I’m No Superwoman

It’s been a while since I last linked any of my articles here. Granted, as I mentioned recently, I haven’t been writing as frequently as before, so there’s not much to share anyway.

But this is the latest, and I think it’s something worth highlighting here. It’s about choices, faithfulness, and the pursuit of being perfect. Here’s an excerpt:

In English novelist Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, there is a particular discussion on the attributes of an “accomplished woman”. These are “a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages”, as well as polished manners and an appetite for reading. Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist, dismisses the entire notion as impossible to achieve.

Even back then, Austen knew that the idea of an ideal woman was unrealistic. You would think that such an idea would have disappeared with the times. However, though the idea has evolved, it still exists today.

You can read the rest of the post here.

And yes, how can I write about being the perfect woman and not mention the accomplished woman in P&P, right?

Habit tracker: Week 3/4; Post 2/5

 

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On the Everyday Need for Trust

via Daily Prompt: Trust

Just a few days ago, we had our air conditioners (or airconds, as the Malaysian-Singaporean lingo goes) serviced. It seems that a common requirement of tenants here is that the airconds in the rented unit be serviced every three months.

Honestly, I didn’t know airconds needed maintenance that often. I sure know we don’t maintain our airconds back home this often, simply because we don’t keep track!

Anyway, I had signed up for a one-year contract, in which we agree to use this particular company’s services for one year. Every quarter, they will call to remind us and schedule an appointment. In return for using their services regularly, we will be saving on costs because the contract is considerably cheaper than a one-off maintenance.

I have nothing to complain about the service offered. They reminded me of the appointment a day before, and the technicians even came early. They did a thorough job, and all the paperwork was in order and as agreed upon. But the whole exercise did make me think about trust.

When I arranged the appointment and agreed to the contract during that first call, who’s to say that the technicians will actually show up at the set time? If they do, what’s to stop them from demanding extra charges to the contract fees? And as for the future, will they honor the next three services to be scheduled in the next 12 months?

And another thing — How will the landlord ever know that we tenants will actually get the airconds serviced quarterly, and not just sneak in a one-time thing just before the end of the lease?

Simply put, trust is required in every step of a transaction, business or otherwise.

Yes, there are a lot of scams and exploitation out there. But by and large, the world still runs on a lot of trust, and on the honoring of that trust. Because without trust, a lot of things simply cannot operate. Even in writing here, I have to trust WordPress to deliver a smooth blogging experience.

We live in a postmodern world where relativism is usually the way to go. But in truth, there are certain absolute principles like trust that are still essential to the cycle of life.

Habit tracker: Week 3/4 Post 1/5

A Happy Place

via Daily Prompt: Candle

“Which one do you like?”

He jerks his head away from inspecting the fake plants as I hold a deep-red scented candle under his nose.

“This is ‘Sweet Berries’,” I say, then swap to a gray candle, “And this is ‘Calming Spa’.”

He dutifully sniffs, pauses, then shrugs and smiles.

“Both are nice. You choose.”

“Okay! ‘Sweet Berries’ it is!”

Then I skip away to return the gray candle to its shelf, while he goes back to the fake greens, deciding which of the deceiving plastics is deemed worthy to go home with us.

This is one of our happy places — IKEA. From admiring the cleverly-designed showrooms, to measuring tables and testing couches, to falling prey to pretty knick-knacks like scented candles and storage organizers. Sometimes, we just roam through and end up at the restaurant for Swedish meatballs, salmon, and dark chocolate almond cake. Oh, and the occasional ice-cream after the check-out counters.

It’s not just us. I know of at least a few other couples who call IKEA a happy place too. Why is it so? What is IKEA’s secret formula that so appeals to lovebirds young and old?

Maybe there’s just something about shopping for a house together. IKEA’s aesthetic display of bedrooms and kitchens suggest that one’s dreams for the future can indeed become a reality. Maybe it’s in the very inspecting and deliberating — regardless whether it’s a bed frame or scented candle — that is the outworking of two minds learning to communicate and compromise for the good of both.

Maybe IKEA just found the right formula for being the right space for two hearts to come together for a common vision. In this case, the vision is not about having sleek furniture in a house. The vision is of building a home —  which is the real happy place.

Habit tracker: Week 2/4; Post 3/5

Finding the Element

via Daily Prompt: Original

For some six months now, I’ve been working at a publishing house in Singapore. It’s a part-time stint because I have other commitments, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with this company.

I’ve been writing for years, and have been an editor for a magazine as well as an online portal. But for a while now, I’ve wanted to tap into book editing and proofreading. Hence this opportunity was a goal achieved.

I can tell you that it’s exciting to hold in your hand a crisp new book just out of the printers — even more so when you know that you were involved in its creation, no matter the size of the role. I can also tell you that a lot of hard work really does go into that one book.

One of the biggest challenges of a book editor is in determining whether a manuscript will ever see the light of day. A wall of shelves filled to the brim with books is inspiring and exhilarating! But that is also the very issue. There are just so many books out there with only so many subjects to cover.

The challenge then is in finding that element of originality within a familiar topic. What can this author offer that is different from the rest? What is the manuscript’s unique selling point? And when you find that element of innovation, that’s when it becomes the vision that hours of sweat, tired eyes and cramped hands are put into achieving.

Bringing this to personal application, I need to critique myself as an editor. In this year 2016, there are thousands of blogs, a lot of them well-established in their niches. Just take blogs on clean eating — it’s amazing how many good ones I’ve come across, and how many more I keep finding.

So what is the original that can offer?

Habit tracker: Week 2/4; Post 1/5

Daily Prompt: Argument

via Daily Prompt: Argument

I’m trying to finish an article for a website I contribute to. It’s only some 700-800 words but it’s turning out harder than anticipated. Right now, I’m having an argument with myself on choosing the right real-life illustration that would best fit the topic and angle. I’m also wondering why I chose this topic in the first place. And I’m also arguing with myself on whether it’s best to leave it as it is, call it a night, and look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow morning.

But it’s due tomorrow morning.

Help.

I’m sorry but this is all I have for today’s prompt. I need all the brain energy I can afford to be focused on this one article.

Until next week.

Habit tracker: Week 1/4; Post 5/5

Between Two Worlds

via Daily Prompt: Border

If you’re a Malaysian who’s ever worked in Singapore, or who happened to be visiting during a peak season, you probably share the same amazement I have at how getting from one country to the country right next to it feels more like traveling a halfway across the world.

Seriously. We’re separated only by a straits, and it’s not even that wide. If the fit or determined really wanted to, they could swim across. Whether the border control officers catch you — which they most probably will seeing how there’s not much territory to monitor in the first place — is your problem.

It takes about four hours to travel back to my hometown door-to-door. But during peak hours, the sheer volume of people commuting combined with the fact that there are only two bridges to get across could mean super long delays.

The actual traveling on the road is usually uneventful, but it’s the little stretch of going through two immigration checkpoints that does it in. Our ex-housemates just visited today and recounted how their recent trip home was their longest yet. They left Singapore at 8pm… and arrived home at 4am!

So far, I’ve yet to experience such a nightmare, as we try our best to travel off hours. The longest I’ve gone through was about 5-6 hours, and that was enough for me.

It really makes me ponder about how modern-day institutions and infrastructures may be well-intended to maintain order and peace. But sometimes they end up dividing more than uniting.

Habit tracker: Week 1/4; Post 4/5

The Time I Almost Drowned My Sister

via Daily Prompt: Daring (Wrote this yesterday but didn’t have time to polish it)

It was 2001. My family and I were on our very first island holiday ever. The island is Pulau Besar (previously Pulau Babi Besar) off Mersing, Johor. It’s a laidback place with no nightlife or shopping. All you have is the sun, sand and sea.

The first morning, we went to the end of the wooden jetty to snorkel. The waters were so clear you could see schools of fishes swimming around and under the jetty. It was my sister’s and my first time snorkeling and we were excited.

That is, until we were actually in the water. Then I panicked.

Now I love swimming. But this time, I was flopping and splashing around, basically in pure panic. In fact, it got so bad that I eventually clung onto my sister and pulled her under.

That’s when my dad stepped in. He called us out of the water, set me down on the jetty steps and looked me in the eye.

“Okay. You’re a good swimmer. You love swimming. What’s going on???”

“I’m afraid of great white sharks.”

Now if we were in Australia, I suppose that’s a perfectly reasonable answer. But this was Malaysia. We’ve got no great whites.

But the thing is, some weeks before the holiday, I read a news report about a great white being found off the coast somewhere. Experts concluded that it was swept here by currents. It was a small one and didn’t attack anyone.

It was a snippet of a story, but enough to haunt my imagination that morning, and haunt it badly.

I don’t exactly remember what happened after. My parents were amused, but they could also see that my fear was real. Somehow, they managed to make me see that it was unfounded, prayed, and got me to calm down. My dad coaxed me back into the waters, and although the fear still lingered, I fought it. By the end of the trip, my sister and I were swimming on our own and happily jumping off the jetty many times over.

Just a few weeks ago, my family revisited the island. It was the same sun, sand and sea. It’s been 15 years since that first panic attack. In that time, I learned to face more fears – most of the time unfounded. I still am cautious, especially when the worries are valid. But suffice it to say that I’ve grown up quite a bit.

I’m not adventurous by nature, but thanks to nurture, I think I’ve become a bit more daring.

Habit tracker: Week 1/4; Post 3/5

 

Daily Prompt: Breakthrough

via Daily Prompt: Breakthrough

I’ve just finished reading a novel, Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. It’s about this mentally disabled man, Charlie Gordon, who undergoes brain surgery as part of an experiment and becomes a genius. The entire novel then focuses on this seemingly scientific breakthrough, but I won’t tell more because I may write a proper review of the book soon.

Today’s prompt and the novel have got me wondering when I last experienced a breakthrough of any kind — mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually. I suppose when it comes to the physical, learning that I have silent reflux was one.

But I think it’s been a while since I’ve had a mental or spiritual breakthrough. You know, those moments, when you’re doing something mundane like sweeping the floor, and suddenly an epiphany comes to you about a question or problem that’s been bugging you for weeks. That lightbulb moment, when the little pieces fit together and make sense as a whole, or the dark clouds part to reveal the joyous sunshine.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve not been actually looking out for a lightbulb moment. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have an issue or problem to deal with in the first place. Not at this time, anyway. Is this a good thing? Or should we persist in challenging ourselves to greater heights — to always be asking and learning and trying, lest we drift in the doldrums of complacency.

But what if I’m just in a good place and time right now?

Habit tracker: Week 1/4; Post 2/5

A Writing Challenge and Today’s Daily Prompt: Value

via Daily Prompt: Value

Sometime last week, I came across a podcast by Jeff Goins on the benefits of writing or blogging consistently. Basically, he encouraged the habit of writing daily. It was a simple podcast with easy-to-remember points, but it was enough to challenge me.

I call myself a writer, but my writing habit is shameful. This is my current “habit”: I write when I have to. I do write in my journal almost every day, but lately even that has slacked. After the podcast and the Twelve Strands book, I’m left with one question:

Just how much do I value this gift of writing?

At this time, my lifestyle doesn’t reflect the value in which I claim to esteem writing. So either its value needs to be re-assessed, which could lead to my dropping the pen altogether, or the lifestyle needs a-changing.

I still value writing enough not to give it up entirely. So lifestyle it is.

This October, I’m going to use this blog to kick-start this daily habit. These are the guidelines:

  • I will set aside 30 minutes to writing a blog post
  • I choose to commit to writing 5 days a week
  • I will mostly rely on these daily prompts, but will attempt a weekly unprompted post
  • I choose to make this habit-builder challenge public because as Goins also points out, going public will keep me accountable

I will probably address the usual interests of writing, books, family life, and faith. But since the primary goal is simply to oil this rusting habit, I shall not restrict myself and go with the flow.

I hope you’ll bear with me if the posts are sub-par in content, or if the topics are too wide-ranging. But if I don’t at least try, I may never improve in quality or quantity. Who knows, maybe I’ll discover my voice or niche by November.

Habit tracker: Week – 1/4, Post – 1/5

Book Review: Twelve Strands

twelvestrands_frontcover_300Title: Twelve Strands: Journeys with Asian Authors

Editor: Bernice Lee

Publisher: Graceworks

Price: SGD 15 (paperback) / SGD 11.20 (ebook)

 

Like many of my peers, I grew up on a diet of Western literature. From Enid Blyton to Jane Austen to Mark Twain to C.S. Lewis, these are some of countless works that millions over the world know. But when it comes to local literature, as it is in many developing countries, the numbers were few.

Thankfully today, we see marked growth in local literature across nations, and it is an exciting season. It is out of this that Twelve Strands presents the life stories of 12 Asian authors who all share one thing — the almost compulsive need to write.

Each author hails from a different country: Bangladesh, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, and the Philippines, to name a few. Some lived and breathed words from adolescence, others discovered them along the way. Some write children’s books, others pen essays, and still others produce evangelical materials and devotionals. One underlying gold thread weaves through all 12 stories — the call of God to the written word.

Although I connected with a few writing styles better than others, each tale was so particular to the author as a person that none should be discounted. It was fascinating to learn how circumstances that appear non-cohesive eventually come together. That’s not to say that the journeys were perfect or complete. Many rejections and dejection were experienced, and while several now happily declare their niches, few are still riddled with uncertainty. But through it all, God was faithful in leading them to their calling as writers.

This collection also opened my eyes to the literary opportunities to be had in the developing world. Growing up on Western literature was not a bad thing; I’ve gleaned invaluable wisdom from them. But now I also see that we have just as much to offer. Building up the local industry may be a difficult undertaking with all the grooming and honing and polishing still needed, but it is a worthy pursuit.

Twelve Strands was a light read that spoke volumes, because it has caused me to reflect on my own response to the call to write. Firstly, it comforted me to know that I am not alone in this journey. Secondly, it cleared my doubts and inspired me to keep going and, more importantly, to trust God more. He knows my future and where I should be going.

I believe Twelve Strands will also resonate with the general reader and not just the writer. Each of us are given a specific calling or gift, and this book affirms that whatever it is, if it is God-ordained, you can be sure that He will be there beside you bringing you and your good work to completion. It may take years and a few trials, but ultimately, God is the Author, and His stories are always the best.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book gratis from Graceworks, in exchange for an honest and independent review. The opinions are entirely my  own. If you’d like me to review your book, drop me a note here.