february’s to-read list is not kind on the wallet

The wait is over! February is here!! Sorry, wallet. February’s not a good month for you. Blame the publishers for coming out with a slew of titles I’ve been dying to get my hands on:
1. Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

I know I’ve gone on for too long about this book. But the concept! The premise! The conflict!

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It would really suck if the book didn’t live up to expectations, because it looks so delicious I could gobble it up right now. (I didn’t read the seven teaser chapters because I want to read it all at one go, and not wait for weeks before reading the rest of the story.)
2. The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

If you’ve read Holly Black’s Curseworker series, you’ll know how brilliant she is at weaving complex but un-confusing plots that keep you turning the pages. And this book looks as deliciously sinister as The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, with vicious faeries (also an obsession of mine that led to Blood Promise), gifted siblings, and a horned boy waking from a long, deep slumber to fight the fairies.

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3. Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly

A girl born with a spiked tail and wings meant to save the girls in her town from their mysterious fate is spotted by a boy who leaves a red rose for her every evening.

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4. Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen 

A girl who grew up lonely and longing for magic and on the run learns the truth about what they’re running from when her mother abandons them and her father transforms into something beastly. Best part is, she’s cursed too, and can only break free of the curse when she falls in love. It’s a slightly different take on the Beauty and the Beast story, since the protagonist is beast, so this should be good.

5. The Last Time We Say Goodbye, by Cynthia Hand

I’m not usually into tear-jerkers, but I’ve been in this mood ever since I started watching the Korean drama series, Pinocchio (the music! the romance! plus, the relationship between the protagonist and her cold, distant mother), and read Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, which is more heart-breaking than I had ever expected.

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This is probably why No Room in Neverland is turning out way more emotionally intense than I had intended. I’m on page 185 now, by the way! Woohoo!

What’s on your To-Read list for February? :0)

metaphorical roller coasters … and something called Tinder?

Jennifer Crusie offered some great advice on keeping the dream alive (and reality at arm’s length):

… what separates the successful writers with long term careers from those who don’t make it is that the successful writers have the perception that they’re in control, that if they keep going, somebody will finally see the greatness of their stories.

So you’re building your island based on unrealistic dreams and convictions made of thin air. What’s the worst that can happen? You never get published or the book of your heart tanks, and you never reach your goal, but at the end of your life you look back and say, “I had a dream and I fought for it, I believed in myself and my work, and I never, ever gave up.” That’s a life well lived, folks, a helluva lot better than, “I had a dream but it wasn’t realistic so I quit and watched television.” Do not let reality push you around, do not be sensible and kill your own dreams, and for the love of God do not let people who are only guessing about what’s going to happen next tell you that you’re a fool for believing in yourself and your stories.

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Thank you for sharing this post, Laini, and thank you for writing it, Jennifer! (Loved Wild Ride, by the way.)

This is such timely* advice, given how I’m SERIOUSLY losing steam for Neverland. It’s so tempting to want to toss it aside and not think about this train wreck anymore, but then you read such upbeat posts and you reconsider that notion.

*Even though the post was published waaaaay back in 2005 – I got directed there from Laini’s old posts** Hey, never too late for some encouragement.

**Why yes, I’ve read all the way back to 2006. Obsessed, you say?***

***I can’t hear you.

Right now, it kinda feels like this:

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I was looking through Until Morning last night and I realised what is amiss as I write Neverland: the magic.

Not in the literal sense (although Until Morning and the Neverland differ in that sense too). No. What I mean is that feeling of being pulled into the story, until I’m scrambling to put all my thoughts into words, typing feverishly as the story sweeps me towards the final scene.

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That feeling of knowing your characters so well that they become an extension of yourself, and you realise the characters were inside you all along, banging against your chest, clamouring to be let out.

That feeling where you know their stories so well that their problems become yours, and their actions and motivations lead neatly up to the final act.

That feeling at the end where everything comes into place in the end and makes sense and you can finally see what the hell your story was meant to look like. And you’re so psyched you’re pretty much like this:

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That feeling. That huge whoosh that takes you right from the start to the end. That eagerness to write. To discover. That was how it was with Until Morning**** I had FUN writing Until Morning. But for Neverland … not so much. Maybe it was that magical element that made writing Until Morning more fun (Until Morning is contemporary YA with a touch of magical realism). But I’ve written realistic YA before, and it didn’t feel as uninspiring as Neverland.

****Or is it just post-novel selective amnesia, where I only remember the good bits from writing the completed novel and not the bad parts? Is there even such a thing???

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I know I’ve bitched and moaned about this enough in my previous posts, and the last thing you want to read is another lament on flat, limpid characters and a plot that’s meandering nowhere. I get it. Like, get it together already, woman! Believe me, there is nothing I would like to do more than that.

So that’s that on the writing front. I’ll let you know if anything changes.

*

So apparently, there’s this new app called Tinder, which looks like another dating app but supposedly isn’t, because you get to look at Facebook profiles (the app is linked to Facebook) of people (set preferred gender) around you (set radius)…

And then you swipe right if you are interested and left if you’re not. If the person you swiped right for shows mutual interest, you two will be automatically mated for life put to chat.

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Put bluntly, it’s pretty much man-shopping based on profile pictures. Way to encourage people to judge based on appearances – like I don’t already do that on my own.

I told my (single) girlfriends about this app (why is it called Tinder anyway?), and they seem to be having more fun with it than I am. I don’t know, maybe I’m more into serendipitous encounters than casual conversations on a cellphone. You know, more Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop and all that, instead of You’ve Got Mail.

Yeah, I’m aware that if I keep waiting for a chance encounter with a handsome, sweet and funny stranger at my usual hideouts I will probably end up like this:

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Ah well. For now, I’m keeping busy. Neverland, be kind to me!

At least I have him in mind for Peter Pan.

Besides, so many books, so little time! Right now, I’m reading this:

Night of Cake and Puppets, a Daughter of Smoke and Bone novella by Laini Taylor

SO MUCH LOVE for this! Unlike DOSAB, it’s written in first-person POV, and alternates between Karou’s crazy, tiny, fierce, funny best friend Zuzana and her crush, sweet, shy, talented violin-playing Mik. The prose is pretty, lovely, funny and completely Laini, if you read her blog.

Here’s a snippet I love:

Snow flurries
Rose bush
Light vines

See how her prose sets off so many visuals in your mind? The words may look dull on the page, but with the right dose of imagination they can come so completely alive and paint such a vivid picture. I just can’t get enough of her pretty imagery!

After Night of Cake and Puppets, there’s Blackbringer and Silksinger. But then I want – no, need – to reread Days of Blood and Starlight before April (i.e. Dreams of Gods and Monsters) comes along.

Damn. Those titles. Epic or what?

Have a great weekend!

a post of random things (it’s Friday – anything goes!)

This is going to be a whole post about random, unrelated stuff. But whatever. Nobody said everything in life has to be related.

1. Have you seen Zuhair Murad’s spring/summer 2014 collection?!?! IT. IS. INSANE. SO. GORGEOUS. CAN’T. FORM. COHERENT. SENTENCES. THOUGHTS. WHAT? PRETTY. I DIE.

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Get ready for the onslaught of pretty! (Pictures all found from Pinterest – I swear, that site is a Black Hole!)

Don’t these remind you of Elie Saab’s designs? Murad’s creations are pretty similar to Elie Saab (also a Lebanese designer), except that the latter’s designs are a tad more girly and feminine and dreamy, while Murad’s are a little bolder, more risque, and contain sexier elements.

Saab’s designs:

Elie Saab can do no wrong.

Soooooo dreamy and ethereal!!

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❤❤❤

I’ve been in love with Elie Saab’s designs ever since I first laid eyes on them, while Zuhair Murad’s designs are usually a hit or miss for me. Remember those crazy numbers Kristen Stewart wore to the Breaking Dawn premieres?

… Yeah. Not completely crazy about those. Good thing for her makeup in both instances, though.

But Murad’s SS14 collection is LOVE. LOOOOOVE!

2. So it seems apart from writing good stories, being a people person is also vital to a lucrative writing career:

If you’re in business, you’ve got to be a people person … Be genuine, be funny, be yourself. Reach out to your contacts and connections to build bridges. Go to writer’s workshops and befriend everyone there. Talk to everyone you meet in your town, and tell them what you do. Organic and sincere networking is the best way to develop a bridge to success. The friend you meet at the workshop could introduce you to his or her agent. However, don’t go into it thinking about what you’ll get out. Just focus on relationship building and the rest will flow naturally.

This does not bode well for a hermit like me. For the sake of my dream, however, I will do what needs to be done.

3. Here’s something funny that English majors can probably relate to. I know there a quite a few that ring true for me. Most ardently ;0)

Crush on fictional characters?

Check.

(Shiver remains my favourite book from Maggie Stiefvater. There is nothing quite like reading that beautiful, intense story for the first time.)

Geeking out on authors?

YesIWouldThinkSo.

Wow. I really seem thisclose to kissing the ground she walks on. So, check.

In love with my book collection?

Check.

(Speaking of books, I headed down to the bookstore two days ago and got my hands on Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby. Yay for new book purchases!)

And one more thing:

Isn’t that the worst?

4. An update on Neverland: it’s slow going but it’s going. Can’t ask for more than that sometimes. I don’t know where it will take me for sure, or how it will meander towards the end, but I’m having fun on this journey so far.

At least Neverland isn’t as disappointing as Blood Promise.

My critique partner has just finished reading Blood Promise (a million thanks, Jenna!!), and although she was very very kind and constructive with her feedback, the bottom-line is that she didn’t love it like I hoped she would.

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I feel SO BAD, like I’d just wasted her time making her read a substandard story. I actually don’t hate Blood Promise. I actually thought it was better than it had been previously. But I get this way: I’d love my story if people gave me positive feedback, and absolutely hate it when they’re not crazy about it.

And once Jenna said it out, I saw the truth in her words. It did need more work. I probably did need some time away from it, until I heard the story that begged to be told. Because Jenna may just be one reader, but she’s also representative of my target audience. Listen to your readers, I say!

If anyone’s willing to invest some time in reading my manuscript, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on it! In the meantime, I’m hiding out in Neverland.

5. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bummed after reading Jenna’s email. While I deeply appreciate her forthrightness (why are people so afraid of hurting a writer’s feelings? Just tell me honestly what you think and I’ll be eternally grateful!), I am desperate for some perk-me-up right now.

So…

Awwww!
Paros, Greece
FABULOUS pink hair! LOVE, WISH, WANT.
Russian doll cookies! SO cute.

Can you tell I’m a sucker for guys with hair falling over their eyes?

And finally:

Love these boys (plus the drummer, Harry, who isn’t in here)! They’re one of the few groups that sound good live, write their own songs and have lasted for almost a decade (has it really been that long?!). Long live McFly!

Bring on 2014!

The quote above is from author Margaret Peterson Haddix’s German ski instructor, Horst, when she was learning how to ski. And it seems so simple but true. This shall be my mantra  for 2014. Now I just need to decide where I’m looking.

And how are we on the New Year’s goals front? I’m still working on mine. But the basic gist is smile more, write more, live more and worry less. The specifics I shall flesh out here and now.


GOALS FOR 2014 (this sounds so officious it will be a crime to not achieve these goals!):

1. Get a literary agent already. It’s been too many rejection letters – generic ones and kind ones – and near-misses. 

Despite the daunting odds (approximately 0.2% of aspiring writers actually score a literary agent and/or a publishing contract), it’s time to get someone interested in my stories already. To do so, I would need to


2. Write the best damn novel I have ever written, even if it means hours and days and months of tweaking and tinkering and obsessive perfecting of my manuscript. The process is not fun for someone who prefers jumping on an idea to working out the details. First drafts may be painful, but at least they’re exhilarating. Everything that comes after, i.e. editing, is torturous.

Still, I’m in too deep to pull out now. So with all or nothing, I’m going for all. Be it Blood Promise or Until Morning, I WILL get an agent on board for 2014. No more pining and wishing and envying; more doing and getting and having.


3. Be happy. An entire year has just passed, and more of them are just going to whiz by as quickly. Why mope? Why waste time and effort on being sad or angry with people and things that make us sad or angry?

For someone who cries when someone gets snappish with me, you can see why I’ve been struggling with this goal for ages. I can’t help it. People’s emotions rub off very easily on me (have I mentioned that I’m weird and sensitive?), and any negative mood from others can make my mood plummet faster than my colleagues can attack the packet of Tim Tams in the office.

So what I do now – and plan to keep doing – is think of a happy song, or a pretty face, whenever I feel my spirits start to flag.

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Besides, if you’re happy, people around you are happy. I swear, it works. 

Often, the ones we are closest to bear the brunt of our emotions because we’re so used to having them around and being showered with their love and concern that we take them for granted. So I shall smile more at my family, talk to them more often and always be patient with them so they’ll never doubt how much I love them.

(Okay, getting too maudlin for my liking. Moving on.)


4. Believe in myself more. I realise that sounds very vague, a resolution just begging to to be broken, so to be more specific, my first response to every bit of self-doubt would be 

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And no, this is not being narcissistic or egoistical. This is an attempt at confidence. You fake it to make it, as they say. And I say, hey whatever works. I am so done with putting myself down and worrying about not meeting people’s expectations and letting them down.

That applies to bad hair days, daunting writing tasks and everything else.

5. Set a proper schedule to learn Korean and French proper, instead of just visiting my notes and videos when I feel like it.

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6. Finish No Room in Neverland and write the sequel to Blood Promise OR get started on Indigo Tides. Either way, COMPLETE ANOTHER NOVEL.

(On a side note, I learnt a new term today! Introducing the “newt”, also known as a New Weird Thing, according to Laini Taylor.

That is, a writing project that is usurping the place of another writing project. Also known as a “slutty new idea”. Newts are to be discouraged, despite their unfailing awesomeness.

Here’s hoping newts don’t come attacking in 2014! More COOL THRILLING IDEAS – cooties? Right. So more cooties, fewer newts. Although really, any idea is welcome. I’m not discriminating. Newts have the potential to turn into cooties, after all.*

*Taken out of context, the above paragraph can probably certify my sanity level.)

That’s all I can think of for now. It always seems a little pointless to plan too far ahead since you never know what can happen two months down the road. But for now, this is my road map for the year ahead.

I hope 2014 treats you well! :0)

of gatherings, saggy middles and a crush on an author (and yes, pretty faces)

Monday! 

I like to start off the week catching up on blogs. Laini Taylor’s blog is always a mood-lifter: she writes about her travels to exotic places like Morocco and takes beautiful shots of France, and her daughter Clementine is soooooo adorable and happy, and her husband is as creative and fun-loving and sweet as her and they all seem like such Shiny Happy People.

Is it possible to be entirely in love with someone you’ve never met and only know through her writing? Because I am head over heels in love with Laini Taylor and her fabulous, creative, artistic, whimsical life and family.

How I see Laini and her family

And oh, just a little piece of news: SHE’S FINALLY COMPLETED DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS!!!!! 

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APRIL 2014, COME QUICK!!!!!! I need to devour that book now!!!!!!

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Okay. I’m done spazzing.

 

*

 

Literary agent Victoria Marini has some timely advice for this writer struggling with her first draft, the one so raw you can hear it moo or caw or whatever sounds animals make when they’re alive and kicking and not ready to be served on a dish. (It’s also what I like to call Draft Zero – capitalisation for dramatic effect – so raw it’s not even entirely in prose form, just scattered prose and mostly dialogue and stage directions.)

 

“I suspect the main reason that people who wish to write, but fail to write, do so because they want write well. You must, first, be willing to write terribly.  If you want to write a book, your goal should be to write a book. Not a good book. Just a book. Worry about the “good” part later. Ms. (Annie) Lamott is a huge believer in “the shitty first draft.” She argues, rightly if you ask me, that a first draft is just for getting it out of your head an onto the paper. It’s sort of meant to be bad. Just get it out; word vomit! You don’t even need to show anyone (certainly don’t show your agent ;). It’s just getting the bones of your story on paper. Once you have that version done (and most people don’t get THAT far)  you can start to worry about being good.” 


I hate to say this, but it’s become increasingly undeniable that I AM STUCK for Neverland. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. The pace is flagging, and I can’t think of a dramatic or emotionally-gratifying way to weave my characters and their dreams and fears and motivations together. Every idea I have just falls flat like the way tepid tea sits on your tongue. Completely disappointing.

Still, I shall take the above advice and plow through the crap. Hopefully, I’ll have made some headway the next time I blog.

 

*

 

So last weekend, I managed to extricate myself from my computer, on which I’ve been watching the old episodes of We Got Married, a Korean “reality TV” show  that brings celebrities together in a make-belief marriage and then chronicles their lives as they do couple-y things that make us sad single people even sadder. I’ve watched the Leeteuk (from Super Junior) and Kang Sora episodes, and now I’m watching the Nichkhun (from 2pm) and Victoria (from f(x)) ones.

Fine. You caught me. I only decided to watch this for the pretty faces. Whatever. Nichkhun is CUUUUTE.

Seriously, who can resist that face? Plus, he’s such a sweetheart to Victoria even when she’s being difficult. 

ANYWAY. That wasn’t my point. My point is that I went out and socialised! Broke out of my isolation! Stuck my head out of my hermit cave! (And other annoying cliches.) And I attended not just one class gathering, but two! So yes, break out the champagne.

There was no champagne at the class barbecue last Saturday at my primary school gathering, but booze was definitely aplenty. Plus, seafood. And chicken. (Oh god, that chicken. It could be the most divine thing I’ve ever tasted.) 

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It’s funny, but I used to get so nervous about attending these class gatherings. After all, these are the people who have known you since you were a kid, and they are the ones who bear witness to the crazy stupid shit you did then. But we do crazy stupid shit now anyway, so I guess  craziness and stupidity isn’t something you leave behind once you cross a certain age threshold.

Here’s a fairly normal shot of us

 

Before we decided normal is over-rated.


Last Friday night rolled out in a similar fashion, despite the drizzle.

 


Socialising is like running – for me, at least. You have to drag yourself to gatherings/events and convince yourself it’ll be fun, but then it turns out to be really rewarding, just like you have to tow your ass to the track (although I don’t run anymore since swimming is my cardio drug of choice) but then you experience runner’s high and it becomes all worth the effort.  

Still, that’s enough human interaction for one week. I shall retreat into my cave now. Merry Christmas!

Excuse me, what just happened?

So I woke up to a bunch of text messages asking me if I’d lived through the riot that broke out in my area last night.

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Apparently, a bus driver had run down a Bangladeshi worker around 9.23 p.m. last night and killed him. Then a mob of 400-odd people went batshit crazy and started flipping over police cars and burning an ambulance and slugging it out with the policemen who arrived at the scene. Ghurka soldiers had to be deployed to break up the riot. It was nuts.

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Get the full story here and here.

I went home around 10 p.m. last night, after meeting up with the gang, and didn’t notice anything amiss except that there seemed to be more people in my area, which is near to where the furore broke out. I just scowled at everyone on my way home, as I usually do, in case they try anything funny. It’s just something you cultivate after twenty years of living in an area swarmed with male labourer workers.

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That’s some scary shit right there – the riot, not my death stare (or Diana Agron’s).

Honestly, though, after hearing what my dad told me about these foreign labourers and their partying ways, a part of me isn’t surprised something like this happened. It was some time around Deepavali, and the place gets really rowdy on public holidays – the roads are deadlocked with foreign workers partying and shit. My dad was sending his female colleague home and had to drive through the Little India stretch. This bunch of drunk foreign workers just leaped in front of his car and started doing this lewd dance.

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My dad locked the car doors and barrelled through. Good thing they had the bird sense to get out of the way.

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Let me just state that I am not against foreign workers in general, and their nationality isn’t the point of contention here. It’s their behaviour that pisses me off.

Maybe it’s all the pent-up rage against us, the locals, or the government and their rules, or their shitty lives in general that made them act out like that. And I know there are honest, non-trouble making foreign workers out there who helped to clean up the place after the riot and that I shouldn’t condemn the entire forest because of a few trees blah blah blah. But come on, they went nuts in a country that hasn’t gone nuts since the 1960s. They set stuff on fire and killed someone (a man was crushed under the bus) and injured our local police. Call me small-town, but this kind of violence just isn’t the norm in Singapore.

I’m not going to let up on my death stare, though. And I really hope no one was hurt too badly, especially the policemen, firefighters and innocent civilians. The press must be having a field day with this, as are the various ministry departments. I guess we know what’s going to come up as a bone of contention at the next election.

The 5 crazy things I did because of my crush

So I came across this post on Material World today, where the beauty/fashion/lifestyle website founder Deborah shared TEN (OMG, I applaud her bravery) of the crazy, silly things she did because of her crush.

So I thought I’d share five (just five – I might die of embarrassment if I reveal any more, though my friends can probably dole out a few more) of mine:

1. Creepy staring
Hear me out. The rational behind this is actually totally sane. It’s an attempt to brainwash the poor guy into thinking he likes me. Like, “Hmm, maybe if I stare long enough he’ll realise what a great catch I am and trip over himself in his hurry to ask me out. You’re in love with me. You’re in love with me. YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH ME, DAMMIT.”

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2. Finding common ground
“He likes fruit juice – I do too! He blinks every five seconds – I do too! He throws his head back when he laughs – that is SO me!”

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So basically, everything we share in common is reason why we are SOULMATES and should totally get together already!

3. Time-table planning
Me to friend: “At 11:05:46 a.m., he will walk through that hallway. So we have to be there at 11:05:47 and look like we just happened to bump into him. Hurryyyy!” Upon which I would drag my friends to that exact spot in the hallway and act all breezy and go:

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And:

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4. Sneaky glances
This is not to be confused with creepy staring. Sneaky glances are when he already knows of your existence and is experiencing that chill down the nape of his neck, so you have to be strategic in your looking. And make sure your friends don’t stare too!

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After you make off with a hard-won glimpse of him, you can share a subtle conspiratorial look with your friend.

Or maybe one that’s not so subtle:

5. Code names
From fruits to anatomical parts (we keep it clean, though), my friends and I give that guy a secret name that only makes sense to us. We DO NOT use his real name. Except in scribbled notes we pass among ourselves in class, and destroy entirely and thoroughly by the time the bell rings.

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* (Bonus) 6. And of course, the requisite freakout session when he replies your text message or says hi to you in the cafeteria.

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Wow. I realise a belated apology is due. To all my ex-crushes (though you may not know who you are because I’m sneaky that way), I’m sorry for the psychological trauma I must have put you through. You gave me sweet, sweet memories of my school life, although I’m the one who has to live with the embarrassment now.