mid-week moodlifters!

So it’s been more than a week since my splat moment by the pool. Apparently, I landed right on my coccyx (that’s tailbone in layman terms), and a little to the right, so I’m working from home for the entire month. On the plus side, I get to belt out songs like this –

And this –

while I work.

Downside: the lack of company. Skype and Whatsapp and Facebook messaging are just not the same as talking to your colleagues face-to-face or watching the bustle of activity in the office.

And of course, the pain.

The healing is slow going, but stretching and swimming help loads. Thank goodness for swimming. I don’t know what I’d do if I weren’t able to swim. I can’t fold over the way I used to be able to, but, you know, baby steps.

This is probably the reason for the strange bout of wanderlust I’m experiencing right now. I mean, look!

Bagan, Myanmar
Broome, Australia
Santorini, Greece
Oh, Jeju! How I miss you.

Reason to ogle at swoon over appreciate pretty things? I think so. Hence:

 

by Bae Ha Jin
by Chantel Young

Reason for some happy things? Yes to that, too.

Thank goodness for mood-lifters like these! Happy mid-week, everyone! :0)

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Chinese New Year weekend recap!

Happy Monday!

For those who celebrate, how was your Chinese New Year weekend? Mine involved lots of pigging out and selfie-taking. So much so that I’ve sparked the comment, “Why do you keep taking selfies? Have you never seen your face before?” from a selfie-hating friend. Oh yeah, he’s a riot.

Anyways, pictures!

Remember those horse decorations at Chinatown? They look even more magnificent at night.

On the eve of Chinese New Year’s eve, we had a visitor at the office. And then some.

Everyone, particularly the non-Chinese, were incredibly amused by the God of Fortune and the lion dance troupe that came knocking in a clamour of gongs and drums.

Later, we had the traditional lou hei, where we tossed the mix of raw vegetables, salmon, honey, peanuts, crackers as high as we could without making a complete mess on the table, while yelling out whatever auspicious phrases we knew and our wishes for the Lunar New Year. Most of the wishes went along the lines of getting a promotion/pay raise/a boyfriend and winning the lottery.

When we were done, one of the guys from the International team asked, “So do you guys eat it or do you just play with it?”

Of course we tuck in! It takes a lot out of you to yell and toss things in the air. (I kid.)

Chinese New Year’s eve was the day of feasting, and we were all too busy stuffing our faces to take any photos of the spread. Ah well.

Per our annual tradition, my dad and I went to catch the fireworks by the bay after dinner. There’s something magical about fireworks. All these explosions of colour and light above you as the ground rumbles and shakes beneath you. You feel heady, dazzled, ready to take on what comes next. Like a star being born. Like you’re shaking off the grime of last year, one explosion in the sky at a time. Boom. Clean slate.

That family behind me couldn’t have been noisier. Don’t you just hate it when people talk during a firework display? It’s like being interrupted when you’re reading. You just need some space to appreciate the display in silence, reflect on the past year, and make wishes for the new year – NOT hear some guy behind you go, “Wah wah wah!” nonstop.

Ah well.

While waiting for the firework display, and after it was over, my dad and I got a little shutter-happy.

The God of Fortune in front of the Singapore Flyer
Light festival!
And more pretty lights!
And more!
What’s better than a horse? A pink horse!

There’s this Chinese custom where children sleep late – or better yet, don’t sleep at all – on Chinese New Year’s eve so that your parents can live to a ripe old age. It’s just as well that Dad and I usually go catch the fireworks at midnight. I get to prolong my dad’s life! Those who know me know that I abide by quite a rigid routine: asleep at 11 pm, awake at 7 am, swim at 8 am and start the day by 10 am. But this annual tradition calls for an exception. Besides, the pool’s closed on Day 1 of Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year Day 1 is when the entire family congregates at my grandparents’ place and – yes, you guessed it – feast. Again. Well, there’s the whole exchange of well-wishes and socialising and photo-taking. But food was a major part of the day too.

Again, we were too busy chomping down on my grandmother’s homemade dishes – vegetable and duck soup, stir-fried broccoli and mushrooms and prawns, braised pork belly and abalone stew with and hard-boiled eggs, roasted meats and ngoh hiang, which is this mix of minced meat and chopped water chestnuts and prawn bits rolled spring roll style in fried beancurd skin. HEAVEN.

Images procured from the Web, for the sake of those unacquainted:

Braised pork belly with hard-boiled eggs
Salted vegetable and duck soup
Ngoh Hiang

Is it any wonder my healthy eating habits go straight out the window during Chinese New Year?

Then we had to take the (pretty much) prerequisite selfies too. It’s not every day everyone is all dolled up and together, after all.

With my aunts and cousins on the left
And my dad

I swear by fit-and-flare dresses. They cinch in your waist and make your legs look slim. Bonus if they come in pretty colours like lilac or Ming vase prints!

On the second day, Dad and I caught I, Frankenstein, which turned out to be surprisingly good! I was pretty wary about it given the unfortunate experience with Hansel and Gretel (even the awesome Jeremy Renner couldn’t save it). Remixed classics tend to get butchered despite the best intentions.

But I, Frankenstein was pretty original, and as far as fantasy stories go, this one was entertaining enough without inane or extraneous dialogues. Frankenstein’s monster, in this movie, has become a modern-day demon-hunter caught in the age-old battle between gargoyles (descendants of heaven) and demons. So crazy it’s good!

And on the third day, there was more feasting. I’m starting to sound like an unapologetic glutton. This time, it was Korean barbeque, just because.

And that was it for the weekend! More gatherings to come, in the vein of Chinese New Year. And I’m actually looking forward to them!

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Anyway, this is completely random, but I am SO tempted to get some hair chalk. Have you heard of it before? Apparently, it’s like hair dye, but very temporary – so temporary you can wash it off anytime you want –  so this is perfect for someone who gets bored of her looks easily. With hair chalk, I can finally get pink streaks in my hair … like this!

Look how sweet but punkish Rachel McAdams looks!
You can look completely sweet too, but not boring, like January Jones
Ah, Chloe. I swear, she can do no wrong.

Have I mentioned that Chloe Moretz is one of my style icons? Such a fashion risk-taker but always classy and age-appropriate.

Pink streaks and waves, a la Nina Dobrev? Heck yeah!

And the best part about hair chalks? I don’t have to commit to anything. Just wash with water and shampoo!

Ah, hair chalk. Please stop tempting me!

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So now it’s back to real life, even though Chinese New Year celebrations typically last for 15 days. Back to writing and rewriting and revising and polishing, because damn I am making this year the year my writing dreams come true.

Stephanie Perkins on how to make yourself write even when the going gets tough:

Free-write before you write-write. Eventually, you’ll get so tired of your own whining that you’ll actually go write something.

Ha! Ain’t that the truth. After a while, I realised all my complaining and head-banging (that is, against the desk, not to the music) isn’t leading me anywhere with my work-in-progress. So I decided to push through. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

Or, you know, you can also blog.

Steph goes on:

I know from experience. I have tens of thousands of freewriting words telling myself how much both my novels and me suck. That negative energy has to come out somewhere, and freewriting is a safe place to say the things you’re most afraid of — and to wake your brain up in the process.

Free-writing. Hmm. Laini Taylor also advocates this practice. I mean, come on. She wrote an award-winning book of short stories based on these free-writes that obviously took her places. But then again, she’s Laini Taylor. She totally has the writing chops to produce award-winning (National Book Award, no less) books.

Writing a novel — a publishable novel — takes work. Real, actual, hard WORK.

This requires an attitude adjustment from, “Oh, what a fun little hobby” to “I will DO this. Even when it gets hard, even when I don’t like it anymore, even when I want to give up. I will keep working until I reach the end.”

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And finally, since it’s Monday, here are some mood-lifters to kick start your week!

Misha Collins and his son West cooking – too cute!

For the complete version (and a bag of laughs), watch this:

Westie, stop being so frigging adorable! I can’t take this! 

Plus, can I just say how incredibly patient Misha is? Guys are the sweetest when they’re good with kids. I like how he lets West make the decisions and doesn’t tell him what to do, just guides and facilitates whenever necessary. Giving your kids some level of autonomy can do wonders for their self-esteem when they grow older.

Check out the earlier episodes! They are just as funny and adorable! :0)

Pink owl cookies – too cute to eat!

You pretty, pretty boy.
Hallim Park in Jeju Island
Jeju-do, I WILL be back again. Soon
Santorini. Some day.
Because that’s the best way to get by

Have a great week, everyone!

half-baked thoughts from a half-awake mind

At the risk of sounding really pretentious, I’m going to reflect on some quotes about writing in this post.

(Yes, that does sound revolting. Maybe “provide some verbal diarrhoea” works as a less supercilious alternative to the word “reflect”.)

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So I came across this article by Gladstone, and this quote from J.D. Salinger jumped out at me:

Novels grow in the dark.

Gladstone suggests that “if you see the scenes too clearly, the magic disappears and you (or at least I) feel like a mere reporter of events. But if you stop while there’s still a little left — if you don’t record every known thing in your imagination, but keep thinking about it — something happens.

“Each newly formed idea will lead to another, slowly building. Then you can go back and edit to more fully understand your journey and focus it just enough toward the future.”

That, I think, is what makes writing a novel so terrifying. You don’t know for sure where you’re going. At first, I tried to compensate by planning EVERYTHING. But then, like Gladstone said, it got boring. I felt like I was just trying to get from Point A to Point B. It was efficient, but it was also incredibly dull. My writing was flat and characters moved like 2-D characters.

So now, I just write the query letter, i.e. the blurb. That little paragraph on the back of a book that entices the reader to read the book, but doesn’t give away the ending. So I write with an IDEA of how the story will end – I know how I want my characters to have changed by the end of the story – but I don’t know exactly how. Sometimes, this can be a problem. But once you push through, the process (read: angst) becomes all worth the sweat and tears, because you discover and learn about your characters as you write, making the journey all the more rewarding.

It reminds me of this quote by E.L. Doctorow:

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

It’s scary, but I guess that’s part of the fun.

Paul Graham weighed in on doing what you love:

You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

I don’t blog about anything weighty. I don’t write about anything weighty either. There are people on Facebook who post about the fight against rape in India and child-trafficking, and bloggers who write insightful posts about the political and socio-cultural landscape, and writers who write about cross-boundary relationships and well-researched historical novels.

But I’m not one of them.

I’m afraid of having too much of an opinion about things, of caring too much about a certain cause, because there’s too much assertion of myself, too much commitment to perform an identity. I am what I am. I like romantic comedies and fluffy chick-lit novels most of the time, I like to write contemporary YA romance, and I shouldn’t have to feel like my stories are inferior to those with heavier themes (maybe in writing quality, but not in theme or genre).

So I should aim to write a novel that brings a cause to light or inspires my readers, but I don’t. Because I like character-driven YA, I like writing stories that concentrate on a few characters and their growth/transformation. And these type of stories shouldn’t be deemed inferior to “serious fiction”, because each piece of fiction is the reflection of one person’s experiences. Who’s to say one person’s experience is less important than someone else’s?

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My god. I don’t even know what I’m rambling on right now. I woke up in the middle of the night last Saturday and stayed awake, scribbling down ideas for Neverland in my notebook for two hours before conking off again. I think the effects are catching up with me now.

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You can’t write if you don’t live. You can’t write good books if you’re a writing machine who doesn’t take time to live life fully outside of your work.

Some of the best inspiration comes precisely while you’re distracted, while you’re actively not thinking about writing and just noticing life.

Let yourself be distracted. It can be your most productive time.

I feel like lately I’ve just been rushing to churn out words with Neverland. And this is not how I want to go about doing this. It’s supposed to be fun! I was so excited to write Gemma and Cole’s story at the beginning! It was all bright and shiny and carnival lights and Peter Pan magic! Why do I feel like this is dragging on now? Why are my sentences getting flatter and less varied now? Why am I repeating more tired cliches? Why am I relying on pointless banter to fill up the pages when I should be injecting more action and conflict? And why are my secondary characters hanging around like limp sods when they should be playing the role of the antagonist?

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Is this the mid-story drag? Or do I need to step away from this for a while and work on something else? Speaking of something else, I’m really missing Blood Promise. I was halfway through the final FINAL edits before Neverland came up and I flung myself into it.

No. Do NOT get distracted, Joyce.

But Nathan said –

NO. Cool off a little, but do NOT get distracted. The first draft is always the hardest.

Okay, I need a perk-me-up. Or maybe just some sleep. (Note to self: go easy on the tea right before bedtime!

I miss you, Jeju!

Hope your Monday is less drowsy than mine! :0)