rediscovering joy in solitude + current reads

I feel like the world entered 2021 with cautious (if a little beleaguered) hope. With more vaccines being developed and distributed around the world, a certain orange man on his way out, and businesses starting to rehire again, it seemed like things might be starting to pick up.

Then the 7 Jan Capitol Hill insurgence happened (seriously, what the actual fuck – the audacity and lawlessness and injustice is unbelievable) and we’re seeing a couple of Covid-19 cases in the local community again (after months of zero community cases) and it feels like 2021 is just 2020 part two. I had to take a break from the news for a bit and find my inner peace again.

And really, that’s the goal these days. Just inner peace. Trying not to let external things, events and people upset the balance. Keeping the optimism alive.

On a personal note, it’s been a good first week of the year for me. Projects lined up that I’m genuinely excited about, daily progress being made, new plans and collaborations with people, spending time with friends and family. I feel like I’m coming home to myself again, slowly but surely sliding back into equilibrium. Silence doesn’t feel daunting or empty; it just feels peaceful now, and my head is no longer preoccupied with anxious thoughts. There’s a quiet power that comes with being comfortable and happy in your own company, when you don’t feel like you’re lacking anything and you’ve got everything you need to keep you fulfilled, busy, and happy. I’m learning to enjoy that again.

Most notably, I’ve been getting a lot more reading and writing done. I’m currently working on four books (three novels and one book of poetry and prose. I know some of you want me to disclose more about my current works-in-progress, but I generally prefer not to divulge too much or make it public before I’m at least done with the first draft. I like my projects to belong completely to me until I at least have a semblance of a thing to show. So this is all I’ll share for now), and I’m reading three books concurrently (more on that in a bit), on top of juggling assignments, painting, working out, and dreaming up new scenes for my novels and new tales to tell.

So when people ask me what I’ve been up to and I say “keeping busy”, that’s the long answer.

Currently Reading:

  1. Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey
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There’s murder, a school for teenage mages (think Hogwarts as an American high school), and a private investigator struggling to take on a task too big for her to handle. I do enjoy the voice and the premise, but I also wish the pace would pick up a bit. There’s a lot to uncover here, and so far (133 pages in), the protagonist has just been wrestling with her insecurity issues, rekindling her relationship with her estranged sister, and wandering around the school observing people. I’ll keep going, though, just to see if things build up.

2. By All the Saints and Stars, by my incredible friend and critique partner Meredith Crosbie

Image by: Meredith Crosbie

When Meredith first told Nicole (another fantastic writer and fellow Tolkien lover) and I that she was writing a book set in ancient Venice, I was immediately stoked. And it did not disappoint. I practically flew through the first four chapters in one sitting, and am consistently impressed by the world-building and characterisation. You guys, this book will definitely be on the shelves one day, and I’m so honoured to be one of the first few people to read it.

3. Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

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I knowww. I started reading this book in 2019 and I’m still not done with it. Similarly, I took more than a year to finish King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo, so the fact that I take ages to finish a book is in no way a testament to the quality of the book. Laini and Leigh are stellar writers – I just have terrible a attention span these days (again, I blame social media). But Strange the Dreamer is a hefty book, and there’s a lot of world-building involved so it takes a while to fully immerse in the book.

4. I’ve also been seeking out more poetry.

It’s funny – I never used to be into poetry very much, but maybe that was because I’d never really found poems that resonated with me. My last (cringe-inducing) attempt at poetry was when I was 17: I went everywhere with a black notebook and pen, and sat in dark corners scribbling away in it. I don’t dare to promise that the poems I’m attempting to write now are cringe-free, but I like to think they’re marginally less awful than the ones I wrote as a teenager.

Anyway, here are some much, much better poems others have written that I absolutely adore:

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I met Marla back in 2016, when we sat on the same panel at a writers conference, and discovered what an amazing poet she is. Been trying to get my hands on her poetry anthologies but they seem to be out of stock everywhere 😦

Hope you’re having a good start to 2021 (and if not, that you hold faith that things WILL get better)!

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.

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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.