Unseeding Self Doubt

Doubt is a feeling I've been grappling with this week. I've slid back into a previous life: same room, same work, same people. "It's as if you never left," said a friend. But life flows and I flowed with it, evolving and growing. Slipping a new self into an old life is still jarring. Returning to a place is new to me, someone who only looks forward and never back. So doubt comes in and sticks, like melted caramel, just under my ribcage. 

Struggles are the mainstay of life. They are there to test and strengthen our mettle. Doubt seems weak but has a strong undercurrent. Its antidote, its remedy has to be quietly tenacious. These have been my steps towards winnowing out the seeds of doubt within. This is how I get to "okay" and, perhaps, a better day...

  • Breathe: Be with the breath, is a phrase commonly heard during yoga or meditation. Last year, I stumbled across Yin yoga. This yoga is slow in pace and filled with stillness, as postures are held for a few minutes at a time. It is a practice I appreciate because in a fast-paced world this is the one place that asks for my stillness. It is my breath that bridges one moment to the next, from initial discomfort or pain to acceptance and gratitude for simply being in my body.
  • Remember: My word for this year is "intention". I try to move, act, and speak bearing that word in mind. An attempt to move through my world with an awareness, instead of by automation. 
  • Read: See and feel a world outside of your own. A book that clawed at and grasped my heart this week was Nina LaCour's "We Are Okay". The author pulled me into the crux of her story of grief and friendship, building the character's emotional momentum until I am left gasping at the end with the sheer force of it. Her book made me feel alive, in touch with another person's raw emotions as well as my own.
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Backstories are the Beginning

'Tis the first week of 2018 and what struck me this week was the power of backstories.

What are backstories? For actors a backstory is the way they create their characters. An actor builds their character's backstories to find the intention and the humanity of the person they're embodying. Backstories create characters from simple lines to a three dimensional and realistic person the audience can relate to. Backstories help actors understand their characters.

It applies to real life as well. To know and understand a person's, or even a country's, backstory is to better understand their intentions and motivations. 

The two backstories that hit home for me were an animated movie called "The Battle of Surabaya" and a graphic novel titled "The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye".

The movie revealed the internal and spiritual struggles my countrymen and women faced during Indonesia's continued battle for independence. The novel exposed a more holistic view of Singapore's history - including the government's hand at play that I only caught a tiny glimpse during my youth there. Both helped explain the two countries I lived in and, in part, the personalities of those countries.

The backstory is the beginning. 

As writer and illustrator Traci Lea LaRussa said: "Judge tenderly, if you must. There is usually a side you have not heard, a story you know nothing about, and a battle waged that you are not having to fight." 

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Flicks and Reads 2017

Every year I collect flicks (films) and reads (books) that stay in my mind's eye. They stick around for various reasons, some of which I share with you here. Each year, I am grateful to be introduced to and stumble upon these works. Thank you to the artists and writers who pushed past fears, self-doubt, and critics to create and put forth their works of art. Below are the flicks and reads of 2017 that...

Changed my perspective

My brother, who lives in LA, told me to watch Gook. A raw and intimate story of friendship between Koreans and African Americans during the 1992 LA riots. I lived in LA three years after the riots. White vs black tension was apparent but I was oblivious to the racial tensions between the people of colour that shaped the LA I knew then. 

During my last quarter of grad school, in a sadomasochistic moment, decided to take Seth Godin's AltMBA program. The Art of Possibility was one of the gifts he sent his students. The grandest of all takeaways? Forget about being good enough. Wake up each morning and think of How can I be a Contribution? 

I saw Queen of Katwe on the smallest of screens, on a flight from LA to Austin. It didn't matter. The film's heart filled the expanse of the sky I flew. Robert Katende, the teacher who taught chessmaster Phiona Mutesi, showed me that one person can make a difference. One person affecting another person can eventually lead to a whole village. We don't need to start with the village. Just start with one.

taught me something new

Cloth Lullaby is a wondrous story of the artist Louise Bourgeois, The words and illustrations weave around each other in a poetic dance, bringing the artist, her dreams and her pain to life. I learnt a spider is more than an arachnid. A spider is a weaver, a mender of broken things. A spider embodies the resilience of life itself.

Ambelin Kwaymullina is my literary heroine. She is an Aboriginal writer and academic who comes from the Palyku people of Australia. Her Tribe trilogy portrays the interwoven lives of three girls. Kwaymullina  integrated indigenous traditions, beliefs and culture seamlessly into a story of hope, resilience, and kindness to the earth and each other. 

Children's books hold such wonderful surprises. This book was one of those gifts. The best teachings often come from the simplest books...and the simplest question: What do you do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada. The answer applies to those age 1 to 99. It involves encouragement and care, patience and love.

Brought me closer to my emotions

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a fairytale for all ages by one of my favourite children's book authors, Kate DiCamillo. It tells a tale of the unexpected life of a precious porcelain bunny and how it learnt about love.

Kimi No Na Wa" (Your Name) by Makoto Shinkai is magical realism at its best. About two souls destined to cross time and space, changing and shifting their lives in the process.

Perusing a little comic bookshop in London, the title "A City Inside" called to me. Here is a young artist, Tillie Walden, who bares her soul in such a nuanced and glorious way. Her brave exploration and expression of self stirs the soul.

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A Gift for the Heart

T'was the night before x-mas...And I have a gift for all the dreamers out there. It is a film by the legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki called "Whisper of the Heart", a tender story about youth and the pursuit of dreams. Oh, and the pursuit of a cat too. Miyazaki loves the whimsical, after all =)

So what's the gift and what's to love about two kids and a fat cat? Well, there were the gifts of...

  • Choice: When Shizuku, the 14-year-old heroine, diverges from a path chosen by her parents and goes her own way, I expected her elders to force the child back onto the well-trodden path. I was pleasantly surprised to see Shizuku's father be supportive of her divergent ways. He let her see herself where it would lead. He gave her the gift of choice.
  • Curiosity: One day, Shizuku sees a cat and follows it. She believed in her heart that there will be a story at the end; that it'll be a good one. She followed a whim, trusted the universe, and began to wonder. She gave herself the gift of curiosity.
  • Inspiration: Even when we know how to realize our dreams, we get in our own way. Sometimes we need a push. Someone to inspire us because they're pursuing their dreams. Someone to tell us to be brave. Someone who believes in us. Inspiration propels action. Inspiration creates magick. Shizuku's friends gave her the gifts of support and inspiration.

Did I also mention the film includes an awesome Japanese version of John Denver's classic song "Country Road"? Listen here.

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Is True Freedom Possible?

Once upon a time, when I was 12, I met an elderly American lawyer by the name of Mr Lawson-Baker. We bonded over the opera songs a street busker was singing at a lonesome strip mall in Perth, Australia. 

He spoke of one book that profoundly changed his life: "How I found freedom in an unfree world" by Harry Browne; a best seller in the 70s. I never completed the book until now, but I believe our conversation inspired me to walk the curvy and unconventional road.

The book comes in three parts:

  1. Why you are not free: Browne talks about the different traps we set up for ourselves, such as the Identity, Intellectual, Certainty traps, among others.
  2. How you can be free: Here he offers alternatives to the traps that we are enslaved to. Some alternatives may be on the wacky side, but it makes for an intriguing read.
  3. A new life: The last section introduces techniques that can help readers transition into a life of freedom

This week, I read it from cover to cover for the first time and this is what I learnt:

  • Harry Browne was a visionary ahead of his time. From the start, Browne tries to show us how we create our own mind traps. It's all about perspective, self care and self acceptance. 
    1. "The free man is free because he recognizes his most priceless asset - sovereignty," Browne wrote. It's recognizing we have a choice. We are the ultimate decision makers of our own lives. Many best-selling authors have similar sayings.
      • Napoleon Hill in Think and Grown Rich: “You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.”
      • Rosamund and Benjamin Zander in The Art of Possibility: “You can always grace yourself with responsibility for anything that happens in your life. You can always find within yourself the source of any problem you have.”
    2. My most important takeaway? Everyone is seeking their own happiness, each in their own way. Once we understand that, the first step towards a freedom from the urge to control (or change) others. Our best chance at being free is being reliant on ourselves and accepting of our own natures. When we are our true selves, things will fall into place. 

    So does it work? I don't know yet. I know I ought to try being more accepting of my own nature and that of others. After all, we're all just trying to find a piece of wild and beautiful in this life. 

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    Cartography of the Self

    Howardena Pindell, is a new name in my artist trove. The first Pindell piece I saw was Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-dō, Kyoto) at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC. I felt drawn to it. At first glance, it is unassuming...almost simple. It reminded me of the natural stones my road-making father loves, of earth and being grounded. A NYC-based artist and educator, Pindell began creating her Autobiography series, of which Shisen-dō is one, after a car accident in 1979 that left her with partial memory loss. 

    Shisen-dō is a map to memory. It is a map to herself.

    What if we were to create a cartography of ourselves? To weave our way in and out of our thoughts, learnings, inspirations, memories, and dreams? To leave a piece of ourselves in the form of a map so we can find our way. To remember. A map to guide those we love to a new understanding of ourselves and our paths in life. 

    Howardena Pindell: Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-dō, Kyoto), 1982, Mixed media on canvas 70 1/2 x 70 1/2 inches

    Howardena Pindell: Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-dō, Kyoto), 1982, Mixed media on canvas
    70 1/2 x 70 1/2 inches

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