I wrote a 20,000 word story during lockdown

It might seem as though I haven’t written in ages, but that’s only because when I’m not writing here, I’m writing elsewhere.

During lockdown, I decided to make use of my time at home, by writing a book. I decided to enter a writing competition, because the only way I was going to finish writing a book, was to have a deadline.

It was one of the most mentally draining things I’ve ever done. Mostly because I still had to work from home, with deadlines being thrown at me left and right by my boss and our clients. To top things off, I got a 20% pay cut due to the lockdown, so I was starting to feel like I was slowly chipping away. The only time I had to write was during the evenings after work, but I was already so tired that I barely got much done.

But I was determined to finish. I wrote one word after another until I got to 15,000 words. By now you’d think that thing would start looking up for me, that I’d start to get my juices flowing, but it took a turn for the worse.

Three days before the deadline, I realised that I still had another 15,000 words to write. That was a painful blow. The goal that I set in mind, was beginning to fade away. I was running out of time. It was impossible to finish, so I did the only thing I could. I started writing anything. It didn’t even matter how good it was, I just needed to put one word in front of another to hit the 30,000 word mark.

On the second to last day before the deadline, I stayed up till 4am just so I could write 5000 more words.

And then I read the fine print. It said: 30,000 words is the minimum standard, but we’ll still read you story even if it’s under 30,000 words.

So I basically butchered my story just to reach 30,000 words, only to realise that I didn’t need to in the end.

If I were to describe this writing process, I would say that it was like running a quarter marathon (I’m referring to a quarter marathon because I’ve never run a full marathon before) where the last 2 km are just so excruciatingly painful that it feels like your ankles are going to fall off. But you keep running anyway, because you don’t want to be the person who gets stuck in the middle of the road and needs a lift to get back to the finish line.

Anyway, I’m still glad I wrote the story, because I’m treating that as the first draft and now I’m rewriting it a second time. Things are much clearer, I know how to make it flow, what’s going to happen, which parts I’m going to keep, all because I wrote a crappy first draft that exposed all the story’s flaws and shone a light on its strengths.

20,000 plus words is the longest I’ve ever written. Doing this has given me the muscles to write longer, and write better. I’m super proud of my story. I really am. I can see it coming together nicely and I can’t wait to show you guys a little bit of what it’s about.

Anyway, I’ll stop writing now because I’ve got to go sleep and I’m super tired. It’s 12:30 in the morning and I have to wake up early for work tomorrow (or I mean today). Goodnight!

The heart is brave enough

In every single love story that I have ever lived through, I am the bad person. That’s what I’ve always told myself and others. I am the bad person because it always ends by my doing, by my hurtful words. Because in the end, like every story, it is the final act and not the opening scene, that matters. And although I may have the most wonderful opening scenes, I befall to the most tragic endings.

Before I write any further, I want to address the long break I have taken from writing, unplanned, ofcourse. Many times I had thought of writing something, but nothing came out of me. And so I started living a more external life, spurred on by a psychic’s advice, and little by little, the juice came trickling back. I was never worried, really. I had always known, that writing would call me back.

So here I am again, a few months later, when that thought passed through my head and I just had to write it down. This little story that’s been in my head for a while. The one that says it’s all my fault. But that’s only part of the truth. It is a simpler narrative, to paint myself as the bad person, because then I don’t have to waste too much of my breath telling someone a more complex version of me.

But if anyone were interested, if anyone is reading this, I would tell them that in every single love story I have ever been in, I tried to listen to my intuition. I tried to do everything that was right by me. I told men that I wasn’t interested in them when things felt off, I told guys that I couldn’t be friends with them because I didn’t want to lead them on. But that is the funny thing about men. When you are not interested, you are the world to them. When you give them a chance because it is the kind thing to do, and you develop feelings over time, you’d think they’d be happy, but no, suddenly you are lights out to them. Can you see how frustrating that is?

One man once told me that he enjoys the hunt. I can’t remember what he was referring to, the sport or the women, but in my life, things aren’t a hunt for me. I like to build and create. I like to make long lasting contributions. The shortest hobby I’ve ever had was for a year, and even then I felt bad for giving it up.

I felt bad. That is what I’ve always felt for telling the truth. Bad. And so for a while, I completely shut down. My voice, my willingness to even utter a sound. Gone. Why bother? When standing up only hurt you and the people around you? Over the past few months, I have come to find a sad truth. People only like you when you say things they want to hear. When you say things that sound nice to their ears. So I just became silent.

But like I said earlier on, I have been living life externally, taking up a few hobbies, picking up a particular set of skills, and somehow the energy is starting to return to me. I am beginning to have words to say, things to write again. It is like entering spring after a long winter. Who knew writing has its seasons too?

I guess that is all I will write for now. Tomorrow is another day, and more thoughts will come to me. In the meantime, this girl’s gotta get herself to bed.

Sweet dreams.

The climb

My friend and I have set ourselves a goal: we’re going to climb the 45 degree wall at our rock climbing center.

I call it the 45 degree wall, because at the halfway point, it juts out at 45 degrees, making it near impossible to climb. I’ve seen some experienced climbers falter at this point and fall down. Just watching them climb makes my palms sweat.

My friend, Chris, and I got the idea to climb the wall when we were on a plane ride to Japan. We sat there on our 8 hour flight watching Free Solo, a movie about a professional rock climber who scaled the El Capitan, a 900 meter vertical wall in the Yosemite National Park.

We couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards. The way he was able to find grips in the wall and cling to them with the tip of his fingers, it was like watching someone who had memorised a map of the wall in his mind.

Not that Chris and I are planning to climb free solo. No way. We’ll be strapped in our harnesses, with experienced staff around us. We just want to do it for the challenge and to gain confidence in ourselves.

Chris told me that he used to climb regularly with a friend of his back at university. He said that his friend started climbing when he got a lung transplant, and hasn’t stopped since. Now he climbs regularly, scaling these great big walls. It’s pretty inspiring.

I haven’t told Chris about my heartbreak last year. It’s not something I want to keep talking about. But a big part of climbing the 45 degree wall, is to distract myself from the pain.

Anyway, to make this goal happen, Chris and I will be meeting up regularly and training our upper bodies. So far, I can climb the kid’s wall, and do 1 lap of the monkey bars. That’s pretty much how strong my arms are.

Chris says that I’m lucky. I’m slim enough to easily gain muscles and pull my body up. He’s a bit bigger. He says he’s got chicken arms. Even his dad who used to body build has chicken arms, so it’ll be harder for him to pull his weight up the wall.

We are planning to climb to the top of the 45 degree wall by the end of May. Right now, I can’t even lift myself up the wall because the grips are too tiny.

I will try to keep this blog updated with my progress. I really want to achieve this goal. Imagine being able to climb Excalibur in the Netherlands! Anyway, I am thinking too far ahead.

I’ve learnt that if you are always chasing the thrill, you will never be disciplined enough to commit. So I’ve got to start small and practise consistently. Challenge accepted!

Not all hearts want to be cured

I was naive to think that the heart wants to be cured.

Sometimes the heart enjoys wallowing in its own self-pity, curled up in a blanket replaying scenes from a happier time.

Other times the heart forgets it was broken in the first place and carries on living half-heartedly.

But this kind of amnesia of the heart is dangerous. It makes excuses for evenings spent on the couch, invites left unopened, and meals left uncooked, all in the name of comfort.

It’s comforting to do nothing in the dark, when the moon curls up, wrapped in the shroud of night.

But darkness is for sleeping, withdrawing and the closing of curtains. The heart mistakes this for comfort, because the light blinds us in the dark.

But the heart needs to wake up every morning to breathe in the freshness of the morning dew. That’s how it knows it’s still alive.

To wake up every morning to the rising sun is something I sorely miss.

Love hypothesis

I started off this year with a single question: “How does one possibly get over heartbreak?” Much like a scientist in search of an answer, I sought out a number of sites, articles, and videos from so-called love experts, and whittled down my research to five hypotheses.

To get over heartbreak, you have to:

  • Do something meaningful with your time
  • Cut off all contact with the person who broke your heart
  • Go out and meet new people
  • Share your feelings with your friends
  • Give it time

I set out to prove/disprove each of these hypotheses, hoping that along the way, I would find a cure for this fragile, and weary heart.

The most beautiful sentence in the world

I used to recite William Nicolson’s lines in the back of my dad’s car:

“Where you go, I go. Where you stay, I stay. I will pass my days within the sound of your voice, and my nights within the reach of your hand. And none shall come between us.”

I remember feeling overwhelmed by the depth of his words. I liked the sound of them. I liked drowning into their overwhelming depths. I was drunk on his words. That was the first time a window to my emotions opened up.

I began asking myself questions. “Where was my beautiful sentence? Where were the people who’d let me have conversations as deep as Nicholson?”

After every encounter, a birthday party, a social gathering, I’d leave with a sense of hollowness. There was a missed opportunity of connection behind those pleasant exchanges.

When I searched people’s faces, testing the depths of their emotions, a wall bounced back up, blocking me from seeing.

I was forever in search of a conversation that would never happen.

But then I met my friend. The kind of friend one could only dream of. And that changed my world, in small ways, like undercurrents rippling through a big sea. Our conversations have accompanied us under the bright lights of Tokyo, during humid evenings in Fiji and back home in New Zealand.

During our conversations, I listened and I noticed. The most beautiful sentence in the world is quiet enough to let you speak, but loud enough to let you know this: “Don’t be afraid to hear the sound of your own voice.”

So cheers to my friend who gave me a voice to my thoughts and an ear to share it with.

How to get yourself out of a rut

Getting yourself out of a rut is like playing a video game. The first few levels are easy, the next few levels get harder. So you’ve got to level up if you want to move onto the next level.

How to level up

Level 1 — Learn a new skill.

When I wanted to get myself out of customer service and into a digital career, I learnt all the basics on how to code. I went to the library, I searched up online. I filtered out the good information from the bad. I was soaking in so much knowledge.

Productivity-wise, it wasn’t too hard. I was 24 at the time, so I had the energy to study in the evenings. I would come home from my easy customer service job, and study 3 to 4 hours before I went to sleep. I did this for a few months, then I started building a portfolio.

At this stage, I was on level 1 of the game. Things were easy. My life was easy. I lived home with my parents. Ofcourse, at the time I didn’t think it was easy. But looking back, the only skill I needed was to pick up a book and learn about the basics of coding.

Level 2 — Put the skill into practice

I applied for a few different jobs with my portfolio. Eventually, I landed a role in a design studio, creating digital modules for clients.

Looking back, transitioning from customer service to a new career wasn’t too hard. It only took two months of job seeking. But now I realise that it was because I was applying for entry level jobs in the digital field.

I was still operating at level 2 of the game. The only tool I needed really was my portfolio.

Level 3 — Find out what you need to improve on

After 3 years working there, I wanted to move on. More specifically, I wanted to move up. Somewhere where I would get better pay. But I didn’t know how to. Nor did I trust myself to take that leap.

At this time, I started paying attention to the things that I was good at, and also noticed the areas where I consistently needed help with. For instance, my boss would tell me that I was really good at instructional design, breaking down complex learning into simple steps. But my design skills were not up to scratch.

To advance to level 4, I needed 2 skills. Specialised knowledge and confidence.

Level 4 — Learn again but be specific.

This is where I’m currently at. Level 4. I need to hone in on my skills. More specifically, I need to identify the skills I need improving on, and work on them to become more efficient at them.

However, the game just got harder. I’m no longer 24. I’m now 27. Yeah, it’s not so old. But I have a mortgage, I get tired really quickly, getting to work and back takes 2 hours a day. There’s absolutely no way I can study the same way I used to at 24.

That’s why at this stage, when you’re pretty burnt out and exhausting all your energy, the only way out is to educate yourself. Really identify those skills that you need to get right. Don’t spend unnecessary time working on skills that aren’t going to get you out of a rut.

For example, I mentioned how I need to improve my design skills. Now that’s too broad and there’s so much I would need to learn to become an expert. But due to years of experience, I know exactly what areas of design I need to study:

  • I need to understand which pairs of font look good together.
  • I need to understand how to use the grid system to lay out eye catching pages.

I’m not going to learn things like how to create beautiful, handwritten typography. Or how to draw. None of these skills will help me advance in my learning design career.

And I also need to learn the theories behind how adults learn. This isn’t design related, but it’s specialist knowledge that I need to learn to advance in my field.

So, levelling up becomes a continuous cycle of learning and improving. Start by putting your current skills to practise, so that you can identify what skills you lack. To move onto the next level, you have to keep filling up your inventory with more specialised skills.

If you want to finish the game and be at the very top, keep learning.

Under the auspicious, round moon

The moon is at its roundest tonight. A full circle, a symbol of wholeness, completion, and the coming together of family.

It is the Moon Festival, and as always, whenever there’s a festival, I go over to my grandparents’ for dinner. They’ll be making dumplings, noodles, pork ribs, and chicken drumsticks – the usual feast. My tummy rumbles just thinking about it.

I try to get off work as soon as possible, but I am held back by a coworker who wants a sympathetic ear. I hear my parents chiding me, “I told you to get off work early today.”

Chinese festivals are always like this. No matter how much work you have, if it’s time to celebrate, you’ve got to put everything down and rush back home. No overtime.

When I finally arrive at my grandparents’, the food is cold, and, to my dismay, there are no noodles. But despite that, the energy is still at its infancy. My cousin’s 1 year old daughter claps as I sit down at the table, starting a competition amongst the adults to see who can clap the loudest.

I happily munch away at my food, keeping one ear open to the conversations around me. There is talk of my sister’s new job, her salary, and her declining weight. She begs to differ. There is nothing wrong with her weight.

I stuff a mouthful of dumplings in my mouth. The skin is so soft and the mixture melts in my tongue.

Dumplings can be eaten with tomato sauce, or vinegar. I’m usually not a big fan of vinegar, but tonight, I ask for it specifically. In fact, I have been waiting all week to eat vinegar. Why? Because of the old wive’s tale that eating vinegar delays your period. I know it’s a bit hocus pocus, but it seems to work everytime for me. I whisper to my sister that the reason I want to delay my period is so that it won’t come during our trip to Japan. My sister winks in reply. She already knows.

I look around the table. Not everyone has stayed till the end. My other cousin slipped out of the night to attend church. He always attends church, despite looking the complete opposite of a church goer. He used to get into fights at school, and my dad would drag my sister and I to talk to his teacher, because our English was better than his. Those were the days. We used to hate him. Now we are planning a trip together to South East Asia.

On the other end of the table, my grandpa is putting food on my grandma’s plate. Ever since her stroke 3 years ago, she’s been unable to do simple things by herself. Her face has swollen from not bring able to move around too much, but despite that, she’s still loud and vocal. Grandpa chuckles everytime he gets told off.

There’s mum, dad, my sister, my cousin, my neice, my Aunties and Uncles, my grandpa and my grandma. Twelve of us on Friday 13th, minus my church goer cousin.

Looking around the table tonight, I realise each of us has our own little stories, our history and future. No matter what happens, or where we drift off to, we will always come together, on a night like tonight. This is the beauty of the Moon festival.

The magic is all in the preparation

Since three weeks ago, I have been working a second job to fund for my trip to Japan.

My goal is to reach $1000. That’s how much spending money I’m giving myself for the whole trip.

It’s not that I don’t have $1000 saved up, it’s just that part of the fun of this trip has been the preparation: meeting up with friends over the weekend, planning our itinerary, taking photos for our International Driving Licences and now, working casual jobs to fund for our trip.

In the past 4 months, I have been catching up with my friends about once a week! That’s a lot for me.

I have learnt a lot about my friends in these past four months. I’ve learnt that they’re thoughtful and interesting, that they make me laugh, especially with their stories. I’ve learnt that we are different, yet the same, and I know that I am going to have a blast in Japan, because of the people I will be going with.

The magic is all in the build up to the trip. These moments with friends are special. That’s why people say the magic is all in the journey. Now I can’t look away for fear it will end in a blink.

Heartbreak means I can no longer be lazy

When I woke up this morning, I cried. Then I wiped my tears, got up from the couch and started doing the five fundamental stances of Shaolin: The horse stance, the bow stance, the cat stance, the drop stance and the cross stance.

I am doing this to heal myself from heartbreak.

I’ve been lazy, letting my mind replay all the toxic emotions of heartbreak. Even before heartbreak, my mind was lazy. I left all the promises I made to myself for tomorrow.

But after heartbreak, I can no longer be lazy. After heartbreak, it is now necessary for me to keep the promises I made to myself. This is the only out I have.

Yes, the novel I’m writing sounds bad. But I’m finishing it.

Yes, people laugh at me when I practise Shaolin. But I’m sticking to it.

These two acts of commitment are a form of self love.

If I criticised someone for not being able to commit, then I have to commit to myself to show love.

Heartbreak means I cannot be lazy. Everything that I have been putting off is now necessary.