Time and again

Ironically enough, it's become extremely hard to write anything that I feel is heartfelt and of significant worth nowadays. I've been feeling so ever since I made writing my official career path, I think.

Funny, isn't it, since you'd think that because you're devoting more time perfecting your craft, you should be better at it and everything should come so much more naturally than it did in the past?

But this is how it's been. Regrettably too, might I add.

I revisited the old, first proper blog I ever wrote, Veritas Project, recently. It surprised me just how differently I used to write. So uninhibited. So candid.

In some ways, I wish I was back at that place and time of my life, and that I had utilised those moments more fully to revel in the emotions of that season more, to write more wholeheartedly. Because now that I am where I'm at in life, here in my 30's, there's a great difference in the things I'd write and how I'd write them.

Yet, of course, I'm not discounting the value of experience and where it has gotten me. I write now through the lens of someone who has seen more, who realises what she is capable of, and who now knows so many more precious things about the world and the seasons and rhythms of life.

Time and again, though, I keep returning to this point of contemplation that I need to put forward a more genuine version of myself whenever I write. Particularly when I blog for a wider audience, like I do here.

The difficulty here lies in the fact that having been a journalist in the not-so-distant past, my writing disciplines have been shaped to habitually involve the practice of self censorship. We do it all the time in the newsroom, although the reasons for doing so may differ each time. The words we allow to escape our keyboard are filtered: tapered down in its depth of feeling, politically correct, shifted and sorted to take on a supposedly neutral form, appealing to the average reader. Which is, in reality, probably no one.

Here in Blogdom, everyone is writing nowadays to garner as much Likes as possible. Building a band of followers that will faithfully swallow whatever you put out for them, just because they feel like you know them. You are like them.

For that is what is being peddled. Writers putting on a front of being an expert and knowing something special. Teasing readers with minimal prose, abandoning the art of it all, and replacing it with GIFs, memes, haphazardly compiled lists of things that nobody needs but everybody identifies with and wants to know about. A place where words are money, so make as much as you can, with as little beauty infused into those sentences. Because, what is the point in poetry? It is unnecessary and underappreciated.

Then there are those writers' circles, those exclusive associations formed amongst writers on social media platforms. Where writers rant and rave about the perils of the realms of publishing and lament the naivety of rookies seeking their way into the fellowship. Spouting advice like, "If your writing is rejected by publishers, it's because it's worthless. Please move along".

I somehow cannot fit into this landscape.

As it is, I already have trouble believing that I am a writer, and even more so calling myself one. And all this… this massive community of successful people before me; corporations who make profits from the words crafted by others; the formality of it all; the formatting of pages, columns, fonts; the rigours of being part of the publishing process… all of this feels stifling to me.

I want to go back to that spot where simplicity and freedom of expression were. That quiet corner in the middle of nowhere that I could sit at for as long as I needed to, use as many paragraphs and pages as I wanted, and express precisely how I feel without fear of judgment or ruthless editing.

Where it was just me and you, my darling reader.

I still want to tell my story. But (and this may be hard to believe, coming from a person with a history like mine) I am having trouble finding the right words.

Turntable 

I think the way expectations are set up for apologies makes it way too easy for “I’m sorry” to be said and for grievances to be brushed off. 

That since it’s expected of gracious human beings to forgive, it is entirely possible to do whatever you like and then come apologising for it later on. 

Because if the other person doesn’t forgive you, then it’s all on them. 

You’re not perfect, are you? So you should forgive. It’s an expected response. 

Never mind that you don’t like the options left to you because of someone else’s mistakes. You were given options… so can you afford to be ungrateful? 

Suddenly, even though you’re not the one who made a slip-up, you can quickly turn into the one to blame. And it’s something that can even be taken offence of. 

Such a sad state of affairs. Sometimes I wish being kind wasn’t my life goal. Then I can be ruthless and rude and not care about consequences. 

Camp Nanowrimo excerpt: Eczema & me

If you’re wondering how things are going for me at Camp Nanowrimo, thing’s aren’t going too great. As expected, I have fallen behind. I guess I was trying to inject too much creative writing into the project. I shall be attempting to craft more candid, straight-up kind of writing pieces to fill in the gaps. And hopefully, I will catch up somehow. The prognosis is rarely good at this stage: I typically give up. But… well, fingers crossed. 

For now, though, here’s an exceprt of something I wrote in the spirit of catching up. It’s still within the theme of my project, of course, and also features me getting a bit vulnerable in my writing by sharing with you about my personal life. 

Enjoy! 😉

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Eczema & me

Apparently I was diagnosed with this skin disorder even before I was one year old. As far back as I can remember, I have been quite literally plagued with skin problems. Many times, it seemed like there was hardly ever a moment of reprieve.

What this means is that I am almost always scratching or having a previously clawed wound in the midst of the healing process at some spot or another on my body. On those even more unfortunate times, I’d also be battling some curious allergic reaction in addition to my typical eczema woes.  

Nowadays, it appears to be rather common for children to suffer from eczema. But back in the days when I was growing up, it was less so. So I endured a fair share of teasing and getting ostracised. I guess that’s because it not only looks unsightly, but some have the mistaken belief that I might pass on some allergy to them if they hung around me. I recall being called “kucing kurap” by a peer in primary school before. 

Seeking to alleviate my discomfort, my parents made it a point to write letters to my teachers requesting that I’d be exempted from Physical Education (P.E.) activities. So I’d often find myself sitting it out while my classmates played netball, ran in circles around the field, etc. Oddly enough, I do remember joining in on certain days… but as to why I participated during certain P.E. periods and not others is something that has since been forever lost from my memory.  

“Don’t scratch!” is probably the most frequently used phrase that I heard growing up. Usually, I would ignore this instruction. That’s mostly because you just have to scratch an itch. Those who believe it’s possible to completely endure it have obviously not had enough of them throughout their lifetime.  

Besides providing a sense of relief, scratching eczema patches is also hugely therapeutic. This is especially so when it’s a large patch of dry skin that has recently healed and is covered in scabs. There’s something strangely satisfying about peeling off an entire surface of scabby skin with your fingernails, one piece at a time. You’d have to experience it for yourself to understand. (FYI, I’ve talked to a friend who also suffers from eczema and he has verified this fact too as he finds it is also true in his own life).  

A common reaction to the discovery that I have eczema is to recommend a cure for me. I suppose most people mean well when they do this, but to be honest, I find it rather annoying. That’s probably because my parents actually took up some of these suggestions in the past and I had to experience all sorts of things in the name of getting me healed eczema. I don’t recall any particular one working out in the long term.  

So, in many ways, perhaps it’s to save myself the disappointment that I never heed any of the advice that people give me about eczema. (See earlier paragraph. Perhaps I’ve grown too fond of scratching as a technique for coping with life).  

The other thing about having eczema is that you fall under the category of People Who Ought To Be Prayer For To Receive Supernatural Healing within the Christian community. Believe me, many have prayed. The eczema endured, just as surely as God is eternal.  

What conclusion does this leave me with? I cannot accept that God is cruel enough to want to continue afflicting me because doesn’t He love me? But then comes the often proffered classic Christian perspective: “This is a test which God puts you through to refine your character and make beautiful things emerge from your life”. Oh and there’s also the “by the measure of your faith it will be given to you” angle whereby it’s supposedly my lack of faith which defines whether or not my eczema will vanish after a wholehearted prayer of a devout believer.  

No matter the reason, the fact remains that I. Still. Have. Eczema. Today.  

However, I should add that it has gotten much easier over the years. Partly it’s because I’m so used to having these skin woes. But it’s probably also due to the fact that there has been much less eczema patches appearing on my body as there used to be when I was a child.  

They say you can apparently “grow out of it”. And then when you don’t, they’ll say, “Oh, since you didn’t get rid of it before you reached adulthood, it’s now permanent”. Why not just tell me from the get-go that this is because my body functions in a certain way and that my best shot is to figure out a way to manage it that works well for me in the long run? 

Honestly, living with eczema isn’t too bad. As long as I don’t let flies lay eggs on my open wounds such that maggots start wiggling out of them (an unfortunately true story of a fellow hospital inmate that I was woefully made aware of while being admitted to the children’s ward), I suppose I will be alright.  

Sometimes I do face the setback of not being able to wear skirts or shorts whenever I want to because of weepy eczema patches on my legs, but it doesn’t happen too often (or I medicate quickly enough that the situation doesn’t persist for too long OR I completely ignore the issue and wear the desired item of clothing anyway).  

Although I do have some ideas about what triggers my eczema breakouts, most times I cannot say which of those causes is responsible for a particular episode. So, in many ways, que sera sera, and I continue to live life and not worry about abstaining from this or that unless something really huge occurs.  
And, as gross as it sounds that I like to scratch and peel of layers and layers of scabs, I’d like to make it known that I usually clean up my own mess afterwards. Especially on shared spaces around the home such as the bedroom mattress.  

There are far worse ongoing health issues to be stuck with, so I’m not complaining about my eczema. I just do what I can to live with it. Perhaps someday God will heal me of it. Or not. I just hope that I don’t pass it on genetically to any of my offspring so they can be spared of the agony.  

Awkward alien

Image source: Flexo

Becoming a Work At Home Mum (WAHM) is a double whammy. Not only are both those roles tough to navigate, there is this additional problem of becoming an awkward alien. 

What do I mean by that? 

Well, basically everyone else in your life who isn’t a mother and/or isn’t living a homebound lifestyle (which is probably like 90% of your social circle, if you’re in your 30’s like me) will be unable to understand you and the things you go through on a daily basis. This transforms you, essentially into an alien. And this then leads to some pretty awkward situations and conversations. 

To give you an example, here are some questions and/or comments I had to field lately: 

“So you guys don’t eat out much anymore nowadays, right?” 

– Hmm, while that is the truth, what this question reeks off is the underlying assumption that because I am now at home, therefore I must be cooking all the time. And also, since we have less household income, that we would probably want to be frugal and eat in seclusion, thus morphing into kataks di bawah tempurung.

“So when are you going to go back to work?”

– Thing is, I am working. Just not in a way that most people would comprehend since I don’t have fixed hours or fixed clients (except for one that I have been doing work for since last year). Read: I freelance. It’s not much compared to what I used to do in my old full time position, but I like to keep my career alive and options open. AND I’d like the freedom to be around to raise my son rather than let someone else do it for me. 

“Ah, so it helps you keep your mind active lah, gives you something to do.” (In response to finding out that I am taking on freelance work wherever I can.)

– I guess you can’t blame a person who hasn’t really spent day after day at home at all hours, because they would not have realised just how much there is to do at home. Even if I don’t come up with a list of things to do, or my son doesn’t throw a tantrum or mess up something and give me things to clean up after, there will ALWAYS be things to do at home. My home is my office, and whenever you are in the office, your working mode will be on. Which pretty much means I am almost always working on something and the chores never end. This isn’t even taking into consideration my actual freelance work. And, the fact is that just managing the household requires plenty of brainwork, because instead of doing it mindlessly, if you are a mature, educated adult, you will always want to find ways to improve things at home, be it the efficiency and speed of accomplishing chores, the organisation of furniture, storage solutions or other things. 

There was also this incident where I was having a conversation with two other ladies around my age. The two of them were going on and on about how kids are like this or that, citing examples of nieces and nephews and children of other friends. Perhaps it was them trying too hard to identify with me, the only one in the conversation who was a mother. Mmm. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about young children since I have one myself, but there is an invisible boundary somewhere, which once crossed, makes it uncomfortable and unnatural to carry on discussing this topic. It is especially so when the people keeping the topic going are those who don’t have kids in the first place. 

Just to clarify, being a WAHM doesn’t make me hate all these other more normal and sane people in my life (yes, I’m probably getting more and more queer with each passing day, if I have not yet morphed into an oddball) . But it does make it feel like a large chasm just opened up between us. And that makes it a bit harder, though not impossible, to connect. 

Well, I guess I should apply the same rules of conversation as a WAHM that I had used in the past: Always seek to understand more than to be understood; to ask about the other person and to care for them, rather than to expect them to be concerned for you. 

And then, all will be fine, and no one will suspect what an awkward alien I really am. 

It’s just that… it would be nice if everyone in general understood the WAHM situation better so less misunderstandings and explanations would need to be provided. 

Mother nature


‘Twas Mother’s Day yesterday. And we made that up there (not the grapes, silly, the two coloured kuih thing). It’s called Ban Tng (at least it is in our family hehe) and it was a recipe that Mama (our grandmother) used to cook. She’s long gone now, but since my sis and I wanted to spend time with our Mum yesterday in conjunction with Mother’s Day, that’s what we decided to do. Cook together using a family tradition kind of recipe. 

Except that since it’s common for the older generation to use approximate measurements and cooking methods, my Mum decided to Google for a recipe that’s available online to refer to that as a guide. Hmm. So not quite the tradtional family recipe I was hoping to learn of. 

Nevertheless, it was a similar recipe and actually fairly easy to do. So, if you’d like to try what Ban Tng is (I realise this is not sold commercially anywhere in the Klang Valley, at least), you can visit this link for the instructions. Apparently the author of the post  has translated it as Three Layer Egg Custard Cake, so there you go… that’s essentially what it is). 

Well, it turned out more or less like what we expected. Except I remember Mama’s one being a bit tougher skinned. But that isn’t really an issue for me. I’d reduce the sugar ratio further though, as I felt it was still a tad too sweet. And the next time I try this out at home, I’m gonna weigh my ingredients so I can use a standardised measurement for it instead of this agak-agak philosophy. 

Anyway, since we’re on the topic of Mohter’s Day, I might as well share a bit about how I feel about motherhood at this juncture. It’s only my second Mother’s Day celebration though so perhaps my views may still be pretty naive. Hehe. Well, at least this year’s celebration was better than the last one (which I spent in the hospital with Jamie – you can read about that here). And I digress. 

So… 

I have always thought I would end up a mother. Never really expected that I would ever feel otherwise (though I actually did for a season, which was right after I got married, up till the time we actually conceived Jamie). I guess a huge part of me believes that as a woman, this is a quintessential experience that I must have before my life’s end. 

The reason for that? Well, on a biological-psychological level, I guess it’s to satifsy my maternal instincts. Which from a very young age was already present (I remember carting stuffed toys around and pretending to feed and care for them as though they were in fact alive). Also, I believed having children would bring a different level of meaning and purpose to my life. This was how I felt prior to having a child. 

Do I feel any different about parenthood now that I’m in it? No, actually. It is pretty much what I imagined it would be, but perhaps it is more too. 

More demanding – I am often placed into situations where I have to consciously decide whether to put my needs or the needs of my child first. 

More tiring – all those countless nights of falling asleep while Jamie nurses (indicative of how exhausted I am in reality. 

Yet, it is also more fulfilling than I could have ever envisioned beforehand. There are so many special moments that I am glad to have shared with Jamie. And I hope for many, many more as the years roll by.

Another thing that happened last weekend was that I had to give up a tooth due to a terribly severe cavity that had taken place inside of it. 

I was really sad to have it extracted, but it was the best option, at least according to the dentist that I consulted. The reason it bothers me so much is because so much of dental work has been done on my teeth over the years, and it feels like an awful waste that the tooth should still end up being unable to be saved. 

But that’s that, I guess. Had to be done. Was the cheaper option too (thank God), and hopefully it will prevent me from having anymore significant aches on the right side of my mouth which I used to have really often. 

I guess inevitably my body is ageing and succunbing to wear and tear in its own ways. I am not really that old yet, but I already see so many signs that I am not as young as I used to be. It’s a little unsettling, but there’s no stopping time. Probably my life has already had half or two thirds of its entire lifespan carried out already. It’s a scary thought. 

I guess the most I can hope for is for God to be gracious enough to grant me enough years so I can see Jamie (and any other future children of mine) grow up into adulthood and help them to safely transition into a life of independence and confidence. 

I am a fairly simple person. I do not have such lofty expectations of the outcome of my life. If I can just be around to ensure the wellbeing of my family to the point in time where they can function well even in my absence, I think I will be content enough. 

Jamie is asleep on my lap as I type this. I usually take such oppotunities to smell and kiss him to my heart’s content. It’s an everyday privilege of mine, but one that will vanish someday. What will I be like when my motherly duties taper down to a bare minimum in the future? The thought somewhat terrifies me. I worry I will go crazy because I would have become so accustomed to it by then. 

But I suppose if God has meant for me to be a mother, and if He is indeed the source of the strength that has sustained me all this while, He will preserve my sanity when my motherly tendencies are not so much required anymore. 

The only conclusion I can make for now is this: If being a mother is the only significant thing I accomplish in this life, I think I will still be pretty much content. 

Hope you had a great Mother’s Day if the mummy title applies to you too. Now, back to (house)work.

Thoughts

I can’t decide what I should write on tonight. So many thoughts swimming around inside my head. I’m trying to filter them because well, you can’t be too forthcoming about your personal life online (as in there are limits) and I feel I might be in danger of surpassing what is wise to reveal right now. 

So… rather than not writing at all, let me list down a brief summary of the things going through my head. If at all you gain nothing else from them, perhaps at least it is evidence of how frustratingly complex our minds can be at any one time. And how overthinking can be more of a curse than a blessing. 

1. Mother’s Day is this weekend. I feel like not becoming a celebrity. Last year, my first Mother’s Day was spent in the hospital caring for my sick son. Any peaceful day for this year’s Mother’s Day would be more than fine by me. 

2. Parents. What do you do with them? It feels like the longer I live my life, the less I understand them. And it feels sad and alienating and frustrating. 

3. I always have the feeling I am not doing enough. This is especially true on the home front. 

4. The feeling of loneliness isn’t the worst when I am physically alone, but rather when I feel that, despite being surrounded by people, nobody understands me or cares enough to want to understand. 

5. Poetry. I miss writing poetry. And all forms of creative prose. 

6. “Do I miss my full time job?” This is a question I am forever asking myself. And for which I can never completely answer. 

7. People are always saying how you only live once and that you’ll regret if you die and didn’t do this or that. But is that really so? Perhaps when you do die, you are just content that life is at its end. That for all the pain and difficulties, joys and sweet memories, successes and failures and lessons learned, there is a conclusion to it all. And, for better or worse, you made it through at last. 

8. I worry my son will one day hate me. That someday I will commit a terrible, unforgivable mistake. 

9. People always say spend time with your loved ones so you don’t regret it when they’re gone. But what if I want to spend time with them but they don’t seem to want to make time for me? Will I still regret it? Or will they?

10. Order and cleanliness is underrated. I’ve heard of books exalting the virtues of messiness and that it apparently does some good. Well, for some of us, a lack of these two qualities in our surroundings means we can never feel at ease. Or function at the best version of ourselves. 

11. No matter what we do, our human nature always tends to swing back towards self indulgence and conceit. 

12. Don’t just tell someone not to worry. Give them tangible, solid reasons to believe you. 

13. Why does everyone like Lang Leav’s poetry? And is Michael Faudet a real person? Why has modern poetry morphed into something so plain and lacking the aura of mystery in its wordplay?

14. I am wired to imagine the worst possible scenario. But as grim as that sounds, it sometimes helps. Because I am prepared for the worst. And the worst very rarely actually happens. 

15. Social connections feel somewhat pointless at times. Because people are more keen in talking than listening. I am not excluding myself from this description. 

16. I would love to tell my blog readers more about my passion for arts and crafts and DIY projects. 

17. Do dreams/ambitions really matter? And is actually achieving them the important thing, or is it more about letting it become the driving force that compels us to continue improving ourselves and striving for greater things in life? 

18. It baffles me why a “happily ever after” life will often dull a artist/creative person’s craft such that their creations afterwards seem to be of a lower quality. Must we continue to torture ourselves to produce outstanding masterpieces?

19. My body is troublesome. It is almost always giving me some health woe or another. Why? 

20. I do not seem to have the capacity to plan for my distant future anymore. I seem to be stuck living day by day. Just thinking about what to do next. But never going beyond that. But maybe life is less terrifying that way. 

Alright folks. Enough baring of my soul for now. Goodnight. 

This is me (Re-introduction)

Hello world, it’s been awhile. 

And I’m not the person I used to be. 

I’m perhaps a bit wiser, but also a lot more jaded, humbled and reclusive. And self censoring has become such a reflex action that it’s hard to blog candidly as I used to. Also, having a free WordPress site as opposed to a paid hosting service (a relic of the past) has made me even less disciplined in updating this space. 

But I still harbour this love for words. And I still hope to tell you, in full honesty, all about my life, in the false belief that you will not judge me for it. 

I still bubble beneath the surface with whimsical tales and fantasies of a better home, a softer personality, a bolder outlook and a prettier face. (Not to mention, straighter, tamer hair too). 

Sometimes, I feel like wiping clean the entire archives of this blog and starting over. 

But that would not be a real picture of my journey over time. It would just be that idealistic, perfectionistic part of me wanting everything to be just right. 

However, as my Mum has reminded me countless times, life isn’t perfect and things don’t come to us packed in neat, little boxes. Real life is messy and hard to make sense of. But it is beautiful and it has just as much silver linings as it does its share of dark clouds and overcast skies. 

So maybe I should just trudge forward, and not look back on what I used to write. Let this spot on the Web be a testament of my long, painful journey to write something worthwhile. And in your company, dear strange and unknown reader, I may, someday, find my writing voice as I should. And be courageous enough to tell the tales that I thought were ordinary but were special all along. 

This is me. 

The one who loves being home. Who would rather opt for a book than a movie. A soul that comes alive with music, poetry, fictional tales of epic proportions, and arts and crafts of all sizes and shapes. The hopeless romantic. The emotional one. The dreamer. A simple girl. 

I still want to be here. And I’d like you to know my story.