Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On preachy stories

"... reading is an end in itself, and what fiction has to offer isn’t lessons but an experience, a revelation, a sudden expansion of the spirit. Like any art, it can teach or motivate, but it doesn’t have to, and it’s often better when it doesn’t."
--Laura Miller, Stories don't need morals or messages

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Be who you are

I read an article a few days ago that started off talking about how people want to make their dreams come true, and it reminded me of this video (also by Dr Brené Brown, whom I mentioned two posts back). In the video, Dr Brown says she and her husband made two lists: first, they listed down all the things they wanted, things they thought would make their lives more comfortable, would make them happier. Then they made a second list of all the things that have happened to make them happy, the times they were most joyful.

When they compared the two lists, they realised that the evidence pointed to the fact that having the things they wanted would not make them happier. The second list showed that "less work and more time" brought more happiness, whereas the first list suggested that they needed to work more, earn more money, be more successful in order to be happy. They had been living under a fallacy.

In fact I think a lot of us live under similar assumptions. We are seduced into thinking a certain lifestyle is THE way to live, and we fall into it without a second thought. It doesn't occur to us to question if this should be or not; we take it as if it simply is.

Last Monday I posted on Facebook that the incrediby hot and humid weather over the past couple of days was making me wish I had installed air-conditioning in my bedroom. My friends reacted with shock when they found out I don't have air-conditioning in my home! They kept urging me to get a unit installed.

I cannot fully explain my intransigence against having an air-conditioned bedroom, except to say that to me, it is a symbol of how easily we fall into a certain type of lifestyle. I like my creature comforts as much as the next person; I love going to hotels beause of the super-comfy beds and air-conditioning (and the fact that I don't have to do any cleaning!). But deep down I sometimes wonder if we aren't getting too comfortable, and taking too much for granted. Many of my peers cannot imagine living without air-conditioning, without Astro, without a car (okay, I admit this one is tough for me too), without a live-in maid to help babysit, cook and clean.

A friend was talking to me recently about having a 10-year plan: Finish your Masters, he said, take a year's break, then start your PhD; graduate in five years, move up the ladder, write a few papers, become an associate professor by the time you are 44. And you see, it made perfect sense to him because that is what society thinks is good and desirable.

But I do not want to do the accepted just because it is expected. When people hear that I am an English teacher, they often suggest that I could give English tuition to students on the side because it is a lucrative enterprise, or tell me to go to China, since English teachers are in demand over there and I would be able to command a higher salary. Even Christians say these things, as if it is natural that we should want to make more money, and try our best to do so. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone that I might not want to make more money. What an alien concept!

That's why I think that identity is such a fundamental issue. It's so important for us to we know who we are. If you don't know who you are, you will end up following the crowd blindly, or listening to anyone who comes along. You will be seduced by society's concept of "success" without realising that true success is being true to yourself and faithfully fulfilling whatever it is God has called you to do. You may never be contented, because right now the world we live in keeps telling us we never have enough, that we deserve more, that bigger is better and newer is nicer.

It's not about having or doing, but about being. Achieving our dreams of having more, doing more or becoming more won't make us happier because we will only be fulfilled when we are the person whom God made us to be. Each of us has been made unique. Instead of trying to be like everyone else -- or better than everyone else -- we should seek Him; seek to be like Him, seek to fulfil His purpose for our lives. And always remember: God is bigger than this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Luckily I gave away the duplicates

Mom (looking at my bookshelf): "What, you have so many Agatha Christie books?!"

Me: "She was a prolific author!"

Dad (to Mom): "She was a prolific author, and this one is a prolific buyer..."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The challenge of vulnerability

Without vulnerability, we can't make authentic connections with others. The problem is that we yearn for authentic connections and deep relationships -- we want to know and be known -- but we are afraid that if people were to know who we really are, they wouldn't want to connect with us. This shame causes us to fear vulnerability and run from it, thus sabotaging our ability to forge the very relationships we most long for. It's a vicious cycle.

This fear that we're not worthy... Dr Brené Brown suggests that everyone has it, and I agree, having struggled with it a great deal myself. She says we need courage and compassion: courage to be imperfect, and compassion to be kind to ourselves first, then others. We have to be willing to let go of who we think we should be, in order to be who we are.

I now understand why when I first started writing about my thoughts, struggles and experiences, people used to tell me I was so brave. I didn't realise at that time that what I was doing was being vulnerable. It came naturally to me; it was nothing special. But I realise now that my writings inadvertently demonstrated a level of vulnerability that many people are afraid of. And by being vulnerable, I gave others the courage to be vulnerable too. They would say, "Hey, I've been through the same thing" or "I'm so glad I'm not alone".

The thing is that there are no guarantees; vulnerability leaves you wide open, and while it invites people to be vulnerable with you, it can also repel others who, feeling threatened, use it as a means to hurt or even discredit you. Over the years it has become, to me, something to fear more than something to celebrate or embrace. That's why I so rarely write public posts like these now.

From the time I was a little girl, I always wanted guarantees because I didn't want my parents, specifically my father, to become upset with me. If there were clear-cut rules, and I were to follow them perfectly, then I would not go wrong, and everything would stay wonderful. The problem with life (and God) is that both are singularly unhelpful in this respect. Life comes with no guarantees, and the only guarantee we get from God is that He is in control, He loves us and is with us through it all. The result of this has been that life itself makes me feel wildly vulnerable at times, and even walking with God makes me confront vulnerability daily because I am naked before Him at all times: "Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely" (Ps 139:4). While He is in control, I am at His mercy, and He usually doesn't tell me His plans!

In the video above, Dr Brown talks more in depth about vulnerability and how we try to escape from it. I resonate with what she says because I know I have often tried to run from the danger of being vulnerable. With God, I don't mind so much, because for the most part I trust in His compassionate lovingkindness. But it has become harder and harder to allow myself to be vulnerable with others. Even such a simple thing as posting a video of myself playing the piano -- I put it up on Facebook, then took it down 10 minutes later for fear of the kind of comments I might get, or what people might be thinking but too polite to say. Part of the fear stems from my own insecurities of my playing, of course. It is going to be a challenge to do what Dr Brown suggests: "Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wait for the Big Picture

Found this quote in an old blog post elsewhere. At the time I was in a completely different place and this spoke to me. It's still a good quote to remember.

"Although the threads of my life have often seemed knotted, I know, by faith, that on the other side of the embroidery there is a crown."
--Corrie ten Boom, My Heart Sings [via Christianity Today]

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Identity and vocation

"Often we want to be somewhere other than where we are, or even to be someone other than who we are. We tend to compare ourselves constantly with others and wonder why we are not as rich, as intelligent, as simple, as generous, or as saintly as they are. Such comparisons make us feel guilty, ashamed, or jealous. It is very important to realize that our vocation is hidden in where we are and who we are. We are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can, and to realize it in the concrete context of the here and now."
--Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey (emphasis mine)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dumb comparisons we make

"...it may very well be true that another person is succeeding and you are not experiencing success, but one has nothing to do with the other. There’s not a limited amount of success going around. In what world does it make sense that if I am funny, you are not funny? NO WORLD."
--Elissa Bassist, How to write like a funny woman

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's in a name?

Mr TDH told me a sunflower symbolises haughtiness. I refused to believe that, so I googled it myself. Turns out that's because of their height -- they can grow up to one foot a day and end up as much as 20 feet tall! But they also symbolise adoration, as they are forever turning their heads to the sun. I do like that interpretation a lot better :p

Monday, January 16, 2012


Unpacking books has been like meeting old friends again. "Oh, you -- I remember you! So that's where you'd gotten to! Welcome back..."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

They need a new home *sniff*

Have a bunch of books to give away. Some are duplicates of ones I already have; others I've decided not to keep. First come, first served ;) (maybe I will finally get more than two comments! :p)

1. Don't Sit On This Book - A Collection of Chinese Taboos (Master Philip Cheong)

2. Waiting (Ha Jin)

3. Lying, Cheating & Stealing - Great Writers on Getting What You Want When You Want It (Ed. Sara Nickles)

4. P.S. I Love You (Cecilia Ahern)

5. Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea & Anne of the Island (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

6. The Silver Chair & The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis) - from the Narnia Chronicles

7. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

8. I Feel Bad About My Neck (Nora Ephron)

9. Confessions of a Shopaholic & Shopaholic Takes Manhattan (Sophie Kinsella)

10. The One Hundred Stupidest Things Ever Done (Ross & Kathryn Petras)

11. Help the Poor Struggler (Martha Grimes)

12. The Plot Thickens (mystery & suspense anthology)

13. A Blunt Instrument (Georgette Heyer)

14. Gould's Book of Fish - A Novel in 12 Fish (Richard Flanagan)

15. The Desperate Remedy - Henry Gresham and the Gunpowder Plot (Martin Stephen)

There'll probably be more in a later post... I'm still unpacking!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reality hits

I have A LOT more books than I realised. Somehow, I'm sure this comes as a surprise to no one but me!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Add it to the "Want" list

Me: "I kind of want a hammer drill."

Mr TDH: "Uh... what brought this on?"

Me: "I started coveting when I watched the contractor's guys at work. Isn't it cool? And handy? But of course I'd hardly have need of it..."

Mr TDH: "I cannot believe I'm discussing a hammer drill with a woman. Okay, I'm blogging this!"

Me: "Haha, go ahead. As for discussing it with a woman, so sexist la you..."

Mr TDH: "Me? Sexist? YOU try discussing hammer drills with your galpals!"

Me: "I don't think any of my galpals even know what a hammer drill is, except maybe J."

Mr TDH: "See! I'm not being sexist!"

Me: "The carpenter has an Indonesian lady helper who knows how to use a hammer drill. So there."

Mr TDH: "Nope, that's not fair. She HAS to know, just like you have to know what an adverb is. That doesn't count."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One for the books

What a day!

Arrived at the office at 6:40am, definitely a record!

Received gifts from two students who just came back from holiday. (Neither gift was edible.)

Celebrated colleague's birthday at staff meeting and had yummy cake.

Forgot appointment with thesis supervisor. Had to postpone.

Got stuck in the lift at work whilst on the way down to go home -- and I was alone! Another first; have never been stuck in a lift before. Funnily enough I was more amused than panicked. Perhaps because it was the office and I was pretty sure our security / maintenance guys would be on it pronto; I've seen them respond to other minor emergencies before. Also had network coverage on my cellphone, so was able to call a colleague in case no one responded to the alarm bell!

Asked the workshop guys to take a look at my car tyre, which seemed to be slightly flat. I was right, it was flat, and they discovered a nail embedded in the thing!

Was in and out of a shopping mall within an hour: another record! Hey, if you're going to go through all the hassle of finding parking and so on, you might as well maximise your time there. But I had to rush off...

To wait an hour for a lorry that never showed up.

Then navigated myself into unfamiliar territory to meet up with someone, because of the lorry no-show.

Finally managed to have dinner at 10pm (I was so hungry!). The stall owner saw me painstakingly removing all the spring onions, and offered to replace my dish! "I didn't know you didn't want any," he said. Another record! I was abashed; I hadn't asked him to leave them out, after all, so it was my own fault!

Let's hope the rest of the week is relatively uneventful. One day like this is enough to last me seven days!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Be careful what you ask for?

I never thought losing weight could be a mixed blessing, but the "my pants are falling down" feeling is really starting to bug me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Normalcy: it's all in your mind

Him: "I'm a normal guy looking for a normal woman."

Me: "Don't you think 'normal' is relative, though? A person could be perfectly normal in every other respect but likes to dance naked every full moon, for example... would that make them abnormal?"

Him: "..."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Of course ice-cream is more important

I just realised I don't have one very important thing in the apartment:


Like, you know, kitchen knives. For chopping vegetables and chicken and whatever else. And a chopping board. The two kinda go together, no?

There are other things I want to get: a bread toaster, a food processor...

Oh yes, and I need a gas tank, too.

At this moment the kitchen is the least fully equipped room of all, although I had already bought cutlery and plates. I'm still missing small bowls, though. The type of bowls we Chinese use for rice or for serving soup. But I have pretty glass bowls for eating ice-cream :D

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A thankful heart

Hearing people thank God for His blessings and what He's done for them has always made me wonder if we would still be thanking & praising Him had things gone very differently. It kind of doesn't sit well with me, for some reason.

But having had a lot of cause to be thankful recently, I realised that for me the thankfulness springs from a knowledge, not just that God has been good to me, but that He has been so much more gracious to me than I deserve.

It is not that I would not praise Him had He not helped me, but more that I am amazed at His help and His gifts: the depth and breadth of it, truly "immeasurably more than all I could ever ask or imagine".

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

But I'm counting my blessings!

Me: "You know what's the best thing about moving to my own apartment?"

Mr TDH: "What?"

Me: "Running water."

Mr TDH: *raises eyebrow*

Me: "It's so LOVELY to have running water again!"

Mr TDH: "You need help."

Me: "No, but really! The water heater works, the washing machine works..."

Mr TDH: "Well, there is that..."

Me: "I can turn on the tap and water gushes out!"

Mr TDH: "You really need help."