Friday, December 12, 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert's Advice on Traveling Alone for Women

Wanderlust has been hitting me hard the last few years. Perhaps it's an awareness of time, and how little I have actually done with my life, how little of the world I have seen. It's an affliction that comes with having aging parents, I suppose. I look at my dad, who was such an independent spirit, strong and self-sufficient - and I see him these days a somewhat diminished man, angry at losing his vigour and power. He, too, is aware that he does not have much time left. I have no children. All I have is now. So, I desire to travel, to wander before the ultimate certainty (because death is more certain than taxes) takes me.

I was on Facebook earlier (okay, I am on Facebook everyday - shoot me). Someone posted a question to Elizabeth Gilbert, asking for travel advice. I liked her reply, although, the question is: can you really just travel with carry-on luggage only? Really? I feel like a pack-horse now.

Dear Ones — 

This question popped up on the wall again this week, and I thought I should reprint this little essay I wrote about it on Facebook last year. And if you all have your own thoughts and advice on the matter, do yo you mind sharing? 


I myself have always had great experiences traveling alone. While there are certainly dangers, I have found that the same factors that make you vulnerable as a woman also make you powerful. What I mean to say is, a woman on her own does not telegraph a threat to anyone—which means that strangers all over the world will welcome you and trust you. They will let you into their houses. They will let you play with their babies. They will tell you their stories. They will give you a place to sleep. They will offer you assistance, food, directions, affection. I feel that, as a female traveler, I have had much more intimate experiences with new people than any man could ever have. They know I'm not going to hurt them, and so they open up to me. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. 

That said, do be careful—or at least alert. There are places in the world I would not travel alone. There are places in my own state I would not travel alone, for that matter. If you don't see any local women walking around the streets at night, you probably shouldn't be walking there either. Other tips: 
DRESS MODESTLY. I keep this rule just about everywhere I go in the world that isn't Miami. In developing countries or more conservative countries, I am especially careful to wear long sleeves and loose clothing. It's more comfortable, for one thing. (Less sunburn!) It also tends to attract less male attention. But most of all, in places in the world where modesty still reigns, dressing carefully will win you the favor of local women—whose good graces you will always need. If you're walking around in what looks to a nice Indonesian woman like underwear (tank top and shorts) she will be too embarrassed to interact with you. Try not to make people of either gender feel either aroused or embarrassed. 
PACK LIGHTLY. I never travel with checked luggage...not anywhere, not for any amount of time. Carry-on only. Never bring more than you can comfortably carry. Being over-burdened makes you vulnerable in a thousand different ways. Stay light on your feet and you'll be safer and less conspicuous. Also, you don't really need it. Really, you don't! If you’re traveling from place to place and living among strangers, nobody will notice that you wore the same shirt today as yesterday. You will also be safer from people putting things in your luggage (drugs) or taking things out of your luggage (cameras) when you aren't looking. 
EYE-MASK, EAR PLUGS, PJ's, SLIPPERS. Bring good ones. Sleep is the most important thing. 
DON'T BE AFRAID TO LOOK STUPID. Try to speak some of the local language, even if it makes you sound like an idiot. People (except waiters in Paris) will usually be charmed, not appalled. Eat things you wouldn't normally eat. Ask questions. It's OK if you don't know what's going on — the whole point of being a visitor is not to know what's going on, and to be unafraid to learn. Good manners and friendliness trump sophistication any day. You can always apologize for mistakes later. 
DON'T ACT ENTITLED. I won't give any examples here. Just ask yourself constantly, "Am I acting entitled?" Then stop. Actually, this is kind of good advice for even when you aren't traveling. 

Love, Liz

Sunday, December 07, 2014

BOOKS | 100 Books to Read 2014

A new year is beginning, and it is time to get back to some tradition. I intend to read more in 2014. A long time ago, I started an annual list of 100 books that I would like to read in a year. While I have never actually completed all 100 books, I like how it directed my reading. I really do read more when I have an aspirational list.
So here is the 100 Books to Read List 2014 - it is still a work in progress - but past experience has taught me that the 100 titles will fill itself up in due course. As you start reading again, you will want to read more.
So here it is:
  1. A History of the World in Twelve Maps • Jerry Brotton
  2. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence • Rick Hanson
  3. Running and Being • Dr George Sheehan
  4. Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom • Rick Hanson
  5. The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living • Stephen Cope
  6. The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology • Chogyam Trungpa
  7. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism • Chogyam Trungpa
  8. Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery • Chogyam Trungpa
  9. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them • Richard J. Davidson & Sharon Begley
  10. Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers • David Perlmutter & Kristin Loberg
  11. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West • Dee Brown
  12. Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites • Kate Christensen
  13. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals • Michael Pollan
  14. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto • Michael Pollan
  15. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation • Michael Pollan
  16. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History • S. C. Gwynne
  17. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child • Bob Spitz
  18. Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier • Sharon Salzberg
  19. Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste • Luke Barr
  20. Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside with Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and the University of Colorado Men's Cross Country Team • Chris Lear
  21. The Round House: A Novel Paperback • Louise Erdrich
  22. The Road of Lost Innocence • Somaly Mam
  23. The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present • Eric Kandel
  24. The Source of All Things: A Memoir • Tracy Ross
  25. No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva •  Pema Chodron
  26. Give and Take • Adam Grant
  27. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them • Joshua Greene
  28. The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom • Louis Cozolino
  29. Quiet: The Power of Introverts • Susan Cain
  30. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot • Robert MacFarlane
  31. A Tale for the Time Being • Ruth Ozeki
  32. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants • Malcolm Gladwell
  33. S. Rajaratnam on Singapore: From Ideas to Reality • edited by Kwa Chong Guan
  34. When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice • Terry Tempest Williams
  35. Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation • Sharon Salzberg
  36. Hild • Nicola Griffith
  37. Lady Audley's Secret • Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  38. The Names of the Rose • Umberto Eco
  39. Dune • Frank Herbert
  40. The Stars My Destination • Alfred Bester
  41. Jane Eyre • Charlotte Bronte
  42. The Windup Girl • Paolo Bacigalupi
  43. Regenesis • C.J. Cherryh
  44. Among Others • Jo Walton
  45. Ready Player One • Ernest Cline
  46. The City & The City • China Miéville
  47. Their Eyes Were Watching God • Zora Neale Hurston
  48. A Fine Balance • Rohinton Mistry
  49. The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore • Edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang & Hong Lysa
    [ 01/01/2014 ~
  50. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith • Anne Lamott
    [ 15/10/2013 ~
  51. How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind • Pema Chodron
    [ 27/01/2014 ~
  52. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success • Carol Dweck
    [ 30/01/2014 ~
  53. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace • Tamar Adler
    [ 10/02/2014 ~
  54. The Goldfinch • Donna Tartt
    [ 14/03/2014 ~
  55. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace • Anne Lamott
    [ 04/12/2014 ~
  56. Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness• Rebecca Solnit
    [ 26/11/2014 ~
  57. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption • Laura Hillenbrand
    [ 23/11/2014 ~ 
  58. Station Eleven • Emily St. John Mandel
    [ 23/11/2014 ~
  59. What Days Are For: A Memoir • Robert Dessaix
    [ 20/11/2014 ~
  60. The Outsider • Albert Camus
    Translated from the French by Sandra Smith
    [ 01/10/2014 ~
  61. The Trauma of Everyday Life • Mark Epstein
    [ 15/09/2014 ~
  62. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage • Haruki Murakami
    Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
    [ 12/08/2014 ~
  63. The Devil's Star • Jo Nesbø
    Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
    [ 28/07/2014 ~
  64. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence • Daniel Goleman
    [ 04/11/2013 ~ 01/01/2014 ]
  65. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running • Haruki Murakami
    [ 02/01/2014 ~ 27/01/2014 ]
  66. The Hunger Games • Suzanne Collins
    [ 31/01/2014 ~ 08/02/2014 ]
  67. Catching Fire • Suzanne Collins
    [ 08/02/2014 ~ 09/02/2014 ]
  68. Mockingjay • Suzanne Collins
    [ 09/02/2014 ~ 10/02/2014 ]
  69. Nemesis • Jo Nesbø
    Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
    [ 19/07/2014 ~ 28/07/2014 ]
  70. Cave in the Snow • Vicki Mackenzie
    [ 18/10/2014 ~ 08/11/2014 ]
  71. The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit • Helena Attlee
    [ 13/09/2014 ~ 15/11/2014 ]
  72. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar • Cheryl Strayed
    [ 28/09/2014 ~ 2/11/2014 ]

Monday, November 03, 2014

Marathon Heroes: "These are the things that define you ..."

I was watching this press interview with Kara Goucher after the NYC Marathon, and it was heartbreaking for me. [ Source ]

Kara Goucher finished 14th at the NYC Marathon with a time of 2:37:03. It was her big return since the 2013 Boston Marathon, and fans like myself were all looking forward to her doing well. Things did not go as planned though. For the first time in her running career, she "hit a wall" - that painful, unspeakable moment when the brain and body shut down and you truly struggle to carry on. She admitted in this video this is the first time she "hit a wall" running. I watched her break down, emotions overwhelming her. I imagine the kind of doubts and anguish going through her head when so many people had their hopes on her making a triumphant return after injuries and changing coaches.
“I’m really sensitive so it hurts,” Goucher said, wiping away more tears. “I know I am in great shape and can do great things. It’s like, ‘Well that sucked.’ I’ve worked really hard and have a lot of people behind me and I’m like, ‘That’s what it was?’ But that’s what it was. It just wasn’t great. It was really sucky, actually.
“This is the most pain I have ever been in my entire life” she continued. “Both physically and emotionally. It’s taken so much for me to get back here and so many people have invested in me so I feel a responsibility for that and then physically I have never felt like that before where I literally couldn’t move. It was not a good experience."
It was a most human moment. She was an Olympian, an elite runner, but even heroes struggle. I think we often forget that. After finishing the race, Kara Goucher broke down and wept. Meb Keflezighi, approached her and comforted her. Meb finished 23rd last year, but came back strong this year to finish 4th in the NYC men's race, and he won the Boston Marathon earlier this year. This is a guy who fell and tasted the ashes, but found it inside him to pick him up. Kara said:
“I talked to Meb about it and he said, ‘These are the things that define you and the experiences that make you appreciate the good times and make you work even harder,’” Goucher said. “He came up to me and I started crying and he started crying. Then he said, ‘Look at where I was last year and look at where I am now. I believe and don’t let this sway you from what you know you’re capable of.’
Heroes struggle too. We forget that. What makes them heroes is precisely because they struggle, and continue to get back up and fight harder. What makes them heroes is because they understand the struggle, and they work to lift others up.

 Stay strong, Kara. We believe in you. Stay strong, Meb. Both of you are heroes.

[ Source: @Adam_Goucher ]

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Murakami on sniffing books

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages - a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Curator - care of the souls or aqueducts?

Brief history of the word, "curator":

A very short history of the word 'curator' might run as follows. In Ancient Rome, curatores were senior civil servants in charge of various departments of public works, overseeing the Empire's aqueducts, bathhouses and sewers. Fast forward to the medieval period, and we encounter the curatus, a priest devoted to the care (or 'cura') of souls.

By the end of the 20th century, 'curator' came to describe a broad category of exhibition makers, from museum employees who spend years working on modest, scrupulously researched displays of Sumerian pottery, to freelancers who approach large scale Biennales of contemporary art as an opportunity to clear their auteurial throat.

Here in the third millennium, the word curator has undergone a further shift in usage. Appropriated by the marketing departments of businesses keen to imbue their products with an air of hard-won distinction and borrowed avant-garde cool, it is now used to describe anybody from the celebrity programmer of a pop festival to a fashion stylist who puts together a 'capsule collection' from a department store's fall/winter stock. A curator, here, is essentially a paid selector of stuff for sale, whether it be concert tickets or cuff links.

Friday, October 31, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

Signed up for NaNoWriMo. No one ever said it has to be deathless prose, right?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hiatus No More! Sleater-Kinney's Coming Back!

They are coming back! Sleater-Kinney's coming back! Here's their new single, "Bury Our Friends". Their new album is scheduled to drop January next year! I'm stoked!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Nico and Patti Smith

I did not know that Patti Smith and Nico knew each other. Patti Smith did not speak much of her acquaintance with the tall blonde, hipster femme fatale.

Came across this excerpt from a book on Nico recently though, where she spoke about her impression of Patti Smith, and Smith's generosity to her. It's a small human piece, but so touching.

“I had met Patti in New York, when she was a young poet on the scene. She was a female Leonard Cohen, when she moved from writing to singing, and I liked her because she was thin but strong. John Cale produced her first album, which was about heroin (Horses, 1975). Then I met her in Paris, and got to know her better. I felt like she could be a sister, because anyway she was the double of Philippe Garrel, and I liked to be together with her...

“Patti was very kind to me. Early in 1978 my harmonium was stolen from me. I was without any money and now I couldn’t even earn a living playing without my organ. A friend of mine saw one with green bellows in an obscure shop, the only one in Paris. Patti bought it for me. I was so happy and ashamed. I said, “I’ll give you back the money when I get it”, but she insisted the organ was a present and I should forget about the money. I cried. I was ashamed she saw me without money.”

- Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon, Richard Witts

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

CAMUS | To Read

The absurdity of my life is not lost on me. I have began to wonder about my own sanity. Perhaps this is why I decided to start a reading list for myself yesterday. I have decided I will read the works of Albert Camus - works by him, works about him. I may not read everything, but as much as possible.

So here we go - for 1st October 2014, I read The Outsider, by Albert Camus. Translator: Sandra Smith.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Geoff Dyer, on Albert Camus

Geoff Dyer, on Albert Camus:

I was drawn to Albert Camus because he looked so cool in his trenchcoat, because the Cure wrote a song inspired by one of his books (The Outsider), because he and his pug-ugly friend Sartre were existentialists (which seemed related, somehow, to the trenchcoat).

Probably one of the most honest reason for reading Camus.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thug Kitchen Cookbook Trailer (explicit)

This is probably one of the better book trailers I have seen in a while. I'm definitely going to get the Thug Kitchen Cookbook

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gaiman on Pratchett: "Terry Pratchett isn't jolly. He's Angry"

I promised myself to write more often, but truth is, these days I am just trying to find more time for sleep. So here's a piece from Neil Gaiman, on Terry Pratchett and the inner rage that drove his writings. They have been friends for a while now, even wrote a book together, which was hilarious. The worldknows about Pratchett's decline because of early on-set Alzheimer's. As a fan of his books, this saddens me, because it's a disease that will gradually strips one of their dignity before the end.

This essay by Gaiman shares something about Pratchett that I have always believed in - that there's something serious and earnest behind his books.

Terry looked at me. He said: “Do not underestimate this anger. This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens.” I thought of the driven way that Terry wrote, and of the way that he drove the rest of us with him, and I knew that he was right.

There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld

This rage that Gaiman describes, seems to me a symptom of a sense of injustice; things should be better, ought to be better. People should know better, ought to do better - but we often fail. I see it in the moments of sad acceptance in Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching - characters who have enough wisdom and courage to see the truth about human nature, yet somehow found something precious within themselves to continue to care. I always believe that people gets truly angry because they care.

This is why I love Pratchett's writings: the moral outrage in his writings that's cleverly disguised as "low-brow" humour. The humanity and heart in them.

I also have a parent at home with early on-set Alzheimer's. I can't bring myself to wish that he gets better, because I know that's an empty hope at the moment. It will only get worse. We are losing one of our greatest mind. That is a tragedy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Own Magical Reading

It's a warm Sunday afternoon right now. I'm out at a local cafe with a book and a cup of teh cino (frothy milk tea). I picked up this title yesterday from the bookstore - Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. It's a reading memoir, where Nina Sankovitch decided one day to stop running from the grief in her life, since her sister's death - and just read. Just stay still and read and let the books soothe her.

It felt like a good plan, something that I am dying for myself. The title itself reminded me of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking - and perhaps it was meant to allure to that, both books coping with loss and grief in their own way. 

We all come to books for our own reasons. Right now, I need my old friends for some comfort. Today I opened up a new Moleskine cahier (I have lots of them around the house). I wrote down the titles of the books that I still have in progress, wrote down the date I started on them, similar to this blog, and started my Reading Journal again. I can only write again when I start reading again. This much I know. For me to read again, my mind has to be at peace.

So, for now, some milk tea and a book. 

This is my own magical reading place.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Patti Smith - People Have the Power!

Patti Smith at Riot Fest, performing "People Have the Power". Around 6:30, she remind us, "We do have the power! Our governments, our corporations would like us to feel defeated, but we have it with our numbers if we use it. Don't forget it!" 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MURAKAMI | Feeling the Voice and the Music in Murakami

I'm reading Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. It has the Murakami signature "voice". I think about it, and his books are often a little depressing, quiet and understated - but I love the "voice". I once told a friend about how it feels reading a Murakami novel - it's like I'm sitting at a table, in a jazz bar. There's only him, and me, at the table. There's cigarette smoke in the air, and a couple of beer between us. Then he starts telling me a story, quietly, and I'm just there, listening. Just him and me.

I'm back on the groove and ease reading his most recent book. I like how he always ties in his other passions into his books, most of all music - which might be how he achieves the "voice" in his novels. If it doesn't "sound" right, it's not right. It's about the melody, the "feel" of the voice, rather than the plot that matters. In a way, he's writing a melody as a book.

I had this conversation with a friend a while back. She pays attention to the lyrics of the songs, while I tend to pay more attend to the melody and I often forget the lyrics. It's an odd thing, considering how I am a reader - yet I do not read the lyrics much. I tap into the rhythm, the melody, the sound and the mood of music. Just like how I tap into the "voice" in Murakami's novels and not the story as much, considering how I am a story person.

It is fascinating to think about how Murakami taps into music and channels them creatively into his writing. Perhaps he channels his writing into his running as well. I'm not the only one curious about it, as this Murakami Literary Playlist show.

For now, the playlist for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is Liszt:

As they listened to one piano recording, Tsukuru realized that he'd heard the composition many times in the past. He didn't know the title, however, or the composer. It was a quiet, sorrowful piece that began with a slow, memorable theme that played out as single notes, then proceeded into a series of tranquil variations. Tsukuru looked up from the book he was reading and asked Haida what it was.
'"Franz Liszt's 'La mal du pays.' It's from his Years of Pilgrimage Suite 'Year One: Switzerland.'"
"'La mal du…'?"
"'La map du pays.' It's French. Usually it's translated as 'homesickness,' or 'melancholy.' If you put a finer point on it, it's more like 'a groundless sadness called forth in a person's heart by a pastoral landscape.' It's a hard expression to translate accurately." 
A song on pilgrimage. I get that.
My copy of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
Might add more stickers to the cover as I progress with the story.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Simon Sinek: Why Leaders Eat Last

I was watching this TED talk by Simon Sinek on why leaders eat last. I like this definition of leadership - that you are given more, so that when it matters, you put yourself at risk for others. It made me reflect on myself, in my role at work, and also about the managers I have encountered through the years, and about those in positions of political power in my country.

The How many of those at the top fulfils the anthropological definition of leadership?

“The cost of leadership is self-interest. If you’re not willing to give up your perks when it matters, then you probably shouldn’t get promoted. You might be an authority, but you will not be a leader. Leadership comes at a cost. You don’t get to do less work when you get more senior, you have to do more work. And the more work you have to do is put yourself at risk to look after others. That is the anthropological definition of what a leader is. This the why we are so offended by these banker boys who pay themselves astronomical salaries. It has nothing to do with the number. It has to do with the fact that they have violated a deep-seated social contract.”

Saturday, June 21, 2014

20 Odd Questions with Patti Smith

From Wall Street Journal

Patti Smith:
When I go on tour, I only pack a very small suitcase. The thing that takes me the longest to choose is the book I'm going to read. It is Dylan Thomas's 100th anniversary this year; I have Elizabeth Bishop's copy of "In Country Sleep," so I might bring that.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Alone, Lonely and Sadly

A colleague told me the story about her father-in-law and his family a while back. He was dying, and they took him home, so that the family could look after him. The sad truth is, the old man had left a legacy of irresponsible parenting. As my colleague told me - "He only knew how to make babies and go fishing. He doesn't know how to look after his kids." 

The old man had eight children - yet at the end of his days, it was his daughter-in-laws who bathed, him, fed him, took care of him. His own children were not available. This is the truth of a family with no bond. My colleague told me how her mother-in-law was angry as the man was dying - after all the years, she was still angry at the husband who wasn't around, and whom she thought ruined her life. 

When the man finally passed away, he was alone. His wife eventually went to check on him, and found that he was not breathing. So a man with a wife and eight children died alone, lonely and sadly.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

ESSAY | Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers

Good article on the importance of liberal arts in our education. [ Full article ]
My answer is that we should strive to be a society of free people, not simply one of well-compensated managers and employees. Henry David Thoreau is as relevant as ever when he writes, “We seem to have forgotten that the expression ‘a liberal education’ originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only.”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Saturday Evening

It's been a while since I had time alone with a book. I am out at a Starbucks, people watching, drinking a hot cafe latte and reading. It's ironical that I am only able to find quiet solitude outside in public, surrounded by strangers and not at home with family. That's life, I guess.

I've just started on Katie Roiphe's In Praise of Messy Lives, and it's a hoot. "L'hypocrisie de la bourgeoisie" seems to be the overarching theme of her collection of essays. I'm on the first two essays, where she talked about the fact that she had to raise two children (from different fathers) as a single mother, and the reactions from those around her. She described the parallels between The Age of Innocence and when she was going through her divorce, and later The Scarlet Letter against when she was raising a child without the child's father. Her situation brought out some annoying (to me) reactions that reminds me how it's often not about you, but rather, it's about them - and people are most intolerant of the situations that they are unable to bear in their own lives. It helps that she is interestingly unrepentant about it all.

I did find her observation of the perception of single mothers interesting:
Part of what seems threatening or unsettling about the single mother's household is precisely that sense that the mother may be glimpsed as more of a person, that these children are witnessing a struggle they should not be seeing, that their mother is very early on a regular, complicated person, rather than simply an adult who is part of the opaque, semi-separate adult culture of the house.
I'm reminded of Desperate Housewives, especially the character Bree (the red head) with her perfectly constructed family life that underpinned a psychotic intensity that absolutely made it absolutely believable that she was capable of murder. What is it with the need for perfection?

Life is more interesting when we stop trying to be perfect and allow the messiness.

So here's to a messy life.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

MURAKAMI | Run To Live Life to the Fullest

“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. But don't think that's the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree”

― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

(Photo: Haruki Murakami, after finishing his first marathon from Athens to Marathon in the blistering summer heat - July 18th, 1983. [Source])

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Donna Tartt wins Pulitzer Prize

So Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer this year for The Goldfinch - which I brought to Amsterdam as travel reading (Bad idea to bring thick books on a trip. When will I ever learn?) Some parts of it interested me - but the narrative fell flat midway. I will probably finish it eventually. I still can't quite decide if this book is overrated. I had better hopes for it, but it's not engaging me the way I had hoped.

That said, I am very taken with this picture of Donna Tartt, taken by Anne Leibovitz for Vanity Fair.

MUSIC | Nirvana, featuring Lorde covering "All Apologies"

Nirvana gets inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and they decided a all-female line-up is the way to go. So here's a fan's wet dream of Nirvana hits, with Lorde, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett and St Vincent all on stage. Lorde does the vocals on "All Apologies". I'm old enough to remember when Kurt Cobain sang it.

I heart this.

Monday, April 14, 2014

ELIZABETH GILBERT | "Take me with you in spirit ... Tell us what you find. I will follow you later"

I saw this Facebook entry by Elizabeth Gilbert today. Travels is on the top of my mind lately, since I came back from Amsterdam and Paris just a few weeks ago. The question of why we travel is, and how it changes us. I thought she but it rather well. But most of all, this lines, that a neighbour said to her before she embarked on the journey that would lead to Eat, Pray, Love:

"Take me with you in spirit. Take all of us with you, who dream of someday doing this but who right now staying home and taking care of the contracts we have signed with our lives. Tell us what you find. I will follow you later."

Travel well, and when you return, share.


Right now I'm reading for the first time the great memoir TRACKS by Robyn Davidson — a classic of both women's and Australian literature. For those of you who aren't familiar with this book, it's wonderful — the chronicle of a woman who, back in the 1970s, rode 1,700 miles all alone across the Australian Outback with three camels.

Why did she do it? What I love about this story is that she does not ever really provide a why. She did it because she needed to do it.

A lot of people told her she was crazy to set out on such a dangerous journey, and that she would probably die during it. But, Davidson recounts, she had one conversation before she left with an older female friend who told her: "I really like what you're doing...Getting off your butt and actually doing something is important for all of us...It's important that we leave each other and the comfort of it, and circle away, even though it's hard sometimes, so that we can come back and swap information about what we've learned, even if what we do changes us, and we risk not recognizing each other when we return."


Not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of each other. To model another way of being. To represent, out there in the wild world. To bring back the treasure of sharing what we have learned. I remember the week before I went traveling for EAT PRAY LOVE, a neighbor (a mother of two young children) gave me a long hug and said into my ear, "Take me with you in spirit. Take all of us with you, who dream of someday doing this but who right now staying home and taking care of the contracts we have signed with our lives. Tell us what you find. I will follow you later."

And she did — about ten years later. At which point, I gave her that same hug and said the same words into her ear. As I have said those exact same words to countless other people, as they are about to embark on their own journey. Go away now, but take us with you in spirit; tell us what you learned when you return.

If it's time for you to go, go NOW. But take notes. Think of your journey toward self-discovery and adventure as a community service.

You'll make us all better for it,



Wednesday, April 09, 2014

MATTHIESSEN | Life Will Never Be Simple

"I dream of simplicity, but I'm as far from it as ever. That is my practice, how to be in the world and remain simple. One day perhaps I'll accept the fact that I am never going to find the simple life. Maybe the first step toward simplicity will be to accept that my life will never be simple even if I go live in a cave and subsist on green nettles like Milarepa."
— Peter Matthiessen

Monday, April 07, 2014

Peter Matthiessen RIP

Peter Matthiessen passed away. Time to re-read The Snow Leopard. [Source]

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"How do we live a creative life without cutting your ears off?"

How do we "live a creative life without cutting your ears off?" That's the question Elizabeth Gilbert talks about on the Radiolab: Me, Myself and Muse.

Talk to your muse. Make it follow you.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert & Janneke Siebelink at the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam

It's not a secret that I enjoy Elizabeth Gilbert's writings. I believe she has a curious passion about the subjects she writes about, which comes through in her writing. Her books always led me to want to learn more, to see more. For me, that is what good writing is about - it makes you open to new experiences, more open in your hearts and minds.

I read "The Signature of All Things" last year. I saw just one copy of the book in a bookstore in New York and I grabbed it. I didn't want a bag for the book, and the guy at the bookstore just remarked, "You're going to get into it straightaway?" He was right.

I was also paying attention to the publicity on the book at that time, and I knew it wasn't supposed to be available yet (which made me wonder how the bookstore acquired their ONE copy.) The book probably taught me more about botany than I ever needed to learn, but most of all, the "Dutch-ness" of many of the characters made me curious about Amsterdam, and I wanted to see the Hortus Botanicus, where the protagonist of the book eventually ended up.

So here I am, planning for a trip to Amsterdam in a few weeks time. Anyway, here's the video of Elizabeth Gilbert at the Hortus Botanicus. Thank you, Alma, and Elizabeth Gilbert. I will definitely make a trip down there when I am in Amsterdam.

Monday, February 10, 2014

BOOKS | The Hunger Games

I just finished the final book in The Hunger Games series. One of my friends commented a few days that she was surprised it took so long for me to hit these books, since these are the type of books one would expect me to read. Fair enough - just that I had been on something of a reading dry spell, and I haven't actually been reading much fiction the last few years. I had been reading for work, for knowledge - but I haven't actually been reading for fun. Perhaps the fact that I was so taken with the Hunger Games books is a good sign that I am at this place in my life when I finally am able to read for fun.

The books were definitely richer and darker than the movie - which always reminds me of how the cinema can be such a vulgar entertainment. The Hunger Games is a narrative on the idea of Panem et Circenses (Latin for "Bread and Circus") where politicians rule by material appeasement and entertainment. Cinema itself might qualify as our modern mode of Circenses. Then people are rich enough, and entertained enough, they forget things like civic duties, and ignore injustice within the political and social system, it seems.

Which feels so close to modern life - and I am as guilty of this as anyone.

I love the social consciousness in The Hunger Games books, and while I disliked the tedious journey the third book took to get to the conclusion - it was a fitting ending.

I just hate the love triangle in the book between Katniss, Gale and Peeta. Quit it - the story of Katniss is more interesting than the love triangle. Not every story with a female lead needs romance.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Stephen King and Carrie

I'm not really a big fan of Stephen King. I think some of his books are longer than necessary and he needs better editors. I do like some of his short stories though, and I believe the truth of why his writing is so compelling is because of his understanding of human psychology.

I was reading this essay on Mental Floss earlier about the story behind King's first bestseller, Carrie. Stephen King started his writing career sending his stories to men's magazines for tiny paychecks (if he's lucky). Someone accused him of not being able to write a female character convincingly. He decided to pick up the challenge, and the idea for Carrie emerged from his brain.

King modeled Carrie White after two of the loneliest girls he remembered from high school. One was a timid epileptic with a voice that always gurgled with phlegm. Her fundamentalist mother kept a life-size crucifix in the living room, and it was clear to King that the thought of it followed her down the halls. The second girl was a loner. She wore the same outfit every day, which drew cruel taunts. By the time King wrote Carrie, both of those girls were dead. The first died alone after a seizure. The second suffered from postpartum depression and, one day, aimed a rifle at her stomach and pulled the trigger. “Very rarely in my career have I explored more distasteful territory,” King wrote, reflecting on how both of them were treated.

It made me think about Stephen King's writings - the ones I have actually read: The Shawshank Redemption, Different Seasons and The Green Mile - his "non-horror" works. King as a writer, is an astute observer of human nature. But more than that, there is deep compassion in his stories.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Date a Girl Who Runs

"Date a girl who runs because she knows how to quietly, patiently work every week on a goal she set that’s half a year or a year away. She’ll be working on her time, her distance, but what she’s really working on, is herself."

~ From Elephant Journal: Date a Girl Who Runs

I am still not sure if I am a runner yet. Lately I seem to have hit a stump on running. The insomnia and old injuries did nor help. I'm not sure why it feels so difficult to wake up in the morning to get things done. Just feels tired. Real runners are not supposed to feel this way, right? Real runners just go out and get it done no matter what, right?

Monday, January 27, 2014


"Compared to them I'm pretty used to losing. There are plenty of things in this world that are way beyond me, plenty of opponents I can never beat. Not to brag, but these girls probably don't know as much as I do about pain. And, quite naturally, there might not be a need for them to know it."

- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Starting 2014

It's now the fifth day of 2014 and I confess - things have not been going well.

Well, let's start with the insomnia that has been plaguing me. Okay, I am a chronic insomniac, so that's not a surprise. It is however, making some of my life-changing intentions a little difficult to implement. I want to run more in the morning, I want to write more, meditate regularly, and do more yoga. All of which is difficult when I get less than 2 hours of sleep every day. Yes, you read that right. Two bloody hours.

But one thing I can do right now is to blog.

I spent some time deciding the books to start 2014 with. I decided on The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore - a title on a little discussed episode in my country's history. Maybe I am getting older. I yearn for the country I grew up in, except I look all around me these days, and I find myself in an alien, unfamiliar place. I feel like a child who grew up, and realized one day that her parents are not who she thought they were. I am questioning the things that were taught to me in school.

I also picked Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I have been doing a bit of running the past year. I finished a few 5Ks, 10Ks, and 2 Half-Marathons. But come 2014, I feel like I lost my mojo. Reading about Murakami's running and his life seems like a good way to think about my own journey.

Since we are on Haruki Murakami, is anyone else looking forward to the English translation of his new book in 2014? Finally, we will see Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

What other titles am I looking forward to in 2014?

Well, I heard Sarah Waters has a new book out. The Paying Guests, which seems to be a follow-up to The Little Stranger. I have to find my copy of The Little Stranger among my bookshelves. I seem to have lost that title when we moved to our current place a few years ago.

Geoff Dyer, it seems, also has a new book out - Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. I totally expect the book to be meandering and off-tangent, and absolutely fun. Somehow he got himself on an American supercarrier for this book.

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek will also be coming out. I came across Sinek's TED Talk a while back, where he talked about how leaders attract the people that share their passions. What does it take for a leader to transform distrust and cynicism to safety and trust? I guess I want to know what he has learned, and how I can apply that in my own life.

For a little light-hearted reading, I may pick up Karen Armstrong's Fields of Blood: A History of Religion and Violence.

Right. Lots of light reading for 2014.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Welcome 2014

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. 

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. 

 So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” 

 ~ Neil Gaiman