A list of rather random things I’m thankful for

It’s thanksgiving season again, and while I’m not in americuh this year, I find that I’ve had a rather fruitful year. And as always, very many things to be thankful for. And because I like making lists, here’s mine. 

  1. Because work has taken up the bulk of my life, the first thing I’m thankful for is my great job. Honestly I do love my job. I complain about it a heck load cos I’m a complainer I think, and also clients are challenging, but I do love it. I am thankful that I’ve been able to apply myself in ways that I enjoy and fit my personality. I write a lot, mostly. And I think a lot about what works in the media environment. And I am creating content. I am thankful that I’m at a company that prizes its people and recognises them as individuals and for their effort. And last but not least, I am thankful for the friendships I’ve made at work. From bosses I share chilli wantons with, to people I want to be like in ten years, I think enjoying my work has a lot to do with the people I see every day. I am also thankful that my office is yet another great example of how female bosses and a female-dominated environment are great and not at all bitchy/catty/micro-managing/petty or any other accusations we often hear. Suck it, patriarchy. 
  2. Buses in an age of frequent train breakdowns. Also long bus rides. 
  3. The Humans of [insert country/group here] trend. I absolutely love all the stories we hear where we can either relate to or see a whole other reality we would never know. There’s just so much humanity in sharing stories, picking out the extraordinary in ordinary people, and that spreading of positivity that crosses national and other boundaries. 
  4. Having the means and appetite for travel. This year, I’ve been to Batam, Bali, Rawa Island, Vietnam, Myanmar and will be going to Sydney. Sounds like a long list, and every single trip has been a time of reflection and together-ness. Traveling is so great because you’re placed outside of yourself for a while, and we all need that. I’ve never needed a vacation more than I have this year when work was particularly bad, and relishing that sense of freedom is sweet. 
  5. Speaking of travelling, being able to travel with my best friend/photographer for six weeks. Believe me, that will transform any normal person’s extremely non model like inclinations. Traipsing around the edge of the world with one other person is pretty epic, and nothing could come close to it. 
  6. Pride & Prejudice. I will never tire of it. I forgot just how entertaining and funny the book was, until I was re-reading it recently. So, thanks Jane Austen. 
  7. The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes. Exactly. The MCU. I’m thankful for the intricate tapestry of stories created by the amazing writers in the Marvel world. Though you know what I’m not thankful for? Joss Whedon’s strange idea that the most interesting Black Widow storyline is about who she makes out with. I am however excessively thankful for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s the Pacific Rim of 2014. 
  8. Pacific Rim, the pinnacle of 2013. 
  9. Whatever forces (capitalism mostly?) that impelled the Burmese military to finally hold free and fair (mostly) elections. 
  10. But not so thankful for capitalism itself. 
  11. The view of Marina Bay Sands when cirque du soleil is in town. I mean, amazing. 
  12. Code Name Verity. I think about this book a lot. 
  13. Healthy and cheap eating options. I wish healthy eating and environmentally responsible behaviour were more affordable, especially for the less privileged. 
  14. Greater diversity in representation. One of my favourite things in the world. 
  15. Michael B. Jordan. I mean, right. 
  16. NGOs and social enterprises. Let’s give a shoutout to these guys. The more I work in a corporate setting, the more I want to work in a non-profit. 
  17. Mobile technology. Say what you will about mobile phone addiction, but mobile technology is one great way for communities across Southeast Asia to uplift their living standards and bridge the digital divide. It’s also how I’m typing this post on a moving train. 
  18. Parents. How great are they. 
  19. Muscle aches and the strange sense of satisfaction and tendency to complain-boast about them. I love a good muscle ache. 
  20. And because I’m a sap, I’m thankful for all the people who care about me enough to scold me for not taking care of myself, nag at me, help me do things I don’t wanna do, be patient with me, forgive me, and listen to me. Though I may not always know it, I do, I do so ardently thank you. 

The universe is wonderful and weird and I would never have an exhaustive list to be thankful for, ever. 

Happy thanksgiving loves. 

2015-2016 Reading Challenge

As the year 2014 draws to a close, the night is ripe for reflections and resolutions. While I love reading and see myself as a reader, I’ve actually been rather terrible at it for many years. A new year brings new challenges, with my joining the workforce as a useful member of society, and embarking on a new stage of life. And it is times like these where it is even more important to hold on to things you love. So, when I saw this 2015 Reading Challenge trending on Tumblr, I knew I had to at least try it. Even as some of the challenges I take on fail (ahem Alphabet Challenge ahem) (I actually have not given up on that yet), I do still wish to try. After I read each book, I will update this list and possibly do a review on here. Also, many books actually fit into more than one category, so I will simply go through the list and fit each book into the first one that comes up. So here goes.

Edit: It’s 2016 and this list is still not complete. I shall extend my deadline.

2015-2016 Reading Challenge

A book with more than 500 pages
A book you can finish in a day: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
A classic romance: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
A book with antonyms in the title
A book that became a movie: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
A book published this year
A book that came out the year you were born
A book with a number in the title: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
A book written by someone under 30
A book with bad reviews
A book with nonhuman characters: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea
A trilogy: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
A funny book
A book from your childhood: Legend of the Condor Heroes by Jin Yong
A book by a female author: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
A book with a love triangle
A mystery or thrillerCrocodile Tears (Alex Rider series) by Anthony Horowitz
A book set in the future
A book with a one-word title: Villette by Charlotte Brontë
A book set in high school: Scorpia Rising (Alex Rider series) by Anthony Horowitz
A book of short stories
A book with a colour in the title
A book set in a different country
A book that made you cry
A nonfiction book
A book with magic: Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
A popular author’s first book
A graphic novel
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
A book by an author you’ve never read before
A book a friend recommended
A book you own but have never read
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
A book that takes place in your hometown
A book based on a true story
A book that was originally written in a different language: The Boat to Redemption by Su Tong
A book at the bottom of your to-read list
A book set during Christmas: The Silent Stars Go By by Dan Abnett (Doctor Who)
A book your mom loves
A book written by an author with your same initials
A book that scares you
A play
A book more than 100 years old
A book based entirely on its cover
A banned book
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t
A book based on or turned into a TV show
A memoir
A book you started but never finished

D is for (Travel Edition)

Distance
I am currently in the midst of my epic 6-week long European trip to pseudo celebrate my graduation from university, though I haven’t technically graduated and the grad trip ritual is one I do not personally or culturally connect with. So, I guess it’s more appropriate to characterise this trip as a celebration of life and our marvelous corner of the universe, as trips tend to go. As I’ve explored England (London, Stratford-upon-Avon, York, Bronte country, Lake District), Scotland (Glencoe, Glenfinnan, Isle of Skye, Edinburgh), and Ireland (Dublin, the Northern Irish coast, Rathlin island, Derry and Donegal) so far, it is most apropos to say that my trip has been part-literary pilgrimage and part-exploration of nature. It has truly been inspiring – both calming and invigorating. So, it is only fitting of my next alphabet challenge entry to be about travel and my experience in particular. Be warned that despite this post’s travel contents, it will not contain photos ala current lifestyle glamour-complexes. I realise how difficult that might be in today’s day and age, but people in the past have coped, and so will we.

D is for distance, not because distance makes the heart grow fonder. Instead, distance makes the heart grow wiser. Distance is a catalyst. It is reading glasses. Just like how crisis clarifies a person’s mind and gets rid of the clutter, distance gives you perspective, quite literally. Sometimes, one has to step outside of their homes to truly understand their full picture.

It is interesting because we never truly leave home behind, even when we travel. Especially when we travel. We compare everything to the Singaporean way (people are nicer here, angmohs don’t know how to cook veg, etc.) So, I guess it is harder than we think to shake a person’s origins off. Roots, if you will. Though, to be honest, I haven’t been doing much contemplating. I just have been enjoying the moments and wondering about another life. Maybe distance does this too. Help us see ourselves in another world, exploring possible selves, possible lives. Maybe our way is not the only way, and maybe that’s the only lesson we need.

D is also for distance because distance is not just a destination; it’s about the ride. Driving to one place to another is such a gorgeous experience. I’ve always loved driving, even in traffic-ridden Singapore. I love cruising, I love the way the road disappears under you like magic, I love that little trick your stomach does when following a bend. But driving overseas in non-urban areas is something else. Driving alongside mountains and giant lakes (or lochs) is the ultimate joy in Scotland, and as my traveling companion says, the wonderful thing about Scotland is how wild and untamed it is. One gets the sense that one can never truly consume it; we can only pass through and look on. And what a fantastic view it is.

And then there’s the non-driving. When trying to rent a car in Ireland, I faced the unfortunate trouble of not being of age. It sucks when things do not go as planned, especially a driving trip, because suddenly you need to cover some distance and you have no way of doing so. Distance is an obstacle. In such a large country (everywhere is large compared to Singapore), distance is limiting. But trying to cover distance without a car is a special kind of trouble that can be turned into wonderful experiences. So far, without a car, we have experienced a lovely scenic train ride, biking around an island with only 100 people, and hitchhiking (!!!!). People are sooo nice in Donegal that we successfully hitchhiked 3 times, when each time someone stopped within five minutes, and for the last time, the first car stopped. And everyone was so friendly and welcoming and just sincerely hoping we have a good and safe time in Ireland. (Highly recommend!!) I mean, like other places, Ireland is so interesting for other reasons – culturally, politically, but the people are always a good reason to visit.

I’ve met so many wonderful and fascinating people on my trip and that, I think, is the most interesting thing about distance. Cos distance creates differences, and suddenly the world is full of colour.

Diadem
As I said, my trip so far has been around the UK and Ireland. Some of the most interesting cultural sights have to do with kings and high lords and crowns and battles and castles. And I love it. I’ve learnt so much about the different ages and the ruling powers at each respective time, from the Vikings, the Normans, Anglo-Saxans, to the Medieval era, the Tudors, the Stuarts, etc. I just want to spend one whole day on Wikipedia clicking links to find out more. But of course, I’ve had the privilege to learn more at the actual sites of power and/or siege. There’s something very powerful about standing in a place where so much has happened.

Stories about diadems and royalty have fascinated us for centuries and we still place emphasis on these historical touchpoints. It’s interesting because it’s far away from ordinary life for peasants back then (signaling basically changes in management), yet also very close to the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens throughout history because of culture and identity. And so much of royal scuffles have a living heritage today, or consequences that still resonate.

There’s the story told to me atop the Derry (Northern Ireland) city walls about how the city was besieged by the Catholic King James I for 105 days, the longest siege in British history. And today Derry~Londonderry still holds together in tension the two threads that gave the city its double name – Catholic and Protestant. There’s the castle sitting at Eilean Dornan, in the western Scottish highlands. Its haunting feel might mislead one to think it abandoned, but its MacRae clan still comes by every year when the portcullis is raised and they shout in unison their war cry: Ridge of Tears! (How cool is that, honestly.) And of course what better example to use than the continued influence of the diadem as seen in Britain and the 1000 gifs of baby George already online.

It’s interesting because the existence of royal bloodlines and warring states is only an extension of the human wish to conquer, to domesticate. It’s so often that we are trying to contain nature and control it, the same way kings do with their people.

Darvill, Arthur
When I was in London, I had the pleasure of catching Arthur Darvill’s last show on Once. It was one of the best musical productions I’ve ever seen. Arthur Darvill, of Doctor Who fame, was always my favourite character as Rory. But man was he on fire that night. He sang amazingly and was strangely charismatic. It happened to be the last night of performance for the female lead as well, and it showed in the emotional rawness and power of the music. Once is a special musical production because there is no orchestra and the music is intimate and moving. Set in Dublin, it is a testament to how important culture is to the Irish, and was an extremely interesting precursor to my trip in Ireland.

The story itself is nothing revolutionary – boy hates self and music because ex-girl left him for New York, and meets girl, who helps him find his way again. Almost manic pixie dream girl, but thankfully the female lead played her role with so much vitality and humour that I loved and saw her for herself, and not just for how she served the male lead’s woes. I actually really liked this story arc if not for the fact that the two leads fell in love. I quite like the idea of a human being helping another human being be themselves again, with no agenda or hope. Just that. Humans being humans. Romance is secondary, and most times, unnecessary.

The female lead on the show was supposed to be Czech, played by a Croatian, helping an Irish man, played by an English, with and through his music. While in the audience two Singaporean girls sit, impacted by the performance by ways the performers might not even realise. How cool is that. I love how we are all brought together by art, even when we’re from different places. When I went on a walking tour in Derry, I met the traveling Avenue Q cast (so cooool) and they have one of the most multi-racial casts I’ve seen. Interestingly, the musical accuses everyone of being a racist in one of their songs, and is always a funny one because it is identifiable.

So, you know, sentimental ideas of connecting with others through art aside, politics is always at play. Especially racial politics. Most people I’ve met along the way have been tremendously friendly and great, but there are always certain hints of assumptions and stereotypes that people carry when they interact with who they view as an Other. One of the most common things I’ve noticed is the widespread assumption that we do not speak English. English is our first language, we have had to say about 5 times on this whole trip. And it is fine when people think something of you but quickly re-evaluate you based on how they come to know you. But what is most insidiously dangerous is when people interact with you and you obviously disprove their mistaken assumptions, but they continue to believe in their long-held ideas about you. Like this one dude who consistently spoke to us slowly and full of gestures as if we didn’t understand English though we replied normally like normal English speakers. This insistence on ignorance is how it starts, and more often than not in today’s world, this is the face of racism.

Dead Broke
Hahahahahahaha. I am. I really am dead broke. Traveling for so long to so many epic places has nuclear-bombed a hole in my pocket. While I believe it is worth it, I’m still left feeling a little bit… Vulnerable, for lack of a better word.

While I’m very proud to have funded my trip myself, I’ve also had helping hands extended to me by my loved ones (thanks sis, mom and Darryl).

I guess the lesson to take from this is that traveling is suchhhhhh a privilege and I will try my best to remember it, always.

C is for

Coasts

I’ve always been a huge fan of any and every kind of water body Nature has fashioned. Honestly, they all beguile me in some way. Rivers, streams, lakes, the vast and unending ocean. There’s something about watching the stillness of a lake or the roar of the sea and feeling home, though the two are perhaps in opposition. Which is why I have formed a habit of road tripping along coastal routes. My very first road trip was in California, where I took Pacific Highway 101 to explore every turn of the Big Sur coast. With the road plastered to the side of the continent, it was one of the most amazing experiences circling the coast with something as small and large as a car.

BigSur

Big Sur (photo taken by my dear friend Irene)

12apostles

12 Apostles

Addicted to road tripping, I planned another such trip when I went with my family to Melbourne last year. We drove along the Great Ocean Road, saw the 12 Apostles and witnessed an untamed corner of the universe. The way the waves crash so unrelentingly on the shore can be terrifying actually. It would have been unmerciful to a tiny human being; it would have carried us away to our deaths. And yet there was some sort of beauty in its terror. I can’t help but marvel at how so much beauty can be contained in raw power, and how much this power shows off just how finite we are. They are two sides of the same coin: terror and beauty. Is that a lesson to be learnt on how the most worthy things in life are often the most difficult? That to behold beauty, we have to stand in the wild? That the most dazzling things to experience could be running barefoot in a space unmarred by the dirty paws of humans? Or maybe we should stop extrapolating and just stay in the moment and see it for what it is.

Hm. Perhaps I will gain more insight into this sentiment with my next coastal road trip planned. Driving along the Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland would be such a different experience (every coast is different), but also the same (because every coast is also the same). I will let you know.

Curiosity

Curiosity is so so important. It really underscores a lot of things in life, I believe. It is the one thing that kids have and educational institutions destroy. I’ve always been kinda known as a nerd, because I like and excel in school. But as Natalie Portman says, I do not like studying; I like learning. There’s a distinct difference, and I feel sad for those who can’t tell. And as someone else so wisely says, I will not let schooling get in the way of my education. This is especially so in the Singaporean education system where merit is so often measured, and so often based on memorisation and examinations. It can really take the joy out of learning for children and teenagers, when schools should in fact nurture that flame! I hope I will be able to do that if and when I become a parent.

And as they also say, learning is a lifelong venture. I hope we never give up on it, even though the pursuit of knowledge can often be overshadowed in today’s age of entertainment. We are the generation of entertainment, which is why mobile game apps can become insanely popular overnight, why bad reality television is a thing that still exists, why celebrity culture gets eaten up like the last piece of meat on a plate. I hope I will be able to keep learning even after it stops being the priority in my life after graduating from college, to put myself in a position where I will always be bettering myself in terms of skills and wisdom, and also to be open to lessons from others.

As we grow older, we tend to think we have learnt all the lessons there are to be learnt. But I think it is a folly of the young to believe yourself to be omniscient. The only thing we can know is that we know nothing, right Aristotle? I will try to keep the humility that comes with realising that you still have so much to learn, even when I gain in life. I hope you do so too.

Captain America

Oh my gosh, guys. Are you kidding. Of course C is for Captain America. Is it still on in theatres for everyone here, because go watch it. And after you’re done with that, go watch it again.

Captain America is my favourite superhero. (I’ve even got the toy plushie to prove it.) The reason why I love him is because he is so black and white. In an age of moral ambiguity and anti-heroes, Cap is old-fashioned. He just wants to do good. He is a hero in the very original sense of the word. But he doesn’t want to be a hero; he just wants to be a good guy. I LOVE IT. I mean, his weapon is a SHIELD. Not something threatening but something protective. How great is that. There’s something very pure and untainted about Captain America, and relocating him in a more complex time of 2010s in the Marvel universe is so fantastic, cos he is so out of time but his values are so needed. Which is exactly what the movie sequel is about. And so much of why I love it too.

Captain America 2 combines very contemporary fears (of surveillance, of targeted weaponry, of dangerous political alliances, of the state being the enemy) with (SPOILER ALERT) an old enemy. It shows that we are not so different from the 1940s after all. The same enemies exist, but also the same ways of trying to be good. I think that really says something about our society today, and why we should all try to be like Cap. Not in the kicking-ass sense, but in how we can step up and just try to do good in all areas of our lives. It’s not about the getting there; it’s about the trying. Striving is the important thing.

Of course, it does help that Cap looks like Chris Evans.

Co-pilot

Last but most certainly not least. I think it would be very inauthentic of me to leave out something that has been a huge part of my life in 2014 so far. Is it very cheesy if I start off with: you never really know who’s going to be important in your life so always keep in mind potentiality? Three years ago, I met my good friend’s boyfriend’s good friend, just as one out of a bunch of guys I didn’t think much about. Three years later… you fill in the blanks.

The most amazing thing so far has been how much we just get each other. And what’s what I wanna talk about here. How rare is it to share a connection with someone so inexplicably? Really, really connect? As if you are made up of the same unique electric signals. That you were programmed in the same way. That that person knew what you were thinking even before you thought it. How crazy is that. And so much of it is because of how similarly we build our vocabulary, how we take in things from popular consciousness and make them a part of our own. So I guess I have found someone who builds their world the same way I do, and now all I want is to start building a whole new world together with them.

There’s a word for this connection: drift compatibility, which is not actually a real thing but something that was created by the film Pacific Rim. Basically in the film, the human race was attacked by aliens and to combat them, we built monstrous robots-soldiers. But because of how mega these robots are, they require two pilots to be plugged into the same neural consciousness (the drift) so that they can move as one. For people to become co-pilots, they need to be drift compatible, so that they can be comfortable in each other’s minds and act in concert. (There’s something very great about how to save the world, this movie highlights empathy as the most important feature, instead of machismo like so many actions flicks, but that’s for another post.) So, you know, it is tough to find someone with whom you can be drift compatible, but, when you do, you can save the world.

It’s always about people, isn’t it. It’s always about understanding, relating, connecting with someone else. As Celine articulates so beautifully in Before Sunrise, “I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.”

B is for

(Behind schedule, really. Super sorry I lied about posting twice a week, cos once a week is even an achievement for me. I very intelligently began this alphabet challenge right in the middle of crunch time during my semester, but, fear not, my thesis is done and I am back!)

Battlestar Galactica

battlestar-galactica-w

This is the most traumatising, life-ruining, soul-crushing, emotion-sucking show you will ever lay your eyes on; I highly recommend it. Before I first started this show, I thought Alias was the one show that messed with me the most, but, man, was I truly ignorant. After watching BSG, I have even inherited a fear of over-investing in television series because of how emotionally drained I was, so beware of this side effect. Despite this, it will be one of the most worthy and life-changing shows you will watch. (I am referring here to the 2003 re-imagined series.)

While I can’t say to be in the ranks of hardcore sci-fi fans, science fiction has definitely been one of my favourite genres ever. I love that sci-fi always reinvents the universe, relocates humanity, only to point out the very same issues and complexities that we face, and even highlights them because those are the familiar things. We might not have laser guns and living machines but science fiction worlds are amongst the most similar to real life of all.

For the uninitiated, Battlestar Galactica is a military sci-fi series that originated in the 1970s, where humanity has migrated to what is known as the Twelve Colonies and is lodged in a war with machines called Cylons. In the re-imagined series in 2003, Cylons were created by humans to be enslaved by us, but evolved to be more ‘advanced’ and more dangerous than humans could ever know. In short, Cylons obliterated the Twelve Colonies, and an old model space battleship becomes the only rallying point for the remaining human fleet. They become the resistance.

Not only are the extreme moral situations on the show extremely interesting, all the characters are obsessively watchable and super real. My absolute favourite (no surprise to anyone who knows me, really) is Starbuck, who in the 2003 series is a genderflipped version of a brash, aggressive fighter pilot who drinks most of her calories. She is hot-headed, cocky and super flawed, but also amazingly loyal, dedicated, resourceful, and a fantastic pilot. What is truly revealing is that when the new showrunners announced they were reintroducing Starbuck as a woman, there was widespread backlash from existing BSG fans, so much so that actress Katee Sackhoff received death threats and was booed during her appearance at Comic Con. Way to be open, sci-fi community!

A lot has changed since 2003, definitely, but perhaps the problematic norms, ideals and power relations that shape our communities today continue to merit the existence of shows like BSG so that we always challenge ourselves and ask ourselves how we can be better humans. In short, watch this show.

Brunch

Brunch is a super interesting phenomenon that has captured the Singaporean population with the recent advent of cafe culture and Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some eggs benedict and pancakes, but I have to wonder about the neocolonial elements of the whole thing. Brunch has secretly always existed in Singaporean Sunday routines with fried beehoon, kway chap and other great hawker breakfast foods. But it is only characterised as brunch when it is suddenly Westernised and takes place in cafes. Singapore is an interesting country because we are probably the only country in the world that loves our colonial masters to the point where we credit them for founding us and revere the very man who transplanted British authority structures into our society (cf. Raffles statue). This colonial hangover is everywhere, in how we prefer Western brands, in how we believe the West = quality, in how anything that is imported from the West has a price premium, in how we believe people from the West to be smarter, more eloquent, more charismatic, etc. In my research project on Instagram, people even express how they rather Instagram food photos of eggs ben than char kway teow.

I am not immune from this hangover, especially when I correct people’s grammar, or prefer watching British shows, or travel to the West a lot. Singapore is truly super weird, and our cultural identity has a odd mix of pride and shame. We are a bunch of contradictions–Asian and Western, modern and conservative, local and global, all of which are dialectics that are not just abstract concepts but lived realities. I just wish people are aware of just how much, and the next time they go to brunch, they will think about how many neocolonial elements dominate our lives.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Holly Golightly says in the film, “Nothing very bad could happen to you [at Tiffany’s]. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name!” A few weeks back for one of my Media and Globalisation classes, my prof made us do some exercises to describe our home. One of the students said that she never truly felt Singapore to be her home because it offered so little to her, and she wished she would be able to find her Tiffany’s. That really struck me, and I guess I’ve been thinking about it since.

Where is my Tiffany’s? Where is yours? Have you found it?

I wonder. Is it where I can truly be myself? Is it where all my loved ones are? Is it a person? People in love would tell you that a person could be your home, and I myself have been prone to such a sentiment lately. But, they say, you can’t make homes out of people. You gotta make your own home.

When I was younger, I craved a media career that could give me glamour and a never-ending busy schedule. Nowadays, I just crave to make a difference; I don’t really care where I am. A part of me always wonders about a corporate life (and by that I mean a big public relations agency), whether I would love it, whether I would be good at it, and probably just to prove that I can do it, and perhaps I will try it for a few years, but most part of me also wants to know that I will be engaged in the social somehow. Be socially conscious. As I embark on a career search the next few months, more of these ramblings will materialise.

Perhaps, Tiffany’s is not just one place, but a feeling. And you just gotta be able to imbue your own life with that feeling.

Beckett, Kate

Hahaha and we have gone full circle back to fictional things. Kate Beckett from Castle is my favourite fictional lady ever. Ever. Ever. Her mention here would probably mean I will not talk about Castle under letter C, but I make no promises. There was a point of time in my life where Castle was pretty much all I talked about, and it continues to hold a special place in my heart despite its drop in writing quality. Kate Beckett, in particular, is one of the main reasons.

There’s nothing really that groundbreaking about this show or this character; she’s no Starbuck. But Kate Beckett is really extraordinary. When we first meet her in Season 1, she’s just a by-the-book cop who has to put up with mystery novelist Richard Castle’s shenanigans, but already she was bursting at the seams with a complex inner emotional life, and the show promised that there was so much to know about her that it could fill a book. One of the first things to note about Beckett was that she was a great detective, and she commanded other detectives at work. She was the boss of people, and that was just that. There was no commentary on it, no special attention paid to it; her authority was just taken as natural and it was great. As the show went on, Beckett was allowed to be both feminine and a cop in power. She never had to de-feminise herself, she never had to pretend she didn’t have a personal life, and her abilities as a hardcore detective were never questioned on account of her femininity. (Except maybe the high heels were a little unrealistic, if I had to admit it.)

But my most favourite part about Beckett is definitely her moral integrity. When her mother died and the killer was still out there, she became a cop because she was haunted by it. But her desire to bring justice to people who were just like her went beyond her personal grievance. Her commitment to justice, and fierce dedication not to cross the line over to revenge, was the most admirable story arc I’ve witnessed. Again, it’s not the most original story; superhero vigilante storylines deal with this all the time. But the fact that this amazing woman was cast as the bearer of justice was just five million times of great.

Kate Beckett is my hero, and I always wish I could be more like her.

(Update: As I was writing this post, a part of the ceiling fell in my lecture theatre and my fellow students’ reactions were to take a picture of it. Too bad this wasn’t the C entry, or that chain of events would have definitely made it in.)

A is for

Asymmetry

I’ve been thinking lately about people’s relationship with social media, and I’ve noticed a certain asymmetry. So many of us lead our lives on social media now; the logic of social media exhibitionism permeates daily conversation. It’s not so much that Facebook should reflect our lives as they are, but our lives are now influenced by what is or is not Facebook- or Instagram-worthy. “That’s a profile picture worthy photo!” or “Hashtag (insert popular hastag here)” or any other strange thread of conversation where the media is our lives. The act of communication is exhausted in the staging of it. We are so exhausted with talking about what we do with our lives that we almost forget to lead them. And sometimes that’s where you see the asymmetry: the person taking a photo with a Vietnamese local to showcase her voluntourism when in fact that group of students only volunteered for one day and had R&R the rest of the trip; that person posting his Instagram photo with his #family when everyone went back to their rooms behind their computers after that photo was taken. Is the show of our lives more important than our lives? Is saying that you did something on Facebook more important than actually doing it?

And yet, how can I accuse others of inauthenticity? How dare I tell anyone what is real or not real in their lives? There are those, of course, where what is published online is more real than their real lives will ever be. So, there’s another direction of asymmetry: where your Twitter feed is the only true thread of consciousness because that’s where you confess how much you miss your dead father, and that’s what catalogues the only important emotions of your day. Perhaps it is your “real” life that is the masquerade; perhaps that’s where you put on your greatest show. Sometimes the greatest feat is to know someone the way they allow their social media pages to know them. The only thing I want to know is: how should we bridge this gap? And should we even bridge it at all?

Austen

Ah, Jane Austen. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when someone wishes to comment on Austen they should begin with this sentence about the acknowledgement of universal truths. It is only appropriate that she makes the list of my first alphabet challenge entry because I’ve been thinking about her so much for my thesis. For the uninitiated, I’m doing my thesis on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and it’s been an absolute journey (and I’m not just saying that to justify my research). People always say how difficult it is to bridge what they love in their leisure time and what they can do in their work, and my degree in media has managed to help me do that, so I’m a really lucky girl. To critically engage with a show that I love and have connected with is special, and perhaps I’ll never be able to do this (at this level and with this intensity) again. I’ve always believed in the power of fiction and storytelling and popular culture, but I suppose real life does get in the way; I don’t know how long I can honour these tenets I view to be important in my life. But, back to Austen.

It’s interesting because Austen has managed to capture the imagination of popular audiences and scholarly circles, and that is rather rare. She’s one of those authors whose works will never cease to exist in the collective imagination of people. For as long as I live, there will continually be adaptations of her novels. (Still crossing my fingers on a modern adaptation of Persuasion yes?) The truth is, Austen’s works refer to a very insular world specific to a particular time period in history and a particular class of people (white, landed gentry), and yet, her works are so universal. Her works are always about epistemology–the enterprise of knowledge. It’s always about how we can know people, and how we always fail at knowing people, but how we must always try. And I love it. Because what else is more important in life than how we relate to other people? For Austen, our attempts at knowing others will always be accompanied by our flaws such as pride and prejudice (whaddup title drop!), but also accompanied by passion. There is so much passion in Austen’s world, and all the more for the fact that it is not shown or honoured or belaboured upon. The passion exists in the interstices, in the pauses, in the glances, in the unspoken, the unkissed. Perhaps a certain holding back makes the best form of gratification.

One last note on Austen: she’s a champion of womankind everywhere. There are no doubt problems in saying that, because, as I said, she refers to a very limited kind of universe, but I’d like to think of her as a feminist. In fact, campaigns to get Austen recognised on a state level have received so much backlash, that it can’t help but remind me of how many women’s contributions in history have gone unnoticed and unacknowledged. Talk about truth universally acknowledged, huh.

Adolescence

We are living in a parody culture, said my professor the other day. And a large part of this parody culture is a youth thing. The youth subculture is huge now, what with superfandoms and social media and the general difficulty of being an adult. Our economic situation nowadays reminds me of The Great Gatsby–in that all the land and resources and opportunities have been exhausted. The fresh green breast of life has somehow transformed into the valley of ashes. That’s what human civilisation does to the earth and the world, perhaps, and the ones to struggle with it are the ones growing up in this sort of world. People underestimate how tough it is to be a youth in modern times, and it is no wonder why we react to everything with parody; the world sucks so much that perhaps the only way to cope is to joke about it. We are the generation taught to do what we love, but we are also the generation taught that the field is fairer for some people than others. We expect so much more–out of life, out of love, out of work, and that might just be the prime reason why we are so inert.

But at the same time, I’ve always believed that as much as our environment and upbringing have shaped us, we are responsible for who we are and how we act and change and be in the world. How we can contribute. And sometimes my generation never thinks about how we can contribute. Sometimes, people my age try to postpone adulthood. I mean, I totally understand why; I want to study at uni forever. But if we do not grow up, how will we ever solve the problems we inherited?

Artist

Living an artist’s life is never easy, but trying to be one in Singapore is downright insane. I have a friend who wants to do art, and we’ve been trying to help her find options. There’s literally no inexpensive and logistically probable one. Why, Singapore, why. Why have you conditioned a whole nation of people so afraid to fail that hardly anyone ever ventures outside of their comfort zone? Even my chosen path of wanting to be a writer (also an artist in the broad sense) is revolutionary to most. I’ve been accused of being idealistic–of thinking that I can change the world, or at least the culture, of trying to hold on to ideas unprized by our society such as creativity and pure goodness of heart.

Business invades everything, but instrumentalism finds itself plastered all over the sprawling skyscrapers of the Singaporean landscape. I’ve written about this before, but any attempt at trying to recover the arts for Singaporeans by the state has been for practical reasons. And a new generation of Singaporeans has been conditioned by this instrumentalist, mostly materialistic mindset. It’s scary just how limited we all feel.

I look forward to a truly ground-up burgeoning arts and cultural scene, but it sure can come sooner. I hope more of us step out. I know it’s against all the odds, I know real life requires responsibilities, but there must be a way. A way to honour who we really are.

Alphabet Challenge!

So, this blog is always lacking in updates and I am always not writing enough, so I’ve decided to take up a blogging (?) challenge that I’ve seen on other blogs: the Alphabet Challenge!

I shall write two entries per week, where each entry will revolve around a letter. I will write about four items that begin with that particular letter, either objects, people or places that I immediately think of when considering the letter, or things that are dear to me, or anything I find interesting to talk about.

Do the challenge with me, why don’t you?

A List of my Favourite Books

Here is a list of my favourite books, and little extracts of why I love and recommend them (some of which I wrote more than a year ago and some recent.)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Every time I read The Great Gatsby, I discover something new about the text that I’ve never seen before. It’s almost as if the text changes as I grow. Fitzgerald’s language is economical but so precise and distilled that it will leave an unutterable ache in your chest.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This book is really the first book I came to call my favourite, because it was not just a book about morality and courage, but independence and commitment to love. One of the truest heroines in fiction who held strongly to her beliefs and never wavered even when she was in love or in pain.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
It might seem a contradiction to love a revisionist tale that overturns many of Jane Eyre’s assumptions and conclusions, but I still love it so. It highlights the complexity of racial identity and the politics of enslavement. Rhys’ language is so potent that it fills me to the point of implosion. 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The language in this book might be a little difficult, but oh man reading it is like going through a torrent. The characters are wild and untamed, but their love is passion at its rawest. But it’s not just a love story; it’s also a story of regeneration and redemption.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
TKAM is one of the cornerstones of American literature. It teaches you courage and wisdom, in the face of massive oppression and societal illusions masquerading as reality. And it remains important in a world where we still shout social constructions at the top of our lungs as truth.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
A brilliant love story (that has only been fueled by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) but I want to stress than Austen is not all chick lit. She’s really wise, and her wisdom is carried in the blindness or foolishness of some of her characters. She reminds us that we each have our own fatal flaws. Plus, she’s actually hilarious too. 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I don’t think I even realised how obsessed I was with the ideas in this book until recently. I love exploring this nonsensical world where everyone is mad, not only because it’s so fantastical but also because it holds a mirror up to reality.

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
There are quite a few problems with this series (and some with JKR’s non-canonical statements,) but man, never has a book series defined a generation so. I, like so many others, grew up with this series, and it taught me about bravery, friendship and love. I took it for granted then, but it was the existence of characters like Hermione that never made me doubt that I couldn’t do anything I wanted. 

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
This book is SO underrated I sometimes marvel at its lack of recognition. It’s written so beautifully that you just choke up with emotion that you had no idea existed in you. It’s about how people are able to survive tragedies in their own ways, and how greatness lies in kinship. 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 
Oh gosh, you will not regret reading this book, except you might want to stab yourself in angst, or stab me, I’m not sure. But the angst is so worth it, because it resonates with any particular loss you have experienced in your life.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Trust me, the book > the movie. The web of fiction Gaiman has spun is so fantastic here. The characters are enchanting, even though the book is short.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
John Green is the first and only author whose autograph I’ve got (so he’s got a real special place in my heart.) He’s quickly becoming not just one of my favourite authors but one of my favourite human beings. TFiOS is tragic and romantic, real and hilarious, and nothing short of amazing. I was so glad for the little infinity I was granted by this book.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Such a long book, but so worth it. It’s literally the kind of book where you inhabit another person’s life and thoughts completely, ranging from the interesting to the mundane. Discovering insights is then surprising and gorgeous. Ultimately, AK gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when its characters are flawed and terrible, but the novel shows us they are also big-hearted and full of love and capable of greatness.

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
Actually, anything by Julian Barnes, please! But Flaubert’s Parrot was how I was introduced to this genius who always reminds me to question history, time and our various truths. Plus, there are some breathtaking quotes in this book.

 

3 tips for writers dealing with rejection

amandaonwriting:

Three tips for coping with rejection:

  1. Laugh at your rejections.
  2. Learn from your rejections.
  3. Always have a new project underway, something that will give you hope no matter how many rejections come your way for the previous project.

You may take some consolation in knowing the rejection history of these writers and works:

Dune by Frank Herbert – 13 rejections

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 14 rejections

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – 17 rejections

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – 18 rejections

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 29 rejections

Carrie by Stephen King – over 30 rejections

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 38 rejections

A Time to Kill by John Grisham – 45 rejections

Louis L’Amour, author of over 100 western novels – over 300 rejections before publishing his first book

John Creasy, author of 564 mystery novels – 743 rejections before publishing his first book

Ray Bradbury, author of over 100 science fiction novels and stories – around 800 rejections before selling his first story

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – rejected so universally the author decided to self-publish the book

From rejection slip for George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”

From rejection slip for Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It:

“These stories have trees in them.”

From rejection slip for article sent to the San Francisco Examiner to Rudyard Kipling:

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

From rejection slip for The Diary of Anne Frank:

“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity level.”

Rejection slip for Dr. Seuss’s And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street:

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”

Rejection from a Chinese economic journal:

“We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”