A scattering of motivations

I think I’ve holed myself up in a corner of disappointment and self-loathing over my writing. I’ve been staring at writing prompts and whenever I do, my brain freezes into a black hole of blankness. I imagine characters with no plots, and I’ve been writing short, bland pieces that’s never interesting enough to comment on. I just feel like I’m just really incredibly awful at writing fiction and I’m trying to make up for it by reading shoujo manga heroines that point me towards optimism and mental litanies of “I will work harder”, “never give up”, and “I will do my best”.

So rather than not writing at all, I’ve crawled back into this online blog of mine to ramble about my lack of progress, an absence of passion (since I’m not trying harder), and maybe a great deal of procrastination. What I’ve done most of, these past two weeks, was consumption.

To be honest, I haven’t actually read so much manga (and shoujo at that) in possibly the past three or four years as I have been these past couple of days. I’ve been reading on the train, in the toilet, during lunch breaks. I feel like I’ve forgotten what life felt like in high school and college and somehow believed I’d get some pointers from manga aimed at young girls. While most of them were a far cry from the complexities of characters in science fiction YA novels, there were girls that I identified with even at (gasp) this late age of almost-thirty. There were even a few gems that made me laugh, and stories with plots that kept me glued until two in the morning. Then I’d get up at seven, go to work, and force myself to bring myself down to my offline avatar persona.

Somewhere along the way I thought it’ll inspire me to write something, or figure out what I want to write exactly, but it hasn’t been the case. I mean, if anything I should probably continue to sit down and force myself to type anything even if the words don’t end up spinning any kind of story.

I’ve been thinking a little about this and also, why am I doing this again exactly? I need a short story written by March if I’m to remind myself of this quarter’s Key Result for Writing. For no other reason than a small desire to become a Light Novel author (maybe more like wishful thinking or imagination on my part. A shallow reflection of an alternate-universe me who took up writing as a career). It’s not really clear to me what this is for at the end of the day. Like, how would this ever benefit me or my career or my personal growth, I don’t know. Maybe I’m still hoping I’d eventually connect with someone through writing communities for as long as I keep trying. That one day I’d finally write something that would trigger any kind of response from a stranger. I don’t think I’m ever writing for the sake of telling a story, but rather I’m always looking to elicit a reaction, a reply, from somebody.

Most days though, it’s just silence and more silence much like this blog is bereft of conversation.

to desire everything and nothing at once and to desire it all the time

I pulled those lines from the poem Want, by Carrie Fountain.

To desire everything and nothing at once

I’ve managed to work an extra 36 hours in the past two weeks. My spirit is tired. Waking up at seven, leaving the office at five, then back in front of my monitor in my room-turned-office at eight. Watching a slice-of-life Chinese drama (Story of Ming Lan) and reading shoujo manga in between and I’ve managed to fill the vacant seconds with things — to do, to pay attention to. It’s dangerous, sometimes, to be in a tea party with only me and myself.

But there are still minutes, like the walk from the house to the station or the bus stop to the house, where I’m left alone with my thoughts. Without work or stories to distract from the memories that prod the scabs on my heart — it’s exactly like my skin eczema — I’m always subconsciously scratching on the thoughts of people, of something I don’t have.

In those free moments, I’ve been imagining my characters and their stories. I’ve picked up writing early in January and I’ve been playing out imaginary conversations, hypothetical situations, and non-existent relationships. Sometimes, they are what-could-have-been’s. While reading manga, I conjure scenes of friendships that endured. They are nice, and those moments make me wistful.

To desire everything

It’s not like the past hurts — those small wounds have scabbed over, after all. I just accidentally pick on my skin. I’ve been resigned, for a while now, of people that have come and gone. I’m not thinking things could be different for myself. I wake up every day, live another day. Life is like that.

I wonder if this is something I’ll bury with me when I die.

and nothing

The past is past, but today I thought, I must truly have been such a rotten person for two friends I kept close to reject me like that. I must have been disliked a lot.

at once and to desire it

Nowadays I’m not close enough with anyone to feel rejected, or betrayed. No shared moments, or special memories. Everything is as expected. Everything is okay.

all the time

Two weeks in

  1. Every 15th of the month is pay date. I look forward to a few things. Tomorrow is one of those.
  2. I’ve managed to accomplish so much design work on the first week after holiday season that I’ve filled the team’s backlog for two or three months.
  3. I’ve picked up pace on my writing. So much so that I’ve been participating in 5 different writing prompt communities. Look at this. A good soul made a list and there are so many. It is so good. I missed this.
  4. I’ve received 80% more comments on the journal themes I shared on Dreamwidth than any of the ficlets I’ve published. Ha! CSS themes were addictive and fun design exercises. I’ve now calmed down after obsessing over it during the last two weekends.
  5. Seems like I’m picking up some freelance work again, soon. Starting tomorrow.
  6. I haven’t been exercising either.
  7. And I’m getting break-outs on my face. I don’t know how long it’ll take for my skin to adjust to this city. Every season irritates the individual pores in my body.
  8. Some days I’m floating in a lake of lonesomeness and I’m just creating ripples with this whole writing saga. And freelance work. Touring the city alone, eating alone, exploring alone — there are too many activities outside that reminds me my friends aren’t here. Is it irony that staying home keeps me more occupied?
  9. Some days I just feel like I still don’t really have friends, and I’ll call it quits and move back to Singapore. People at work are nice and friendly, but they’re not my friends. Meanwhile, some of the colleagues I shared drinks with from my last job felt like we at least had post-work connections. We hung out, ate together, and with them I wanted to say goodbye. I read that lonesomeness is a step lighter from loneliness. Perhaps this is it.
  10. Maybe one day I’ll decide not to leave because I’ve grown to like my work so much. And this lake will cease to be a lake. I have a preference for rivers. They’re more unpredictable.

Writing (again), LJ, and (now) DW


1. LJ – LiveJournal

(n.) A popular online community before Tumblr, before Facebook, before Instagram. Or maybe, it was popular only to a some niche groups (namely, individuals who were a fan of something). At sixteen, this was the place to be (online) — the place to make friends, the place to download music, manga, and movies, the place to digitally record puberty with no shame (thanks to the concept of friends-only posts). I’ve always believed that its communities held it together. You can find almost any fandom, and if you didn’t it was so easy to create one. Unlike Facebook groups where people post statuses or share links, on LJ communities you publish work: fan icons, fan sound tracks, fan fiction, etc. etc. all hidden behind the anonymity of usernames.

Last week, I tried to tell my Singaporean friend that I used to write on ‘LJ’, only to find myself clarifying: No, I don’t mean penis. I certainly mean LiveJournal. Which goes to show how old I am, or how young my friend is.

Continue readingWriting (again), LJ, and (now) DW

C-novels that made me laugh out loud

I was feeling a bit down towards the end/start of the year so I picked up some Chinese light novels to distract myself (and to absorb some inspiration). This is a really short list and a mix of modern and xianxia. There are some authors like Gu Man who writes hilarious heroines, but I’ve only read a few lately.

Demon King/The Parting of the Orchid and Cang by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang (ongoing translations) – English isn’t the translator’s first language, so the translations isn’t perfect but nevertheless, Little Orchid and Demon King’s interactions are just way too funny. Little Orchid and Demon King somehow swapped bodies and after Little Orchid accidentally kills her body, both of them find themselves sharing the Demon King’s body. Demon King is an extremely powerful immortal who is neither good nor evil, while Little Orchid is a heavenly immortal with less than a thousand years worth of cultivation (i.e. she’s not powerful at all). But what Little Orchid lacks in cultivation, she makes up for strength in spirit (and the will to live). They try to outwit each other (and maybe even get rid of the other) until some kind of camaraderie builds between the two.

Translations are only halfway done but I LOL’ed so much reading through the 50 chapters (there’s 90+ in total) that I can’t help but recommend this anyway. Jiu Lu Fei Xiang wrote Sansheng’s story (which I also loved), but while Sansheng and War God’s story was cute and sweet, Little Orchid and Demon King’s full of crazy antics.

Blazing Sunlight (Book 1) by Gu Man (complete) – This story is set in modern times, and the first book is Nie Xi Guang’s story (nicknamed Watermelon). She can be a little dense but she’s not a pushover. She’s not stubborn, not perfect, but not stupid either. Gu Man’s male leads are usually the ideal “seemingly perfect” type though (super smart, etc.), and if that doesn’t bother you then this is a light read that made me laugh out loud a few times. Xi Guang is simple and very normal, which makes her a relatable and endearing protagonist. It’s a cute story in 40 chapters.

My Disciple Died Yet Again by 尤前 (complete) – Ok, so this one has 393 chapters (thankfully you can download a compiled ebook here) but it’s quite worth the read and the translations are great quality. The title itself is already funny to begin with! Though the story can get a little repetitive, there’s a lot of laughs just from the fact that Zhu Yao keeps dying and reviving. There’s some gaming elements too, so for someone like me who used to play video games a lot then the story becomes extra fun to read. There’s a lot of comedy in the 300+ chapters. It’s refreshing compared to the usual revenge melos, or time-travel / transmigration novels. The plot isn’t too complex either, and it has the right balance of comedy, plot, shamelessness and a bit of romance. Cute and funny, it’s so good for when you’re feeling down.

I love the female protagonists in these stories. My own blog posts are usually so…morose even if I try to wrap up my thoughts a little positively. Now that I’m trying to pick up writing fiction again, I want to be able to write something lighter, maybe even funny, and somehow imagine living with laughter through fictional characters. I feel lucky enough that humans are born with imagination and I’ve been feeling less guilty squandering all my free time on fictional stories. I’m sure a lot of other people other than myself are cheered up by these stories too!

To meet is the beginning of parting

[逢うは別れの始め] To meet is the beginning of parting. The first time I read this, it felt like the perfect title of a story. It clues me in — prepares me for a bittersweet reality — and somehow I feel the words are beautiful as it does so. I know we will part, and I’m not scared that it will happen.

The most memorable times of my youth were college days. Four years aren’t long, but things that happen in our youth always seems to dig deeper than they should. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt so much more than ex-friends and ex-boyfriends, don’t you know? Didn’t you know? It didn’t make any sense. Why why why? I’ve spent some years willing to forget, fooling myself and trying not to regret, and only now can I say that I could look back at it with some detachment. The good was good, the bad was bad, and the good moments are better remembered fondly than never.

I’ve always been angry and resentful but time has been kind. Six years and finally I’m no longer scared to think about the past. Some moments have been fun, and real, and genuine — these are worth keeping. The old friends I wrote about in my older entries are different from who they were when friendships fell apart, and still different from who they are today. The versions of themselves in stories written by a girl who’s not that much older than a teen were transient moments worth capturing. Why why why? We’ve all changed, and the hurt doesn’t last forever.

Continue readingTo meet is the beginning of parting

Opening closets: Chinese romance novels

I can’t remember when exactly I started getting into Chinese internet novels. I’ve been watching Asian dramas for years, and I think I started learning about Chinese novels around the time when Bu Bu Jing Xing was popular back in 2011 and I dug around the internet for novel translations (and failed to find ’em). I think I really got into it two years ago or less, back when I was still in Singapore. I’m already a fan of period stories, movies and dramas so I very easily joined the world of fan translations. I love being immersed in different cultures and different worlds. It doesn’t matter if it’s Western or Asian. I consume them as fast as I consume chocolate bars, sometimes unhealthily.

A lot of the stories that I’ve read have a mix of xianxia, Chinese folk lore, romance, history, and fantasy (time travel has been very popular especially around the time of Bu Bu Jing Xin). Because they are fan-translated, it brings me back to high school when licensed English-translated manga were rare and I hung around IRC downloading fan scanlations (scanned translations). Things made by fans bring more fans together so there’s a great community around novel translations — enough for me to recognize names of popular translators who’ve been pursuing this passion around 2014 or earlier. It’s also very easy to pick up some abbreviations people in the community use:

  • HE – Happy Ending: this is very helpful when looking for my next read because there are a lot of stories that are just so tragic. Sometimes I just don’t want my heart twisted and pinched after a long, busy day, you know?
  • MC – Main Character: all the stories I read have female protagonists. With the exception of Ever Night, I read female-centric stories exclusively.
  • ML – Main Lead: a number of stories also have reverse harem. Sometimes readers want to know who the Main Lead is so they can safely pick the right ship to jump. Shipping wars in the novel community aren’t intense like shipping wars in the K-drama community because the ML is usually easier to spot. Second Lead Syndrome is quite rare, but! but there are a few stories where I half-shipped for the second lead, heh.
  • BL / GL / GB – Boy’s Love, Girl’s Love, Girl/Boy: relationship types, depending on your interest. I’m into heterosexual stories so…I can only name GB novels.

The xianxia elements of the stories make it very creative and different from the usual fantasy stories I’ve read in the past. Humans, spirits, and gods exist in different realms but within similar worlds. There’s a concept of cultivation to achieve immortality, trials to gain more strength, and sometimes there are rules to abide by (i.e. forbidden love between a teacher and his/her disciple). There’s a glossary to know these terms individually, but it’s pleasant to learn them just through world-building in different novels.

I’ve never talked to anyone much about this not-so-secret interest of mine, until a good friend asked me what I was doing on Christmas. We have similar tastes so I was super excited to share that I did nothing but read Chinese novels, hahaha, then proceeded to ask if she wanted recommendations. I would’ve sent her links to novels even if she said no anyway!

(I was just super ecstatic to bring at least one soul to my dark side.)

I started my recommendations with stories that progressively went longer because it might be hard to justify reading 50 chapters when you’re not sure it’s your type of thing yet. These are some of my favorite shorter stories; the plots are simple without political intrigue. They’re just good stories overall, not too deep but not shallow either. The characters leave me a deep impression despite the simple plot, usually because of their loyalty or patience or strength in character.

Continue readingOpening closets: Chinese romance novels

29 in 2019

One thing remained consistent from the moment I turned 20 until I crossed 29: I never felt truly adult. I am an adult now by virtue of age, but there’s so much I haven’t done that in many ways I feel like I’m still not old enough. I’m quite convinced that it’s either the height of my successes or the weight of my failures that would make me think, ah I’m a real adult now. I just don’t know when that height will be tall enough or that weight heavy enough to make me feel a lot less like Peter Pan.

Maybe I’ve been looking for adulthood in drastic changes in my life. The transition from an emotional early twenties to a calmer mid-twenties didn’t force any grand changes in personality or perspective in myself. More responsibilities and weightier decisions make me feel a lot more adult than usual, but I hadn’t made big risks. I haven’t made legal commitments like marriage, I’m not responsible for a life, and I haven’t committed wrong decisions that would’ve put me in debt. At this point, it’s easier to say 30 is the new 20 because I’m fairly behind the experiences and sacrifices my parents have achieved at my age. With a fairly sheltered upbringing, my journey in achieving adulthood feels glacial in its progress.

My early twenties was a balancing act of fun, focus, and failed friendships. I was a bit like the typical shounen protagonist — prideful, temperamental, and stubborn — minus the superpowers or luck or fate or a special destiny. Unlike Naruto or Ichigo, I didn’t exactly defeat my demons. Flight was easier than fight and I left my issues behind, literally, by moving overseas. Honestly, that wasn’t very adult-like. But I was young and a dreamer so I forced my way into a new arc by relocating.

Continue reading29 in 2019

Lessons from the Spiderverse

It was a very enjoyable movie. I’m not going to write a review (there are many out there). But if there was one thing that resonated with me the most was Peter B. Parker’s answer to Miles’ question: “How do you know you’re ready?”

You don’t. It takes a leap of faith.

A leap of faith. Maybe my doubts can be answered by those four words. All it takes is a leap of faith.

And the next, and the next

It’s been seven years since the last Game of Thrones novel was published. That’s as long as my career. While I was traversing through startups, clients, and countries, George R. R. Martin has been trying to write what happened after a certain someone was stabbed and fell onto the cold. That’s how far behind the novel is from the TV series, and it feels like the same distance I am from where I want to be in my career. I’m beginning to think that maybe the next big step in my life will happen when he publishes The Winds of Winter.

I take that back. If that’s the case then I’ll never progress in my career.

These days I’ve been feeling like I’ve been running. I’ve gone on a sprint then slowed down, but I’m still running all the same. There was only one instance during university days that I did anything remotely close to exercise: for one semester I ran a few rounds at the university’s “oval” (a small indoor track, really). I ran twice a week with a friend who laughed at me when I confessed that I only managed to finish the rounds because I’d imagine there was a strip of ribbon at the end, marking the finish line. That friendship ended long ago, but the running never ceased. I was running to lose weight, then for love, then for dreams. Now I feel like I’m running after ‘success’, whatever that means. It’s such a narrow word for such a subjective term. And in this new country, I’m running alone. I observe other girls who seem to be running the same race, but I’ve left my ‘exercise buddies’ back in Singapore.

December’s halfway done. On a new notebook I’ve recently bought, I penned milestones I’d like to achieve next: career goals, financial goals, skin goals, weight goals. I didn’t want to wait for a new year to kickstart resolutions. Instead, I’ve been applying the concept of Objectives and Key Results to life outside of work. I’ve been aligning the things I’m doing towards those objectives. This is how I’ve been running these days.

I feel a little anxious. I don’t know what will happen next. I don’t know if I’ll tick off the little things I’ve already set myself out to do. I don’t know if I’m doing the right things.

I know I’m not going to wait. I know I’ll keep moving. I know I’ll be unhappy if I don’t. Sometimes it gets a little lonely, sometimes it gets a little tiring, but the world doesn’t stop moving just because I want a little break. I just keep on running towards my next objective, and the next, and the next, and the next.