journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

Blogging, again

Apparently there is a blogging renaissance going on and the premise is that you can write anything you care about. The problem with me is that I care about a lot of things, so I confuse myself when I feel the impulse to write.

There is something really attractive about writing on Medium (And it is really not because I used to work there). For me it isn’t the beautiful editor or the brand, but the very visceral feedback you get when you see little faces appearing in your notifications. It gets especially endearing when it is someone you know. But every piece I write there is significant to me, so for now I don’t really want to dilute the content I have there with my ongoing public monologue with myself here.

What is the point of blogging then? I don’t know. I’ve been doing it since those days when you had to run a perl script to generate your blog entries. I was blogging before blogger existed. I was writing both inane and contemplative ephemeral thoughts before ephemeral became a buzz word.

The other part is that I’m obsessed with self-quantifying and keeping a record of almost everything I do, just in case in 2080 I am still alive and want to create a memoir for myself. I have no idea what technology exists in the future, but the worst thing to happen is to have some amazing creation tool and a lack of data. I am already regretting not keeping proper backups of my Greymatter blog.

I just want to write whenever I feel the impulse to write. So many thoughts and moments uncaptured, and forgotten. It is also a recent thing that I no longer care about my professional image (not sure if I ever had one), so it doesn’t really matter if people read this entry with no obvious objective except for the simple pleasure of writing. Know me for me, not just purely for the work I do.

So, I want to embrace the opportunity to possibly write about my ongoing and ever-evolving opinions, biases, contradictions, neuroses and whatever tidbits I care to share with you.

Here’s a list of what’s been on my plate recently:

Writing about my depression

It is not the first time, and will not be the last. I wrote about recovering from chronic depression on Medium, it was something I had to put out there without knowing what will return. I wrote it because not enough people write about it, the stigma will not be reduced if we keep hiding it in the closet. The shame and guilt builds, there is not enough empathy, and the next thing you know, another suicide happens. I want to keep on writing about it, no matter how much distance away I am standing now. This will remain one of the core issues I will spend the rest of my life raising awareness for. What matters is the community of people I discover through these posts – having a powerful shared narrative and mutual resonance bonds two strangers like nothing else.

Consciously moving

I love being alone surrounded by four walls so much that it is starting to turn unhealthy. I managed to make myself bike all the way to the Richmond today, and I was rewarded with plenty of beautiful observations:

Little things amuse me so much and bring me so much joy, I don’t really know why I have to will myself so much to get out of the house.I constantly have to schedule things to force myself to break out of my own routine. It is a lot of positive reinforcement and repetition to build new habits, but I am relatively hopeful.

Smoothies

I finally bought the Vitamix blender I was supposed to buy with the birthday money I’ve gotten when I was still at Medium (yes, amazing perk – I used the rest of the money to buy the rest of my co-workers Amazon gift cards which they were supposed to buy a book with). Hence, I’ve been making delicious green smoothies for myself as meal replacements. I feel a subtle energy difference already, and again, I am relatively positive about this change.

And I keep thinking about…

Balance. And decentralized networks. More on this later, but it’ll probably end up being long essays on Medium.

I’ll probably be writing a lot more. I’ve been thinking about it since I discovered Fred Wilson writes every day. I had spurts when I used to write almost everyday, one such spurt was my first trip to San Francisco, and till today I still look back at those entries with great fondness. Also, I want to put it out there – if you follow me on twitter expecting some great dropping of knowledge on design, please do feel free to click on the unfollow button. The difference between me and most other designers is – I care about design, it is just that I care about 10,000 other things along with it. And I no longer feel bad about it.

There is just something about writing without giving a shit and not make a single edit. Except typos, of course.

Renewal

I was sharing with a bunch of good friends earlier, on how going for a meditation retreat changed my life. They laughed, because I seem to be having these life-changing moments all the time.

I do have these transformative moments frequently. I actually think I don’t have as many of them as I would like to. There is a reason why I love new experiences and tons of solitude. I thrive on periods of forced contemplation. It is really easy for me to get into a routine, fall back into old behavioral patterns and simply live on auto-pilot mode – wake up, work, get home, sleep. Rinse and repeat.

I stop looking at my big picture, the snowball I want to build, all the learning opportunities I want to pursue. Work can be empowering, but it can also be an effective distraction if we only focus on the day to day tasks and forget to question why are we working on a particular cause in the first place?

I am not afraid of making big life decisions. I am only afraid of letting myself down after making these decisions. Do I have the will and determination to carry out my ambitions, or do I allow “busyness” to take charge of my life again? How can I increase the level of consciousness I have on a daily basis?

The news of Robin William’s passing impacted me more than I thought it would, just like the passings of Chloe Weil, Aaron Swartz, Ilya Zhitomirskiy and the many others that were not as public. I don’t know these people personally, but I can’t help but feel bound to them in some ways, as though a part of me would die along with each of them. But these are the ones we see, how many of us we don’t see, and how many of us are living as though we are living dead?

It kills me on so many levels inside in ways I cannot describe. That I am never safe from myself, that each time this happens instead of feeling like my old self is miles away I actually feel her close to me again. That I get why. I envy. I grieve. All at once. I can no longer differentiate whether I am grieving for them or for myself. Whether I grieve because I wanted to be dead or that I am now still living.

It makes me rethink myself and the way I live. What is the point of all this technological advancement and progression if the society we are building is fundamentally so broken? The events of the past week or month have not helped.

I have a very dysfunctional relationship with my species. I love and resent us so much. Why are we a species capable of so much resilience and change, and yet so self-destructive?

Some people have asked me why I am able to write so bravely about myself. I tell them that I don’t have an intellectual choice. I must, or I cannot live with myself. I cannot live with knowing that we are so broken and yet we pretend we are not. I cannot live with knowing that everyone of us is broken in some way and yet we make so much judgment on how other people are more broken and less deserving than us.

I want to be publicly broken and yet demonstrate that I can thrive with all the breakage I have suffered, and that being unafraid to be broken is a sign of strength and that it can be tremendously empowering. What power do people have over me, when I am unafraid to break myself?

My regret is not being able to do even more than I already am. That I am not speaking louder about the issues I care about. That I am not living as much as I want to. That I am not making full use of my lucidity and consciousness as a human being and I am taking my ability to think and create for granted. That I am not acting more like the person I want to become. That some days I just want to lie in bed and pretend that the weight I carry does not exist. That sometimes I get really, really tired of wanting to care about the greater whole and I just want to live like a hermit where nobody can ever find me.

But I still try. I try to live on for the rest of us because I know every one of us counts. Everyone who battles daily with their darkness and yet live on just one more day matters to the rest of us who are still struggling. I light my way in order for the ones after me to find their way.

Perhaps I live on in the hope of proving myself wrong. That as a species we are really capable of so much more, that we will eventually work towards building a world where all of us can thrive together, that we can really see beyond the futility of power struggles when there wouldn’t be much of a world left to struggle for if this goes on.

Mortality

I was on a plane to New York from Boston. There was some rough turbulence, and that is a given if we fly frequently enough. But each time it happens for me, I ask – what if this time is going to be that one time?

I think about my death a lot, but choosing to think consciously about it is really not the same when one is being forced to think about it.

It got real really quickly when the plane shook violently, especially with the knowing that my earlier flight was cancelled due to “inclement weather” and there’s a hurricane we were trying to avoid by taking an extended flight path that looked like tiny circles around Massachusetts.

I took a quick mental and emotional audit of my life, critically analyzing if there was anything I would have regretted doing or not doing. I don’t think I could have tried to be more alive than I was already attempting to be, with all factors and context considered.

Travel, the one thing that magnifies the paradox of quickening the urgency of how we live and yet provokes the neccessity to slow down and let go.

I hope to never lose my desire to keep on questioning myself, and that I will be blessed enough to keep on encountering opportunities for myself to face my own mortality right in the face, to always be reminded that it is really there with us all the time, we are just not very good at recognizing it.

On loving freely

There’s something about traveling that makes it always uncomfortable. We can travel in all the luxury we can afford, but nothing prepares us for the unexpected twists, delays, turns, jarring and new experiences.

I remember backpacking eight years ago, weathering spontaneous decisions by not flinching even as I slept in a insect-infested room with a cold shower. These days I feel the difference of just the pillows keenly – they are not the same as the ones I am used to sleeping with at home. Then there were the fourteen hour bus-rides I used to take to faraway places. Now I zip around in an UberX, too tired to take a thirty minute bus ride.

Am I losing my sense of adventure, or have I become one of those always-anxious, controlling, workaholics? Have I lost my capacity to not only feel free, but be free?

I comfort myself by telling myself that I am preserving my energy for a different kind of adventure. In my youth I thrived on spontaneous, non-committal adventures, now I am learning to walk each step with a very deliberate presence, yet keeping my heart open to being called in new directions.

I have had to give up people, places, situations, objects I love. Through traveling I am learning to understand what it means to love freely. I love, that is why I leave. Staying longer than we should only seeks to artifically prolong a moment, without realizing that clinging on is the antithesis of love.

All things change and all things move, and that is how nature has always chosen to demonstrate her love. Even a rock changes its form with time. What would the world be like, if we have learned to love this process of change, instead of constantly trying to hold on?

I walk with a renewed sense of freedom, coupled with a sense of purpose. Every second I am loving what I experience, then learning to let go, knowing that my consciousness will never be the same again, and that is enough. The knowing that everything we love changes us permanently, and we too, change everything we love, permanently.

Life will never be the same again, and life has never been the same, it is our expectation that it stays the same, that brings us not only the greatest grief, but also the biggest obstacle to fulfilling our potential as a humanity capable of great leaps and evolution.

Being seen

There was this episode in “Scandal” where someone was wrongfully shot down by the FBI because he was actually a spy working to inflitrate enemy organizations. His mother couldn’t even know, and she died thinking her son was a terrorist.

I often wonder how many people in this world do what they do even though they will never be seen or acknowledged for it. I also often question myself if I would do what I do if I would never be seen, understood or recognized. There’s this old philosophical question along the same lines, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I think it is important to consistently question my own motives and agenda for pursuing my goals. It is incredible how easy to lose sight of one’s original identity and purpose. I want to be the person who tried my darnest to live life, and not the person who tried her best to be successful based on societal terms.

Life loves the person who dares to live it, says Maya Angelou. Plenty of times feeling alive or doing what truly matters come at a price of never being seen or understood and this is where the genuine love of one’s self and life comes into play.

Ultimately it does not matter who sees you if you cannot see yourself.

Self

I have an unbroken habit to write once a week, either here or at Medium. It is usually my favorite time of the weekend, where I would sit quietly, stare at the screen and wait for words to appear. Today I am nursing a slight migraine, but I don’t want to break my habit, so I am going to be even more spontaneous with my writing than usual.

Someone over at Twitter asked me how to write in a way that would express ourselves better in order to connect to our audience. I told him honestly that I write with my heart, if that is not the best way to express myself, I have no idea which way would be better.

I honestly don’t care if people think I write well or if I write posts which are too long. In some perverse way I am not even writing for an audience. I think when we start writing for an audience we lost a part of ourselves. It really depends on the why – why we write in the first place.

Life is extremely transient. It is a waste of our living moments trying to be an agreeable person. I take that back. It is a huge waste of our lives living as who we are not. It came to me in the middle of my New York trip. I stopped in the middle of my thoughts and wondered. Why am I waiting to be the person I want to be?

We are afraid because we have something to lose, but if we’re afraid of losing we will never be able to take the risks needed to truly live and love. If I cannot be my true self, people around me will always be shortchanged because I can never be capable of giving them the best of me. We are always waiting for people to validate us, only to realize that no amount of validation would suffice if we cannot validate ourselves.

I want to write as me, live as me, love as me, work as me. And my identity will keep on shifting because I will keep on growing. Every now and then I go through phases where I tear myself apart and put myself back together again. I feel like I just went through multiple phases of this and I am only expecting more to come.

At the end of my life, I want to look back at everything I have attempted to do and know that at the very least my very self wasn’t one of the obstacles put in front of me.

Bridging connections

I have a very small group of people in Singapore whom I have an exceptional soft spot for – people who were from the early web community, back in those days when the web isn’t such a distinct part of our lives.

There were some I haven’t had the opportunity to meet in person, mostly because my involvement in the community was mostly online, and I avoided meetups like plague because meeting people in general was not a very pleasant experience for me.

In those early days we were coming out of an era ruled by either flash-based or asp-based dynamic websites, there was once upon a time when developing in PHP was cool too. Contributing to the open-source community wasn’t a thing in Singapore.

Before twitter there were blogs for a long time. Some of these people I’ve gotten to know from an ambient-like asynchronous connection, by reading what they had to say and what they worked on. IRC, forums, comments and RSS were bridges for us.

I finally had the opportunity to meet two of these people yesterday. We have had followed each other on twitter for the longest time and prior to that I had probably stalked their websites for a while. I made a joke that it was easy for me to confuse the two of them, because they both contributed to Firefox, loved anime enough to mention it as part of their bios, and they both worked for Wego, a startup formed in Singapore at a time when nobody knew what startups were (Some people still don’t).

Through the asynchronous connection made possible by twitter, in those years which followed we were essentially silently supporting each other’s work. It is incredible to say this now, but there was really a time when being a designer or a developer was basically frowned upon.

They probably didn’t know this, but I have an immense sense of gratitude towards people who knew me then. The community that was there for me and for other people who needed to have one.

A sense of community.

Which ironically did not come to me from the traditional areas of life, but was given to me in a digital space.

It seemed like a full-circle to me that I was able to bring them around to my favorite spots in the Mission, showing them the parts of San Francisco that I deeply fell in love with.

We were all very different individuals, from vastly varying backgrounds and life stories, with divergent trajectories and hopes – but all of that didn’t matter when we were all bridged by the work we all love to do, made possible by the lack of a physical distance across ones and zeroes.

Rebuilding

I went through a strange phase last week. Strange, at least for me. For months and years I’ve been wanting to work on all the little sites I have or learn something new on the web. But I had hardly ever done so, unless for compelling (like @skinnylatte texting me non-stop) or professional reasons.

You see, I love making things on the web. That was why I built a career on it, because I thought it would be amazing to do what I love. And it most ways, it is. But I focused so much of energy in my professional work, that I thought that the last thing I would do when I have time on the side is to be building again. So I ended up doing other things instead. I chilled, watched tv, wrote, read, ate, hung out with people, everything else except touching anything remotely close to design or code.

Last saturday, I am not sure exactly why, but I thought it was a good idea to rebuild winnielim.org in Jekyll. It used to run on wordpress, and of course it is extremely overkill to run a simple one-page site on wordpress, but in those days I wanted to be able to edit the content on that page easily and also run multi-site. I had this grand dream that I will use wordpress multi-site to run tons of mini sites for all my crazy ideas and initiatives. Never happened.

Then something strange happened. I had to install brew and rbenv on my home laptop so that jekyll can run properly – that process started reminding me of the days when I would spend hours configuring my local dev environment in macports. It was painful back then, and I was sitting here in wonderment about how much things got easier. It is not that I stopped writing code, just that at work the dev environment comes packaged, for good reasons. Through the whole process of getting jekyll to run and then rewriting everything so my sites would start working again – I fell back in love with the process itself:

From rebuilding one site last weekend, I ended up rebuilding two in a day – this site is now running on jekyll too, migrated from wordpress. This weekend, the same thing happened again. I ported connections.sg from drupal to github pages. Apart from markdown being so much easier to maintain, I am now able to invite other people to contribute to the data in connections.sg through pull-requests. Within 24 hours, I’ve merged two of them. This rebuilding process started out merely out of curiosity and fun, but it redemonstrated the power of collaboration and community.

Sifting through links in order to freshen things up on connections.sg, I discovered Life by @cheeaun. I forked his project and starting putting in my major life events. For the past few years I have been self-quantifying as much as I can, and obviously I wouldn’t be able to resist seeing a timeline powered by jekyll.

That led to something else – in order to remember the dates (if I am making a timeline, it might as well be a really good and accurate one), I had to sift through my emails, tweets, files and photos. It made me realize my digital assets are all over the place. So I ended up trying to organize them as much as possible, as well as making sure I have them stored in a way that the likelyhood of me losing any of those data is kept extremely low. I didn’t do a good job archiving my life for the first 25 years of my life, and I really want to ensure I do not repeat the same mistake.

There is something transformative about keeping an accurate chronicle of our lives. What I’ve discovered through journalling or sifting through my own data is that – our minds are deceiving. They cannot be trusted to remember things. What seemingly happened in our heads is not the same as what truly happened. Through sifting through my data I got to remember things I had forgotten, parts of life I had dismissed as unremarkable but turned out to have had meaningful events. It still amazes me to this day how all the dots connected, and they didn’t seem meaningful at all when they were happening.

I realized organizing my data is like organizing a physical space. When we put things in proper places and review them periodically, it allows us to throw things out without anxiety. Remember those boxes you can never throw because you are paranoid that something important will be in there? By organizing my digital assets I have freed up the mental space, not only to store more things, but to be creative with what I can do with them. My cognitive load is reduced because I no longer have to entertain my own questions about where are my important memories or assets.

To go on a deeper meta level, by rebuilding my digital assets and spaces, I now feel like I can go on to rebuild other parts of my life. Not because they are broken, but now I simply want to always try to be better than the status quo.

I am slowly piecing myself together through these seemingly random fragments. They will all build on each other and make more holistic sense one day. For now, I will attempt to connect the dots as much as I can.

The best about making things is it makes us want to make even more things. The act of creation fuels more creation. It is one of the best inherent cycles we have as humanity. All of this brings me back to a time when I was just making things and all I cared about was making things. I would write these entries as though no one else would be reading. It didn’t matter if I was being too random. I don’t want to worry if writing geeky stuff about how I like building my sites would distract people from what I view as my more important work.

I am the person I am today, because I am entirely random and made up of seemingly disparate pieces connected by a thread of self-determined meaning. It should not change no matter what direction I am headed in. Evolve, it will, but I cannot disregard the very roots which brought me here today.

The choice against invisibility

I find myself invariably retreating to this space after writing a series of posts on Medium. I feel like over here I can have unwieldy prose and be as longwinded as I want to, for this is me in my truest essence – my mind can be as unwieldy and chaotic as the words that exist on this page.

I like having almost two distinct voices, one trying to tell stories treating every word as her precious resource, one simply trying to narrate herself without any guardrail in place. For the longest time I struggled to reconcile the different personalities within me, only to realize that the only way to do so is to accept all of them, without self-judgment.

There is this part of me who wants to live out my life in invisibility, for there is a certain charm in not having to manage expectations of anybody except myself. In a parallel universe I could be a quiet backpacker, not desiring much, not harboring any hopes or dreams, just wandering and observing. I can be content with that sort of life, or so I imagine. I may write some poetry or prose along the way, but that may be the full extent of how much I am willing to expose myself to the world.

The other side of me, is very much aware of the weight I want to carry and the debt I have to pay forward. Wanting the best out of myself and out of the world means I have to put myself out there, even if it means having to watch myself crumble away bit by bit in order to rebuild myself over and over again.

I almost don’t want to build that sort of resilience, I actually like and appreciate my fragility, to retain that sort of naivety, innocence and trust in people, so I can have my heart freshly broken over and over again. I like giving my trust upfront with no questions asked or no strings attached, I like to believe that everyone else does not have an agenda to pursue. That is the world I have lived in, knowing that I am willing to give away my power in order to find that purest essence of humanity – people who will make me believe that the world is generous, that there will be the ones who will harness the power I give away instead of taking it away from me.

But that is not the world we live in. And I am not that person I thought myself to be. I am as complex as the world out there, someone who has to balance her good as well as her shadows. I am slowly and painfully learning what it really means to be true to oneself. It means accepting that I am more flawed in more ways than I can ever imagine, and yet making the choice to do better each and every time.

I learned that a difficult decision is not made only once, it is made over and over again. There were times when I wavered, only to remember why I wanted this in the first place.

During those times when things get difficult, when I was forced to draw on my reserves like never before, I get caught up in the hows and the whys of the moment, forgetting the bigger picture I have in place.

Sometimes in life we are given a precious sword to wield, and we spend so much time trying to work on ourselves so that we can use that sword, only to forget asking if we were meant for that sword in the first place. Or even contemplate, if that precious sword is even needed to fulfill the journey, and to open our minds in considering that there may be a plain, boring wooden sword that lies ahead which may be more apt for us instead.

It is a difficult scenario to give serious consideration to, because I really wonder if I had given my all to that sword or if I was actually afraid of its weight. In contrast to that, it also makes me wonder if I have been too blinded by the beauty of that sword to notice my true path forward.

I don’t have any answers, but I still remember to ask myself every now and then, if whatever I am doing is aligned with my chosen purpose. Everything else is secondary to that. This is how I gather strength, the remembrance of who I really want to be and what I want to stand for. I become unafraid, because I have something to ground me.

I know what I want to live for, and that is of the utmost importance to me. That becomes my single guiding light, because there is no point in everything else if I lose what I am living for. On the contrary, I have no fear of losing anything as long as I know I am true to the life I want myself to lead.

Everything can be taken away from me, except for the power and strength I give to myself.

I have had exhausting and trying times, many of those times I over-extend myself and I lose the reserves of strength that I have carefully tried to build. These are times when I start questioning the foundation of everything in my life. I mistakenly see these times as times of negativity, only to realize very recently, that these are the times when I tear myself apart in order to rebuild myself again – a subtle change, but an additional layer of resilience. And I make that same decision that I have made a million times in the past, opting for the world I want to believe in and build, over the life of invisibility I could have had.

Tearing myself apart is painful nonetheless, each time I grieve a little for that part of me I have to let go, the innocence I have to lose, in order to gather a little bit more of a pragmatic single-mindedness towards fulfilling the goals I want to have in my life.

But if that means I could be closer to being part of the coalition to build the world I want to live in, that tradeoff, I am willing to make.

Building strength

I had always considered myself fragile, because being emotional seemed to be perceived as weak. Everything I observe impacts me in some way – I cry at the drop of a hat and my moods used to swing according to the color of my observations.

When I was younger, I took everything exceptionally hard. A word from a teacher or an off-handed comment from a friend would send me into a rabbit hole of ruminating for days, if not years. I thought it was normal for everybody to feel this way, only to discover I was a lot more emotionally sensitive than the typical person through many conversations later on.

I couldn’t help feeling so much. That was the mantra I would chant to people and to myself. They told me it was a weakness, I saw it as a weakness.

It is only in recent years that I started to see my emotional sensitivity as a type of strength. If I could choose between blissful ignorance and painful awareness, I would take painful awareness – I would make the same choice again and again.

The difference is, now I am slowly learning to discern between reacting instinctively because of all those years of mental conditioning, and taking the time to develop a reaction by understanding what truly exists in a situation. This is where meditation is helpful, because it helps me to develop an awareness of where my reactions come from. Truth be told, I don’t even have a regular meditation practice where I sit for a given time everyday. I partake in a couple of sessions at the office every week, yet it has given me the foundation to apply what I term awkwardly as ‘passive meditation’.

Passive meditation may be an oxymoron, but instead of actively meditating, it takes place in the background of my head all the time as I make my observations on my internal and external surroundings. I don’t want to lose my innate empathy, but misdirected empathy is like a leaky pipe. The pump is trying to pump water with all its might, only to lose so much along the way that the destination does not get as much as it should.

With excessive empathy it is always easy to feel a persistent sense of suffering when we are surrounded by painful sights everyday. The world is bleeding and we try to cover her wounds up by wrapping bandages, but you know in medical dramas the medical team is always trying to find the actual source of the bleeding. Covering the wounds will always be temporary until we can heal the source.

I used to be constantly overwhelmed by a persistent sadness, a sense of hopelessness as I make these observations, believing that there is nothing I can do, nor is there much that anything can be done. But over the years I have seen enough transformation, not to actually believe that something can be done, but to actually have the slightest hope that perhaps it might be worth trying.

With this tiny bit of hope I am driven to build up my well of strength. The first step is to understand what it would take to change myself before I can even try to understand what it would take to change a group or the greater whole.

I am sleeping, moving and eating better, because I am only starting to experience a fragment of what it means for change to compound.

I am having the best energy levels of my entire life, and I would have been left disappointed and frustrated if I had expected to feel this way after making drastic changes to my life in the short-term. The trick is to make tiny, realistic adjustments with very little or no expectations with the belief that one day the difference will become obvious.

When it becomes obvious, it will seem like a quantum leap, like a dam breaking all of a sudden, but in reality, the wave after little wave the water has been going at it for what it seems like eternity.

Knowing the why is the most important, and this is how I build and maintain my little habits. Each time I am tempted to break one, I just need to gently remind myself of that little hope I choose to carry, that I should be better, so perhaps on day my existence would make the greater whole better.