How Criticism Makes You Better: a Case Study of Lindsey Stirling

So it’s been about a month since my last post on Chester, and I just wanted to pop in and say that I’m still alive, that it’s not all doom and gloom in the past month. I’ve experienced some emotional dips and crests, but life is all about riding the waves and making it back to shore anyway, so I’m choosing to take it one day at a time and focus on the things I can change and the things that make life worthwhile.

And recently I came across this (relatively) old video of the dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling and was blown away by how much she had improved since she first got her start on America’s Got Talent Season 5.

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Image from Glamour

So you may know Lindsey when she first entered the spotlight back in 2005. She got voted off the show by the judges, but then went on to make incredible YouTube music videos that have garnered – wait for it – half a billion hits so far.

Check out part of her discography:

Song of the Caged Bird

Crystallise

Roundtable Rival

Lindsey is amazing, so talented yet humble and inspiring. I’ve been a huge fan of her since she first took the audition stage, a bright-eyed manic pixie girl who could dance and prance across the stage while playing the violin.

I call her an inspiration because, like a true artist, she is passionate about her craft and constantly, tirelessly, seeks improvement. Her audition at AGT was, objectively speaking, not the best. She was still pretty raw as a performer, like every artist would be at the start of the their journey. But she’s worked hard to fix her pitch problems and stage presence to become the absolute star she is now.

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Like a true artist, she is not content to rest on her laurels and stick to the tried-and-tested formulaic way of performing or playing. She does covers of popular tracks like:

Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Greenday,

The Scientist by Coldplay (with Kina Grannis and Tyler Ward),

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

Phantom of the Opera and Lord of the Rings medleys

As well as original pieces with her musician friends.

Like a true artist, she put herself out there, trying out for AGT and putting herself under public scrutiny and exposing herself to (often harsh) criticism, especially from the judges. Piers Morgan even said that she played like rats being strangled and that she wouldn’t be able to fill half a show at Vegas, and others said that the world doesn’t want to see a dancing violinist (basically implying that there was no place in the world for her).

lindsey stirling oh well

But like a true artist, despite feeling incredibly crushed after bring served all that criticism and voted off the show, she took all the judges’ feedback to heart and went somewhere with it. She knew that the judges were, in their own way, right. (Okay, they didn’t have to be so blunt but hey, take what you need from it and the rest is just white noise.) She became even better, more innovative and practised, in terms of her music and dance and craft and stage flair.

Almost 10 years later, she has released two original full-length albums and gone on sold-out world tours. Lindsey grew tremendously as an artist BECAUSE of the criticism.

 

And to see that rousing standing ovation she received at the end of her performance made me SO proud of her I cried. There IS a place for her music in the world after all.

She mentioned that despite being voted off the show, she still believed that she could make it, that she had something to offer the world. And she held on to that faith in herself. Turns out, there IS a place for her music in the world after all.

So perhaps, while we’re busy doubting ourselves as we take baby steps towards our dreams, we need to get out of our own way and hold on to the belief that the world will always have space for what we have to offer.

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Chester Bennington was depressed

chester bennington linkin park

I woke up this morning to the devastating news of Chester Bennington committing suicide.

The first question is, of course, why. Why would a father of six, the frontman of arguably the most popular and successful alt-rock band, kill himself?

And then: did we all miss something? Some clue that we should have picked up on, perhaps in his songs? Perhaps Leave Out All the Rest was a sign?

While Mike Shinoda has always been the more media-friendly, bubbly one in the band, Chester has always been evidently more troubled. He spoke before about his traumatic past, drug and alcohol addiction, struggle with depression, and it seemed like music was the only outlet for his pain.

Depression is real. Depression is often undetectable. We’ve seen too many seemingly-happy and well-adjusted people, or people with seemingly-enviable lives, take their own lives.

I’ve known people personally who killed themselves. And each time my heart breaks for them. Realising that they had been battling themselves all this while, that none of us ever even guessed. That it had gotten to the point where they decided nothing was worth holding on for.

Depression isn’t something you can just get over, or be completely cured of. Sometimes, it takes courage to fight for one more day, to get up from bed and force yourself to go through the motions for one more day, to live when nothing makes you want to stay alive for one more day.

Depression affects more of us than we realise. It could be that kind teacher who gave you a word of encouragement, or that friend who is always the life of the party, or the one with her earphones plugged in and head buried in a book.

Point is, everything may look fine on the surface. They may be laughing and joking with you at work or at school, but they may also be crying themselves to sleep every night. They may not reveal more than the part of their personality everyone would love, because they don’t want to be a burden to the people around them.

Depression can eat you alive.

But as my friend Nicole (and fellow Muse) said in this post, “There are a lot of good things going on in life and a lot of good things ahead. Just like there are a lot of trying times and a lot of difficult things ahead.

“You can’t just focus on all the negative things. You’ll drive yourself into a depressed spiral that’s really hard to get out of, if you do that. You gotta remember to focus on the good, including the little things and the grand, exciting things.”

If you know or guess that someone is depressed and you want to help, know that you absolutely have the power to.

It can be as simple as a text message asking them if they are okay, or just sitting with them in silence, listening to them spill their thoughts even when they don’t make any sense to you, showing that you will always be there for them and never judge them. Sometimes, the smallest gestures like these can help keep a depressed person alive for one more day.

Be at peace, Chester. Thank you for your music, your spirit, your honesty. I hope you are finally free of your demons now.

leave out all the rest lyrics linkin park.jpg

Drama Review: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

 

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I had fully expected it to be a lighthearted, fluffy romantic comedy. But last night, this show made me cry at the end of episode 10.

WEIGHTLIFTING FAIRY may seem like just another feel-good rom-com, but it actually tackles a lot of hard-hitting emotional and psychological issues – such as trauma, pressure, eating disorder, and depression – that not just athletes but regular people go through. And that’s what makes this show so relatable.

Beneath all that cutesy puppy love, adorable banter and squeal-worthy scenes between the impossibly photogenic leads also lie big dreams, passion and depression, friendship and kinship, and a raw humanity to each character as they go through life making decisions big and small, making mistakes, and realising what matters most to them in the end.

 

SYNOPSIS:

WEIGHTLIFTING FAIRY KIM BOK JOO is a campus romance about the titular character (played by Lee Sung Kyung) who has been training to be a national weightlifter her whole life … until she encounters her first love at 21. In college, she is reunited with Joon Hyung (played by the handsome, cute AF Nam Joo Hyuk), a national swimmer whose dreams are hampered by an unresolved childhood trauma. His cousin, an kind, gentlemanly obesity clinic doctor (played by the gorrrrgeous Lee Jae Yoon), is the heroine’s first crush, and Song Si Ho (played by Kyung Su Jin) is an overachieving gymnast gradually pushed to breaking point.

 

REASONS TO WATCH IT:

  1. It’s YA Contemporary at its best

It is a deceivingly simple story about athletes trying to achieve their dreams, with an essential host of characters like hilarious sidekicks and tough but well-meaning coaches. It’s everything you would expect of a young adult contemporary story. It includes hilarious drunken shenanigans, first crushes, jealous ex-girlfriends, competitive seniors, sneaking out after hours, and more.

2. The relatable characters

Kim Bok Joo is a likeable, relatable character who is positive, down-to-earth, unassuming but not a pushover. She’s loyal and honest, raw and flawed – it’s easy to see parts of yourself in her, and you find yourself identifying with her, wanting her to be your best friend, and rooting for her throughout the story.

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Dr Jeong, the object of her (initial) affections. And can you blame her?? The guy’s gorgeous.

Plus, she and her friends are total #friendshipgoals.

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3. The burst-out-laughing-and-clap-like-a-flailing-seal moments

 

4. The chemistry between the two leads

I enjoy every single scene between Bok Joo and Joon Hyung – from the hysterically hilarious moments to the cute banter to the surprisingly poignant and sweet moments. It just makes you yearn to fall in love!

chemistry-1chemistry-2chemistry-4

 

5. The realistic portrayal of depression

Despite her fast track to winning nationals, not everything is peachy in Bok Joo’s life. After a painful experience with unrequited love (to which I’m sure we can all relate), she begins to question why she’s weightlifting, whether she really loves it, what she’s doing it all FOR.

This scene at the end of episode 10 *spoilers ahead* where Bok Joo describes the symptoms of depression to Joon Hyung broke my heart:

It’s like she stole the words right from my lips. This scene made me realise that I was going through the exact same thing, that maybe I’m feeling just as lost and stuck as her at this juncture. (But more on that another day, perhaps.)

This is a major turning point in the story as she realises she no longer has any motivation or passion for weightlifting, the only thing she has known all her life. Now she’s lost, stuck in limbo, and has no idea how to recalibrate her life.

This depiction of depression feels on point. Bok Joo knows that something is wrong with her but she can’t pinpoint what it is – that’s what the first stage of depression is like. Sometimes, the person herself has no idea that she’s depressed but she knows something’s wrong with her. Joon Hyung immediately realises that Bok Joo is suffering from depression – sometimes, it’s the outsider who notices the symptoms first.

I like how the writers didn’t romanticise depression and presented it in the most raw and heartbreakingly honest way. The actors – both Lee Sung Kyung and Nam Joo Hyuk – did a great job too, as the sufferer and the bystander.

 

6. The swoon-worthy romance

Bok Joo and Joon Hyung collide (literally) into each other’s lives through a series of misunderstandings, then realise they were ex-elementary school classmates, and become good friends (best bros, in fact) before falling for each other. It’s a slow burn romance that viewers already root for right from the start.

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Dying from the fluff!

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I want someone who can stare out at the sea with me too.

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THE WAY HE LOOKS AT HER *__*

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Korean dramas and their picturesque scenes

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drink-sharing

STOP BEING SO CUTE! ><

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I love this OTP because they understand each other very well as fellow athletes. Their affection and appreciation for each other goes as deep as kindred spirits’, and that is established even before the romance kicks in.

As fellow athletes, they can truly understand each other’s struggles, and encourage each other in significant ways: Bok Joo comforting Joon Hyung when he lost a race, and Joon Hyung regularly giving Bok Joo the best pep talks whenever she’s feeling anxious or nervous about a competition. They are each other’s biggest supporters.

Plus, I love that Bok Joo doesn’t need to be anything or anyone other than herself to inspire this kind of loyalty, affection and head-over-heels lurve from him. They started out as really good friends – bros, even – and maybe that’s why she can be entirely herself around him with no inhibitions.

 

7. The pretty soundtrack

NELLLLLLL!!! I can’t put into words how much I ADORE this soft rock band (if Muse and Radiohead had a love child, it would be Nell). The fact that their song fits so perfectly into this drama makes me so happy.

I’ve heard lots of good things about this acoustic indie band Standing Egg, but this is the first song of theirs I’m hearing and I’m in looooove.

How pretty and sad this song is! Perfectly encapsulates the phase where Bok Joo contemplates and reassesses her life.

 

TL;DR

This drama deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly things that college students, athletes, and really anyone go through. Don’t dismiss it as just a fluffy romantic comedy – it’s worth a lot more than that. Like all contemporary YA worth their salt, they stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

And if not, there’s always Nam Joo Hyuk and Lee Jae Yoon’s pretty faces (and abs) to ogle at 😉

 

post-christmas state

Reading this:

Image from Goodreads

This book makes me want to delve into another fantasy project! Leigh Bardugo has a knack for creating vividly imagined worlds, endearing characters with fully fleshed out back-stories, and quiet tension that keeps you flipping the pages way past bedtime. It’s not hard to see why she has such a passionate fanbase, or why Six of Crows debuted at number one on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Watching this: 

Image from Drama Fever

My Lovely Girl (starring Rain and Krystal) came with mixed reviews. Some said the plot was too slow, and some loved the character development. But it’s surprisingly engaging, with the sort of K-drama moments that I love (you know, the ones where the characters don’t say a word and the music swells and you just feel all the feels and hear all the unsaid words? It’s those moments where you feel yourself falling for a show and start rooting for the characters. Those are the moments I want to create in my stories.)

Plus, Krystal is always a joy to watch.

Girl crush!

Missing this:

 photo donghae blue hair sunglasses smile_zps36w1jgto.gif

donghae cute smile.jpg

Discovering this: 

 photo james smile_zpsudu3ac16.gif

His name is James, and he’s the bass guitarist of the Royal Pirates. You’re welcome.

Listening to this:

It’s been two years since they debuted. Can we please start appreciating this under-rated band more already! I’ve raved about them here on ZALORA Community (yes, unabashed plug here), so I won’t say more. Just give them a listen.

Writing this:

Receiving this:

Sigh. Into the Rejection folder this goes. But I am still beyond grateful for the feedback, even if this isn’t quite the result I was hoping for.

Nothing like some heartwarming fan mail to lift your spirits and spur you on!

And lastly, finding strength in this:


Happy holidays! :0)

I hate to call it writer’s block, but…

Trying not to be angsty, but lately I’m feeling really trapped. Like I’m going nowhere with my writing, and I can’t seem to get into the proper headspace to work on Neverland. So I keep going back to Blood Promise and Until Morning, tweaking and tinkering in the hopes that something will spring out of that parched, barren wasteland of literary desolation.

… See, that’s what I’m talking about. Literary desolation? It’s like whatever I write comes out looking garbled and over-dramatic and cliched and ugh just altogether trying too hard. It’s just really frustrating when you want something so badly and you keep trying and trying and nothing seems to work. I can understand if it’s just a bad day or two. But what if I can never feel that way about writing again? What else can I do? Came across this little diary entry I scribbled in my notebook not too long ago, and it seems like I’ve been feeling this way for far too long.

Now you know how ugly my handwriting is when I’m upset, hmm. But if that’s too illegible for you, here’s a typeset version: 21 June 2014, 10pm:

I want to give up. It seems like everything I try is useless. But I hate having nothing to show for my efforts, if I give up now. Six years of trying to get published, (of learning whatever I can about the publishing industry), and although I’ve published one book since, the dismal sales is demoralising.

I know people keep saying to press on, to keep at it and one day I’ll make it. But how many writers have died in obscurity, how many have had to give up their dream because the obstacles are too many and too impossible to scale?

All those hours slaving away at a book; all that time spent editing, rewriting, querying; all those hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters. What are they all for? Maybe they are telling me something, one thing: that I’m just not good enough and that I should give up, stop wasting my time. I will never be good enough to join the ranks of the writing superstars – Laini Taylor, Sarah Dessen, Maggie Stiefvater…

I hate that I’m even thinking of giving up, but maybe I have to. But how do you give up something that gives meaning to your life, without giving up on life itself?

I know, I know. I’m being over-dramatic and morose. Kristen Lamb weighed in on writer’s block in her recent blog post:

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping.

Regular folks who clock in and clock out of jobs in cubicles are grazers. They do the same routine day after day. *munch, munch, munch*. I feel this is often why creative people feel so stifled in these environments. We’re tigers stuffed in a non-tiger role.

Grazing. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Day in, day out, munch munch munch on sad green grass. I need meat. I need a holiday. Ha! I read somewhere that people listen to sad songs when they’re feeling down in order to seek emotional validation, so here’s me turning to Kodaline for some of that.

Sorry about the whining and wallowing. I’m just in a weird funk right now. I’m not usually this mopey, I promise! Hope your weekend’s going better than mine! :0)

Moving Day is Coming!

With the preparations for the new house under way, I’ve been busy packing and getting carried away scrolling through Pinterest for home decor ideas.

You know how you get when you’re on Pinterest. You see something pretty, and you pin it, and you find this whole board full of pretty things, and then you follow this board, and pin some other stuff from it, which leads to new boards full of pretty things. Then you pin stuff from that new board, and find more pretty things that lead to new boards. This is how even light gets sucked into black holes.

But look! So much pretty:

Yes, I’m sensing a trend here. But my dad said I’m only allowed to go crazy with the pink for my room. That last one, by the way, is how my room is going to look, except the walls are pinker. And I hope I can find a houndstooth cover seat (how cute is that!).

Excitement over decor choices aside, though, I’m a little bummed about moving out of my grandparents’. I’ve lived there for practically my whole life, and everything there is familiar to me. The bus routes, the little alleys and shortcuts, how I can just pop downstairs to grab a packet of nuts or batteries or lunch, the lifeguards and old regulars at the pool, the convenience of living so close to town, everything within reach, and how I can walk to the Central Library if I choose to.

Oh, well. This move has been a long time coming, after all. Plus, the new house is really pretty! Guess it’ll just take some time to reconfigure my life.

On the writing front, I am miserably behind schedule. I was supposed to finish editing Blood Promise by last Sunday and have my crit partner read it this week. But I’m only at page 280 of 331 (yes, I hacked away 17 ENTIRE PAGES, about 4250 words – I am terrifyingly long-winded). By this week, I promise!

By the way, book review of Fangirl and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender to come after I’m done with Blood Promise! Meanwhile, here’s a dreamy piece from Joe Hisaishi to tide you through the week:

 
 

Happy midweek! :0)

Flash Fiction Friday – You Who Stole The Thunder

This story is a result of:

a) consecutive days of violent thunderstorms

b) this song:

c) this writing prompt
  photo Prompt567_zps96aa105e.jpg
  

*

 

You Who Stole the Thunder

 

There aren’t a lot of things worth stealing, you once told me. But the best things to steal are those that people take for granted. There’s something immensely satisfying about stealing something people have come to expect to be there.

And thunder – who would miss it? It was just noise, white noise, the growl and roar of the gods that dissolved in rain. You would capture it with nothing but a glass jar, and no one would be the wiser. It was the perfect crime, and you were so gleeful about it, counting your chickens before they were hatched.

Two days later, the storm came. You ran home sopping wet in your mud-stained sneakers. Your mother chided you for being out in the rain, but you only came over and pounded on my door, wearing that triumphant grin that made me just as foolishly happy about your spoils.

“You do know the thunder thieves will be coming for you now, don’t you?” I told him, as we huddled under the blanket fort we set up. It was getting harder to fit in there, but on a rainy night like this the proximity was something we clung to.

“Let them come,” you said. Your voice wore the unevenness of a boy transitioning to a man. “They’re just bummed they were too slow.”

We sat the jar of thunder between us and shone our torchlight at it. In it, a dense black cloud swirled and swirled, a tempest in a glass prison. No wonder it looked pissed. I would want to be free too.

But I wanted more to see the look on your face, see the corners of your eyes lift, when you heard the storm’s music.

I wanted to experience the world knocked askew because of the absence of thunder, or at least feel a dent in this giant tin heart we lived in.

I wanted to know that people had sat up in their beds, straining their ears for the cry from the skies that wouldn’t come, wondering what was amiss, and know that we were the ones who had shaken their world.

But who knew if thunder would be missed? There were far louder cries that went unheard.

The thunder thieves – no, thugs they were – came around midnight, before we could open the jar. They were an unapologetic bunch, and I could tell you hated the racket they made. Don’t wake my mother, dammit! was probably what you meant to yell at them, but for the need to conceal ourselves.

We pressed closer together under the covers, torchlight off the jar hugged tightly between us. But it was only a matter of time before the thieves found us. Their dark hulking shadows cut brazenly across the room. In seconds, they would corner us. In seconds, they would rob us.

You took my hand, squeezed once, and I knew what you intended to do.

Breathless, we tore out of the blanket fort, out through the emergency exit next to your room, down the narrow flight of stairs and into the restless night. We could barely hear the thieves over the rumble of the skies’ muted fury.

It was still pouring, perhaps even heavier than before, as though the gods were unleashing their outrage at your heist. All the while, you had your arms wrapped protectively – possessively, as if it were rightfully yours – around the jar of thunder.

The air threatened to snap us in two. Winds thrashed and lashed, ready to rip the world apart. The glass jar rattled and flashed. In it, a restless beast demanded to be set free.

I hated to say it, really I did, but I said it anyway. “We need to let it go. We have to.”

You sent a silent plea with your eyes. “This may be the last time I hear thunder.” There it was, laid out bare. A plaintive statement made matter-of-fact in your measured, even voice.

Like always, I responded with stony silence, letting the storm take over our conversation. None of my responses – it’s not ours for the taking, you’re not going to die, you will hear the thunder again – seemed particularly convincing.

Eventually, we settled on flinging the jar as hard as we could across the field. It disappeared into the wall of trees blackened by night.

There was no crash of glass, like the rain had swallowed the jar before it could land. We stood there for a long time, soaked to our bones, waiting, counting – one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi – the time it took for the thunder to return.

The storm died with a satisfied murmur.

You were right, though. That was the last thunderstorm you and I ran through, the last time you heard thunder and held it in your hands.

I knew you wanted to leave your mark on the world, and you thought robbing the heavens of its voice would be the way to do that.

But I could have told you that the marks you left, though invisible, were indelible. Really I could, but I didn’t.

*