Why I started writing Asian stories for a mainstream audience

Two years ago, I had the worst dating experience with an Austrian man.

We met while staying at a backpacker’s lodge on Christmas Eve. He seemed fascinated about history, especially Chinese history. The more ancient it was, the better. We got to talking, and surprisingly, I found it really easy to open up to him.

We caught up a few times afterwards at his place, and that’s when I began noticing things, niggly things that started bothering me.

My point of view

We’d order takeaway online and instead of offering to come to the store with me, he’d sit on his couch and wait for me to pick it up.

It was raining that day and I wasn’t too familiar with the area, so I got a bit lost in the rain while walking from my car to the store. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling and made me feel like I wasn’t worth his time, especially since we were just getting to know each other.

When I brought this up with him, he told me that it was such a petty thing to bring up, that if I really wanted him to come, then I could’ve just asked.

I found this to be really weird. I’m pretty sure that there is an unspoken rule of hospitality, that the host is responsible for serving food to the guest, and not the other way round.

Maybe the rules of hospitality don’t apply when you’re dating. But why would you treat someone you’re dating worse than the way you would treat a guest?

This honestly perplexed me. I asked him what his previous girlfriends had thought about his hospitality, and he said that they didn’t care. If they wanted him to come, they’d ask. If they didn’t ask, he didn’t come. He made it seem as though his actions were totally normal.

Overcoming writing anxiety

I was in my last year of high school when I experienced my first bout of writing anxiety. A sudden, overwhelming panic that I couldn’t write, that I wasn’t good at writing.

I was sitting the end of year exams. The all-important exam that would get me into university. Halfway through, I realised that I had interpreted the question wrong. There was half an hour left on the clock. The essay I had written was brilliant, but it didn’t answer the question correctly. So I scratched out the entire essay and decided to rewrite everything.

That decision cost me my love of writing. Although I ended up getting a B on my essay, something changed inside of me when I wrote.

I would pick up the pen to write something amazing that had popped into my head, but my chest would twist into knots. I became critical of every word, every sentence, every flow. It had to be right, it had to be perfect or else I would scratch it out and throw it away. My writing stalled. For seven years, I couldn’t write.

Near the end of those seven years, I realised that every time I tried to write, I was being transported back in time to the exam room, where I was being tested and judged under the clock. The beautiful, flowy way I used to write, morphed into a rigid, emotionless piece of writing.

I cared more about whether my writing would fit into a particular style, or earn me money. I dabbled in instructional writing, advice writing, copyrighting — writing that would earn me money, as those were the only ‘right’ kinds of writing. Before beginning any piece of writing, I’d ask myself, “Is this what other people wanted to read?” It sucked the soul out of me, and I fell out of love with the laborious act of writing.

The day I started to break out of my writing anxiety, was the day I stopped holding my writing hostage to an invisible clock inside a dark exam room.

I began to be more playful. I set myself a writing challenge during lockdown, where I wrote a 20,000-word story for children. I started writing more personal stories on my blogs, nysgirl.com and almondeyedwanderer.com, as well as on Medium as @almondeyedwanderer. None of these blogs are shared across any of my social media platforms. None of my friends or family have ever read my blog. Instead, I made the decision to give my writing a private space to grow and nurture.

Slowly, I began to crawl out of that dark exam room and into the light. There are moments now, where I can see my old self shine through my writing.

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.

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.

Undefined sadness

There are different kinds of sadness. Sadness from losing a spouse, breaking up with a boyfriend, or saying goodbye to a friend. There are people who know from experience what you should do, articles telling you the stages that you will go though. But what happens when your sadness doesn’t belong to any group? What happens if it’s undefined? How are you supposed to feel? And are you even allowed to be sad?

“Was there even anything between us?” I had asked him.

I was not sure how to define this relationship. We were never together, but we had spent a good amount of time together. We hiked one time around Piha, I often went over to his place and we went grocery shopping.

He told me that he wanted to be with me. For 6 months, he continuously told me that I was “the one.” But we were never “together.” He was never my boyfriend. Just someone I opened my heart to.

So how are you supposed to feel when somebody you’d spent so much time with suddenly leaves? Somebody who was not your boyfriend? It felt like I wasn’t supposed to be sad because our relationship was not defined. Maybe he wanted it that way so that it would be easy for him to leave, so that he wouldn’t be doing anything bad.

Somewhere along the 6 month mark, he changed his mind, but never told me.

I called him up one night and asked him in a faint whisper, “Do you still like me?”

He wasn’t sure. He said something like, “I don’t want to be with you, but I still like you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that you had stopped liking me?”

“I didn’t think it was that serious.”

And so I told him that we could remain friends if he could keep it neutral between us. I thought, better to be direct and set boundaries now, than not and regret it later.

But he never kept to that agreement.

And so after the 1 year mark I told him I didn’t want to be friends with him, and stopped all contact. Two weeks later, he texted me saying “I miss you.”

He did this a couple of times and at this point, I turned into a crazy, uncontrollable person, the details of which are too embarassing to share. I became the crazy person, the one people always say you should stay away from. And that made me feel so isolated in the process of my anger and sadness.

The hardest part has been replaying my part in this. Was I being too pushy? Or emotional? There are moments throughout the day where I have hated my actions, and as an extension, hated myself.

I don’t want to define the road forward. All I know is that I need to continue writing to make sense of the things that don’t make sense.

In the beginning, it was too hard for me to write about what happened, I was too caught up in the emotions so I was afraid I wouldn’t be honest with myself. I have been writing in bits and pieces, letting the truth come out slowly. I feel like I did everything right in the beginning, but even then everything turned wrong, and I am the one left reeling with this.

Emotions are something I need to balance. From time to time I feel guilty for letting my emotions ruin this thing between us. But then I think, what is a relationship without emotions?