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? :))