journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

transition

I’ve been having a weekly sunday publishing routine for probably more than a year now. Most of the time, it is my favorite time of the weekend. Sometimes, like today, I don’t feel like I want to publish anything. But I guess that’s why long-running streaks are powerful. No matter how much I don’t feel like writing, breaking my streak feels worse.

Since I don’t have any particular theme I want to write about, I’ll write a snapshot of my mind at this moment in time. That’s a really good fallback, because I always have a million things running in my mind.

I’ve been thinking a lot on morality lately, how people, including myself, seem to like taking the moral high ground without considering the nuances of the narrative and viewpoints of all parties involved. I think about how easily we’re actually manipulated (obviously I’ve been watching too many political dramas), and the line between right and wrong is constantly blurred all the time. Also, how do we decide on what is right and wrong without the capacity to observe the impact of the event for years to come?

Another subject on my mind is vulnerability and connections. Great connections with people come when we throw ourselves wide open. I’ve read Amanda Palmer’s new book in the past week, and it set me thinking a lot. One of my favorite part of the book is the foreword by Brene Brown:

I’ve always considered myself to be really open, only to realize that it is only true to a certain depth. I’ll give almost all of myself to anyone who’s willing to connect with me at the depth, till like 80%, and the last 20%, I don’t even know I can reach that depth with myself.

That said, I’ve also realized that I’ve been spending the past three years working really hard on myself, because prior to that I was just too busy coping with life to even take a good look at the person I am and who I want to be. I feel like I am still in transition, still trying to suss out who I actually want to be. The older I grow, the more I learn that I don’t actually know myself very well. I have proven myself wrong so many times in the past three years that I don’t even know who I am anymore.

So I’ve spent these three years mostly isolating myself, mostly because I needed some space to recover from my old self – basically unlearning a whole lot of what I knew. I think I am still a work-in-progress (and always be, but I mean foundationally), but I think it is time to climb out of that self-made shell.

I’ve surprised myself by how life has unfolded for the past six months, so I no longer have expectations of who I’ll be, except that I hope to be always open to risk:

writing for broken people

I just finished reading Patrick Rothfuss’s latest book: “The slow regard of silent things”. It was a strange book, but I liked it in a way that was strange too, and I understood why when I read the author’s note at the end of the book:

and

And he signed off with:

“This story is for all the slightly broken people out there. I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me.”

I got all choked up reading that last sentence, because it served as a profound reminder of why I write what I write. There are many great stories written for the world, and then there are the ones who will never be as widely appreciated, but they possess their own magnitude. They are written for people like me, to remind us that we are really not alone.

I write for broken people, and I am one of them.

growing up together

This trip back to Singapore I made a very deliberate effort to meet up with people I deeply care about. I packed in all the meetings I could while spending time with my family as well. I had to spend a full day in Seoul recovering from a migraine that happens every time I over-stretch myself, but it was very much worth it because I got to be present with the people I love.

Us Singaporeans are a strange bunch. To me, it takes incredible resilience and courage to carve out our own individual paths in a place where conformity is hugely prided. I have found so much inspiration, solace and strength through an unexpected peer support network. These people have seen me grow from a nervous, shy, stuttering person to someone who is able to look at any stranger in the eye and have a conversation on equal footing.

Today, I just wanted to spend a little bit of time to express my appreciation to these people, because age has taught me never to take people we care about for granted, especially the ones who are willing to be there as witnesses to our growth.

Spending time with Danny is a must each time we are in the same city, be it SF or Singapore. I have spent countless hours in deep conversation with him, including nights when we stopped only because the sun was about to rise. We have very similar philosophies in life on a macro level, but we end up in non-conclusive debates on a micro level because we operate on different frequencies. There are some people who are great to be in disagreement with, because they serve as important checks to our lives, and Danny is one of them. More importantly, he was there when I had to make several life-changing decisions back in 2011. Neither of us saw what was to come in both our lives for the next few years, but it has been incredulous.

Then, there is Adri, but I have written what was virtually the most romantic platonic love letter ever, so I’ll save the words this time.

Alex and I worked together for a really short while in 2005, before he went on to build one of the best design portals in the world. We lost touch for half a decade before reconnecting again, only because I needed his help in verifying my employment during that period (yeah, visa). It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because since then we’ve connected every time we are in the same city. This is special to me because we knew each other at a time long before our current trajectories, before all the extra weight we hold now.

Cheekiong goes way further back, all the way in 2002, when he gave me my first job in graphic design even though I had zero experience in print. We can only connect the dots backwards, and his decision enabled me to spend the next few years of my career picking up all the design fundamentals I needed while working on print. Having a print design background was key to my development as a designer. It was those days that I learned grids, type, offset print proccesses, branding principles. There is nothing like having to design for a print run with no point of return while praying fervently that I didn’t make a typo or accidentally included a low-res image. Some days I still miss running my hands over ink swatches and maiming my fingers while working on paper mockups. Print is still something I deeply love.

I got to visit Google Singapore while meeting Lucian. Lucian has been writing on the web before blogging was even a thing. I have been reading him for a long time before we connected over twitter in 2008, and we eventually bonded over a common purpose in trying to make things around us better in the ways we know how to. I admire him for the love of his country, while he has been patient with me for the resentment of mine. Same country, vastly different feelings.

I somehow see Audrey and Min as the same entity. This time around I only managed to see Audrey, only because I know I’ll get to catch up with Min soon in the Bay Area. There wasn’t a typical ramp up period while getting to know them. I met them separately, and since then it was like we were separated from birth, almost. Well, we can’t be separated from birth since they’re more than half a decade younger, but I find tremendous comfort and pride with the work they have been doing despite the tremendous challenges they face. I met them when they were 23, and it has just been amazing to be a witness to their journey, the same way they have been to mine.

Bernise is the most recent addition, but a profound one. Time doesn’t make a difference when it comes to forming deep connections. We only met up last year because I happened to see her tweet that she was visiting SF. I have been observing her work on social impact for a long while before getting to know her. Since then it has been inspiring and energizing witnessing her relentless dedication to the work she believes in. Just having her in my life is enough to make me feel less delusional about the change I am hoping to make, because she is already walking that talk in ways I can probably never match.

Finally, there are several personal friends that I met up with but are not named here, not because they are less important, but they belong to a different space in my life. I have a bunch of friends whom I’ve known since I was 17, and it matters a lot to me because they have seen the worst of me and somehow they are still around for me. There are other ones who have known me way before my life in San Francisco became a remote possibility – these are the ones there with me when I was a crying, whining mess, before I knew what to do with my life, before meaning found me.

There are other people I couldn’t meet as well due to scheduling constraints, but connections are not measured by the time we spend together, but rather the immediacy we feel after all that time apart.

I am writing this to express my immense gratitude to the people who are with me in my life, because I would be very much less without their stories, growth, empowerment, support and their individual desire to make the change they want to see in this world and in their own lives.

I hope we can all continue to grow up together, and for a long time to come, bear witness to each other’s unfolding journeys – where we lend our strengths to one another, while we continue to be unafraid of falling and picking ourselves up, over and over again.

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.