Sunday, August 14, 2016

Reflections on July

It's with a mild sense of panic that I realize that we are officially in the 2nd half of the year. What have I done?? What have I accomplished? How am I going to do all the other stuff I wanted to do????

Last month onto this, I got hit off the tracks when I went off on holiday and I came back to a flurry of work. This has happened many times before, when I went overseas or took a long break and not just on my personal goals, but at work as well. Suddenly I forgot how to write my to-do lists, how to remember my deadlines, how to set goals for myself and then everything rushes in together.

So mid-August is a good time to take a quick stock check. Where am I with my goals? What did I accomplish? How did I do it? What did I fail in? Why did I fail? How can I set myself up to pass next time?

My goals for July were: 

Photography: To read up on Daido Moriyama
I found this hard at first because books on Daido Moriyama were crazily hard to find. I thought I would be able to buy a good book on him and read it at my leisure, but then I couldn't find any good (or affordable) photo book or biography anywhere in the major bookstores! A photobook seller in Peninsula finally told me that was the case with his books and that the same situation existed in Japan, where his books are primarily sold. -_-!!! 

Finally though, I hit paydirt at the National Library - I found Tales of Tono, Stray Dog and Memories of a Dog.

Stray Dog and Memories of a Dog were only available in the reference section, so I couldn't borrow them out. I had to make special trips to Victoria Street to read them, which made them more troublesome and at the same time, more fascinating. (Why some books end up in the reference section, I don't know) The more I read about him, the more fascinated I became with him as a photographer since I identified with certain parts of his philosophy towards photography.

But... that's a subject for another blog post. Let me write up my notes into something coherent first. :p

So I would say in this goal I was fairly successful. I managed to find the books though reading them was quite troublesome. I also learned quite a bit as well.

Next step to levelling up? Getting my essay done... (sigh)

Violin: To practise at least twice a week - COMPLETE FAIL

This goal is one I continuously set for myself and continuously fail at. Every month that I tell myself to practise, to practise, the violin stays neglected in its case and next thing I know, it's time for lesson/practice time again. -_-!!! 

So let's take a good hard look at meself: Why am I failing at this?

I'm restricting myself to practising in the afternoon. I keep telling myself to practise in the afternoon because I'm worried about neighbours complaining if I practise at 8-9pm. Which means, if I'm stuck at work till late, I end up not practising at all if I return home after dinner. Would my neighbours really raise their pitchforks if I practised at 8, after dinner and yet when people are not going to bed yet? I don't know because I never tried, having spent most of that time watching TV while eating dinner. -_-!!! 

And then at night, there's always other stuff to do...... Easier stuff like reading or painting that doesn't require the same amount of effort as the violin. So I always take the easy way out for myself.

Terrible. It's like wanting to lose weight but eating another chicken burger. I keep telling myself I want to be a good violin player but I fail to put in the practice needed.

The solution for this is easy in principle, yet another matter in practice. I need to set practice days and times (which I have been doing) and actually set about to doing it, never mind fatigue or complaints (which I have NOT been doing).

Watercolour: To paint at least 2 pieces in watercolour.

This goal I managed because I was so lousy with keeping the one about the violin practice. :D I did a few pieces and here are the 3 better ones:


The one I'm most proud of is of course, the 3rd one, and this is one goal I felt I showed the most progress in the least amount of time and the one I enjoyed the most. 

There were several things that made this goal easier to accomplish. One, paint and brush were always within easy reach on my table. All I really had to do was plonk my butt on my chair and open them up to start. This also made them a good destresser from work as well. Compare this to having to heft my violin up and stand for the entire time I practise......

Also, having a reference book helped. That way, I didn't have to think of what to practise. I just opened to the last page I stopped at and did whatever was on that page. Again, a good remedy for a hard day at work.

Lastly, I also think that the artwork was a strong visible motivator. Once the painting was done, it was an obvious indicator of my effort and progress and one that could be looked at again and again for inspiration. Whereas with violin playing, I couldn't tell whether my pitch really was improving or not.

All in all, no wonder I found more fun in reaching the art goal.......

Still, they are things to consider if I want to become a good violin player. So with those in mind, my goals in August are:

French - To refresh what I learned and complete at least 2 more chapters
Writing - To work on the text for my book idea
Violin - Once again.........

Wish me luck!      

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Small Changes


One magazine I love buying is Flow magazine. Published by 2 Dutch ladies and translated into English, it has articles on simple living, features on creative artists and comes with beautiful paper goodies, yay :) 

The current issue has an article on small changes that spoke to me.

Many people have big dreams stemming from current dissatisfactions. When we are dissatisfied with our house, job or partner, we make big dreams for ourselves in which we shed off all vestiges of our previous life and start afresh. So we might sell the house and move to a hut in Bali, or break up with the partner and move to France to find a new lover. 

Of course, once I read this, I immediately saw myself in it. Because every time I face a tough time at work, or I find myself dragged out of bed before dawn, I wish that I was doing something different. I wish that I was running my own art school, or writing books or just being a jobless bum at home. 

Whether such solutions solve my problems or not does not feature in my fantasy, of course. That's the point of a fantasy after all, to make you feel better by letting you dream. 

The article gives a different idea: that you don't have to take such big steps to making yourself happy and that small steps can be enough. Not everyone can afford drastic steps in their life, or should either. While I don't like the responsibilities that come with my job, I also appreciate very much that the monthly paycheck pays for my house and food while letting me save towards the future! That is not something I might easily get should I decide to quit and write a book!

The dream image though may represent a certain longing that is not being satisfied in your current life. According to the Self-Determination Theory, there are 3 basic needs to be fulfilled to make yourself happier. They are:

1. Autonomy - The need to do it your own way
2. Relatedness - the need to feel connected to other people
3. Competence - the need to do something you are good at

Taking the example of my own life, why is it then I feel dissatisfied at my job? First, the autonomy needs are not met, because much of what I do with the kids are determined by others. The competence needs are not met, because the job requires much planning and meticulousness that I struggle with. And it being a big place, my relatedness needs are not met as well either.

This is also why quitting it all to work on creative pursuits also seems more appealing. I get to do things my own way, paint what I want, write what I want (autonomy). I can meet other likeminded people who share the same creative dreams (relatedness). I can do something I feel I am good at (competence). 

But I don't always have to quit it all in order to pursue these needs. Small changes can also be taken as well. I already pursue the competence need by writing and painting in my free time. I pursue the relatedness need by meeting with friends and blogging and posting photos on Instagram. 

The autonomy needs... ah, that's a tougher nut to crack. There are commitments of time here that need to be fulfilled. I can meet this sometimes by taking the afternoon off to go on a photowalk, for example, but it's not something I can do every day. 

Here, the article talks about thinking in terms of solutions. Rather than paying attention to what's wrong with my life, what can I do then to make it right?

The example given is that of a big miracle. Imagine a big miracle happened and I don't have to work any more. What would I do? 

Well, I can imagine long afternoons reading at the library, painting at home or exploring the town with my camera. 

Do I necessarily need to quit my job to do this? Actually, I don't. I can spend some afternoons doing these, but planning is required. I would need to plan in advance which days I can get away with leaving the marking at the desk or having nothing at all. Or maybe even play hooky sometimes, hehe. 

So there is a solution. The solution is to plan the days I want to do this and then make sure nothing in my afternoon interferes with this plan. And it is a solution that allows me to keep my job and my salary. 

My thoughts on this article is that it is a bit simplistic and optimistic at the same time. Simplistic because it's not as if a solution can be found to all of every one's problems. I'm lucky enough because I still have flexibility when it comes to my afternoons, but not everyone who is stuck working 9-5 has the same luck.

But yet, optimistic because it tells you that it is possible to find happiness in the littlest of things. It's not always that you have to make drastic changes to find happiness but if you are aware of what makes you happy, you can make small changes to work towards that happiness. It's something that I try to carry out on a weekly basis and I do see an overall increase in happiness when I did so. 

Here are the small steps to do the same:

1. Identify the needs you are lacking. Autonomy, relatedness or competence? Look at your big dream. What is it about it that appeals to you?
2. Create spaces to fulfill those needs in your life. Where can you make time for it? What steps would you need to take?
3. Think in terms of solutions, not problems. It's about what you can do, not how much it sucks.
(adapted from Flow magazine, Issue 14)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Out of the pages I read....

I'm a magazine buyer and hoarder. I love to browse the magazine racks to look for interesting articles and I don't mind spending money on some of the more expensive overseas publications. I do feel the money for the articles is worth spending on because of the quality of the writing. Many of them are also smart enough to manage their content so that what is published on paper is different from what is published online. 

And anyway, isn't it nicer to read on paper than on a screen? ;) 

But at the same time, I do wish that I could get more learning out of the magazines I read. I find sometimes that after reading, the magazine goes into a bag to be thrown away or given away. How would I know that I am retaining the information that I read or even applying them in real life?

So I thought of a plan, namely the

The 3-Stage Magazine Cycle (#outofthepagesiread for a nicer title)

Stage 1: Buy and read
The easiest stage of all, requiring the least effort, haha. 

Stage 2: Read and Do
The hardest stage, because this requires an action to derive something tangible. For the arty magazines like Daphne's Diary, Flow or Mollie Makes, this can be in the form of an art project. For magazines with stories like Frankie, this can be a piece of fiction. For non-fiction like Psychology Today, more essay-style articles. 

(Sounds easy, but the thought of the work involved sends me into shivers actually)

Stage 3: Sell
Just to extract that one last value, attempt to sell the magazine on Carousell and put some funds towards, er, the next magazine. :p Anyone who wants to support me in this step is welcome.......

Mind you, I prefer to do this for the more expensive foreign publications. I think local stuff like 8 Days is cheap enough for me to just read it la.

And another thing,

Why Do I Even Bother?

Firstly, I think it's a great way to get inspiration for art or writing projects. Some magazines like Daphne's Diary and Frankie have beautifully done pages and articles and there have been a number of times I have been inspired by what I read. But I don't always act on them and in the end, no product at the end. So it's a good way to exercise creative muscle.

Secondly, some of these magazines have great information that can't be found locally. Psychology Today has well-researched articles from universities and scientific institutions and it's all very up-to-date. This is information I want to share and remember and writing about it is one way to do so.

Thirdly, I'm hoping this would cut down on mindless magazine buying. Yes, the amount of money I spend on these publications is crazy, sometimes. Sometimes, I even find myself buying them simply because it's a habit to do so. I did this for Oh Comely, till one day, I realized the articles were inciting lesser interest in me and I decided to stop buying it altogether, unless a feature was particularly interesting. 

What's my chance of success?
Right now, I think the difficulty level is very high! Doing craft and writing takes time to do properly, and I'm not sure I can do enough activity at Stage 2 before I buy the next issue! Not only that, but from my short stint selling on Carousell, I also know that Stage 3 also takes up a fair amount of time! Would the money earned back be even worth the effort of trying?


The first reward only comes with the first step.
If I don't even make the first step to try because I was convinced it would utterly fail, I would not get anything at all. At least by starting on it, I can learn something out of it even if I fail miserably. At the very least, maybe it would make me think twice about indiscriminately buying more magazines.

And I already have the first reward, which is a blog article about the plan! Who knows if someone else would stumble onto it and get a great idea to do it? That'll be nice, to think that I passed a good idea along. :) 

So wish me luck! I'm going to start with the first article soon so I can get things done before the next issue comes out!