small meaningful things
Susanna Clarke’s chronic illness

Someone reviewed Piranesi on my rss feed, and it led me to this Paris Review write up on Susanna Clarke, whom you may know as the authour of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I didn’t know Clark was chronically ill:

For the past fifteen years, she has suffered from an elusive, debilitating illness—seemingly, a vengeful return of the malady that had briefly afflicted her in Bilbao. She has been given various diagnoses, including Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Her most constant symptom has been overwhelming exhaustion, joined at times by migraines, brain fog, and photosensitivity, as well as by nausea, for which she now takes medication daily. At times, she said, bright sunshine has felt “like an oppression, a weight leaning on me”; she often retreats to a darkened room. In the late two-thousands, when her illness was at its worst, she was unable to get out of bed, experiencing depression, social anxiety, and agoraphobia.

Her husband remarked,

“Susanna is somebody who had to learn how to be ill”—that is, how to conserve her energy and accept her limits.

…which is something I deeply relate to. I think it took me years to learn how to be ill and work within its boundaries. It is difficult to accept that an illness is going to be chronic when I was so used to pushing the limits of my body for so many years. All those late nights and junk food.

Clarke told me that several things contributed to the eventual improvement in her condition, making “Piranesi” possible. At a private hospital in Hemel Hempstead, she received such alternative treatments as food supplements, an all-organic diet, and a version of homeopathy. She told me, “You’ll see people saying, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t go off on these alternative-medicine treatments. You should stick to proper science.’ ” But such critics failed to grasp that “nobody was doing the science—it was only the alternative people who were offering anything at all.” She went on, “It wasn’t like I had a choice. It was either that or nothing.”

Like Clarke, the only thing that worked for me was traditional chinese medicine and some fringe health stuff written by people who are not doctors. Doctors don’t treat patients seriously unless it is something that can turn up obviously on a medical test. For years people have been saying chronic illnesses like chronic fatigue, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, even migraines are imagined. Now they are finally getting some attention because of long covid, which some people still insist doesn’t exist.

I think it is hopeful for me to know that people like Clarke can still somehow finish a book despite her illness (one of my other favourite examples is Charles Darwin, who wrote The Origin of the Species while chronically ill).

giving human consciousness the slip

I stumbled upon James Taylor inevitably after researching Carole King, and from his interviews I can see where his lyric-writing capabilities come from. Just look at how he describes practicing music:

People say there’s a real cultural bias to what people consider musical and what emotional states they relate to what harmonic equivalence. People say major is happy and minor is sad, or a diminished chord has a certain amount of tension and wariness to it, or a 13th chord is apprehensive, and when you have an augmented fifth and you let it fall into a chord a fourth above it, anyone feels that as home. If you play an E augmented 5th and then go to an A, no matter who hears that, they will feel there has been tension and resolution. So I feel that music exists outside of human consciousness. So to practice music at all is to give human consciousness the slip. That’s why it’s so associated with spirituality. Because to listen to it is to experience another type of reality. And one that must be true, because it’s mathematically true. It is physics. Music is physics.

James Taylor: The American Songwriter Interview, Part II

I also loved this part about the human existence:

It’s just a long, hard lonely slog being constantly human and having the responsibility of having to reinvent the world every second. It is a lonesome road. So that’s a type of song I write too.

His views are leaning towards Zen/Buddhism, which isn’t unusual considering Zen-inspired musicians like John Cage and Leonard Cohen.

Martha Argerich, and the wonders of the internet

The other day I wrote about my amazement seeing Carole King prance around a stage at 78, and I’ve discovered another octogenarian who has been baffling my understanding of humans, age, and physics: Martha Argerich.

This video sums it up nicely:

I mean seriously, how does one’s fingers move like that?

I don’t know much about classic music, and I only got to know her because I watched a Korean drama about Brahms and someone happened to list her renditions of one of the tracks I really liked. Months later I became curious about this person playing the piano, and I wikipediaed her – apparently she’s one of the greatest pianists of all time, and I couldn’t help but ask: why?

I take back my question.

The other thing that struck me was that looking at her record covers they were of her from her 20s till now:

screengrab from hdtracks

It is incredible to see this sort of career span and stamina.

Again, I feel lucky I am living in an age where I can access information, music and videos of a person at a click, and understand them so much more. The noise of the internet makes me forget this sometimes, but look at the array of resources we have – I can watch Argerich play Chopin when she was in her 20s!

I also like I am able to continually expand my tastes and capacity to try to listen to something I am not familiar with.

If only I can be half as alive as her now when I am 40, much less 80.

@colly on his stream

Came across this post by Simon Collison (@colly) on his stream, which I obviously resonate a lot:

And so, I was increasingly aware that I was letting many interesting or essential thoughts go undocumented, allowing them to drift from memory, or exist only on social media, likely to one day evaporate. I’ve become more and more interested in the human desire to document, and it’s something I’ve always valued, so I needed to find a solution that I could entirely control and own. That solution was my Stream.

That’s exactly why I built this notes section. I could have just written short posts in the /journal section of course, but I think there is something about a human being’s fixation with categories, their intended meanings, and the unconscious weight they carry. For me, I simply couldn’t break out of the prison in my mind I’ve made for myself. I just want to open a space for myself where I can feel free.

And of course, I love this sentiment, a sentiment I have echoed a dozen times on this website:

But who cares about that? Well, I do, but you don’t. You haven’t even read this far, but it doesn’t matter because I document my life for me.

I think one major improvement I can do for myself is to cook for myself. like seriously. I feel like in general I have done well for a lot of things, like exercising everyday even if it is a 30 min slow walk, eat less carbs in general, etc etc, cut down things like using a powdered creamer…cooking is like the last frontier.

on different parts of ourselves, and being understood

Immediately related to this post by Lucy Bellwood:

What I find myself struggling with is the desire to bring the goofy visuals of Instagram, the fleeting thoughts of Twitter, the in-depth artwork process posts of Patreon, and the educational recordings of SoundCloud together under one roof. Oh yeah, and the essays from Medium. And the porthole videos from Tumblr. And the talks from YouTube. Maybe also playlists from Spotify and movie reviews from Letterboxd and…jeez there’s so much to all of this.

I’m different people everywhere. But when S. talked about organizing a blog like a newspaper, my brain lit up. This is that Parts Integration shit I adore. Just think! I could treat these different online selves I’ve inhabited over the years as different columnists, each with their own op-ed.

I’ve also written about this recently:

It is the same for my instagram account. It is like rojak (a type of fruit salad, in Singapore we also use it to describe something that is wildly mixed). Now that I’m posting street photography I was wondering if I should keep that and my personal pictures separate. But I want to be a whole person, just like this website which went from one website to like five before I merged everything together again. Society likes to split things up and make everything its own tiny category with gatekeeping, my own psyche is split up by different entities wanting different versions of me, I am frenzied and flustered because different parts of me want different things.

…and also before:

I want to try to honour all the different selves I have, so this site will be an expression of that.

Glad I’m not the only person who feels this way. I also really appreciated her metaphor on being understood:

The other day B. said he felt illegible to most people—except his grandmother, who could probably read the most chapters of him out of anyone.

I too, feel illegible to most people.

just had this epiphany that I’m feeling so empty because I’m still relatively a baby when it comes to my inner world and I haven’t built up the skills to lead a full, rich, life yet. I’m still in the process of untangling myself from my old world. and there are a lot of things I don’t yet know how to do for myself. like cook.

I love my website too

I came across this post by Tracy Durnell on how she loves her website, and that was prompted by another post which was in turn prompted by an old talk by @adactio. I like how we can have a long chain of blog posts.

My website is I love my website. Even though it isn’t a physical thing, I think it might be my most prized possession.

I will pile on to that chain by stating here that I love my website too, that it has served as a refuge for me, by being a space where I can aspire to truly be and express myself (aspire, because I still self-censor a lot).

I am astounded to see someone calling his website his most prized possession, and it makes me wonder if mine is too. After all, it is the most genuine representation of my self, a self that almost never appears in-person.

went down an audio rabbithole

Recently I’ve gotten a pair of wired in-ear monitors to avoid wearing bluetooth earphones for long periods of time just in case it contributes to my migraines. I had to use the Apple lightning to 3.5mm jack adapter, and I started wondering if they affected audio quality in any way. Turns out it opens a deep rabbithole into bluetooth vs wired, digital vs analog, DAPs, DACs, ChiFi, 16 bit vs 24 bit, 44khz vs 192khz, etc.

I was never an audiophile and was pretty happy with the original wired earpods that were included with my iphone as it offered a clean sound compared to bass-heavy sounding ones. But I became too curious about whether there’s really a discernible difference between my 192kbps mp3 and a lossless file on a proper audio player. So I’ve gotten my first DAP:

I had to re-rip my existing CDs and now I’m on a nostalgic audio trip.

I really like discovering and reading blogs

I’ve probably tweeted about this repeatedly but I am sad that a lot of good content is now stuck in facebook/twitter/substack/instagram. They may not make a cohesive browsing experience when you’re trying to get an overview of a person, and a lot of stuff cannot be easily re-surfaced again because they only exist on a fast-moving chronological timeline. I know some people are really good at linking twitter threads, but I still don’t think it is a good browsing experience.

I saw a comment on my blog today, and of course I went to the authors website. It was delightful to read his blog, and through his posts I discovered another blog that feels just really rich. What do I mean by rich? I guess it is when I scroll through it and it is just so personal, diverse and interesting, even if I am not personally interested in their topics.

I guess I’m finally motivated to start my blogroll.

the views that matter

I was just writing in my last post that most people wouldn’t care what I’m doing with this website. This morning I was browsing my RSS feeds when I saw my name on a subject title. I did a double take, thinking I was half awake. Turns out @adactio linked to that post on his website:

I love reading about how—and why—people tinker with their personal sites. This resonates a lot…Oh, and Winnie, I can testify that having an “on this day” page is well worth it!

It instantly made my day, not just because it is @adactio, but that someone out there resonates with what I’m doing. I am again reminded that it is not the opinion of the crowd that matters.

illustration by @launshae titled "whole"

she drew me this as a surprise gift for our anniversary today. she said there was a hole in her life before I came along, and now she’s whole. also she’s always…

first note

I’m experimenting with a new format on this website while I’ll post shorter form content. Hopefully this will encourage me to post my fleeting thoughts more often without having to overcome the psychological burden of posting long-form that /journal has for me.

I’m also hoping to use this space to save important instagram posts, tweets and other stuff floating around the internet so I can have a coherent overview of my life’s timeline.

…realising that in this moment I am really okay sitting with the emptiness of my life. There are no highs, nothing really to look forward to, especially now with the covid situation I can’t even look forward to a trip overseas. There’s no career advancement, no new job, nothing. Just zero. And I’m okay with the zero.