’t think we have found the answer but we have to keep on finding. Yet in my heart I struggle, because it is hard to think about creativity and ambition, when so much of the world is still left behind. I am sad, because I know the little girl I see on the street of Nicaragua will barely experience any sort of life I have had. I feel so much like a hypocrite, because I think about this so much and yet I feel so helpless.

It is so very paralyzing.

But as I’ve asked myself and written a thousand times before – I can choose to feel all this guilt of having a much better life than the children I see growing up in sheer poverty just by the virtue of my birth, or strive to maximize my privilege in the way I know how.

It is better to think of solving the problems I can solve in my immediate capacity, than to live in a life of paralysis and denial – knowing that millions of children are out there denied a basic human right of water, much less education. I may not be able to do much about it, even if I spent the rest of this life trying to, but they very least I can do is to keep the awareness of this injustice, at the core of my mind and heart with every step of the way I move forward.

I am sad, but I need to experience this over and over again, so I may never forget what many of my fellow humankind have to go through, simply because they drew a bad hand in what we call the ovarian lottery.

The people who insist that luck do not exist in this world, and claim that everything is based on the merit of sheer hard work, have probably never experienced much out of their own privileged worlds.