The rain and I

Sitting here on the couch today, I’ve made a decision not to sell myself short.

I’ve decided I’m going to stand up for myself when other people say “you’re not good enough.”

I’ve decided to say “yes, I am.”

I’m no longer going to please people as if my life depended on it.

These past few days, I’ve seen a change in my habits. I no longer procrastinate, I stick to the things that I say I’m gonna do and I am more disciplined than ever.

I have become this way not because I am strong or successful, but because I have failed.

I have failed and realised that I didn’t want to diminish myself anymore.

Today I cried buckets and buckets of tears. Today, the plan that I had set into motion didn’t pan out.

But that’s ok, because when the rain speaks, nothing else can be heard. It’s just the rain and I. Stripping away all the inessentials.

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.

A letter to the universe

At some point in my life, I began collecting diaries. I believed that if I wrote down the things that I wanted to achieve, then I’d be putting my thoughts out to the universe and somehow they would come true. It was like writing a letter to the universe. That’s why I own 30 diaries and counting.

But when the universe was busy reading someone else’s letter, I grew complacent and made a few mistakes. It all began when I started daydreaming about becoming a writer. I’d spend evenings working on my writing skills and mornings working on work. I thought I had a good balance going, but then came the big complaint at work.

An email came through just as I was about to go home. A few words in and my heart sank. Disappointing, she had commented. For the next few days, everyone tried to find out how I had made those mistakes. Stupid, really, it was just a lack of common sense. But it had a domino effect. Every small mistake I made was now viewed as a big mistake. I didn’t even trust myself anymore.

That was when a friend invited me along to a science conference by Michio Kaku. I’d never heard of him before, but I thought I’d give it a go. I was glad to spend my thoughts away from my mistakes and enjoy being in the company of my good friend.

Michio Kaku looked like a Japanese Einstein. He had the iconic, shoulder-length white hair and he was no doubt, just as smart. He talked about all these big ideas: the universe, string theory, Elon Musk’s BFR and the future of mankind. A little stab of panic rose in my chest. Was everyone this smart?

When he opened the floor for questions, the intelligence in the room was overpowering. “What happens when muons bend and time slows down? What happens to the junk in space? Can we download our data into avatars, and what is a soul?” were just some of the big questions directed at the mighty scientist.

Somehow, someone in the audience struck up the courage to ask Dr. Kaku a ‘slightly unrelated science question’: “Dr. Kaku, how did you sustain your passion long enough to carve out a great career?”

This peaked my interest, because I thought it had some relevance to my life.

The mighty scientist seemed to love this question. He himself had asked it many times before, to the 300 scientists he’d interviewed on his radio station. He began by telling us about the ten year old story.

He said that all successful scientists began with the ten year old story. It was the age when they received their first telescope and saw the night sky for the first time. They remembered the feeling of joy at seeing something so vast right before their eyes. Remembering the joy, was what sustained their passion throughout their career.

At the end of the talk, my friend turned to me and said, “See, you don’t need to have common sense to be successful.”

I nodded. Three hundred scientists can back up his sentiments.

The thing is, I keep trying to be like someone else, but in the end I always fall back into myself. Like stars collapsing in the universe, that’s when we shine the brightest.

The stutterer who writes

The way I speak is different to the way I write. When I speak, I stutter, and feel like such a grown-up fool. I’ve tried to talk slowly, but busy people look at me uncomfortably, and try to hurry me along.

When I write, I also stutter. But a blank page is more patient than a person, so I let myself stumble and play with the words before I get it right.

You might be a stutterer like me, but in a different area of your life. You might stumble in your relationships and fall down many times in your career.

But don’t worry. The stutterer in you is searching for a place to flourish.

Tomorrow, when I return to the place of Impatience, I’m going to remind myself that there’s a blank page waiting for me to shine.

Call of the wild

A few months ago, I had the most epic apocalyptic dream:

I was vacationing on an island, with my mum, dad, and sister, when a huge tsunami swept everyone away, leaving only my sister and I clinging onto the balcony of our hotel.

When we looked around, we saw a giant crocodile statue wrapped around the entire hotel building.

Except that it wasn’t a statue, it was a real crocodile.

And it wasn’t just any crocodile, it was a giant, prehistoric crocodile.

So my sister and I made our way slowly down the building, trying not to disturb the beast, when we noticed something interesting.

Tucked away underneath the foot of the crocodile was an old box. We opened it and found an old casette player and a tape inside, so we played it.

A man’s voice crackled:

“Mayday! Mayday! This is M.C. Mcdonell. I’m on an island, and there’s been a huge tsunami. I’m the only known survivor and there’s a giant crocodile wrapped around the hotel-”

The tape stopped playing.

We all stared at each other.

“You mean to say,” my sister said, “that this has happened before?”

“I’m afraid it’s happening again.”

And that was the end of my dream. I really wanted to know what happened next, but I woke up and never got to finish dreaming.

So I went on a dig down at the library to satisfy my longing for that dream-like apocalyptic feeling.

And there, right in front of me was an old classic, rewrapped and rebound in new. I’d never read the book before, but there was an image of a prehistoric beast rearing its head on the front cover.

It reminded me of those old adventure movies I used to watch, like Indiana Jones, and The Mummy, and it had the faint whiff of my dream, so I stood there in the middle of the library, reading the first few pages:

For it is only when a man goes out into the world, with the thought that there are heroisms all round him… that he breaks away from the life he knows…and ventures forth into the twilight mystic land where lie the great adventures and rewards.

Which is why, in following the author’s advice, I ventured out, or rather, up, onto a mountain, 50 metres above ground, with Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World in my mind.

So next time if you have a dream, answer the call of your dream. It might lead you to discover one more awesome book and if you’re willing to follow it, it might lead you to the next part of your adventure.

How far can you go?

My grandfather walked 156km from his farming village to the city, when he was just a small boy, so that he could attend middle school. A journey like that would’ve taken him days, but he did it alone, all by himself, with nothing but the road signs to guide him.

I learnt about this story on my last visit to see him, when he was lying in hospital, in a vegetative state.

When I asked my mum why he had done that, she said: “He had a vision.”

What she meant was that he was the first of his family to get an education, when nobody else thought to do so. And in doing that, he led our family out of a life of poverty.

My grandfather had such strong blood in him. I didn’t see it then, because he was just a tiny, fragile old man. But I see it now.

He fights and claws at the caretakers when they stick tubes down his throat. He stares them down if they cover his hands with mittens because he likes to take the tubes out of his nose.

He is very much a leader trapped inside a dying body.

But he was strong enough to wait for us to come back so that we could say goodbye.

He was strong enough to walk 156km for an education that would otherwise never have been given to him.

I am not strong like him, but on the day of his passing, I realised he had left a legacy.

So I asked myself, what would I walk 156km for?

What’s in a story?

Tamora Pierce once said that writing is like training for a marathon.

“Don’t worry if you never finish all the stories you start. You wouldn’t expect yourself to run a marathon straight away. You train yourself by running short distances. So keep practising, keep writing, and you’ll build up the muscles you need for the full novel.”

This takes me back to my first few attempts at storytelling. I always wondered why I could never get past the beginning:

In primary school, I set up a beautiful description of a haunted house and then nothing happened. The story just fizzled out.

In intermediate, I was so fixated with perfecting every word, that I never got past the first sentence.

And then somewhere in adulthood, I decided to get one word past the beginning, then one line past the beginning, and then, one sentence!

I can now write two chapters in one sitting. Kind of ok, right?

So, this is what it looks like when you start training yourself for that novel:

When you write often, you begin to see the kinds of stories you care about.

When you write long enough, you begin to use your own words.

When you write everyday, you begin to develop the ability to sit still for hours.

When you write even when you hate your writing, you develop patience and endurance.

And when you write each and every day, you’ll realise how powerful words with direction can be.

That’s what a story is. Not how perfect the words are, but the direction they’re taking you; towards that sentence, towards that paragraph, towards that chapter and finally, towards that last word in your novel.

How great would that feel?