Here's a picture of me, 1 week before my birthday at the stable after a
riding lesson, sweaty, stinky, dressed very meh, and having a good time.
Every year I’m excited to celebrate my birthday. No, not so much about the superficial aspects of it (gifts, parties, vacations), although I must say that I love the get-togethers and birthday cards and face product gifts I never knew I needed, as well as the annual birthday trips I always have as an excuse for more travel. Also not too excited that the eye-bags are becoming more resilient than ever. But more than that, I’m excited because hey! Another year has come to dawn, and I get another chance at time. Not everyone is privileged to have lived another year.
But as glad as I am for another self-anniversary, I must say that this time around, I experienced some anxiety. I woke up earlier this week with a slight pang in my chest. I wasn’t sure why, and I carried on with the day trying to ignore it, but by evening it just wouldn’t go away and a friend of mine advised that I should probably want to look into it.
So I did.
And here’s the thing.
Sometimes, as you grow older, you experience some episodes of self-doubt. You start having doubts about;
1. Your life choices
2.Your reaction to things that have led your circumstance to become what it is today
3.The people you let in and let go
4.The decisions that you have made that changed your life in a big way
This happens regardless of who you are, whether you’re a successful force with a million achievements under your belt, whether you’re married or single or divorced, or just a regular Joe/Jane who has lived through everything according to plan. Actually, even your plan becomes a source of doubt. Was it the right plan? Is it still the right plan?
And this becomes especially true if you have chosen to go down a more ‘unconventional’ path, i.e. making choices that is not exactly normal within your familiar society. Living down this path can sometimes be a pretty lonely journey.
For the bigger part of my life I have always accepted the idea that I am, and always have been, a little strange. I don’t mean this in a good or bad way. It is what it is, and so far I am happy just the way I am and have accepted the shortcomings that come with it. However, it does not mean that I don’t have moments of self-doubt. These moments are best visualized as a small, tiny voice in my brain that would squeak against my own self-esteem.
I am aware that unlike 99% of my girlfriends of my age, I have no children. It’s a conscious choice that I have made, which I feel is best for me at this point in time, right now. But by the time you feel like having offsprings, maybe your eggs would’ve gone extinct, and it will be too late and you’ll miss out on the joy of raising a family, says that self-doubting squeaky voice. I enjoy traveling and I don’t mind the money spent for these experiences as I think they are crucial to my fulfillment. You should’ve spent your money on real estate and investments like a responsible adult, it says again. I try my best to give back to the society in whichever way I can. It’s not enough, and you know you can do more. I am a hermit writer who would rather spend my weekends finishing manuscripts than going out to meet people. In the end you’ll die alone in your apartment while choking on a dumpling. A relationship I have failed to make work. You’ll never love again. Not like that. I don’t believe in settling for less, or rushing into things just because I am scared of being lonely. Please refer to the dumpling-choking loneliness stated above.
I suppose in many ways, an upcoming birthday becomes a physical reminder of these decisions and choices. It is true that we should live life with minimal regrets and that we should not dwell so much about the past, but here is when realistic Amal would like to stop you; that’s a great notion, guys, and an amazing ideal, but let’s face it. What kind of a person doesn’t have these moments of reflection and occasional self-doubt? It is completely normal to experience these, and it is completely okay too. Don’t let any generic motivational Instagram account convince you otherwise.
However, I do believe that there is good that can come from these ‘episodes’. Sometimes, it provides you an opportunity to really re-evaluate yourself and your life. What can the past teach you for you to be better moving forward? I doubted some of my past behavior that may have caused others pain. Then maybe looking forward, I could try to change and improve these aspects of myself. There were some decisions I could have done differently. And guess what? I can. As long as there is life then there is always a chance to try and fix things or start over or change plans.
The best thing about birthdays is that it’s a wake-up call to tell you that despite everything that you’ve done or has happened, you’re still privileged with time to do something about them. And if you like who you are right now, you’ve got your past to thank for that too. The you now is the result of every damn thing that has happened to you, either formed by your own decisions or carved by circumstances that have befallen you.
In the words of How I Met Your Mother, “it’s never too late, Barney”. That's what birthdays are for - to remind you that there is still time, and it's not too late.
What the heck is feminism? To be honest I wasn’t completely familiar with the term until much later in life. Although I had been somewhat exposed by that mindset thanks to my parents and school (I was in an all-girls boarding school for 5 years), I had never quite heard of the term ‘feminism’ when I was younger. And then, as time went on, I began discovering the many interpretations of this term. Madonna said we should all free our nipples. Social media seems to define the epitome of feminism as a woman who has her own business empire and produces a lot of generic self-love advice. One of my girlfriends said it’s the point in life where you no longer need a man except for their sperm. One guy in office said feminism is terrifying because when women rule, everything would just spiral into an emotional-driven hell.
I don’t know. I guess different people have different perceptions and definitions of feminism. For a lot of us it’s not all that dramatic – feminism is just a mentality we aspire to achieve where women can live in an environment where we are allowed to be who we want to be – and that’s pretty much a broad definition with many contexts, depending and your socio and economic background.
But I am intrigued to talk about what it means to be a ‘strong woman’, in today’s society. One day I was enlightened (and by enlightened I mean that a friend shared with me a link on the internet) with a review of one of my books, of which a reviewer had said that the protagonist sounded like a weak girl who needs to ‘wake up and stop being sad’. I was a little taken aback by this. In my writer’s mind, I never wrote the character within the vicinity of ‘sad girl’. She was just a normal girl who was trying to reflect on the process of being sad about something that happened in her life. Being sad was her transient state of mind, but not her entire being.
It made me think about how we sometimes choose to see and define 'strength'. Often, there is this idealistic view that being strong means that you physically look like you’ve got your shit together, you kick a man to the curb the minute he breaks your heart, you post a positive caption on Instagram every so often, you’re financially stable, you’ve got your own business and four kids and a handsome husband who all live in a gorgeously decorated house, or you’re single and say stuff like ‘#livingthelife’ and ‘#singledontcare’.
I’m not saying these things are bad. In fact, these things are good. These are all positive outcomes, after all. But what these also do sometimes is that they contort the dimensions of the idea of 'strength'. They also instil the subconscious mindset that anything other than that is not a strong, empowered woman. A strong woman shouldn’t look like she isn’t dressed to take over the world. A strong woman shouldn’t feel sad and hurt and vulnerable. A strong woman shouldn’t express herself other than something uplifting. A strong woman shouldn’t be okay about wanting to live a normal average life and must always want more, more and more. A strong woman must never feel like she needs a partner in her life.
In other words, a strong woman should never feel human.
It’s a dangerous bar that we’ve raised for ourselves. When strength is equated to being invincible, it becomes an impossible pursuit. When you pursue something that does not exist, you’ll never feel enough. And when you never feel enough, that’s when it all goes downhill – you begin to feel defined by the materials that you own, you allow yourself to settle for less, you repress your emotions to the point of depression, you feel ‘beneath’ others who seem to have more success than you do, and you start feeling lonely and lost. A lot.
What I’ve learned so far, through myself and so many other women around me, is that the real meaning of being a strong and empowered woman begins with you being okay with yourself. Acknowledging your flaws, admitting that you feel overwhelmed, recognizing that you’ve done your best within your means and putting a stop on comparing your life to others is the first step of being empowered. Accepting and loving yourself is empowering. Living your life through standing up for your own worth and according to what you want out of it is strength.
I'm saying all these things as though I've got it all down to pat, but of course not. I have my days when I don't feel great about how I look, when I don't think I have tried my best, when I feel like I'm not good enough for someone and when I feel like my life blows in comparison to that other girl on Instagram. It's work in progress to try and be better at these things. But I do believe that by trying to be a great, amazing, human example of what a woman is, you are actually making a significant contribution in building a progressive conversation about women’s opportunities and biasness in our society.
More of that, and less of just shouting from the rooftops angry, generic ‘feminist’ slogans without even understanding what they really mean.
2019 picked up as quickly as it came. It seemed like a pretty busy start for pretty much everyone – lots of my friends have begun to have school runs (only a reminder of how fast time flies and how quick children grow!), and for me I had my second book launch to sort out, and yet another travel plan to kick start my new year. Amidst the chaos, I seemed to have less time to do my favourite thing come each new year – making New Year Resolutions.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved making New Year Resolutions. There is just something about the turn of every 365 days, that allows me to physically calculate my milestones; for some reason this makes me feel assured that I have done something with my life. It’s the control freak in me that loves to know how far I’ve come and plan what else I’d do in the future.
This year, instead of making a list of things I plan on doing, I am making a list of things I need to improve on with myself. I’ll consciously make efforts to try and work on them this year, but won’t put up a measurable expectation.
First of all, I definitely, definitely need to learn to become more financially savvy. Last year’s travel-mindlessly-without-a-care-in-the-world actually did put a dent in my wallet. I have no intentions of slowing down this year, but I certainly know that I can work out better ways to make that lifestyle more sustainable. Being a responsible adult (blergh! I’m an adult boo-hoo) also means that I now have to be more mindful about where the $$$ goes, and although investments, trust funds, savings and stuff had been and always will be a bore to me (as do most adulating things), I know that I need to think about them eventually if I have hopes of financial freedom (as we all do, no matter who we are).
Secondly, I wish to improve my relationships with others. I am fully aware that I have an amazing support system any girl can ask for. I have supportive parents and siblings, friends who genuinely care about me, and colleagues who are constantly helpful (believe it or not, I’ve never had a terrible boss!). Unfortunately, I do notice that as I grew busier, I sometimes forget to nurture these relationships. I firmly believe that my quality of life is determined by the quality of my relationships, and so looking forward I want to make conscious efforts to stay connected to people I value the most. For example, a friend noted that I tend to ‘fall off the grid’ sometimes and not reply to text messages, and/or fail to show up to gatherings (admittedly, this happens a lot when I’m in my ‘writing cave’). I would like to show up more for my family and friends.
Thirdly, I want to challenge myself to stop gossiping altogether. Frankly I don’t do much of it anymore these days, but there was a time last year when I was conscious of the fact that I was indulging in some bad talk over others’ and their choice of lifestyles. Oprah says that gossiping is just an exhibition of your own low self-esteem, and Oprah is my gal so let’s try to have none of those this year.
The fourth thing I want to work on is of course, my third book. I’m pretty sure I can guarantee that we won’t be seeing a new book from me this year. Although I’ve begun to work on it, I foresee that it will take a long time to finish, as I am quite happy to really indulge in it for as long as I can this time around. It’s a new territory I’m excited to work on!
Lastly, I would like to put myself in more unfamiliar situations. The thing about growing older is you tend to want to become a social hermit; you’d want to stick around with only things and people you’re familiar with. Which is great, but over the years I’ve realised that being more adventurous and delving into unfamiliar territories are what kept my life more exciting and inspired. So more conscious efforts to try new and unfamiliar things in the future.
How about you? What are the things you’d like to work on come this new year?
Please note that this is the ghetto, uncensored version of my article in NST this month. You’ll notice the similarities.
I’m not sure if it was immediate or gradual. Though when I think about it, the natural course of episodes in life are usually what leads to a change or shift within us, most of the time. So perhaps this was one of those things.
Towards the end of 2017 a few episodes happened. There was something sad, which for some reason fuelled my incessant restlessness. But then DUMPED was published with wonderful reviews, which catapulted my bravery to keep on experimenting with writing and my writing process. I turned 30, which was a hard reminder that really, time flies extremely fast, so if I want to do something, this is about the perfect time to start and no longer stall.
And so the combination of these things was the start-up of 2018, or what I would call “They Year When I Said Screw This And I Will Do Whatever My Heart Wishes”. This isn’t to say that I haven’t done this in the past. Of course I have. But to be honest, I have always done them will a little hesitation and a lot of reservations. This time around, I really did just throw caution to the wind and went for it.
For some reason, this year I began to have a lot of change in mindset on the way I have been conducting my own life. I don’t want to sound like a grandma, but truly, with the years that have passed I have come to be a lot more accepting of myself and my circumstances. I felt a lot less desire to ‘fit in’, or, in a more extensive elaboration of that phrase, a lot less urge to try to become someone I am not. It is enough to know who you are even when others don't get you, and truth be told, people who truly love you will be just be accepting and loving of you even if you're slightly wired differently. I am also a big believer that everything happens the way it is supposed to – and for now, everything has conspired for me to be in this position of financial advantage, minimal commitment, creative freedom and a lot of access to do what I would like to venture into.
And so I decided to grab this window of opportunity by the balls (excuse my French), and I’ll tell you what this means. It meant that I packed my bags and took a long, long leave from work to travel and write. Then I came back, and off I went again. Then back, then off again. I was always going going going. I went to eat pizza in Naples, I took long walks around Paris, I climbed the Annapurna Base Camp, I got lost in Meteora, Greece, I had the best sushi of my life in Tokyo, I explored Barcelona, I went diving for my birthday, and I was on a stranger's motorbike zooming across the paddy fields in West Sumatera. I spent a lot of quality time with my family and friends, a further catalyst to a stable emotional well-being.
Then I began taking kickboxing classes, because why the hell not?
I bought a pair of roller blades and learned how to do that (and failed), because why the hell not?
I learned how to make the perfect roast chicken, because why the hell not?
I took up French classes (with exams, mind you), because why the hell not?
Doing these things, traveling everywhere, meeting many new people, learning new things, exploring new territories… it has been so beautiful and exciting and inspiring. It inspired me to keep writing my column, and of course it inspired me to finish my second book. But most importantly, it is that elevated feeling that I am the woman living the life I had always dreamed of when I was a little girl. It is the freeing feeling of succumbing to the life that has been given to me, instead of always contemplating why I am cut short of other things that other people are having. These, for me, are what make my happiness.
I won’t whitewash this and say that I am always 100% happy and grateful. That’s impossible and frankly, the kind of impression that I despise giving other people. Having a good year doesn't mean I don't have days where I wish for more or have heartaches. Some feelings stay the same, some days feel a little bit lonely, and some of us fell sick, lost something, with plans falling through or families in great ordeal. In this day and age that we live in, it is inevitable to ‘stumble’ upon pictures of an ex being happy without you, or some other girl who seems to be living a life of great outfits and great fun without needing to have an actual job like the rest of us. But I would confidently say that in 2018, I have been complaining a lot less and living life a lot more than I did before relatively. 2018 feels full (the same can’t be said about my savings account unfortunately. Travel and hobbies really drain your pockets man. But the way I see it, money can always be replenished. Time, however, cannot.). My time feels full and unwasted. My heart feels full.
And in the end, isn’t that the most important thing? And also, why haven't I approached life like this sooner??
Happy New Year everyone.
Good Lordy Lord it’s another birthday again. My thirtieth year had been such a whirlwind! I kicked it off last year with an unforgettable diving trip in Sipadan with my best friend, M. And after that, it was just a fast-paced blur. There was a book launch, I think… I remember reading pages from my book in a bookstore, and there were family, friends, press and readers. We laughed a lot. It was a beautiful event. And then something sad happened. That wasn’t great. Let’s keep that for another day. And then M got married, and I was so happy for her. And after that was a series of hardcore traveling, almost back-to-back, something I never thought I’d ever do, but I did. I took a month off and went to Lyon to hang out with some friends, then to Amalfi, Pompeii, Barcelona, and finally Paris on my own. After that I went to Japan, and later on for a seriously amazing, indulgent trip all around Greece in a rented car.
All the while, I wrote my second manuscript for a second book (hopefully), and I continued contributing to New Straits Times on my column. Dumped continued to be one of the bestselling books for a few months, and it gained amazing reviews by press and readers. I also started learning the ukulele, took a French language course and tried to master the art of roller skating (still trying). And then I began to train for something physically major happening in September, which you’ll know about soon enough.
And before I knew it, it’s July again, in a whole other year. Another birthday has arrived.
When talking to friends or people my age, we find that one of the challenges is how to keep things interesting throughout the whole year. For the most of us, it’s a lot of work and too little play, because it seems like ‘play’ takes too much money, effort and time – things that we don’t always have at our expense.
This time around, I thought that it might be fun to share a few tips and tricks on how to consistently keep a whole year interesting. Some are big things, some are just small actions, but I think all of them have the capabilities of boosting my mood and getting me out of a rut of work days and office hours and life chores. Maybe these are the things that you do, too!
1. Do something completely random
And I’m not even talking about big random things like buying a sports car or getting a Fitbit you’ll never use (I’ve seen too many examples of this). Honestly, sometimes all we need is a little re-invention to feel invigorated. Even as little as going to the ice cream parlour and buying an ice cream flavor you normally wouldn’t go for. Or trying a new restaurant during lunch time. Or wearing a completely different style than your usual, even just for a day. These things sound small, but they really do wonders in getting you out of your mundane routine, especially if you’re pressed for time.
2. Get creative
No matter how NOT creative you claim yourself to be, venturing into something that requires your right brain’s full focus is an easy way to de-stress. That’s actually one of the reason why I began learning to play the ukulele. You get home after a long day at work, and you have 30 minutes before you need to sort out chores etc etc. What do you do? Pick up an instrument, play while enjoying a drink, and after a while you’re completely in a whole other mood. I find that this works even better than just getting home, slumping on your couch and watching TV. If music is not your thing, then perhaps painting, sketching, journaling or even a jigsaw puzzle would float your boat.
3. Try something that makes you a little uncomfortable
In simplified terms, try something that is not your usual perspective. If you're a city person, how about a weekend at a very remote kampung with none of the usual comfort items you're usually attached to? (air-cond, WiFi, fancy restaurants). You'll be surprised how a small change in views can give such an interesting boost in life. Or attend a class of a sport you've never even thought of trying. Last month I tried Muay Thai Kickboxing, something I never thought I'd attempt because it always seemed so violent. But I did, and it turned out to be such a good, different experience (also I got to punch people, which was a great anger-management method). If you've never tried travelling solo, then how about that? Or joining an organised charity, or checking out a religious ceremony that is not your faith, or attending a live band performance...
4. Find fun friends
This is important, You are who you hang out with, and if you're spending time with dull people who are exactly the same as you are, then expect to never get out of the rut in or learn anything new. Negative people (who always have an excuse to not do anything interesting, who always have something bad to say about everything) is a complete no-no too. Instead, get the ones who different from your cultural background so you can always learn something new. Forge relationships with people who are excited about life, and would encourage/accompany you to try new things, like training for a half-marathon, doing a group cleanse or even plan an all-girls weekend getaway.
5. Learn a new life skill
I once worked next to an 50-something Australian guy at work, who told me that "you are never too old to learn a new skill". Sadly, a lot of us feel the opposite. Come the 30s and beyond, we begin to have less interest in learning anything new. And this is such a shame because self-enrichment is such a gratifying feeling, especially when you're older and life begins to feel a little bit too plateau. And life skills doesn't always have to generate money. It's not always about the money, you know.
I recently signed up for a French Language course, all motivated by the thought that someday, I'd be able to watch a french film without subtitles! And maybe somewhere along the way it can help amp up my resume, too. I also have a friend, a mother of two, who attended watercolour painting classes, and another one who's learning to be a yoga instructor,,, there are just endless lists of new skills you can learn out there!
A few days ago, I found myself sitting on some rocks high up the hill, in a place called Meteora, in Greece. Meteora is a place famous for its monasteries perched high on top of rock pillars, isolated from the world. The monasteries were built by hermit monks during the height of the Turkish occupation of Greece, in hopes that they will be unbothered there.
During sunset these rock pillars stood high, looming long shadows wrapped by the rays of the setting orange sun. To say it was beautiful would be an understatement. I sat there, across these monasteries facing the sunset, thousands of miles away from home, and I was in place where I didn’t know anyone and no one knew me.
Did I know I was going to be in Greece? Not until two months ago. In fact, I had no plans to even go to Greece anytime soon. But FlyScoot (which is an Airline, previously known as Tiger Airways) gifted me with free tickets and so there I was, perched on a mountaintop somewhere North of the Greek lands on a Tuesday evening. Talk about random.
But then again, this year has been all about random. I made a pledge during the New Year (which you can read here) to dedicate 2018 to just being spontaneous with minimal plans. Anything is possible, I told myself. And just like that, it seemed like everything around me began to conspire to make this resolution possible – I got free tickets to go anywhere I would like (which I will forever be thankful for!). If that’s not some kind of miracle, I don’t know what is, sugar.
Now, back to me sitting on top of the mountain at the monasteries.
During the hours of just sitting there watching the sun go down, I began to think about how I had no idea I was ever going to end up there. If you asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that I would be there, in that specific circumstance of my life and in that exact state of mind. Some things were going well, and some things weren’t. And yet, despite the lack of idealistic perfection most of us like to dream our lives could be, I was happy.
I think one of my bigger struggles in life is to understand that life is a journey, and not a permanent residential stop. I mean, I understand it conceptually, but applying it is different altogether. This is why it gets hard for me to let go of people even when they have passed their dues, and why I get really melancholic when I reflect on passing time I’ll never get back. On moments like those on the mountain I would think about how sad it was that some things in my life are gone and only the memories will remain. And this will happen in the future too – our health, parents, beauty, friends, spouses… nothing lasts forever.
But I suppose what has changed is my acceptance of it. One of the biggest blessings of growing older is that you begin to understand that nothing is permanent in this life, and that the only change to the whole situation is how you embrace it.
Maybe happiness isn’t really about having things forever. Maybe happiness is about knowing what is there when you have it, and never taking advantage of these wonderful things, people, chances and experiences, while they last, before they are gone.
Resolutions never work out, do they?
Statistically only a small percentage of us keep to our resolutions, and the rest fail in misery or dwindle somewhere along the way.
There are mainly two reasons why New Year Resolutions go down in flames;
2017 had been a lot of things to a lot of people. Some of my family, friends and loved ones had divorces, found someone, had miscarriages, had babies, got a promotion, ventured into new careers, near-death experiences (stuck at the Turkey airport during a military raid!) and traveled to exciting places.
In general 2017 had been generous to me. Some things didn’t go so well but a lot of things were amazing and beautiful and unforgettable. However, 2017 was also a heavily scheduled, goal-oriented, intense year. Therefore, for 2018, I plan to live it as loosely as possible.
That isn’t to say that I don’t have goals for 2018. Rather, I want to give myself a lot of freedom to create, explore new things and have minimal expectations with everything in general. I think it will be fun to try and spend this year living a little more spontaneously than usual, and to approach things with a lot of curious enthusiasm. After all, people say expectations are the deterrent to gratitude - I'm curious to see how this works out. I hope to publish my second book soon, but I don’t want ‘soon’ to be rigid – I find that this tampers with the creative process. At the same time I am also looking forward to try a lot of things I have never done before. So I’m instructing myself to try 5 different, new things this year. I’m not sure what they are just yet, but I am up for recommendations!
What have you got planned for 2018? Exciting things I hope!
My other resolutions are: Stop biting my nails, learn at least 5 more songs with the ukulele, see someplace new once a month (even if it’s in the city), master a handstand (this didn’t materialize last year), learn 3 more fish recipes, try kickboxing.
Contrary to last year’s New Year’s Eve of friends, a rooftop balcony, KL fireworks and a throng of partygoers trashing the city centre streets, this year I spent my New Year’s Eve with my family, had hamburgers for dinner, and clocked out at 10 pm. I didn’t even get to harass people on Twitter about their New Year’s Resolutions before I passed out.
But no, last night wasn’t at all a summation of what 2017 had been. I would admit, 2017 started kind of shitty for me, but it began to climb uphill from there to become one of the most prominent years of my life (so far). In short, I really did underestimate 2017 before it began, and it ended up as the most wonderful blessing. But not without its own supply of challengers, heartaches and new things to learn, here are some highlights that I acquired throughout the whole year.
Maybe you can relate to some of them too!
1. When I got my book publishing contract
Hey remember that time when you won the lottery? This was so much better! On the day I received an email from MPH saying that they would like to offer a publishing contract for my manuscript, it all felt surreal to me that I took days to process this information. I was happy, nervous and frankly, scared. I didn’t know anyone else who was a writer, and I did not even intend to publish the manuscript when I first wrote it (I write a lot, but mostly for my own indulgence). It was very hard to keep this exciting news under wraps for months, and I told only one other person about this. I kept it a secret because of my own insecurities – what if it didn’t turn out as I expected it? What if it all turns into a massive disaster?
2. When I became a NST columnist
I know we all envision Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City when we think about the phrase ‘newspaper columnist writing about relationships’, but I’ll have you know that I don’t own a single pair of Manolo Blahniks. Nor have I dated 50 guys like she has. On the first day my first column came out, I went to buy my first newspaper in I don’t know, ten years? Writing for New Straits Times was a huge career milestone for me, as I knew it was my first big writing profile. Before this I had only published in my blog, but writing for a paper requires a certain finesse on content, opinion projection and message. My first column came out in February, and we are still going bi-weekly strong today!
3. When I saw Coldplay in concert
Yes, I know for some people this is probably nothing. But my goodness, Coldplay! There’s a backstory to this. When I was in college I used to listen to them almost everyday (and I still do). I memorize almost 100% of all lyrics of all of their songs. On my final year in college, Coldplay was having a concert in Perth near where I lived at the time, and I badly wanted to go. Unfortunately I was a broke student (even with 2 part-time jobs, mind you), and I couldn’t afford the tickets. Finally seeing Chris Martin playing a Martin D28 guitar live actually was part of my bucket list, and any year where I get to tick off something from the list is a good year for me!
4. When I realised that dreams have a price
People tell you this all the time, but it isn’t until you actually experience it that you’ll know what it really means. Along the year I found myself multitasking most of the time – I had a busy full time office job, and at the same time I was editing my book, writing for my NST column, making sure the blog isn’t first-wifed, and I was also writing the second manuscript. As a consequence there was a period where I did not have a single vacant weekend for 2 months straight, and I did not manage to see my family or socialise as much as I would like to. But despite the craziness, there was the strange self-indulgence in spending time doing something you really love, so there wasn’t any complaining either. I suppose the lesson here is everything has a price, including and especially, dreams.
5. When I got a new nephew
Nope, I still feel the same way about kids in general, if you’re thinking that having nephews have turned me into a motherly Mama Bear. But I can proudly say that I can now hold a baby in a safe, HSE-adherent way without having panic attacks.
As long as they don’t pee, poo, barf, snot, salivate, or make any general screaming noise.
6. When I turned the big 3-0
Newsflash: When they told you that turning 30 is dreadful, they are LYING. Turning 30 is the best thing ever!
To be honest, when 2017 began and I realised my 30th birthday was approaching, all those social context of fearing ageing really got to me. I didn’t feel like I was ready to be a full adult yet! Okay, I still don’t think I’m ready, but the good news is this time of life is a great place to be. Personally, I have never felt better in my own skin or happier with my own body than today. I think this self-assurance projects itself in how I perceive my worth, my relationships and how I carry myself compared to when I was, say, 22. You tend to care less about what others think and more about your own happiness and creating the life you want to live, and it is the best feeling ever, truly.
Everyone ages, but not everyone ages well. Be conscious of how you experience your years and how you use it to benefit you.
7. When I went underwater at my own backyard
As a birthday gift to myself, my bestie and I went for an almost a week diving at Sipadan, Malaysia. Hailed as one of the most beautiful diving sites in the world, I shamefully admit that I had never visited it once even when it’s in my own country. It was everything I hoped it would be, and I came back darker and happier.
It was also my last hurrah with M before she got married. And to note, M getting married was also a highlight of my year. I was so absolutely happy for her. It was also one of those rare occasions when I didn’t hate weddings.
8. When my book launched, and all the reactions that followed it
You’d think it was all excitement and a big hurrah, but prior to the launch of the book I experienced one of my most intense bout of anxiety. Fully aware that people can be mean, the public can be judgemental and that dreams can crash in failure, I was so afraid that something that means this much to me can or will backfire. After all, literature is a form of art, and like other art, I know for a fact that it will not please everybody. There was always that fear that something you love might not be good enough, and this haunted me for months.
But so far, the reception for the book has really exceeded any of my wildest dreams for it. Last month it became the National Bestseller, and to this day I still feel that it was surreal and mind boggling – what?? (slaps own face)
Furthermore, looking at all the feedback and pictures of people enjoying the book on social media has made me feel so overwhelmed with joy. There was a girl who wrote to me and said that the book helped her healing process through some of her own hard times, and I thought that was just pure magical. It has somehow, unintentionally or otherwise, allowed a stranger help another stranger. That truly meant more to me than any best-selling list.
I guess what I learned throughout this entire process is that if you have a dream, however small or extravagant, go after it for yourself, not for anything or anyone else. That way, however it turns out, the satisfaction will always be in the journey rather than the material targets of it.
9. When I took charge of my own health
It’s not easy at first, folks. Not when a lot of people around you are eating and drinking junk nobody really needs. But I’ve learned a few tricks this year that might be helpful; 1. Eat meals with people who also eat healthily, so you’re not tempted 2. Chill with the change. Don’t drastically try becoming a vegan or starving yourself, because dude that will never work ever 3. For God’s sake, EXERCISE. Find something you enjoy and find friends who enjoy it too! Your body is built to move, not slouched on a couch watching Stranger Things. You’re not 20 anymore and you won’t get away with that for very long.
10. When I learned what it takes to have a gratified heart
Oh, 2017. You broke my heart and then you built it up again, bigger than I ever thought possible. I have struggled to find the fine line between not giving up and learning to let go. Because I had always been somewhat attached to the philosophy that you just don’t quit on something that means immensely to you, this sometimes makes me too stubborn and too hopeful.
This year is a big year for my heart too. I learned that when it comes to matters of the heart, you should always do everything wholeheartedly, and love to the best of your ability. Don’t be too obliged by your ego and especially fear. Be fearless when it comes to the matters of the heart. So that whichever way it turns out, you’ll always find it easier to find peace and acceptance, and you’ll never have any regrets. Regret is one of the most painful things you’ll have to endure, if you’re not careful.
To be honest, after all that racket, I’m all set and ready to venture into 2018! What does your 2018 plan look like? I’m looking at a year of a lot of traveling, fitness, working hard and even more laughs. Lots and lots of laughs.
Happy New Year and I hope we all find what we’re looking for. And more.
No, don’t worry. This isn’t one of those fan girl entries where I describe how I would like John Mayer to sign my chest.
I don’t know who John Mayer is.
But I know his music. I listened to his stuff since I was in college, which was years ago. And after many years of listening to just his music alone (no interviews or documentaries), here's what I know.
He had a relatively happy childhood, and somewhere along the line his parents were divorced.
The divorce affected him even as an adult. He sang a lot about the dynamics of his parents' relationships and how he perceived them.
He has a terrible issue with growing up and grasping responsibilities. It affected his ability to sustain relationships. Every album discusses this.
He fell in love a lot of times, but there is one girl in particular he truly loved/loves. There is at least one song about this specific girl in every album in the past few years. These songs are almost always thematically the same - associated with his feelings of regret, and never forgetting her.
I don't know John Mayer.
He's probably a scumbag in real life. Who knows? But I know his music.
Art, whether it is music, painting, writing, photography, poetry, is an expression of a reality. They always come from some kind of truth, an actual story that happened.
I have been receiving a lot of feedback about the book. A lot of these feedback is an inquiry of whether the stories I wrote were real, or if the people in the narration are real.
Is it really fiction?
Is it 100% true?
Does this person really exist? They sound too good to be true.
It is always amazing to hear these feedback. It teaches me that humans are elaborate and unique, that we all interpret things differently and take away different notes from a similar story.
Perhaps John Mayer made all these things up so that you paint a picture of him in a way he wants you too. Or perhaps those songs really are stories of his life. But I’ll tell you this; from a perspective of a writer, art is never completely fiction. Sometimes, through knowing someone's art, you'll know more about them than their own person will ever tell you.
So there it is. You don’t really need to wonder about what is real and what isn’t in the book.
I think you already know.
Note** So excited to share with you that we’ve sold out all the first 1000 prints of the book! We are currently printing more copies, and hopefully you’ll be able to grab a copy if you didn’t manage to before. I know some people were disappointed last time – we’re trying our best to get them to you!
When I think about how my life has progressed from exactly one year ago today, I am immediately in awe of how a year can change so much and put you in an entirely different lithosphere. On this very date last year, or to be exact, on the 12th October 2016, I found myself in the middle of a Malaysian jungle doing one of the things I love most – geology outdoors under the sunshine surrounded by beautiful, virgin greens. When I was a child I would watch National Geographic and daydream about becoming a research scientist (or a bug scientist, to be exact. What a nerd.) exploring the wild. Now, in a way, I was doing exactly that.
But the thing that you couldn’t see through all my exciting pictures in four-wheel drives and adventurous mud-scraped knees was that about a few days before that, on the 3rd October 2016, somebody that was extremely dear to me, and I, had decided to part ways. And so it was a strange paradox, as I found myself standing in a elephant's footprint in the middle of nowhere with the sounds of the wild wailing through the forest, literally living a childhood fantasy, while also experiencing what was easily my saddest point that year.
Today, on the 12th October 2017.
I had finally had some time to process the whirlwind of the past month. Last week, today, one of the most important events in my life (only second after discovering the banana-peanut butter combo) happened. I had a book published. I had always loved writing. I wrote when I was a child because it allowed me to live a bigger life in my own mind. I was just a normal kampung girl from the North, but when I wrote I was the girl who joined the circus or did magic or travelled while eating cheese (cheese seems to be a lifelong obsession as you can see). I wrote as an adult because it helped me cope with my anxiety – when I struggled with some things in life or felt overwhelmed by my own mind, writing is one of the only few things that can calm me down.
Today I saw my book on a bookshelf near Aziz Ansari's book (that hilarious guy from Parks and Recreation).
Again, it was a strange paradox. Aside from the fact that the past month had been supremely stressful both personally and professionally, I was also experiencing one of my most intense bout of anxiety. You see, the book I wrote wasn’t just a book for me. It was two years of literary therapy, and like any therapy it was also excruciating as it is a relief. The idea of sharing a story I am so emotionally attached to, free for anyone to consume and judge, was terrifying. I had trouble sleeping just thinking about if it was all a big mistake or the work was even good enough, or if it was going to be misinterpreted into something it's not, etc etc.
But when we launched the book I was surrounded by family and friends, those who had seen me through awful moments and good ones such as this. It reminded me how lucky I am to have them. I have had them all my life but sometimes, when things get hard, I forget how lucky I am to have an amazing support system.
The book launch wasn’t amazing to me because I published a book. The book launch was amazing to me because it woke me up to realise that all my life, I had never been alone and I was always loved and supported.
Notice that there is a pattern to both of the stories from today, and that story from exactly a year ago.
Sometimes, when life throws its occasional curve ball and cause us hardships, it is easy to be consumed by it. It’s human nature after all. Sadness or negativity is always a lot more intense and stubborn compared to happiness. But if you scrutinise your situation of upset closely, you will realise that there is always, always, always something to still be grateful for. There is rarely a time when there is absolutely nothing to be thankful of.
It’s one of those things that make life such an amazing experience. In every kind of hardship there is always some kind of ease attached if you find it. I think it is deliberately designed that way so that we will always have a choice on how we view things, whether to be absorbed by the challenges or to find something positive in all of them.
Life. It’s a rather well thought out little mystery, isn’t it?
PS: And not to forget some avid readers I met at the launch. So nice to meet interesting people!
A deer's footprint inside an elephant's footprint, probably during their joint feeding frenzy. Picture taken this time last year.