Thursday, 6 October 2016


This blog has moved.

Sometimes, you just know in your heart when it's time to move on to something new. :)

The Wellness Project has now moved to:

Thank you for reading and hope to see you there.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

this should be enough

Is anyone else a huge Elizabeth Gilbert fan?

I guess it was pure serendipity that I happened to chance upon her audiobook on youtube last year and after that the whole amazement/fascination with her works/speeches/facebook community started. One of the recent videos I watched which I found to be a real gem was this one when she was invited to be the welcome note speaker at an Oprah event.

(Can't seem to embed the video properly into this post but I highly recommend watching it. :))

The entire speech is witty, confessional, endearing and starts off with a bang as she recalls an event she was invited to speak at previously on 'getting her life together'. Ironically though, in the lead up to that speech, she happened to miss her flight as she had spaced out lost in her own thoughts while at the gate (this, I must admit has not yet happened to me despite my many travel mishaps/misadventures haha!), had to rush to take another 'departing immediately' flight to LA while the event organizer drove from Santa Barbara at a mad pace to pick her up then back to Santa Barbara again for her to make it just about half an hour late for the event...and in the frantic whirl of it all, her notes for her speech went did her hairbrush...

;) It's true what Brene Brown says, that when it comes to vulnerability, it's the first thing we look for in others but the last thing we want other people to see in ourselves. But as we can see, when we allow that bit of human-ness and vulnerability to reveal itself ever so slightly, it makes the situation ripe for connection.

I love listening to strong, wise women like these share their stories. And as Liz Gilbert says, doesn't it seem like we're all sort of peering into each other's mazes once in awhile when we gain some elevation and perspective? It's comforting to know that we're all on this journey together.

Something that struck me the other day though, was this realization that I had when I was in my room. It was a subtle but clear realization that dawned upon me, and yet after it did, felt almost like it'd been there inside me the whole time. It was the fact that at this point in my life, I'm the happiest now that I've ever been. I suppose that there are so many of us who have yearnings for other ways of living. Not entirely happy with our job or our relationships or the way we spend our time... the list goes on. But at this point in time, I can't help but think, there really is nothing that I can complain about my life if I had to pick something to complain about with bone-aching/gut-wrenching intensity. I just can't. I won't. Because there is just so much more that is good in my life at the moment.

Sure, things seemed more sweetness and rainbows when I was younger and so filled to the brim with hope that I still yearn occasionally for such mindless exuberance. I remember how I used to look forward so much when I was younger. Always looking to the future, planning and preparing, thinking that things would get better after XYZ conditions were fulfilled. Sure, it gave me motivation to work hard (I still remember my mad motivated days when I would wake up at 7am on a Sunday morning to memorize Chinese phrases from my textbook because I was so bad at it but doggone it, I would score well for that test and get into some awesome university in the future! Yeah, I was that sort of annoying 10 year old) but I suppose right now, even though I do look forward quite a lot to the future, I'm also so much more mindful of the fact that life is in the journey. That working towards the future is something that is a part of the present and the present is where I need to be, where I'm happy to be right now. Sure, I can get this feeling of anxiety or restlessness whenever I feel that there is a place in my future that I would like to be at but I'm not there yet. Sometimes I don't know how I'll get there. It's a distance goal in mind but I have no clear path of getting there. Sometimes I know I will get there just that it will take more time, more effort, more patience. Something present in wanting amounts in most normal people. But what gives me such comfort, is the thought that it's really all about the journey. The act of reaching, of moving forward, is what counts. After all, even if we never get there, but if we look at ourselves and know that we did all we could to get towards where we wanted to go, isn't that in itself a laudable act?

Life has been all the more (dare I say) magical recently (after reading Liz Gilbert's Big Magic) after having been giving the nudge to follow my curiosities every day, wherever they may lead me. So much of life has always been about tangible achievements. Something that has been drilled into my head from a young age. (I'm pretty sure this is a common experience among my friends/generally anyone who has grown up in an Asian household) So much so that I think I've always been guilty of questioning every pursuit with the almost interrogative "is this worth it?"/"will I get something out of this?"/"does the outcome justify the means?" I'm pretty sure I have dropped some pursuits previously because I felt that there was no point in the outcome. Not economically viable. Not something that I could show to the world. Not something that was of any consequence to anyone. But now, just that shift from focusing on outcome to process has made all the difference. Does it matter if I'm not able to monetize a hobby at the end of the day? Or if a creative endeavor is not seen by a lot of people, maybe just one or two close friends? It matters because the process changes us. It matters if we allow ourselves to let it matter to us. And the results may not be clear and tangible, but if we grow as people and are that much happier being able to lead lives of creativity and of curiosity, isn't that pretty darn awesome?

Best quote for the year probably:

“Follow it...(curiosity). It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too.”
- Elizabeth Gilbert


It's funny right, how sometimes we are so eager for some guidance in our lives and we act like we've been waiting for that right moment to unleash ourselves from our own binds once we stumble across that piece of advice or wisdom that tells us go ahead. I guess sometimes we all need those permission slips. By people who have been there, done that, and tell us hey, you'll be alright; I did it, I'm fine, and so will you too.

So thank you, Liz Gilbert, for being a light post along this journey of mine, reminding me to enjoy the process, have fun with it, and to treasure and bring forth some Big Magic into our lives. :)


Friday, 25 March 2016

on nostalgia

Wow, two posts in one day huh? That's the magic of the morning for ya. ;) Well, I've been thinking about these things for the past few weeks so now that I've got time today, might as well let those thoughts percolate through.

Another thing I've been wrapping my head around recently is that of nostalgia.

In a way, I find it a beautiful word. Beautiful, with all its attendant sadness. From its Greek root words of Nostos and Algos. Nostos, meaning: returning home or homecoming. Algos, meaning: pain, grief, distress. Who would have thought eh? It was actually a term used before to describe intense, almost fatal homesickness in sailors, those in the army, convicts, slaves. Nowadays we use it always tinged with that bittersweet longing for something past.

An ache for times past.

Perhaps a small portion of it has got to do with my recent involvement with this year's OH! Open House tours at Potong Pasir. For those of you who haven't gone on an Open House tour before, drop whatever you're doing now, buy a ticket for this weekend's tours because it's the last weekend for the year. OH! Open House is a fantastic experience. It's a neighborhood + art walkabout. The reason it's called Open House? It's literally because you get to go into residents houses to take a peek, where artists have collaborated with them to set up artwork inside their houses. It's a way to explore a neighborhood, learn about its history, its colorful traits, and appreciate works of art that have been created in conjunction with the theme of the tour that inevitably revolves around a particular aspect of the neighborhood. For Potong Pasir, the theme is Departed Spaces. The spaces that once were but have now given way to other forms of existence. An old walkway which had to make way for an up and coming condominium. An old street soccer court, reincarnated as yet another carpark. Bidadari Cemetery, a place where people could go to to jog, stroll, sketch, enjoy time with the departed, now giving way to a new HDB estate. And if none of us know about these spaces and their original incarnations, what happens when they are no longer around? What happens to those memories?

Hope it sounds interesting enough for you to sign up. ;) You won't regret it, I promise. 

 photo PP smaller_zpsyod2uni8.jpg

(View of one of Potong Pasir's unique ski-slope roofs, courtesy of Liu Thai Ker, also known as Master Architect/Planner of Singapore.  A beautiful type of skyline that is rarely seen in estates other than Potong Pasir.)

It's been such a great experience for me, as my friend and I were both tour guides. Like quite a few other volunteers, it was our first time walking around in Potong Pasir. One of the Open House leaders said it well. That Potong Pasir sometimes seems like a country within a country. A place that is only now starting to catch up with the rest of Singapore. A lot of us might view its changes as something that's unfortunately, taking away a part of its character and be nostalgic about it. Wouldn't it be great if it could always remain the same way? As something we can take pride of in its existence. The longest standing opposition party stronghold previously. If only it could remain in its beautiful unchanging bubble. But that said, that's always from the point of view from the outsider. Most of us speak as people who have not grown up there.

Which brings to mind a quote from an author, Stephanie Coontz, who wrote the book, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. "There's nothing wrong with celebrating the good things in our past. But memories, like witnesses, do not always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We need to cross-examine them, recognizing and accepting the inconsistencies and gaps in those that make us proud and happy as well as those that cause us pain."

Nostalgia is an enticing paint brush that we can use to colour our reminiscences. But it's all too easy to use a single colour, not leaving room for the 'inconsistencies and gaps' to reveal themselves to us. I suppose being more aware of that makes it easier to not pine so much for something that once was.

The other night, out of nowhere, really, I was suddenly reminded of Casper, a movie that I had watched countless times back when I was a kid. I kid you not. I was on of those obsessive movie watchers. Casper, Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves (starring Kevin Costner), The Fifth Element...those were some movies that I perpetually kept out of the VHS holders because I was always watching them. God, that brings back memories. To the days of opening that movie cupboard in my parents' rooms, looking at rows of VHS tapes, deciding which to watch next. ;)

There are so many moments of my childhood that I look back on nowadays with such an ache of longing. But those are the memories that are filled with so much happiness. Truly, the ache of 'algos'. I miss those specific moments of watching my favorite movies, engaging in my favorite crafts... But at the same time, do I really want to go back to that period of time in my life? Probably not. So much appears beautiful through the lens of retrospection. But it's precisely because I'm standing where I am now, that I can see its beauty. Back then, as a child, I probably couldn't appreciate it fully though I was steeped right in it. Isn't it so ironic? I can only appreciate what I had last time because of who I am now.

That's life for you.

Of course, though I can look back on those times with an ache in my heart, one thing that always helps is gratitude. To be grateful for what I have had before and that it is still something I can enjoy by revisiting the memory or making a new one with the same thing from before. Sometimes I think I'm chasing after that feeling of infinite possibility that I used to feel so strongly as a child. Thinking anything was possible (including meeting movie stars lol). Of course, as one grows older, one realizes that there are certain things more likely to happen than others. And with that grounding in reality, comes an ache for a time when I didn't realize not everything would be possible. In a way, it's like thinking you were able to fly, only to realize actually, they have to be on the ground.

So what I have been doing the past few nights, is watch Casper on youtube, savoring, luxuriating and reveling in feeling like a 10 year old again. And by all intents and purposes, it really is a pretty dang good movie, with such a memorable soundtrack. Love love love it. If you haven't seen it as a child, it would be a great weekend movie to settle into bed with (or with a bag of popcorn).

Here's to a beautiful weekend ahead.


to stillness and mornings

Happy Good Friday everyone!

Today I woke up to my alarm and when I opened my eyes, I was welcomed by the sight of a solid streak of light coming through my window splaying itself across a wall of my room. For some reason, that sight really emboldened me. Perhaps it's because I haven't seen such a strong streak of light for a long time. At the usual time I wake up in the morning for work, the sun's still a gentle thing wrapped up in a cocoon of the night, very slowly peeling off its layers. Everything is bathed in a muted light. Or perhaps it's my fuzzy brain that registers it that way. Today however, I could feel the difference right away. It felt so good, just being able to enjoy that for a bit, before pushing my face against the comfy pillow and heading straight back to sleep. ;)

I think one of the best parts about setting your alarm on a public holiday is the knowledge that even if it rings, you have the option to completely, blissfully ignore it. Though having said that, there is something special about the morning and its quiet. I've never been a morning person by any means, but it's something I'm trying to work my way towards. Because on the rare days that I have been able to enjoy a quiet, unfettered morning, it has always been so expansive. The promise of the hours ahead completely within my grasp. Quite magical actually.

One of the things that I've found such mornings to be most conducive to would be that of reflection. Of going through the things that have been circling in my mind and somehow finding a way to pin them down into concrete thoughts, opinions...hopefully insights. Throughout the week there are so many things we are exposed by virtue of the 24/7 connectivity of the phone and for me, that includes videos/podcasts that I listen to while on the road. It's become such a habit for me now; making use of those moments in transit to learn about something else not quite related to work, but purely of interest to me.

Recently it's been the amazing podcast series, On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett. I think I first discovered it from youtube while listening to some of Brene Brown's interviews and Krista Tippett's voice just struck me as incredibly riveting. She has a voice that exudes intelligence. Compassionate intelligence. On her shows, she interviews a whole gamut of guests ranging from poets, to physicists, to psychologists... all sorts of incredible people, some involved in cutting edge research in their fields. Some of it has a more spiritual or faith-based slant to it, as it was originally something she had envisioned as a radio conversation about 'spiritual and intellectual content of faith'. At the center of her interviews run the themes of faith, ethics and moral wisdom. "What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?"

I've been so drawn to so many of the interviews with their fascinating topics. I highly recommend checking out the On Being website where there are transcripts of the interviews and a weekly blog on related topics (which I haven't managed to peruse yet but am looking forward to that soon). Best bit though would be the On Being app which I downloaded and has a catalogue of all the podcasts available for download or streaming which makes it easy to listen to on the go.

One which I loved was the interview with Pico Iyer, novelist, journalist and travel writer. I'd first come across him through a TED talk of his on The Art of Stillness, which, at the time, I had thought was such a lovely meditation on the importance of stillness as a means for reflection and contemplation and of course, an antidote to the whirlwind stresses in our lives. At that time, I think I hadn't gone further to dig deeper into his work because, well, I was probably younger and hipper lol and lusting for more travel! more adventure! Now however, after listening to his interview with Krista Tippett, his words really struck a chord.

"I sometimes think, we're living so close to our lives, we can't make sense of them. And that's why people like me go on retreat, or other people meditate or do yoga, or other people go for runs. Each person, I think, now, has to take a conscious measure to separate yourself from experience just to be able to do justice to experience and to process, as you said, and understand what is going on in her life and direct herself."

More and more, I've found that relevant in my life. There are days when I could be listening to a few great podcasts, read a few great articles online that I feel wow, these are really applicable to my life and I want to start doing more of these things. But then the day goes on and in the hustle and bustle of whatever we need to do, those flashes of insight don't seem to be rooted enough for me to fully make use of. A lot of times, I find there are ideas that are floating around in my head or floating by but haven't fully taken root. And without times like these - beautiful, uninterrupted mornings, I might not be able to take the time to think things through, to fully internalize it to the extent which I feel satisfied with at the present moment.

"Everytime I take a trip, the experience acquires meaning and grows deeper only after I get back home and, sitting still, begin to convert the sights I've seen into lasting insights."

This is another great quote that I liked from his book, The Art of Stillness - Adventures in Going Nowhere. It's a thin book and only a few chapters long, but beautiful in its reflections. Last time I used to plan my holidays to make maximal use of all the time I could to be overseas travelling, so much so that I might plan to get back home the night right before starting work again the next day, in an attempt to not waste any precious vacation time. Now though, I'm starting to think that maybe one day I should just stay home. Dedicate one week to maybe having a daily ritual of waking up to a glorious morning and spending some uninterrupted time with myself. With my brain and my heart. Because after all the rushing around on a trip and feeling wow there is so much great stuff that I want to think more about or read more about when I get back or that I want to incorporate into my life, once I get back, we inevitably get back on the moving track of everyday life that we had only just gotten off awhile ago. There's little time for reflecting, and distilling the best parts of all that we had experienced. I think by allowing ourselves the time to gain something from that, we can really grow as people.

So here's to more pockets of stillness in life.

Probably the first step to that? Sleep earlier. Every night. So that when the weekend comes, I'll be able to wake up earlier and enjoy that glorious expanse of time. Ahh, a perennial goal.


Thursday, 25 February 2016

onward with curiosity

Hi all, how's it going? 

I thought I'd just do a quick post here because there were some thoughts in my mimd that I wanted to share ;) and we all know how much I tend to procrastinate with blog posts nowadays.

It's been a really great year so far. Then again, I always assume that the year will be great since I'm of the Dragon zodiac sign, which, thankfully, is always a fortuitous creature. X) But more tangibly, work has definitely improved. I no longer dread going to work every day which was what I had been feeling for so many months last year. It's different now. While I wouldn't say that I would want to do this in the long run, I can definitely see myself sticking with this rotation for a longer period of time. And every morning when I wake up simply not dreading work... I feel an immense sense of gratitude. Always a good way to start off the day.

In my last post, I talked about Elizabeth Gilbert's great book called Big Magic, which is basically her call to everyone to lead a more creative life. One in which "your decisions are based more strongly on curiosity than fear". I love that line so much. And I think it's something that I want in my life as a guidepost; something to help me make decisions when I'm faced with a situation that might end with me turning away from something great out of fear. I think it's going to enable me to live and create an extraordinary life in its own way. ;)

So basically what I'm trying to say is... I started learning how to sew. HAHA. Unexpected? Well, I can't believe it's taken me so long. It was pure serendipity, finding out that a friend's friend happened to be my former secondary school classmate who now does custom clothing designs for people (think gorgeous evening gowns and cheongsams mmmm) as a hobby/part time affair. Not only we were able to rekindle a friendship, but I was definitely inspired by her to learn to sew. Hopefully one day I'll be able to sew my own cheongsam. That's the eventual aim. When I told my mum that she was like, "Puh-lease. That's really hard!" and I was like, "FINE. Watch me then!" I think that's how the interactions with my mum went for a lot of my childhood. ;) Me, always wanting to prove her wrong and do whatever she thinks I don't have the ability/capacity to do. Maybe one day I'll find out it's all a secret method on her part to spur her kid to do things. In the meantime, I have started sewing at a local dressmaking studio. I'm only three classes in but I'm enjoying it so much. My first class, I was literally over the moon. The entire time and even after class, I had that heady rush of excitement and sheer happiness buzzing through me. It had been so so long since I'd felt that way. The feeling of endless possibility balled up inside of me. There's just no better feeling in life is there? Or at least, it's among the top of my list of Best Feelings. Of course, the initial thrill has diminished somewhat, because I'm still only in the beginner's phase of drawing sketches of skirts in my draft book. Sketch after sketch after sketch...measurement after measurement... correction and erasure after correction and erasure... But the teacher did say to me that another 4 more sketches or so and then I should be good to go. Didn't quite clarify with her about what she meant by 'good to go'. Did she mean I can start to... learn about fabric? Touch the sewing machine? Draft out the pattern on tracing paper? But I'm taking it slow and steady. A part of me feels like a primary school kid again, doing penmanship for Chinese characters. In that state of ignorance and forcing myself to do rote work because I have to. But now at least I have the ability to imagine the big picture; in that this will all make sense sooner or later and it is important work to build my foundation for sewing. Maybe that's what it means to grow a little older and, hopefully wiser. (Sadly, yes, I have become a year older this month.) You start to see beyond the immediate and begin to understand that maybe there's something larger awaiting us. But we can only fully appreciate it when we get there eventually.

Which brings me on to another aspect of learning which I thought was a real gem of an insight. I've been watching a lot of videos from Jonathan Field's Good Life Project. He's a lawyer turned entrepreneur/yoga-teacher/growth strategist (according to his bio) and his videos with all sorts of people (some experts in their fields/some entrepreneurs themselves) are really fascinating. I first discovered him when I watched an interview he did with Brene Brown and after that I was just so interested by his interviews with people. At the end of each interview, he always ends off with the question, What does it mean to you to lead a Good Life? And the answers are always inspiring in their own ways. Do check them out!

So this interview that I happened to listen to was with Leo Babauta, who was sharing his story of how he had changed his entire life mindfully to focus on simplicity and only the things he needed. One point that they had belaboured that I found fascinating was actually their thoughts on learning. They both came to that same conclusion that when you learn something, you always reach an initial point where you become comfortable with the subject and think that you're actually really good at it. But as Jonathan said, "If you keep seeking after that point, you fall off a cliff." That's when you realise that you actually know nothing. "You get enough mastery and enough comfort with what you know to start to open another door... that allows you to see how much you don't know." I just thought that that made so much sense. That really resonated with me for pretty much everything that I've learnt so far. We often learn something we're interested for a while and we keep at it till we're semi proficient in it. But then inevitably there reaches a point when it becomes difficult...and then give up. Not realising that that part that's difficult is often the bridge we have to cross in order to gain even more depth, wonder and power from that which we're learning. To become really good at something/realise that we actually know so little. But there's also a beauty in knowing that we're on this journey of learning and that it'll never end.

Elizabeth Gilbert echoed that sentiment as well in Big Magic. Talking about how people tend to give up when things become hard in their creative endeavours. But as her friend, Rob Bell, says, "Don't rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you." When things stop being easy or rewarding, we shouldn't just give up or let go of our courage. Because "that's the moment when interesting begins".

I could go on and on about these million and one insights gained from reading her book and watching her interviews... but maybe one thing at a time. ;) I would highly recommend you check them out as well. 


So far, I'm really grateful that I've been able to work on my new year's resolutions with a fair amount of success. I've been participating in a couple of different exercise classes and my absolute favorite would have to be this Body Combat class that I discovered a few months ago. It's kinda like kick-boxing but without the bag to kick. A mixture of martial arts moves with great music that gets the blood pumping and a hilarious/enthusiastic instructor who always makes it fun. Also tried a Reformer pilates class yesterday and while I nearly wanted to keel over halfway because it was HARDDD... I could tell it was good for me. And sure enough, today I already feel stronger in my core muscles and legs. So at Body Combat class today, I suddenly felt this sense of fantastic well-being, mid jump. The feeling that I think I've never been stronger or fitter (and hopefully healthier) in my life for such a long time. And I couldn't be more grateful for the chance to do something good for my body. We only have one body and mind in this life and one of the best things we can do for ourselves is invest in our bodies and in our health. ;) Hopefully you feel motivated to do something good for your own body as well. 

Hokay, TGIF tomorrow. Here's to a beautiful rest of the week.


Sunday, 3 January 2016

on Good Reads...and to the New Year

Happy 2016, everyone.

It's 2016.

WOW. It's 2016!!

It seems like the New Year had just been creeping steadily behind us for a long while then before we knew it, it's now ahead of us. December seemed to have passed really quickly. Probably also to do with the fact that I was lucky enough to have been able to take a decent amount of leave to go on holiday and with the public holidays well, it certainly passed a lot less painfully than expected. ;)

I've been looking forward to the New Year with its new beginnings for a long time now. Sometime last April/May the thought that I wanted a change in my work had emerged and for the rest of the year, I had been anticipating quite eagerly the switchover to another type of job. Workwise, definitely different from what I'm used to but I'm looking forward to the time that it'll hopefully accord me to pursue other interests and priorities in life. I could only changeover to the new posting this year so it has been a rather restless past half of year; me half wishing time would pass quicker but at the same time, trying my best to treasure whatever good times I was going through because really, it was quite a good past half of year, all things considered.

It's funny how life changes eh? I remember just a few years ago thinking I'd want to do something entirely different with my career...perhaps maybe a huge career switch and doing something such as pursuing another degree overseas. That never came to fruition but after finishing up university and then starting work... those dreams are vastly different from before. New hopes and dreams have come into play and had I gone after the old one I'm not sure if I would be where I am now, much clearer about the sort of life I would like for myself in the future. So I suppose as I grow older I start to realize how amorphous life can be. How something that at one point, can appear so steadfast and unchanging, ends up becoming as malleable and versatile as we ourselves are. Therein lies the beauty of life eh?

I've been reading a couple of books over the past month and boy, do I really want to introduce them to you.

1. I thought it was just me (but it isn't) 

2. The Gifts of Imperfections 
3. Daring Greatly

All of which are by the amazing Brené Brown - incredible researcher/story-teller whose work revolves around shame and vulnerability. I think she's probably changed the lives of countless people who have been through her courses, heard her online, read her books, participated in discussions around the topics she has been so passionately speaking up on. In essence, it runs the gamut from - how/why we feel shame, how shame affects us in our lives, and how we can become more shame resilient in order to lead Wholehearted lives. Everything makes so much SENSE when you read through her work. I definitely want to dedicate a proper post to sharing more of her work but if you want a real quick introduction to the topic of shame and vulnerability, this TED Talk is a great way to get in there:

I can't remember when I had first heard it but I have definitely watched it multiple times since then because it's always such a great reminder of how often we let our actions be directed by underlying shame and how it really takes bravery to be vulnerable in order to cultivate meaningful connection in our lives. I could go on and on about this (and my family and close friends have probably heard it enough times to automatically give me the glazed-eyed look) but if you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend steeping yourself into it. :D I have realized that these things do have a rather self-selecting audience. People who are interested in these topics probably would already have heard about it or go on to click on the link for the talk or read up about her work already and those who aren't...are the ones who give me the glazed-eyed look when I try to talk about it lol. To each his own. :p But I do recommend at least watching the video.

4. Eat, Pray, Love

by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I know, you're probably thinking, you haven't read it yet??! I know it's such a major bestselling novel and just about everyone had been talking about it when it first came out but yeah, I was one of those who had not been interested in reading it at the time, thinking it was going to be just about someone on her travels around the world. BOY, was I mistaken. It is about someone on her travels around the world but it's so much more than that. It is about her attempt to rediscover herself by traveling to Italy to learn about pleasure, India to learn about devotion, and Indonesisa to learn about balancing both. The best part was that I didn't actually read her book physically. Rather, I discovered the audiobook on youtube and ended up listening to the entire book instead. I thought it would be a good idea because she is actually the one reading the audiobook! She has got such a comforting, reassuring voice and is a wonderfully eloquent storyteller. I remember watching an interview in which the audience member asked her whether she would read the audiobooks for some of her other books such as The Signature of All Things but she said she probably wouldn't because it was different from Eat, Pray, Love which was essentially her memoir. So it made sense for her to read it since it was her own thoughts and her own journey.

Here's the link for Part 1 of her audiobook:

I loved listening to it while in the car. Probably finished about 95% of it while driving around. The other 5% was towards the end when I was a little more desperate to find out what happened so I ended up bringing my phone with me everywhere in the house, playing it while I brushed my teeth... etc. ;p Ever do that with a video you can't stop watching? Anyway, I will probably read the book for real soon because there's nothing like the physical act of actually seeing the words and flipping the pages of a book. I probably missed a lot of the fine details and would love to read again about all the interesting facts of Italy/India/Indonesia that she introduces in the book. It's an incredibly earnest book, with many humorous turns and I often found myself laughing out loud in the car upon hearing a funny passage. (My favorite bits of the book include the her adventures with Ketut Liyer, the extraordinary Balinese medicine man, who oftentimes ended his conversation with her with the very adorable, 'I am very happy to see you, Liss. Let your conscience be your guide. If you have Western friends come to visit Bali, bring them to me for palm-reading. I am very empty in my bank since the bomb.' One added benefit of listening to her audiobook is that she does do 'impersonations' of her foreign friends and changes her accent to mimic theirs, which is such a gem.

Funnily enough, I had initially decided to check out her book only after I had watched this video of her being interviewed by Marie Forleo:

It was about her new book, Big Magic (which I am now happily perusing!), and how everyone can lead a more creative life. There was one bit that really resonated with me. "Every single thing that's of value, that I have ever experienced in my life...we're always looking for a way to kinda hot-wire it" but then of course we can't. Totally paraphrasing her here but that was the essence. And it's so true. Everything in life that is of it your relationships with family members and friends, your physical health, your emotional/spiritual health, your achievements in life... they are all THAT much precious and valuable, largely BECAUSE of all the time and effort that you put into it. If it could be 'hacked' or if there was a way to short cut through the tedious process of learning, failing, getting up to try again... then well it wouldn't be as precious would it?

I'm thinking about this in relation to learning new things. This year, one of my resolutions is to pursue and cultivate my creative interests. Two things on the list for this, would be learning Japanese (again!) and ceramics. ;) I've been thinking about re-learning Japanese after stopping lessons somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd year of university because I couldn't cope with studying for exams and needing to dedicate time to study my Japanese as well. It's been on my mind for a long long time now, that I'll get back to re-learning Japanese when the time is more opportune. Well, now's the time. Or at least, this year is the time. I need to probably get back to my dusty notes and textbooks and revise a little because trying to place myself back into a class and I envision that it's gonna be hard work all over again but you know what? I am really looking forward to that. That sort of pursuit of something I love. When I think back to those days when I was younger and studying Japanese, I remember enjoying it so much, even when it was getting harder to memorize the new vocab or the new sentence structures... it was just FUN. Being able to delve deeper into a language and through that portal, being able to understand a culture that much more.

And besides, one thing that I find, sometimes prevents me from pursuing something further, is the thought that I'm never going to be that good at it. For example, I'm never going to be that good at baking/not going to end up doing something at a professional level, so why bother going further with it? Elizabeth Gilbert talks about that as well in a similar manner in the above interview with Marie Forleo, about The Power of Finishing. Of how "perfectionism is a serial killer", because it's often the killer of creativity. So many times perfectionists don't carry out a project because they know deep down they won't be able to do it to the level that their hearts desire. Which in the end, is a real shame because even if the end product was not as perfect as envisioned, it could still be pretty darn good. And as her mother used to say, "Done is better than Good". To me, that makes so much sense. Even if let's say, a story, that you've written, is not as perfect as you had hoped, isn't it better that it's out in the world fulfilling its role as a story being read by others, rather than being tucked away in a cupboard or saved somewhere in a computer file as a draft, never to be completed? Bit of a tangent to what I was referring to as learning but I think it can be related. Do I need to end up a professional Japanese-English translator before I can decide to embark on learning Japanese? Of course it would be amazing and that is the ultimate dream. ;) But I don't need to end up at that stage in order to enjoy the process of learning something I'm interested in. The process in itself is where infinite enjoyment can be found. And that's something to be grateful for, and to look forward to already.


So since it's the new year, it seems only fitting to end off with a note on resolutions.

My new year's resolutions are all a little nebulous. Not all can be quantified easily and it's not something like lose 5kg which would be easier to chart in terms of progress but I think it's things that I will need to reflect on every so often to see if I'm on course.

I hope to/resolve to (wow, that automatically sounds a lot stronger doesn't it):

1. Cultivate and maintain relationships with family and friends 

2. Cultivate and maintain good health 
3. Cultivate and maintain my creative interests 
4. Cultivate and maintain my spirit, to have the grace to accept and withstand challenges and to always be grateful for the blessings I have

I suppose those are more of goals and I'm goal-charting or map-making more than anything else. But at least now that I know where I'd like to go, I can start making inroads.

So yes, here's to the New Year. To looking forward to new hopes and experiences. And to being grateful all the while for whatever we have.

(What are your New Year's resolutions? :))


Saturday, 3 October 2015

on The Circle and social media

I've been meaning to do a post on this for awhile now and finally I'm enjoying a quiet night alone with a cup of tea, dark chocolate and the diffuser spewing out Lavender scented air. ;) The perfect setup to hang out with my thoughts. 

The Circle, by Dave Eggers, is one of the best fiction books I've read in a long time. I read it over the course of a holiday last month and it was the perfect airplane book because it was so dang riveting.

It's basically a cautionary tale, set in a not-so-difficult-to-foresee future, where the world is influenced hugely but The Circle, a massive social media company which basically controls the internet and all platforms of social media (eerily similar to our Google/Facebook...just a step further), and is the most coveted place to work at with its own 'campus', housing state of the art facilities in beautifully designed buildings, boasting incredible employee benefits such as plush on campus lodgings, an endless variety of afterhours social activities/free lunchtime classes... the works(sound a lot like some companies we know about too?). The story follows the protagonist, Mae, who begins her job at The Circle and, as she ascends through the ranks, introduces us deeper to the increasingly tyrannical leanings of the company, whose founders' mission is to move society towards total transparency and for knowledge to be made freely available to everyone.

What was so unnerving for me, was how there were many forms of technology in the story that are freakily enough, entirely within the realms of possibility. For example, the company produced 'SeeChange', making use of small high resolution cameras that could be fixed anywhere by users to allow for a constant video stream on thousands of cameras. The benefit of course would be knowledge of the goings on almost everywhere in the world. But the obvious penalty? An increasingly complete lack of privacy especially to those who did not chose to be a part of it.

Plus, there was a huge bit on the obsession we have with social media; the need to have/curate an online presence along with the need for constant connectivity. In the Circle, employees are ranked socially based on their online interactions (e.g. how many discussion groups they are in, how many messages they reply to, events they RSVP to, comments they leave on other people's feed) and Mae works her way up the rank through frenziedly commenting, 'zing'-ing, joining communities, befriending others... Something which I thought was so eerily familiar.

I do remember a point in time in my life a couple of years back when I had just starting with blogging and was keen to get to know other bloggers and hoped that other bloggers would come by my site so that there would be a connection and exchange of comments and ideas. I can't remember how much time I spent commenting on page after page of blogs, sometimes even with really paltry comments such as 'wow, looking good!' or 'that's awesome!', which was something I could easily do even without having properly read through the person's blog post. In fact, it seemed to be the case with a lot of fashion blogs that I used to follow quite enthusiastically. It's so much easier to just leave a comment on text-sparse blog posts. A series of photos? Easy. Scroll through quickly, think of a positive comment to leave and type it in, hoping that the blogger would either reply or maybe even come back to your own blog, thereby increasing blog traffic. What about focusing on reading a post with more explanations/texts? Not so much, because it took more time. Only if it really caught my attention. Come to think of it, there wasn't very much meaning in that sort of digital footprint. It's only now when I think back that I see how superficial it all seems. And yet, it's probably what quite a number of people do, because at the end of the day, who doesn't feel emboldened by comments/likes/validation of any form, especially online?

Reading The Circle made me think about our relationship with technology (of course our near obsession with the use of social media being the most obvious phenomenon) but in a broader sense of the term. Ever go into a restaurant, look around while waiting for food and see a couple at a nearby table - guy and girl each looking at their phones in silence? Or maybe a family - parents and teenagers, all looking at their phones separately in silence? I've seen so many of them it's unsettling. The key components are - separate and in silence. What's the point of going out to a meal together if you're only going to be eating with your phone? Every time I go out nowadays I try my best to make it a point to put my phone away (taking it out only for the quick selected food shot, that one I will admit to doing sometimes ;p) so that I can give the other person my full attention. I would hate to be the one looked at from afar by someone thinking, man, that's a sad looking couple right there. Because that's the first thought that comes to mind. If a couple/friends/family members are unable to tear their eyes away from their phones for the short duration of a simple meal in order to properly look at each other and appreciate each other's company, it's a real shame.

This brings to mind an article I just read a few days ago which is also a reflection of our enmeshed our virtual lives have become with our everyday lives. It was an interesting title and I almost thought they were joking - "Why Fashion Bloggers' Lives Aren't As Charmed As You Think". Like many outsiders, immediately I thought, really? Aren't their lives pretty exciting and awesome? That's the idea I get from looking at all those glossy, picture perfect Instagram feeds. But wow, it's definitely a case of looks being deceiving. Turns out that famous bloggers with huge followings really need to be constantly present, coming up with new material that keep followers interested. The case in point was of Nicole Warne ( @garypeppergirl) who took a short break, causing loads of followers to start frantically asking questions such as what happened/where are you/are you ok!! Kinda stressful for someone who might just have wanted to unplug for a couple of days. There was an incredibly similar bit in The Circle when Mae had to 'go transparent' and wear a camera round her neck almost 24/7 so that people could see what she was doing at any one time of the day. And it was programmed to allow her about 3 minutes in the toilet, the camera facing the back of the door, and if she wasn't back 'on air' after 3 minutes, her viewers would start asking questions like, are you ok? Freaky how life imitates art. Or is it the other way round.

But that's the thing about success isn't it? It's such a hard balance to strike at times. On the one hand, you want to have followers and viewers but on the other hand, sometimes it might be nicer when things are at a manageable size when you can actually interact in a meaningful manner with them. At least that's what I would think. I always have the cafe analogy in my mind for scenarios like these. In the ideal world, if I were to run a cafe, it would be perfect if there were enough customers to allow me to make a decent profit, and yet at the same time, not too many such that it would become overly crowded. If it were packed with too many people, it would just ruin the quiet ambience that had been the plus point at the beginning attracting more customers. The success paradox, or whatever it's called. I'm sure it's something well theorized in economics.

That said, what is it about us nowadays and our need to be heard through multiple online platforms? With social media metrics such as 'likes', 'followers', 'shares' that are often used as the judge for success in the blogosphere, is it fair to dismiss people who don't appear to have as much of a widespread impact? I always used to think that well yes, the more people who are known to have read/viewed whatever you're sharing, the better because then obviously your sphere of influence is wider. But then does that mean, we ought to be sharing everything we do in life?

There was a particularly poignant bit in The Circle when Mae was on the receiving end of some approbation because she had not shared her experience of kayaking with friends/users online; not through their Facebook/Twitter/Blog equivalent...nada. And why was it a bad thing? Because their motto was that 'sharing is caring' and 'if you care about your fellow human beings, you share what you know with them'. I think that's true for most people who want to share information online. On the one hand, they usually genuinely hope to share their thoughts, experiences, knowledge and the likes with others and on the other hand, are hoping for recognition and validation of themselves. It's a two way street. Of course, in the book, they took it a step further and went on to talk about how if we don't share, it's akin to depriving another person of information or their right to know. Simply twisting that around and adding a moral dimension to that turned it from something voluntary, borne out of love, to something obligatory, borne out of fear.

So tell me, truthfully, have you ever had these thoughts run through your mind:

Is my experience made more important because I shared it? 

If I didn't share it, was it less meaningful for me because I could have made it 'bigger'? 
If I didn't share it on social media...did I even do it?

This last one invokes such a feeling of existential crisis does it not? It reminds me of a thought experiment from somewhere... If you take an apple and put it inside a drawer and close the drawer, is it still there? If nobody sees it, is it there? Of course you would say, yes because when I open the drawer it's there. But is there a chance that when the drawer is closed, it might not be there?

In this day and age, it's interesting that if I did something such as go to eat a great meal over the weekend but didn't share it on Instagram... it would appear as if I didn't eat anywhere nice over the weekend because we almost expect everything in life to be transposed automatically to social media.

How I've come to grasp with the entire issue, is that at the end of the day, we are the ones who imbue our experiences with the meaning we choose. So I experience something. And whether I choose to share it with others or not should not in any way add to or diminish the meaning of that experience unless I so choose to let it do so. If I lived my life thinking, man I need to share a photo of this great meal of mine because more people need to know about it!, I could very well be adding an additional later of stress onto that whole experience from feeling the sheer obligation to share. (That said, I'm a huge proponent of the benefits of social media through the sharing of knowledge. For me, the best bit about Instagram? Finding out new food places. Very banal of course, but it's the truth! ;p)

And on a related note, if I have 15 likes versus someone who has 200 likes on a blog post/Facebook post/photo, does that mean that what I put out into the world was less worthy or meaningful? Sometimes we hinge our self esteem/self worth on some things as superficial as an icon or number on a webpage or app. Thinking about it rationally just shows us how it doesn't quite make sense. Some things that are inherently intangible such as influence or meaning can't be measured so simply with a number. If one post only garnered one like but changed the life for the 1 person who read it for the better... vs 2000 likes by people who only cursorily glanced at it without further thought? Can we extrapolate one person's experience to be the same for everyone else? So really, there isn't any good way to compare nor should there be any need to.

Of course, the tendency to compare is there. The desire to be different and special. And it was put in such an elegant passage in The Circle:

"... Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know - they'd trade it all to know they've been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know we die. We all know that the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment."

I thought it made such breathtakingly, crystal-clear sense.

So I've come to end of my long ramble. Long story short, read The Circle. It's at once chilling and cautionary, while also plausible and prescient. And the most ironic bit? The minute I finished the book I couldn't wait to share it with everyone on Facebook. But here I am blogging about it first. ;)


Ahh sobb Sunday tomorrow. The weekend flies by so darn quickly.
Have a great rest of the weekend.