unplugging

This post update from ex-literary agent Nathan Bransford came into my mailbox today, and I found myself relating to everything he said.

Lately, I’ve been growing tired of giving my attention to the outside world — irritated at being hounded by people and chased for things, pressured to respond at a “polite” speed (anything longer than three working days is considered rude).

I would have my phone in front of me all the time so that I see messages as soon as they come in, and reply almost instantaneously.

And as much as I enjoyed interacting with people on social media and chiming in in group chats, I was feeling burned out from being constantly plugged in. From responding to every ping and shrill of a notification. From checking Facebook and Instagram for updates or when I’m bored and need some distraction.

So I took a much needed retreat from social media. It’s been three weeks and counting that I haven’t posted anything on Facebook or Instagram, and I’ve barely scrolled through either. (Yes, I’m aware that this post itself is an update.)

Instead, I read — and ticked a few books off the reading list faster than I had in the past few months.

I wrote. I scribbled feverishly in my notebook, completed draft 8 of NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND, and rewrote its query letter and synopsis.

I let my mind wander while commuting instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching yet another animal video or Insta story.

I pondered about story structure and brainstormed ideas for my novels.

I discovered new music, revisited old favourites.

I stepped into a different, quieter, calmer head space, and regained a piece of myself.

unplugged-definition-meaning

There are so many articles and videos out there about the need to unplug. The need to distance ourselves from the fray, to take a step back from the virtual persona we’ve carved for ourselves so that we can find our true selves again, to reserve a part of ourselves instead of putting every inane thought out there.

I always nodded along to those articles, secretly marvelling at the sheer willpower it must have taken those people to set aside their phones for a while and take a moment for themselves.

But when it comes down to doing it, when you get to the point where you feel weary from being so connected, from having to respond to every urgent email and message, it actually doesn’t feel like such a feat to unplug. The world feels quieter, the storm inside my head calmer, and my thoughts are able to float to the surface like flotsam.

When I’m able to choose when I wish to engage, I feel like I’m more in control. Instead of being pulled in all directions, I start to prioritise the things that require more urgent attention.

And instead of reaching for my phone when I’m in the train or when I’m waiting in line, I pull out a book. (Right now, I’m binge-reading all of Marie Lu’s books in preparation for her Meet-the-Author session in November, which I’m moderating!!!)

Instead of scrolling through my newsfeed on the bus, I look out the window or people-watch.

Instead of burying my face in my phone, I close my eyes and listen to some music.

And all that white noise dies down.

I still check my emails as soon as I turn on my phone every morning. I still text friends and participate in group chats. I still visit Instagram to see what my favourite photojournalists have been up to (check out this guy‘s snapshots).

But only when I’m ready to.

It wasn’t too long ago when I didn’t have Instagram or became active on Facebook. I can remember how much more space my thoughts had to grow into story ideas, how much more time I spent collecting ideas by getting inspired by stories, film, and the world around me in general.

I didn’t worry about missing out on anything, on whether other people were living “better” lives, doing fun stuff without me, or whether I should be worried about my penchant for solitude. I was fully present, and it’s those moments that I look back on wistfully now.

disconnect to connect

I’m not saying we should all start unplugging. Far be it from me to tell you what to do — if you feel more fulfilled being virtually engaged, you do you. I’m just saying I don’t want to give away all of my time to replying emails on the go, or keep seeking external validation or “hollow instant gratification”, or feel anxious and stressed and guilty about not replying within the “polite” response period.

You may call this withdrawing, and I don’t know if this is the hermit in me taking over. But I do know that I’m liking the peace and quiet for a while. I think I’ll stay here for a little longer.

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Confessions of an INFJ

This is kind of random, but I’ve been talking to a few INFJs lately (we make up just 1 percent of the population), and it’s been so nice to find people who get you, get your weirdness, and are coasting right on your wavelength.

Some common things INFJs hear are:

“You hardly ever go out!”

“Man, you’re boring.”

“Why don’t you ever want to do anything?”

“Are these the few friends you have?”

And really, it’s not like that.

It’s not that we hate company; we just need time to be alone every day. It’s how we recharge.

It’s not that we don’t want to spend time with you; we just don’t need to be with you all the time. Some space and distance isn’t a bad thing.

It’s not that we hate going out; we just need a purpose for doing that. I’ve found myself aimlessly wandering the streets just because I went out for the sake of going out. But it felt completely meaningless and unstimulating. I’ve got more things to do at home – blog, read, write, scroll through Tumblr…

It’s not that our social circle is small; it’s just that want to focus more on every person in our lives. We regard personal relationships very seriously, so we want to know that the people around us are worth spending time and energy and effort on if we’re going to invest so much emotion in them.

It’s not that we don’t want to open up to you; it’s just hard for us to lay ourselves bare to someone who might decide not to care and/or walk out of your life the next minute, or after they realise what a neurotic bag of weirdness we are.

Sometimes, I wish I didn’t feel so much, and am able to get over the hurt after listening to a song or something.

Sometimes, I wish I didn’t over analyse things to death, or wear myself thin worrying about every little thing.

Sometimes, I wish I were an ENFP, so maybe things would be easier. I would find it easier to fit in, move on faster from things that bum me out, and internalise my emotions less.

But thank goodness for other INFJs. ENFPs may be super fun to hang out with, but I think at the end of the day it’s the INFJs who really get you.

Fellow INFJs, do you feel lonely in a crowded world?

Bali Bound! (and struck by quarter-life crisis)

bali I’m off to Bali this Thursday! And given that it’s my first time there, as well as my insane love for the sea, you can be sure I’ll be flooding this spot with pictures after I get back.

This is a much-needed break from the routine I’ve gotten so used to. Working, writing, sleeping, swimming. I know I have the luxury to swim every morning, and time after work to write, something a lot of my peers don’t because they are so consumed with work. But I just feel like I’m … grazing. Going about my same old routine in the safety of my comfort zone. And lately I just feel trapped, going stir-crazy in the same spot, still not going anywhere two years after graduation. But then the thought of stepping out of what I know paralyses me with fear.

I know I’m not the only twenty-something who feels this way. Do you feel like there’s just so much you want to do, places to go, people to meet, but there are so many factors holding you back? Money, family, the conventional way to live. I’m supposed to get a job straight after graduation, get promoted within a few years, meet someone along the way, get married by 30, have two kids – all because that’s the “right” way to live. What if there are other options? I wouldn’t know what other options are out there because I haven’t really stepped out and LIVED.

A lot of people – especially those older than us – think that quarter-life crisis is laughable. The thought that we should suffer from that debilitating sense of aimlessness is ridiculous, because we’re only just starting out in the real world. But I think this is the point in our lives where we start panicking because we feel like we should have done so many things already, but haven’t achieved anything much. I’m nowhere near my goals, relationship or career wise, while people around me are getting married, having babies, and making the news.

What do you think, is this just me being greedy, wanting everything without daring to take the first step? Maybe this is the “loneliness loop” people talk about:

… it’s possible for us introverts to get stuck in a cycle of loneliness. This “loneliness loop” can happen because staying home alone is often our default. We might find it hard to muster up the energy to hang out with people, especially after a long day of work or classes.

Plus, we don’t like superficial socializing: “We desire and require deep connections and would rather be lonely alone than in a crowd,” Dembling writes in a Psychology Today blog post. “But realistically, those deep connections are not easy to find, and if we get caught short and our only choice is superficial socializing or nothing, we can get lonely.”

Anyway, this post is getting too depressing. On to better news. I’m charging through the last 50 pages or so of No Room in Neverland. Here’s where the words pour out and sweep you towards the end. It’s the most exhilarating part, and also the most all-consuming. The part where you live, breathe, and dream about the story, where it creeps into your veins and you become it and vice versa. Full speed till the end!

On a not-so-upbeat note, I received another rejection letter for Until Morning:

Dear Joyce,

Thank you for the email and interest in The [name redacted] Literary Agency. I’ve carefully reviewed your query and submission of UNTIL MORNING.

You are a very skilled writer, and I find your overall premise of this story to be quite interesting. With that said, I’m wanting to feel more connected to the characters of the shifting points of view (Lexi and Sam). And while I don’t want to know every detail in the first couple chapters, I want to have a pretty good grasp of what the story is about, so that as a reader, I’m fully there.

With that said, possibly another agent or agency will feel differently, and I wish you well on your search for the perfect home for this story!

All my best, Vicki

But while it is a rejection letter, I’m strangely glad to receive it. Beats receiving NO reply at all, at any rate. I’m this close to giving up on Until Morning. This is what I mean by being trapped. You try and try and try and try and try. And try again. But you’re just not going anywhere.

it takes courage to grow up

Illustration by Kris Di Giacomo

So yes, Bali. Bali is much needed.

Have a crisis-free week!