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Month: October, 2012

the story I want to tell

Each time I feel lazy, tired, disillusioned or jaded, when I feel like giving up all my bold dreams and naive passions, I remind myself of the story I want to tell.

There can be two vast extremes:

Version A:

“Winnie worked for 40 years, she climbed the corporate ladder well enough, saved enough to buy a house, was able to buy whatever she needed and go on a holiday twice a year”. 

Version B:

“Winnie tried to do a thousand things in her lifetime, failing miserably at some, was moderately successful with the others, she spent half her life covered in grime, pain and tears, the other half full of joy and laughter. She was never able to fulfil some of her outrageous plans but she was happy to have given it her all while trying. Not many people knew who she is, but those who truly knew her cherished their temporal but significant connections. She was always enthusiastic about sharing her stories, some deeply personal, some belonging to other people who inspired her. She didn’t leave behind one big legacy but she felt passionately alive with everything she tried to do.”

Ultimately, if I can leave this world with story B, I’ll be a very happy person. Instinctively I want to be a part of some big thing and save the world, but it is okay even if I don’t end up doing so, I will not end up dying a bitter person with regrets as long as whatever I choose to do, I do it with all my heart and soul. 

Despite being deeply entwined with tech and startup dreams, would I be equally happy being a poor hobo travelling on a minimal budget to different countries trying to lend a hand to various different causes? I would. I appreciate forming deep connections to whatever I do, the medium doesn’t really matter. 

What if I become old, sick and penniless? If I had spent my youth vigorously pursuing what I feel for and believe in, then so be it. I’ll take the tradeoff. 

If trying to ensure I will not be sick and penniless when I am old, I give up my heart and liberty for three quarters of my life, the math doesn’t even compute. 

The only thing I feel bad for is that I may not be able to take care of my poor parents in their old age, but I can only hope that everything will work out that it is exactly meant to be, or that they can at least proud that I am brave enough to truly be alive. 

Would they have preferred me to be well to do but bitterly angry with myself, feeling like my life might as well not matter? I believe the best way to deliver my gratitude to them and those who love me is to learn how to love myself and my life.

So here it is. This is my secret for having the courage to live an unconventional life, at least in Singaporean/Asian standards. The darker secret is I do not have the strength to live a conventional life. It is not that I didn’t try, I did, and each time I have only ended up physically sick. I have gotten sick enough to realize I would take my health over money/stability/comfort anytime. If I end up forgetting because it is so easy to get caught up in material comfort, I get a prolonged bout of sickness – isn’t my body awesome?

These days, especially the past year, I no longer need my body to remind me of the need to feel alive. It has been wired deeply into my conscious mind – there have been times when I get so caught up in the perceived busyness of life that I forget that my priority is to truly live life.

Everyone has different means to feel alive, I always remember Christina Lamb’s story which was told to the world by Paulo Coelho:

“As long as I’m in a war zone, my life has meaning. I go for days without having a bath, I eat whatever the soldiers eat, I sleep three hours a night and wake up to the sound of gunfire. I know that at any moment someone could lob a grenade into the place where we’re sitting, and that makes me live, do you see? Really live, I mean, loving every minute, every second. There’s no room for sadness, doubts, nothing; there’s just a great love for life.”

Reading such stories make me realize I am not that crazy after all for trying to seek growth, discomfort and the feeling of being alive. And I ask myself what is my one thing to do to keep myself feeling alive? 

It took me a while but I came to terms that I may or may not find that one thing to do, and that is okay, because whatever I do from now on will always carry its own meaning to me. And that to me is what matters to myself, the desire to lead a meaningful life. It would be a bonus if it can be impactful, but if I can make my own heart sing half the time for the rest of my life, that to me will be the greatest achievement I can take to my grave.


Why I love @skinnylatte

@skinnylatte and me, we share an atypical relationship.

I don’t call it a friendship, as I once mentioned it to her before, “I am not your friend, I am a figment of your imagination.” And she replied in the next instant, “And I am also a figment of yours”.

Before any strange ideas fire off in your head, no, we are not romantically involved. Never have and will never be, the official reason (we actually never spoken about it before because we never needed to) is we’re not each other’s type. The unofficial reason is, we both know we have other roles to play in each others’ lives.

In this instance, we really knew each other before we had met. I have fallen in love with her writing when she was 17 and working in an Apple reseller store – I cannot remember how, but if you’re gay, Singaporean and into blogs, there is really not much of a chance you have never come across

Her writing has taken on various different incarnations over the years, but here are my favourites – Portraits of Love. She has taken them offline a few times before, but I’ve always maintained that those have always been to me – the best, truest part of her.

I’ve always looked forward to every single piece of her writing, whether she’s off travelling in some remote region of the world or if she’s waxing lyrical about someone, reading her writing feels like a travel experience in itself. Traveling to a different plane of the universe.

If it was left up to me I would never have thought I’ll one day meet her in person. But as fate would have it, she was looking for a designer, I was one of the very few independent designers in Singapore, so she sent me a polite email (the one and only polite email, since then, her need to be socially polite to me has since disintegrated) asking me if I was available.

I remember receiving that email in Tokyo back in 2009 (probably almost a decade after I’ve first seen her writing), I remember the joy of being contacted by someone I so deeply admired. I wasn’t able to take on the project, but I sent her a long emo email explaining why and how much I was in love with her writing.

It must have amused her greatly, though she truly captured my heart by sending back an equally long email.

The rest, they say, was history. Or not. We didn’t get to meet up until a long while later and she had to deal with a socially awkward version of me.

We didn’t meet each other again until another long while after. She was always not in the country, as expected for someone who lives and breathes wanderlust. But it was significant to me, by the second time we’ve met, I remember feeling the inexplicable thread of familarity which still exists between me and her.

Between then and now, I’ve started my own travel journey – am not sure if she knew this, but I was afraid to travel alone (and afraid to sleep in the dark), but I motivated myself to do so by using her as an example. If a 24yr old (then) can travel alone to Yemen and barely escape a suicide bombing due to a last minute change of route, I can definitely travel to Phuket by myself, can I?

So it is with enough credit to her that I started my own journey of incessant wanderlust on my own and I have never looked back since.

They say familarity breeds contempt, in a way though there were times when I feel like wrapping my hands around her neck, she was never afraid to be herself with me and therefore in return I reciprocated by never being afraid to be myself with her.

That’s just part of the equation. The other part is our overlapping interests across different spectrums and our common ADD in these interests. We have been talking about channelling our ADD into something meaningful for our communities we share, we have never really gotten around to it because we’re both evolving so much in our separate personal lives. But it is on the way, I promise.

I build and she writes. She tells me in a while I can expect her to build while I write for a change. We shall see.

And if so far this makes it sound like we’re BFFs, we’re really not. That’s why I said I’m a figment of her imagination. We see each other barely once a year, if ever, and we communicate much less than most other social relationships. We don’t hang out much, if at all.

That to me is the atypical part of it and that is why it is beautiful. It is a romantic un-romance tied together with the possibilities of our common desire to make a difference to this world.

I tell her to keep herself alive despite her instinct to put herself in every threatening situation possible, because I said to her, I do not want to live without her.

Because she has been my benchmark for my own insanity, whenever I feel like I am crazy for jumping off a cliff, I refer myself to her, what she has done and my internal sanity meter is instantly calibrated.

The most cherished part of this – she understands why certain issues matter so much to me, when I exist in a sea of apathy it is really appreciated when another human being knows exactly what I live for.

She is crazily optimistic about the things she can do, through that I derive strength for the things I can do. I celebrate her successes as though they are mine. I know doors can be opened because she was there to open them first.

There are certain relationships which need not be quantified by time and space – this is one of them. In my personal reality it is as though she doesn’t exist, most of the time she manifests as an instant message, really.

Through the wonders of 3G I’ve had random IM convos with her at the top of some hill I’m climbing here in HK, almost rolling down it because she says the most unexpected things at the most unexpected time, while she’s wandering in some unspecified street at the opposite end of the world. Once in a while she sends me a nonsensical message and I give her an equally nonsensical reply – with a thousand words in between the lines.

With her, it feels like we’re living in the future. Our communcation doesn’t feel tangible, we have never neeeded physical space to prove each other’s existence.

Thank you Adri, for existing. I am not sure if I’ll always love you, but at this very moment in time, I am grateful you exist and you deserve to have my gratitude locked into cyberspace for the rest of our lives.

overcoming the fear of being myself

In the not-so-distant past, I was very afraid of meeting people. It took multiple synchronistic events plus persistence from @andycroll for me to agree to my first meetup with a friend from cyberspace.

It has been three years. Only three years, I would say. I am still an introvert, I am still fearful of public speaking, crowds still drain me, I still seek a corner to hide in when I go to events, but I am no longer afraid of meeting people.

It was really hard in the beginning, I would stutter, be really unsure of myself, how I look, how I speak, how I gave my answers, whether I sounded stupid, whether if I had met people’s expectations. 

If you have been a common friend or twitter follower of @skinnylatte and me, you may have come across our online banter which makes us sound like we’re totally at ease with each other. Or that we’re flirting with each other. It depends how well you know each of us. 😉

However, you should have seen how awkward we were when we first had coffee. Not her, because she’s used to this shit by then. Though it really helped that there was an inexplicable thread of familarity which existed between us from the second time we met. Not the first, not sure why, but by the second time I felt like we have had been friends forever.

By the time I met people like @jasonong, I was recounting my life to him like nobody’s business. Our first conversation lasted more than five hours in one sitting, I swear. 

It took me probably a hundred meetings in between, but I am used to this now. I no longer feel awkward meeting someone I barely know, I am comfortable telling my story, I am equally comfortable listening to your story.

But if you had asked me three years ago if I had envisioned myself this way – I would have secretly, passive agressively, laughed in your face. 

Lately, I have been ruminating over myself, wondering how much of myself I can truly be. I seem to go backwards and forward, swinging left and right, one moment I am proud to be my quirky self, the next split second I am wondering if I am an embarrasment to myself.

That is the problem. Why should I even think of myself as an embarassment? Why should I apologise that I am really not like anyone of you? 

I typically have an opinion and I shouldn’t be sorry for it. But I had been consistently apologising when I try to speak my mind. It is like I am commiting a crime because either I have a different perspective from you, or I have a different way of doing things from you. I keep apologising for my unique differences as a human being. That sounds ridiculous in writing but not so ridiculous when we consider how much we, as a human race try not to rock the boat, especially with social groups. 

I am afraid of sticking out like a sore thumb.

I am afraid you’ll laugh at my opinion.

I am afraid you’ll think less of me if I tell you honestly how I really feel about something.

I am afraid you’ll mock at me if I tell you I believe in reincarnation and astrology.

I am afraid you’ll judge my capabilities if I tell you I had suffered from clinical dysthemia.

I am afraid of what you’ll think if I tell you I really believe in rainbows and unicorns. 

But yesterday, triggered by a chain of synchronistic events, I came to a conclusion – I really do not want to pretend to be someone I am not. Why should I hide myself so much? Why should I feel sorry for being myself? 

Who, has the power to decide I am less of a human being than you? 

Nobody but myself. 

I don’t want to live in a world whereby I am constantly afraid to be myself – if I have to give up on a world which has certain criteria whether it will certify you as a human being, I would. 

I’m tired of constantly seeking validation. I didn’t even want to validate myself. In all honesty, I have been the one thinking less of myself. 

I think life is incredibly short. I can’t imagine going on for the next 3, 5, 10, 50 years trying to cover up parts of myself. 

I have had moments of lucid joy before and they all have some things in common. These are moments when I was not afraid to be myself and when I simply surrender to the wonders of the universe. Moments when I am no longer afraid of how people think or react. Or when I allow myself to fall and hurt myself. 

I am the happiest when I have faith, in both myself and in people. I am at my best when I channel my inner self and strength to freely create. 

Thirty-one years of life, I have never looked back at one moment and thought to myself – gee I shouldn’t have been so stupid and foolish. In fact I think I am always rewarded when I am foolish.

What is the big deal about being embarassed anyway? Nobody dies from embarassment. In the end we just want to satisfy our egos. 

I’ll gladly give up my ego in exchange for being myself.

When I had my first surfing wipeout I was truly scared. Nth time later, I simply allowed myself to let go and enjoy the experience. I know I will surface if I simply had faith. 

When I had my first job interview more than a decade I was really nervous. Nth job interviews later + the inner knowing that I don’t need anyone to give me a job, I wanted them to want to work with me, there is a difference – my last few interviews were simply storytelling sessions.

It is always scary at the beginning. There is always loss and pain to take. But it is like, do you want to go through a painful surgery and get rid of a tumor once and for all, or do you want to slowly disintegrate and die? New plants can only grow if you pull out the weeds. 

It is okay if people think that I am crazy. It is not okay if I am not comfortable with my own insanity. I can deal with losing people because they think less of me, that’s fine, I don’t think I want them around anyway. I cannot deal with myself thinking less of myself. 

I have always believed if I am truly earnest and sincere in being myself and what I do, things will naturally fall into place for me. Each time I see a cliff in front of me, I hem and haw for a while but I have always chosen to jump. Each time I have discovered I am capable of growing much larger wings.

I am working towards a world which values empathy and authenticity. I need to demonstrate those values to myself first. When I made that realization, though it has waxed and waned, I have felt a sense of inner peace I haven’t felt for a long, long time.

It will just be like making a new habit. It will be difficult at first, I may forget and I may fail a few times, I may swing back and forth, but eventually it will simply be a natural extension of me.

If I come to you one day in panic about being myself, do me a favour and point me to my own blog post, thank you. 😉