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:

mary oliver
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)!

Goodbye, 2020

Yes, I know time is a social construct and exists independently of humans, so the concept of New Year is just our way of creating some semblance of linearity so we can bring some order into the chaos etc., but I like the idea of beginning anew, moving inexorably from this moment to the next, and discovering what lies ahead. I like the idea of leaving the past behind us even as we hold close the lessons that hindsight brings us. I like the definitive delineation that the New Year offers, like chapter breaks that let us get up for a drink of water and some space to clear our minds. I like the clarity that the stillness brings after the relentless motion of the entire year.

The pocket of space between this year and the next is a time to breathe, reclaim ourselves, and plan our next step. To remind ourselves of how far we’ve come and how we each have the strength to go further. To smile. To dream. To grief. To hurt. To achieve. To discover. To love again.

So thank you, 2020. You’ve been strange, surreal, chaotic, intense, heartbreaking and beautiful all at once. Here’s to serendipitous discoveries, unwavering inner peace, and the courage to pursue what sets our souls on fire in 2021 as we make our way through the inherent chaos of life.

state of mind for 2015

So here it is. We’ve made it over to the other side. 2015. How should it be any different from 2014? 2014 was a mess of a year, rife with natural and man-made disasters, and social turbulence, tragic accidents … Ugh, good riddance to 2014.

This time, I don’t want to pin too much hope on 2015. Because that’s what I did last year. Built up all that expectation and anticipation – I want to write two novels this year, enter this competition and that, write a short story and a blog post every week, post it up on forums, make more writer friends, take up a new hobby! THIS is the year I land a literary agent and get published and start leading a more fulfilling life! – only to meet roadblock after roadblock for No Room in Neverland, and receive rejection letter after rejection letter.

I’m not saying I’m going to be completely pessimistic and dour this year, in case you’re thinking I’m starting this year as a grumpy puss. No, I’m just tempering my expectations, taking whatever comes along for what they are. I’m not going to get ahead of myself, just do what needs to be done – rewrite that novel for the fourth time? Bring it. Edit and polish old manuscripts and look for new platforms to gather feedback. Read more books, read outside of what I typically read, watch more movies and drama series, find more new music, to collect fresh, new ideas. Just the gritty work that are a lot less pretty than those daydreams of being published. As happy as I am for authors who achieve mega success because heck yeah they deserve it, I’m done with sighing wistfully over their writing and wishing I could have what they have.

These novels, all this effort into editing and rewriting and pitching to agents, may amount to nothing. And it’s easy to get caught up in the whole quest of getting published. But really, what I really need is to write a book that doesn’t suck, that people would want to read.

As Chuck Wendig said,

Writing a book and putting it out in the world is an act of ego — not egomania, but the willingness and decision to create a story out of nothing and push it forward into the world is a bold, brash, unflinching act. You say: this story matters, and it matters that I wrote it. It is a demonstration of your belief in the story and the belief you possess in yourself as a writer, storyteller, and a creator. It takes a rather epic set of genitals to write something that’s 300 pages long and then say to someone: “You’re going to sit down and you’re going to read this and you are going to love it the way I love it. You are going to take hours, even days out of your life to read the little ants dancing across the page, ants that make words, words that make this one big story full of people.

That said, I’ve been considering other options outside of traditional publishing. Chuck Wendig, as well as many authors and publishing experts have been touting hybrid publishing and embracing crowd sourced novels for a while. Forbes also laid out the pros and cons of hybrid publishing. Some even go so far as to call hybrid publishing the future of publishing. I’m still reading up as much as I can about it so I can decide whether to take this route. If anyone has any thoughts on this matter, I’d love to hear them!

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s hoping for a less turbulent, more forgiving 2015.

What commencement is really about (hint: not you!)

 

I was talking to a friend lately and he told me he was not going to attend his commencement (i.e. graduation) ceremony. Until recently, I had no idea there were people – and many of them, at that – who don’t attend their commencement ceremony.

 

“Why wouldn’t you?” I asked him.

 

“Because I don’t believe in going to uni to get a degree,” he said. “So going on stage to receive it is against my principles.”

 

Seriously? I wanted to ask. Are you really going to skip commencement because of this principle? While I have nothing against his belief – university IS more than just getting a degree – I think it’s too staunch a conviction for which you’re choosing to forgo your graduation ceremony.

 

It was at this point that I remembered I’d had a similar response as him towards it.

 

My own commencement wasn’t too long ago – just last year, in fact. (I graduated one year late because of some glitch in the system. Long story. I’m over it.) But the memory wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as it could have been. And it was entirely my fault.

 

I couldn’t care less about it. I’d thought the whole thing was contrived, putting on a huge cheesy smile as I posed with my scroll. I’d thought it was no big deal, since I was just one of the few thousands that year who was donning that robe and going on stage to receive that scroll. There was no need to make a big fuss about it.

 

But it WAS a big deal. If not to me, then to my dad.

 

 

 

He had been looking forward to my commencement, preparing his outfit for that day, scoping the place days beforehand for parking spots, making space in his SD card and charging his camera battery, asking me if I was inviting any of my friends to the ceremony…

 

And I had let him down. I had no idea where to go and what to do on that day, and was almost late for the ceremony. All because I couldn’t care less. All because I thought it was no big deal. We could have arrived earlier and taken photos, chilled, and I could have shown him around a little before the ceremony began. But we did none of that, because we arrived on the dot and I had to scurry into the hall with the rest of my cohort while donning my robe.

 

I would go back and do it all over again PROPERLY if I could.

 

 

 

I received my scroll and my dad and I posed for photos, but the moment was incomplete. Imperfect. Marred by my indifference. My dad didn’t smile as proudly and joyfully as I knew he would have.

 

You see, commencement isn’t really about you. Sure, it’s an entire elaborate ceremony – robes and speeches and all – dedicated to handing out certificates to you and your peers. But it is NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about your parents. Your guardians. Your friends. Your teachers. And everyone else who had put in time and money and effort to see you through to that moment.

 

So even if you think attending your graduation ceremony is pointless – “no big deal” (I will never forget the look on my dad’s face when he heard me say that) – don’t deny the people who most deserve to see you walk through that moment the experience. Attending it – being fully involved in it – is the biggest thank you you can say to them.

 

[This might be a little late, but if I hadn’t made it explicit enough, thank you to everyone – especially my dad – for everything you’ve invested in me so that I could attend my own commencement ceremony. Thanks to my dad for the late-night cramming sessions, the looooong journeys on weekends to the tuition centre, the time and money spent on my books and tuition classes and little treats whenever I felt tired along the way. It’s been a fruitful 15 years.]