2011 reflections

This post'll be introspective navel-gazing...

2011. A few more days and it'll be over. On hindsight, I'm glad for how the year had went. I had exposed myself to a diversity of opportunities, to interesting, unexpected results.

I had conversations with successful people and wise people. Sometimes, they're successful and wise. Sometimes, they're successful and smart. From them, I've learnt precious lessons, ones that I'll frequently remind myself of.

On writing
I've decided to take my writing more seriously.

To be honest, writing has always been a cathartic hobby. I write essays, for schoolwork, because I have to. I write online posts when I don't want to do my essays. It feels as though I'm always writing some article for someone or somewhere.

When the opportunity to write for Kent Ridge Common presented itself, I dropped the editor an email and joined as a writer. One article was extremely well received, with a sizable number of people sharing it on social media; in fact, it had over a thousand views in two weeks or so. I had felt (and still feel) strongly about this phenomenon. Unfortunately, my other articles on the local arts scene wasn't as well-received. But, oh-well, there are always hits-and-misses.

I also signed up for a poetry workshop with Jay Bernard, a Foyle Young Poet who had graduated from Oxford. She is currently writer-in-residence of USP, NUS. It was rather enjoyable, those evenings of mad scrambling to produce poems within 1.5 hours.

According to Jay, I've got to refine my poetry more and carry the metaphors further. Note to self: stop being lazy and check out those recommended anthologies soon.

Visual Arts
It has been fairly happening on this front, especially towards the end of the year.

Took part in a small exhibition organised by Instinc gallery. Didn't manage to sell anything but it was an exciting experience. I had a litany of reservations before I attended the opening night - what it no one else turned up? What if people asked me why I was there? What if someone mistook me for the waiter?

It turned out better than expected. Made a number of new acquaintances and had great conversations all around.

Then, I participated in the Art Garage @ The Arts House. In fact, I got a small mention on several websites as a "visual artist". Kind of mortifying since I consider myself as a "sometimes only visual artist". In fact, I wouldn't even have the guts to call myself an artist. (Apparently, to the arts community, the term can be bandied about readily; anyone who put a brush to a surface is an artist; what a receptive and warm community!)

Had the opportunity to meet up with old friends and talk about the space that art occupies in us. Such nourishing conversations have become increasingly rare as we age and grow further apart.

Took part in a business case study competition. It was an eye opening experience.

We lost at the finals due to several reasons. We are a very strong team but our opponents are stronger. We didn't understand the Vietnamese market well. We are young and inexperienced. They're working professionals.

Wait, I'm actually quite lazy to write about this now, especially since I'm working on another post dedicated to this recent experience. Stay tuned if you want to read more about it - in a mysterious, movie-worthy tone. To be continued...

It will suffice to say that I am woefully ignorant about finance matters. Planning to pick up such information in the coming semester, perhaps even a minor in business. I'm glad that this experience has highlighted a glaring shortcoming in my education.

Now that I've recognised this, the onus is on me to rectify it. We're all responsible for ourselves.

Overseas trip
Backpacking in India was initially uncomfortable. 4 guys travelled together and so the pre-trip planning was non-existent. We went, guided by our trusty Rough Guide to India.

Along the way, I saw majestic architecture and landscape. And, along the same way, I learnt to live with contingencies.

It's weird, how we want to plan for every eventuality. We want to know where to visit, where we'd stay, where we'd move towards. Then, we realise that it's okay if we don't know where we're going, that life is more vibrant when we allow ourselves to be surprised.

Recently, after the case study competition concluded, I visited Binh Lam village again. Exactly a year ago, I was there for a volunteer trip. This place holds wonderful memories for many people - my fellow volunteers, the children, our hosts.

The children fished up a crab, an eel and two fishes from a creek bubbling along the paddy fields. Our hosts treated us to rice wine and some village fare. I hugged Om and Bah - the grandpa and grandma who hosted us - and tried to convey gratitude.

Time in the village usually unfurled with graceful languor. But, for my friends and I, that visit passed with incredible speed.

Academic stuff
Many times during the semester, I considered giving up on my writing and art and 5 children. (Children = students whom I tutored). But I can't really give up on any of them. They all form parts of my identity; they're all important.

It was particularly trying when the 5 children are having prelims/ O levels and I have to rush out lab reports +  churn out essays + prepare for tests. Friends (?) advised me to just skip a few tuition sessions. I can't for it's irresponsible. And I can't because some kids actually look forward to these sessions.

Thankfully, I managed to maintain my grades.

As I write this post, I remember the story about prioritising:

A professor walked into a class and filled an empty jar with rocks. "Do you think I can add any more stuff to this jar?" The class replied with an emphatic No.

"Really?" The prof then proceeded to add stones to the jar.  "Do you think I can add more stuff?" The class replied with an uncertain No.

He went on to include pebbles and sand. "This is the story of our lives. Had we filled the jar with sand, will we be able to fit in what matters?

We have to remind ourselves of what is important. In the greater scheme, certain objects or qualities that appear important may lose their luster.

The prof then poured some Coke into the jar. A student stood up and asked, "why the Coke, sir?"

"Ahh, I'm glad you asked. There is always time to kick back and relax with a glass of Coke."

All in all
What can I say? What have I learnt? I skimmed through this verbose entry, seeking the common thread.

I'm more comfortable with failures. With failing and acknowledging that I've failed. This means that I'm less critical of my endeavors. It also means that I've been more willing to try, to experience.

I'm more comfortable with contingencies too, with the unknowns and unexpected and unpredictable.

I've stretched myself and didn't live life cautiously. To my surprise, I didn't judge that stretched man in the mirror - not that much, at least.