on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

practicing creativity while in recovery

Prior to getting covid I revolved my life around getting healthier: exercising, recovering from exercise, cooking. Now I am just focused on getting back to my baseline, which till now I am not sure if it is even possible. I fainted twice consecutively last week with my heart rate reaching 110+bpm at rest and 130+bpm while walking, while the next few days I recovered with abnormally low heart rate: 40+bpm which is normal for me prior to covid while sleeping but not when I am conscious and sitting. I still have no idea what happened on that day. I guess I wouldn’t assume my recovery journey to be linear. Right now I am just grateful that my tuesday episode doesn’t seem to be POTS, which I am terrified of getting post-covid.

Hence I will not be attempting anything even moderately strenuous till at least a month later. I have time freed up due to not exercising and cooking, so I thought I’ll attempt to work on things that I’ve always wanted to.

I feel like this is a chance for me to rethink how I want to live my life and potentially reinvent my self. We’re all trapped in crufty images of our selves that have been layered upon over such a long period of time. It is difficult to break out of that image. For example, I’ve never really enjoyed drawing, so even though I wish I can draw, I’ve never really persisted because I don’t really want to spend my time doing something I don’t enjoy doing.

But what I’ve learnt from running and cooking is that there are things that are just not enjoyable at the beginning. One has to accumulate a certain level of skill before we can get into a zone that could potentially make the experience feel transcendent.

finally learning how to draw

I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw. In the past I just simply thought I had no innate talent, that is why drawing feels so difficult to me. Now I think it is true that I don’t have the talent, but I do think everyone can learn to draw something as long as they put in the patience, time and practice. I do believe I have undiagnosed mild adhd, so it is just not easy for me to have the stillness that is required for drawing.

I was very inspired by Chris Silverman’s apple notes art. I know I will never draw like him, but I just want to be able to make really simple drawings. It doesn’t even need to be aesthetically pleasing, just enough to convey its meaning. I wanted to try using apple notes too, because I wanted it to be journal-like where it is automatically dated, and surprisingly there aren’t many ipad drawing apps that could do so, if any. Unlike Chris who drew with his finger (clap clap), I drew with my apple pencil on an ipad mini. I decided to start from food, using a very simple illustration style from a japanese book I bought a while ago:

I drew my lunch for that day – korean tofu soup, soondubu, using the simplest of lines and shapes:

ugly drawing of soon tofu

I know it is ugly, but it was the simplest thing I could bring myself to draw while I was still sick. It took me a few more days before I made another attempt:

ugly drawing of my breakfast: 6th may 2023

I hate to admit this, but in recent years I feel like I stopped being free with my instagram account. I used to post incessantly and freely: documenting places, food, people everywhere I went. Now I have imaginary rules like I can only post things of certain quality, and I cannot post more than once a day. I don’t like this version of myself. So I posted the drawing above even though I still felt self-conscious about it. I wish to return to the original quality of my instagram account: a place to document my life, not to house a highly curated version of myself.

The interesting thing about drawing using apple notes is that it has no layers nor zoom (Chris Silverman has a zoom hack here), so it feels almost like drawing on actual paper. I have drawn digitally on the ipad over the past few years so having no layers was challenging, but I thought it would provoke me to think more deeply about how I wanted to develop my drawings, and expand my skills.

Since there are no layers, I have to think about the order of the items I want to draw, and how I should add the colours. I have no distinct style yet, and since I am just a beginner I don’t wish to confine myself to any particular style, so I continued to experiment over the next few days.

my ugly drawing of cream eggs
my ugly drawing of roast chicken salad
my ugly drawing of my dinner at poulet the restaurant

I thought it’ll be fun to rope my partner in for a session, to see how she interprets the same photo with the constraints of apple notes:

photo of the original pulled pork egg benedict
we both drew off this photo of a pulled pork egg benedict
my ugly drawing of a pulled pork egg benedict
my rendering
my partner's drawing of a pulled pork egg benedict
my partner’s render

It was actually fun as a couple activity and it was interesting for me to see her rendering. She was actually mostly done when I was barely one-third through, so she started making embellishments to her drawing instead. As an artist I guess it much easier for her to render the shapes whereas I had to make multiple attempts just to draw one object.

I don’t really know where this will lead me, or if it would sustain. But I’ve never made so many drawings in such a short period before. For me it isn’t just about learning how to draw technically, but also to practice being still, observant and patient. For someone like me who is not good at drawing, the initial stages of every sketch is ugly and awkward. It takes endurance to keep on going, to believe that the result will be satisfying. I still think my drawings are ugly but they feel very satisfying to me, because every completed drawing symbolises winning a small successful battle over my mind.

reading books from the library

Reading is not a new activity to me, but it has been a very long while – years maybe – since I’ve gone to a library to discover books. I typically discover books from online recommendations. When I was a kid, I looked forward to every library visit where I would pick books from looking at that wide array of spines, followed by reading the blurb on the back cover to gauge my interest. There were no such thing is reading reviews back then, before the age of the internet. Maybe the closest thing is to simply borrow books by famed authors. As I got older I still discovered books from used book stores, especially while travelling. But these opportunities are few and far in between now.

Since the number of books we can read in a lifetime is extremely limited (roughly 1976 books if if I read a book per week and live till 80), I still want to be more discriminating before making a time investment to read a book. So I browse the spines as usual, read the back cover, and if it is interesting enough I check it out online to see if it is well reviewed enough.

A library that is a 5 minute walk away just opened near my home, so I could keep discovering and borrowing books this way. Here are some I borrowed last week – didn’t think much of them until a friend on instagram stories commented that they were confusing – only then I realised they are co-incidentally from 3 different “religions” lol:

photo of library books 14 may 2023

I enjoyed all 3 books in different ways. The zen book had illustrations, and it inspired my black and white illustration above:

photo of an illustration from book titled "now and zen".

The illustrations are simple and yet very informative. I strive to draw like that. Something that makes it easy to document my life visually.

I’ve also begun to bring a book with me on my commute, which is not a big deal to most people but it is something I wouldn’t have normally done as I was adverse to carrying additional weight on my shoulders. It allowed me to read a lot more, spend less time clicking mindlessly on my phone, and it creates a meditative bubble in which can be a noisy environment.

writing more often in shorter sittings

I actually experimented with writing more often in shorter sittings before, but it never really worked out. I do think for a certain type of writing I need to go into a meditative zone for a longer period and excavate something that lies deep inside my psyche. But I don’t want to confine myself to that sort of posts only. This post and last week’s post on hanoi were both tedious to write because they are more blog-like with more visual content and running commentary versus a journal-like pouring out of my thoughts and emotions. I could not have done it in a single sitting. So it was much easier to write them in chunks, taking my time to find and edit the photos required.

in case I can no longer be my old self

This is also in case I don’t recover fully, shortening my already-short tolerance to work on the computer. Prior to getting covid I don’t tolerate the screen brightness very well for extended periods of time. It also felt exhausting to do any cognitive task for too long. That was why I stopped working on my interactive projects.

I am still in recovery, so I have no idea how much energy will truly be available to me in the future. I figured it would be better to practice working in much shorter energy and time cycles. If I can’t write lengthy posts anymore, maybe I could write short ones.

In life it is necessary to constantly reinvent oneself, because everything is impermanent and circumstances change. Our selves get constantly hammered and enriched at the same time. I guess it is just not realistic to expect my self to always be doing things like before. If I am not careful I’ll just end up frustrated, not allowing myself to flourish in ways I cannot imagine because I am so used to certain ways of life.