Wandering without a religion

People always find it strange when I tell them that I don’t have a religion, as if I should’ve been born with one, like the hair on my head, or the skin on my back.

All I can say to them is that I never came with one. My parents aren’t religious, but they’re not atheists either. I always have to add in this last part as if not being religious automatically classifies us in opposition with whatever religion people believe in.

But from time to time, when I feel lost and out of my element, I have yearned for the guidance and support that people in community groups receive.

And the question that sometimes springs to my head is: How do I belong? Where do I belong if I don’t belong there?

Over time I have discovered that I belong in libraries and bookshops, in the comfort of an author’s words. Whenever I need guidance, I turn to books for advice and in them I find solace.

Who’s to say that reading isn’t a religion in itself, when it’s brought me great purpose and taught me how to have an open mind?

Wandering alone in the dark, I found my religion in their words.

Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to them: To find words for what we already know. ~Alberto Manguel.

Is anybody still awake?

It’s 3 am on New Year’s day, and I’ve just opened up my time capsule. The sky is dark and I’m all alone in my new house. My friends have left and my sister is still out, so I’m curled up in bed reading my last year’s New Year’s resolutions. It’s funny how the air inside the time capsule smells like last year’s air freshener.

These were my new year’s resolutions for 2018:

  1. Write a book
  2. Open myself up to love and friendships.

Just these two things. Pretty simple, but they make up a huge part of who I am, the kind of person I want to be and what makes me happy.

So did I accomplish these resolutions?

Writing a book—I have written a story, a very basic draft outline, but I haven’t filled in the missing bits yet. The story is still in my diary and I aim to complete what I haven’t finished this year. So no, I haven’t completed this resolution.

Opening myself up to love and friendships—This one has always been a hard one for me. I tend to like my own space and I have to consciously remind myself to make an effort to hang out with friends. Last year there were so many ups and downs, I have strengthened new friendships and then loosened my grip on them. Opening myself up to people is a continuous process, I just hope that my friends are patient enough to wait for me.

I have realised that 2018 was all about setting up my goals, rather than finishing them. I try to set up goals that are worth spending a lifetime trying for, so that it’s a continuous process of change.

But I’m going to add something different this year. Not only am I going to write down my New Year’s resolutions for 2019, I’m also going to create a plan for how I’m going to achieve it. And I already have an idea.

Right now, I need to sleep. I have to wake up early in the morning and go to my grandparents because we are making New Year’s dumplings. It is now 4.00am.

Is anybody else still awake?

The hidden workshop

Enid Blyton taught me that summertime is all about exploring, and that if you look closely, even ordinary things can start to look like treasures.

I’ve discovered a workshop hidden right outside my new house. It’s hidden because nobody can see its potential but me. If I were to describe it to you, I’d take away the magic from this place. Instead, I’ll talk about what I plan to fill it with.

Coral. She’ll go in there first. That’s my coral-coloured kayak. It’ll be a proper little home for her. I take her out to go exploring with me during the summer but she hibernates during the winter months. A tarpaulin over the timber shelter will cover her nicely from the harsh sun.

My imagination. It’ll be nice to have a place to store my imagination. These days I daydream from room to room, leaving too much of my energy in bits of places. Virginia Woolf always said that a writer needs a room of one’s own. Mine just happens to be a workshop!

I am happy to have found a small space to occupy and fill with wonderful projects. It’s a way of keeping the magic alive even if I am now an adult.

The 30 year contract

2018 ended with a massive change. I bought a house at 26 years old, on a salary that pays less than the average city worker. Being able to achieve this dream after a two year house hunt, has made me realise that I can do anything I set my mind to. Of course, not without a little help from my twin sister whom I’ll be sharing this financial burden/investment with!

As the last days of the year looms by, and I’ve paid off the first installment of my 30-year mortgage, ominous warnings from my dwindling bank account has motivated me to seek out a different way of living. I’m not sure what this different way of living looks like, but I’m naively determined to find out.

2019 will be a year of experimentation, as I lay down the tracks and build a solid path for my future. I hope I’ll rise up to the challenge, not lose my temper, stay cool, keep writing, and never ever ever become a “slave” to the bank. Having a mortgage doesn’t mean that I have to become a “serious” adult, right?

Loan: $601,000
Paid off: $1235.17
Remaining loan: $596,743.73

 

Does heaven have a translator?

At the time of my grandfather’s passing, I made him a booklet describing all of the things that I had done during my holiday in China. On the last page, I wrote him a goodbye letter, wishing him a safe journey to the other side.

When I showed this to my dad, he pointed out an obvious flaw: How could Agong understand the letter if it was written in English?

The answer was obvious. There’s a translator in heaven, translating all the foreign letters written by the grandchildren who were raised overseas.

This idea inspired an image of an elderly man walking in heaven, trying to find a translator to help him read his granddaughter’s letter.

I’d like to think that the booklet has kept Agong thoroughly entertained and that he is watching from afar, reminding me to keep the light in my spirit.

The one in a million book

There’s a map tucked away in the pages of a book. It sits on my shelf and has done so ever since I was thirteen. The places on the map aren’t real, they’re imaginary places, walked upon by fictitious characters who seem all too real. I used to travel to these places in my mind, exchanging my mundane existence for a more worldly experience.

Before I knew anything about empowerment and mental strength, I would run across the school courtyard, bumping into other kids because I was too afraid to look up to see where I was going. I remember running to class in an agitated state because I didn’t want to be late. Can you imagine? The fear of drawing attention to myself kept me in a constant state of fear and self-confinement.

Why was I like that? Probably a combination of teenage insecurities, anxieties and lack of self confidence.

Something in me changed when a friend of mine handed me a book to read. Bound in a torn and over-handled cover, the book was old and grimy. I refused to read such a book! But I borrowed it anyway, under the false pretense that I would read it.

This lasted a few days because the next week, I had to take part in silent reading. Reluctantly, I fished the book out of the bottom of my bag and opened it up to the first page. It was one of those classic fantasy stories about knights and swords swept up in a tale of adventure and friendship. But for a girl like me, it was the first time I had read a Sword and Sorcery book. I took to it like an old friend.

The book details the journey of a girl who disguises herself as a boy so that she can become a knight.

What did the book teach a teenager like me, who was afraid of my own shadow?

The morning after I had finished reading the book, I got out of bed and went for a run. It was the first run I’d done in a whole year. That moment was significant because I remember feeling good about myself, like I could achieve anything I wanted. From that moment on, I started valuing my goals and holding myself accountable for achieving them.

I wouldn’t say that the change was instant, rather, it was more of a slow and gradual change. Whenever I found myself friendless, I would start to seek out friends. If I wanted to change jobs, I would start by teaching myself new skills.

In my experience, a good book can rewire the neurological pathways of a teenager. It can heal, encourage and empower. A good book can inspire us to change our destinies and restore faith in ourselves.

This is why a trip to the library feels like a dig deep down in an excavation site. What treasure will I find inside a book that doesn’t appear as it seems?