defragment.me

Quake of change

The Japanese quake has shifted everyone's consciousness in different ways to a certain extent. My personal shift took place a couple of weeks before the quake, but it served to emphasize and magnify my shift. I, personally (please assume every word in this entry is my personal p.o.v from this moment onwards), don't think we have seen the last of it. Something in my gut tells me we're in the midst of a major transition on Earth.

A lot has happened in the past year. Apart from the Japanese quake, there was Christchurch, the Brisbane floods, Haiti, *that* oil spill, fish dying everywhere, etc. Even Singapore, the typically organized nation with well-equipped infrastructure were not spared flooding, which was an almost non-event compared to what was happening to the rest of the world. But it was a sign to me nonetheless.

My generation has not witnessed such a frequency of major events. It is not all doom and gloom though, as we are witnessing positive events such as the Middle-eastern uprisings. The astrologers and other 'new-age' people have anticipated these for years.

What we have been accustomed to for the past decades is not sustainable in the long-term. The ecologists, scientists, researchers know. It is a fact that our resources *are* going to run out soon, it is a matter of time. To put in crudely, even if there were no natural disasters, we're on the pathway to self-destruction.

But we're all in denial about it. Our lives carry on as though we live in another dimension. We indulge in ego-boosting pursuits, meaningless power stuggles. I am in no illusion about my personal well-being even though I live in a country free from natural disasters. I am very clear that anything can happen at any point in time, that is why I have made it a personal goal to be more mindful of my choices.

But it still took me almost 30 years of my lifetime to truly realise what it means to lead a purposeful life. There is no point knowing or understanding these concepts intellectually, it is another issue altogether to apply these concepts to my daily life. To be more aware, to have proper priorities, to know what truly matters. I have to gradually wipe away years of conditioning, I don't even think I am 10% done. Yet I am still blessed, because I don't have to be near-death for myself to wake up.

I have no idea what is going to happen in the next one-two years. I don't believe that the world is literally going to end, but I do think there is significant transition that is already taking place now, and we're all going to witness the effects in the next two years. I am not afraid nor worried, I have begun to accept the inevitability of natural cycles. I just hope to be as conscious as possible while making every choice.

I believe there is a silver-lining in every dark cloud and we can now see how a disaster spurs people uniting to a common cause and delivering goodwill with no agenda. I wonder if it would be in this lifetime that I will get to witness people uniting globally and stop the senseless power struggles. We have the means globally to eradicate wars, poverty and other issues that do not have to exist. But we don't bother except for the minority groups championing for their individual causes. We are all intricately linked and in doesn't make logical sense at all to fight for power for the sake of power. What is the point of having people accumulating all that wealth and power when we all die at the end of it? Is it about a place in history? Nobody is going to look back at him/her fondly – wow, the richest person in the world. We don't remember Bill Gates or Steve Jobs because they're one of the richest people in existence. We remember them because they made significant contributions to mankind. Mother Theresa was not wealthy. How about Martin Luther King?

I no longer wish to be all talk and no action. I no longer want to be very uncomfortable at witnessing all the disappointments of this world and yet try to be detached to it. I know I cannot be Mother Theresa. I don't have the energy nor the patience. But I can make a difference in my own little ways. All of us can. If each and everyone of us makes a small little change, the entire collective effort can change the world. Imagine if everyone of us become more conscious of our usage of resources? Perhaps less trees will be cut down, less fish will die, less nuclear plans have to be built. I am not naive nor extreme. I don't think the solution is to stop using resources or to be vegan. But actually to practice moderation and not to waste. Respect the food you're eating, respect the farmers who harvested that grain of rice. Why do we have to wait for disasters to strike before we appreciate what we have?

I have personally come a long way. I was the biggest waster you would know. I would throw away food and will not bother to recycle paper. The tap would be on full blast when I wash my hands. Now, with every single clean drop I use to wash my hands, I remember the people who do not even have water to use, not to mention clean water.

Initially, I made all these changes out of love for my partner, because she hates wastage. She has been through tough times before and it makes her see resources in a vastly different light from my peers. Somehow slowly, though my own self-awareness, empathy, and a short trip in an eco resort in the Philippines, something in me just clicked. I can no longer be the waster I was. I had to use pails of conserved water in that resort. No toilet paper which was really, really difficult for me.

The next time I arrived at a place with water and toilet paper, I knew I was changed forever. Again, I am blessed, because it didn't take a real hardship for me to make this change.

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I have this inner fear that I will die young, suffer from bad health, or something will just happen to me before I get to do things I really want to do. Now, it is no longer a fear. It is an acceptance that it will be inevitable. Some day. I am not sure when. It could be when I am 80. It doesn't matter, as I have repeated so many times on this blog, as long as on my deathbed, I can be proud of the life I have led.

Previously, I have been waiting for the day I am in a better financial position, because how the hell am I going to do things if I am struggling to survive myself right? I now quote from an article that I have read about Buckminster Fuller, who went bankrupt and took a vow of silence of two years before coming out of it and embarking on numerous amazing projects:

If one attends to the problems of humanity and commits oneself to solving them, the universe will care for that person the same way it cares for a flower or a bird. So he committed himself to working on the bigger tasks of the world on the absolute faith that the universe’s integrity will pay him back.

And it did, for him.

I have made the conscious decision to only work on projects that I truly care about, even for my commercial projects. They will need to serve a function I actually believe in, no matter how small it may be. I will also try to make a headstart on a couple of non-profit community projects that I have put off for the past 2 years, because I was too busy with surviving. I have a few other like-minded individuals with me, and the best part of it is not knowing what is going to happen.

I am still coping to survive, but synchronistically I remembered my primary school motto, "Now or Never".

Looking back at 2009

2009 has been a tough year for me, personally. It wasn't because of the economy. Reading my previous year's 'looking back' post, I remember that I had ended the year with lots of optimism and hopes. It wasn't to be as I endured a difficult time mentally and emotionally as I struggled to balance all aspects of my life, but I remain grateful – for no matter how difficult it was, I am still able to remain relatively healthy and my loved ones are all well. That to me, is already a blessing I am happy to be able to count, because I know for a fact that many people are not aware of how blessed they are on an everyday basis.

What I could have done better

1. Managing self-expectations

I wanted to title this as time-management, but I have gradually grown to realise that the root of the problem is not that I don't know how to manage my time properly or that I am not disciplined enough. For almost all my life I have pointed the finger at myself for being a procrastinator and that led to feelings of self-guilt and undermining my own value. I had almost come to accept the fact that I simply cannot manage time.

The problem was never the management of time, but the expectations I have laid upon myself. It is ironic because I have a relatively low self-esteem but somehow I have sky-high expectations of myself. I have this super-woman mentality that I can manage a few major processes going on at the same time and come out fine. It is one thing to have a survivor's mentality but another thing to put myself through all the unnecessary stress. I had overestimated my ability to multi-task and the time it takes to accomplish things. I always seem to think that I can be fast (very Aries of me).

If I had set reasonable expectations for myself, I would have met them well and would not have put myself in the stressful situation of being in danger of not meeting deadlines, or trying to manage multiple timelines at one go. I have learnt time management is all about setting small, achievable targets – I mean, if I expect myself to be superwoman (which I am not, or else I wouldn't even be writing this), obviously I wouldn't be able to fulfill the tasks I have set up for myself.

At one stage in 2009, I was in the middle of a huge residential move, taking on a new spiritual course, plus juggling about 5 major work projects, taking care of a dog with behavioral problems; all at the same time. It did not come as a surprise when I was on the verge of a breakdown, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If this was to happen a couple of years earlier, I would be blaming my luck or whatever else I could blame upon. However, I took this setback very personally, it took me a long time to stop blaming myself for it.

I fell out of love with my work, my work which I so preciously hold dear to my heart. I tie my self-identity to my work and the work I create, when things do not go well with my work, I crumble. It is hard not to fall out of love with it when I am just so burnt out. Not to mention my living quarters had more than 50 huge un-packed boxes. And a dog who refused to stop barking.

I was lost. But I took responsibility for it, I sent apologies to all parties involved and decided that the only thing I could do, is just to put in my best. I stopped accepting new work apart from those I was sure that I could manage. I took myself apart to rebuild my self again.

And I think I am still in the midst of rebuilding it. Right now, I am careful with every decision I make, especially with work. I cannot help but feel apprehensive because I have this phobia of repeating the same mistake. However, I know I cannot be over-protective or I will just miss out on plenty opportunities. I can only put in my best and hope for the best.

2. Loving myself

This past year, I've been putting in a lot of effort into loving myself more. I know this sounds egoistic, but I haven't been loving myself for most of my life. Like honestly. I don't give myself enough credit and I beat myself up hopelessly when things go wrong. This whole self-image thing is central to the many other issues that is going on in my life and to the previous point as well. When things did not go well, all I could do was to lament how incapable I was instead of encouraging myself to do better the next time.

If I had loved myself more, I would have allowed myself more time to play and rest instead of working all day long, I would have valued myself more and not under-charge for my work, which would allow me to take in less work. See how this self-image thing affects me in and out? It creates a whole vicious cycle:

Lack of self love -> Under-value self -> Under charge -> Takes in lots of work to survive -> Lots of stress generated -> Procrastinate because of stress -> Unable to manage timelines properly -> Creativity takes a hit -> Start blaming myself for being unable to create to my own expectations -> Self-hatred begins.

Sidenote: I have seldom missed a deadline in the past year regardless of all my issues. I would rather slave-drive myself than to disappoint my clients. Unless I fell physically sick, which I took full responsibility for.

3. Achieving balance

Work and other personal responsibilities took over my life for the past year, I think I could have read a bit more, played a bit more, watched a few more movies, relaxed a bit more, exercised a lot more.

I tend to swing from extreme to extreme so it is important for me to learn how to go in-between.

What I can be proud of

1. Bringing myself out of the hermit-hole

Being energetically sensitive (okay stop rolling your eyes now ;p), I sort of stopped going out to meet people since 2006. It makes me feel drained and I take quite a while to recover from it. It was a good and much needed break, but I forgone plenty of opportunities in doing that. Everything exists in duality, in avoiding negativity and I had to avoid positivity as well.

Plus, I had self-image issues so I have a phobia of meeting strangers.

It all started from the AWARE incident which made me realise that I need to know like-minded people to achieve any cause. That it can actually be empowering instead of disempowering.

From coming out of my self-created hermit hole, I managed to meet tons of great people who have in turned brought tons of great relationships and opportunities.

2. Going to Tokyo and Hongkong

Amidst all the mess going on, I am glad that I managed to squeeze the time and resources to visit Julia, my spiritual mother in Tokyo, which whetted my appetite for more. Each time I travel out of Singapore I feel a sense of liberation and joy I cannot simply explain in words. I am proud that I did not allow my financial insecurity to stop me from travelling. It was a priceless experience.

An ex-client from Hongkong I worked remotely and briefly with, popped by Singapore and bought me tickets to watch Denise Ho's concert after I casually mentioned it to her. I haven't even met her prior to this and she graciously bought the tickets for me, and invited me over to stay at her place during my two-week trip. I could have burgled her house for god's sake but she trusted me unconditionally; I was almost a stranger to her. Thank you, Belle. I appreciate all of these from the bottom of my heart. This happened at a time when things was not going well for me and it re-affirmed my faith in people and the Universe. If not for my earlier decision to reverse my hermit-dom, I wouldn't have accepted the invitation to meet up and I would have missed this learning experience.

The Hongkong trip was significant to me because it was the first time I sort of travelled alone (my partner left for Singapore after one week). I am the sort of person who is afraid of being alone in the dark and this was a major step out for me. It gave me the confidence to do this traveling thing alone. Apart from that, I had the chance to catch one of the greatest concerts I've ever watched and the concert inspired me very much, both on a professional and personal level. Again, I put aside my financial insecurity to make this trip and it was very, very much worth it.

3. Finding my voice

This is again, tied to my self-image and I have been afraid to voice my true feelings and opinions because I was worried about how people would take them. Will they see me as some weirdo? Or will my clients get upset if I tell them what I truly feel? Can I stand up for myself against nasty clients?

As I grew in self-confidence after I re-valued myself (like some property, haha), I decided that it was very important to me that I find my voice back. I used to be totally self-confident and vocal when I was a kid and I lost that part of me when my life turned up-side down during my teenage years.

I needed to be true, true to myself, and to people. Finding my voice was triggered by the AWARE incident as I struggled whether to air my potentially radical views publicly or not. I finally came to the conclusion that I am my Self and I need to stay true to that self. I put my true self out there and it is up to people whether they want to accept me for me or not. Those who can't, will not be a good fit for me anyway. It will only be tiresome and will not be of any value to both parties if we all have to put on fake fronts and hypocritical smiles.

4. Realising my greatest enemy is – myself

This was a major epiphany for me.

For realising it was never about the luck, the environment, the people, the circumstances. It is all about how I choose to perceive and believe. Everything, everything can be good or bad, it is how one looks at it.

The difference between success and failure is the ability to control the mind. To train the mind and not let the mind train you. The mind is truly powerful, it can sabotage or it can empower. It just takes a flip of a mind-switch to make a radical difference but the difficulty is to convince oneself to flip that switch.

If I truly want something, I have to make that effort, no matter how great it is. It is entirely up to me whether I want to put in that extra inch or mile. Everyone has the power to will themselves into doing anything. "Cannot help it" is a bad excuse. The circumstances can be bad, people can be critical, but if you don't believe in yourself at the very least, or make the effort to go that extra mile, who's going to do it for you?

Nobody. So I have to do it for myself. And if I don't have the will to do it for myself, then who else but myself is the greatest enemy?

Nobody has the ability to create that negative situation or that bleak outlook apart from oneself. If there are people who can make the best out of crappy situations (Stephen Hawking, for example, has lost the use of his limbs but he is still contributing to the world, or Avram Grant's dad who had to bury his parents and siblings during world war II and still feel positive about life), then it is up to us to determine how negative or positive a situation can be. It is all relative.

Gratitude time for the ones who made a significant difference

  • Julia, as always. I do not know how would I have survived without you
  • My partner, for her unwavering support and love
  • Belle, for her invitation to Hong Kong
  • Andy & Jussi, for taking that effort to convince me that meeting strangers can be a pleasant experience
  • Adrianna, for being that inspiring example
  • Danny, for your moral support
  • All the great friends I have made during #barcamp
  • All my clients, especially Kevin, who has not only been a great client but a business mentor to me. The rest, I won't mention all the names because all of you have been great. Thank you for your support and understanding
  • All the Stevens (two, actually) that I know, for they see in me what I cannot seem to see for myself
  • Twitter and my twitter friends, for being my source of comfort when the going gets tough. Not sure what I'll do without the internet, seriously. I wouldn't even have a career! Can't imagine if I was born a century earlier.
  • Those of you who believe in the magic of the universe, thank you for making me feel sane.

Here's to a great 2010!

How much do we have to lose…

...In order to appreciate what we have? Why does it take for us to lose, or to face mortality, before we are even willing to maximize life?

I've just read "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom. I picked up the book to read because I was feeling restless; I wonder if the restlessness I feel are subtle nudges by my guides. The book chronicles the last days of Mitch Albom and his University lecturer whom have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The story itself was nothing new, but Mitch Albom just have this way of writing that tugs the heartstrings, or maybe I am just an emotional blob. I'll rather be an emotional blob than a non-feeling human I guess.

Death is the main theme of the book, and the author repeatedly questions himself about his own values, dreams and goals when faced with his beloved dying lecturer. I don't have to face death, I've been repeatedly questioning my own values, dreams and goals regardless. However, I've been guilty of taking life for granted. Reading intricate details about Albom's lecturer's slow decaying body and lessons about life he tried to teach before he left the world, I cannot help but feel that I have been wasting precious time given to me.

Making major decisons

I've always made major decisions easily. I am blessed with the self-ability to be realistic in a manner realistic people cannot be. Realistic people are not truly realistic in my humble opinion because if they have been honest and realistic about their life and death, they would not choose to live life in a 'realistic' manner, would they? If they have known that life may end anytime, that health may degrade over time, that possessions may be lost any moment, would they still pursue a so called 'realistic' life?

So, most of my life's major decisions are made pretty simply. I just ask myself, what if I were to die the next day? Will I be at my deathbed regretting making this decision or not? And then I'll realise, what truly matters. That sucky job did not matter so I quit, I cannot bring my money to my grave so I spent it on stuff that would make me happy, I did not want a mundane life to flash past me before my death so I took risks.

When I tell my friends how I make decisions, they laugh and remark that I am being too extreme. Am I really? Does anyone of us truly know if we are going to be alive the next day? What is so extreme to be realistic about Death?

I am grateful because even if I procrastinate over work, waste my time fretting over senseless worries, but when it comes to major decisions, I  do not shy away from it. Never shy-ed away when I quit my diploma studies, when I fell in love with a girl, when I quit at least 8 jobs in 8 years because I couldn't fit into the system, when I told my heartbroken mother I want to move out and that I am gay at the same time, when I took the leap to be self-employed.

Looking back, I am proud to proclaim that they were all fantastic decisions that made my life a lot better. I struggled with the guilt when I was young, because it seemed to society that I was being selfish, but life is really not about living it so that parents can be happy or to gain acceptance by society.

Making better use of my time

Right now, I am just ruffled that I am not making good use of my time. I live everyday as though there are going to be many more 'everydays'. There's so much I want to do and fulfill, but it is always 'later when it's a better time'. Either I am waiting to do something, or I am simply busy with work. I have no desire to go back to 16 hour work days working on projects that mean not much to me.

My values have changed.

I would like to work on projects that mean something to me. I used to be working for a certain number each month, a number that would mean that basic to intermediate material needs would be met, and then hoping that after those needs are met, I would have time to work on personal projects and causes. To accomplish this I took on intense projects because I was naive enough to think that I can complete these projects in short-time frames and get paid faster, and that will enable me to reach my target soon, which equates to free time for me to do things I want to do. I just ended up very tired, dissatisfied, and burnt out.

I realised that I would be very much happier if I chose to work on stuff I really wanted to work on, design-related or not, and even if I have to compromise on my comfortable lifestyle. Chasing numbers just doesn't cut it for me. I feel that I should do what I feel is right, and simply trust that I will be provided enough for to accomplish my dreams and goals.

I no longer want to be the old self who lived just to prove my worth and to gain acceptance. I am so much more than my work, why should I let my work and material possessions define me?

Living life

I do not want to wait till someone has died, or when my senses fail, or I lose my limbs, to live life the way in order to do it justice. I want to be able to have a sense of purpose or accomplishment everyday and not feel like I have wasted yet another day.

I think for me it is very much a psychological barrier – I need to literally reprogram my mind to discard belief systems that seek to disempower me and not to fall back into the whole capitalist society syndrome whereby money-making must be the prime objective of every human being's survival plan.

I want to start living life.

Because not all of us are blessed with comfort & health

In spite of feeling as though my body's going to break apart anytime and that there's a mountain load of work waiting for me, I had to take time off to write this post.

Amidst the fatigue and stress due to having to juggle relocating my residence and work deadlines (I scheduled my relocation week to be free of work actually, but alas, schedules seem to have a life of their own), I was on the way of my usual pattern of wondering why am I always caught in such a situation – until two events made me realise how insignificant my worries and troubles seem to be.

1) The Iranian election.

2) 4 yr old Charmaine, who is battling 4th stage cancer.

I cannot do much for 1) except the pray for those who fight for truth and hope for the best. However for 2) I hope to be able to do whatever that is within my own means to help.

And that means writing this post to spread the message, even though I know the readership of the blog is not really worth mentioning anyway. However, if I can just convince one of you, just one, to lend a hand to this little girl, it will be enough for me.

Charmaine

I do not know Charmaine, but I am deeply affected by her strength. That she was still smiling in her pictures – even though not much of her hair is left, that she has to undergo chemo at the tender age of 4. Here I am, complaining about the aches acquired from painting a few walls.

The last blog post I read, she has the urge to pee every 10 minutes and she cries each time she pees because it is just so painful. May I ask if any of you, would have similar courage to smile if you have to go through the same ordeal?

She needs 350k USD to have a 40% - 50% chance of survival as she needs to go to New York to get some special (read: expensive) antibody. If she stays in Singapore, her chance of survival is only at maximum 20%, though realistically, 10%.

Okay, the first reaction most of you is going to have is to look at the 350k and think you are never going to make a difference. But, every effort counts. Even if not monetary, spreading the message is very much helpful as well. Charmaine and her family will need every ounce of effort from us.

Charmaine's mother is a mother who singlehandedly brought up her two kids and she is facing this battle alone because Charmaine's dad left them when she was not even born. Can you imagine how Charmaine's mother felt, when told of her daughter's condition and the amount of money needed for treatment? I would have crumbled in despair, honestly.

So, she may not survive even if she's able to raise that amount. At least we can answer to ourselves – that we have tried our best. That is what Charmaine's mother is asking of herself, she has wondered through the same process, that half a million SGD can help many starving children in third world countries. Yet this is her own precious daughter, even 1% of a chance is still a chance, I know I would do the same if I were to be in the same shoes.

Stop feeding the fear mongers

They are not worth our precious time and energy.

Perhaps I was naive to think that things will settle down after the AWARE EGM – it has opened a can of worms that probably most of us would wish that it had remained closed, the Singapore government included.

I grew increasingly disturbed and worried as I chanced upon comment after comment that reeked of homophobia and narrow-mindedness. The news of MOE (Ministry of Education) suspending the sex education program made me start to seriously wonder what is going to come next. A witch-hunt?

Just when we think that the media censorship laws have gradually relaxed and the society seemed to be progressing, now it just seems like we are almost back to square one.

Many thoughts went through my mind as I came up with retort after retort, full of logic and reasoning, why people should stop being so near-sighted and judgmental. I was prepared to write a long post, making a clear argument on why all this paranoia is just plain ridiculous.

'The other side'

Until I came across a few blog entries and comments from 'the other side' – the side that believes that homosexuals are just headed for hell and that raising kids with 'the right values' is the apparent right thing to do. There were other people like me, who tried to reason their way through by making comments, and looking at the written exchange, I came to a realisation.

There is no point reasoning or arguing out with people who are just not willing to listen in the first place. Reading most of the conversations between the pro-gay and the anti-gay are like trying to understand a conversation between a chicken and a duck. One party can make a perfect argument but if the other party is not willing to see beyond his/her own viewpoint, they can go on forever and nothing will be concluded.

Alienation

Being marginalized personally for most of my life, I was actually almost immune to it. However, the scale of the matter this time caught me by surprise and I could not help but worry about the homophobia surfacing into the mainstream society. It is like the AWARE issue has forced many to take a stand and have a say, especially when their precious kids are concerned.

Prior to the AWARE hijacking, everybody went about their own business, the very most, conservatives would sometimes stare and mutter words of disgust to themselves. Now, the publicity and scale are somehow making many of the 'traditional' family-oriented people jump on the anti-gay bandwagon.

Ironically being gay is the least of what I have been marginalized for. I was made to feel like an alien because of my academic success (or the lack of it), my career path, my choice of hairstyle, a whole long list actually, and more recently, my spiritual beliefs.

People give me strange looks all the time, and that includes my very own relatives. Like the uncle who snorted when I told him I was running my own business. Friends roll their eyes when I talk about astrological charts and reincarnation. Strangers stare because of my spiky short hair (yes, girls must keep their hair long and flowy).

All these made me stronger, but not without much pain and tears. I have grown to be proud of my individuality and identity. What I have learnt through all these experiences is, there is only so much you can do to change a person's mind.

There are people who will listen, these are the ones who are not judgmental in the first place. Those who judge, are typically people who do not have it in them to open their minds to another viewpoint. The third category, are people who believe very strongly in their own beliefs, so firmly that nothing will change their mind unless they personally experience otherwise.

I generally do not have a problem who stick to their own belief systems, the issue only comes when there is a lack of respect in the belief systems of others. The extreme end of this spectrum, are people who deliberately incite fear and hatred.

Playing into their hands

It suddenly dawned upon me, by reacting negatively to these fear-mongers, I am simply playing into their hands. Negative feelings drain our energy. These people get a kick out of seeing us getting upset. The best way to deal with them, is either react positively, or choose to not react at all. It is just like dealing with people who are (consciously) abusive. They continue their abuse because the fear shown by their victims gives them a sense of power. The only way to dis-empower them is to stop the fear.

Having not much of a sex education in school did not make me less or more gay. Having a rigid education system depressed me more than it made me 'equipped' for society. Facing nay-sayers all my life did not dilute my individuality.

My take on the sex-ed program and 'concerned parents'

They can do whatever they want with the sex education program. I believe the targeted age group (12-18) will form their own judgments (or non-judgments) with or without a sex-ed program. The 'impressionable' ones, I am sorry to say, will still be impressionable by other sources even if the sex-ed program preaches all the 'right' values. Food for thought, would a 'concerned parent' be happier if their kid leads a double life in order to upkeep the 'right values'? It does not have to be an extreme case like a married man having a boyfriend on the side (though there are plenty of these around), there are plenty of people out there who are so internally conflicted that they cannot even bear to face themselves. Kids who live the 'right' way but end up extremely unhappy will make these parents happy and proud indeed (can't help the sarcasm, sorry).

Good will eventually prevail

I personally believe that whatever goes around comes around. I also believe in the good old fashioned 'good will prevail over evil'. Just as they would like to believe 'evil' gay people like us will be damned, I believe people who deny the minorities their rights and respect will have to bear the consequences one day. The government, for being overly conservative, will one day have to face repercussions (please stop complaining when there is a mass exodus of talent).

Nobody has the power to change my beliefs if I carry a strong conviction towards them, thus I understand that I do not have the power to change anybody else's.

However, I have the freedom and the right to express myself, that includes leading a fulfilling life and contributing to the causes I support. There will be people, however few, who will honestly question themselves, if I deserve to be in hell, simply by being in love with another girl.

Do not play in their hands any longer by feeling any ounce of anger, instead, focus on doing our own part (whether by setting a positive example or by positive advocacy, we just need to answer to ourselves.

I am not afraid to be judged if judgment day comes because I hold nothing but truth and love. On the contrary, am not so sure about the ones who incite fear and hatred. I therefore hope that one day love can open their eyes to God's unconditional and non-judgmental love.

Proud to be AWARE

Earlier today, I clapped until my fingers were bruised.

I have gone to cast my vote at the AWARE EGM straight after a night of work (I keep nocturnal hours), kept myself mentally alert alternating between coffee and sweets, ended up with my limbs trembling due to caffeine and lack of sleep, stayed till the very end even though I was on the verge of collapse.

But it was all worth it.

For today, I personally witnessed with my own eyes, felt with my own heart, processed with my own mind, the courage and pride of women fighting for their own rights and justice.

It was an experience that would not be justified with the mere description of words. I had honestly not expected this.

The diversity

For it was not only the outspoken feminists who turned up. It was an incredible mix of men and women, of all races, religions and ages.

There was the old who could barely walk but still made the effort to queue for hours to register. There were the male expats who took time out to volunteer for a cause they believed in but was not of much direct relation to them. There was this Caucasian woman, among many other Caucasian women who turned up to vote (presumably PR or PR-turned-citizens), who was giving away flowers out of a trolley to people in the queue, probably paid out of her own pocket. There were the educators who put their jobs on the line by speaking on the floor. There were housewives, mothers, husbands, staunch Christians, a Muslim father, who spoke for their support of a comprehensive sex education program for their children.

The ironic moment came when Josie Lau said that she was not against sex education, she simply wanted the kids to make 'informed' choices. I guess she needs to re-learn her definitions, because hers seem to point to the lack of information as being 'informed'.

There were plenty of people who were queuing up for their chance to speak, and when their turn came, they spoke with such conviction and passion that my hair stood and my heart moved. There was the girl who on the verge of tears, telling the new exco that it is already so difficult to grow up in Singapore, and how could they, how could they deny their right to love, their right to choose?

I could feel tears filling up my eyes upon hearing that. For I only know too well, how difficult it was.

And the speakers on the floor spoke for us. They questioned the new guard on their lack of sensitivity, lack of thought, lack of organization. Their mis-use of public funds (estimated to be 90k). Their lack of respect for the old guard. Their inability to answer questions. Their lack of experience in running a NGO. The list goes on and on.

The crumbling of the new exco

Personally, I am appalled. I am appalled as mentioned in my earlier posts on this subject, how can such educated women with high-flying careers, apart from having a very narrow mind, not think about the consequences of their actions prior to the act?

They have splurged our money, underestimated our intelligence, insulted many of us personally, shifting the responsibility of answering sensitive questions to their legal counsel (who was fair and did not help them much), and the icing on the cake was:

The majority of the audience was clearly not in support of them, they have lost all credibility and respect, and when the vote of no-confidence was passed, they actually have the audacity to say that the vote did not stand legally.

They have lost the popular vote and they want to exploit a legal loophole to hang on. I was starting to wonder if they have lost their sanity in the proceedings. Or modesty.

To top it all off (yes still more icing incredulously), they were implored by the old guard to step down graciously which they refused, accepted the opportunity given by the old guard to hold a meeting for 5 minutes to give proper consideration to their resignation, disappeared for half an hour with no notification of whereabouts, with their legal counsel not being able to contact them.

The motion of their removal was passed after ample time was given to them. Which thereafter, they appeared and insisted on giving a highly formulaic statement on stepping down graciously and wishing the best for AWARE.

Sorry, I personally feel that they have lost the right to step down graciously after repeatedly refusing even after the vote of no-confidence was passed, trying to pull off a stunt to say the vote was not legal-binding, and then disappearing for an indefinite amount of time. They did not have the decency to let us know that they will be extending their 5 minute meeting to 30 minutes.

Throughout the whole drama, the old guard was gracious enough to give them chance after chance to step down, and they even got us to give a round of applause to the new guard if they were ever going to re-appear.

The press has been kind to them (they were barred from the EGM by the new guard). I have just gone over the latest news reports, they did not report the new guard's unbelievable display of denial – the official statement seemed to be that they chose to be gracious and stepped down.

Reflecting

I am sure that some – even if they are the minority – of the new guard's support will be reflecting upon today's events. I do not think many of them are actually aware of the full situation, the deceit by their leadership, and the full scale of the hurt caused by them.

For me, I am actually grateful, in spite that I was feeling extremely insulted, because if not for the whole drama staged by the new guard, I would not be able to experience such a wonderful display of unity and strength. The array of individual talent and wit by the floor speakers was incredible, it was definitely a pleasant awakening for me. My previous mindset that we do not have enough brilliant individuals with their own minds was wrong.

And they were in full splendor today.

It was electrifying, the energy from the hall emitted by people from different walks of life who had united for a common cause. If you were there to see the display of passion of the people's faces for what they believe in, the eruption of pure joy when the vote was announced, you would not want to miss it, I assure you, for almost anything else in the world.

I am proud, of myself who stood up to be heard despite my personal dislike for being around people in general (too sensitive to people's energies), despite my fatigue at work, despite feeling as if I am about to break apart anytime, despite my lack of guts to speak on the floor or anywhere else actually, I was there.

I am equally proud, of my partner who stood up for the cause we both believed in, despite her being cynical of mankind in general, despite her being repeatedly let down by situations and people she once gave her trust to, despite having personally faced an uphill battle for the causes she supports, she was there.

And I am very proud, of all of you who made it, despite all that was in your way.

For once, I am proud to be a woman and a Singaporean.

p.s. I ponder about the people wondering why are we making such a big fuss about this when they are sitting in comfort because of the rights AWARE has fought for them in the past 25 years. Equal rights are not to be taken for granted, they have to be fought for and protected.

Reasons for feeling insulted, disturbed & hurt by the new AWARE leadership

I have avoided writing about the anti-gay sentiments put out by the new AWARE executive committee (exco) because I feel that being in support of the old guard has nothing got to do about anti-gay vs pro-gay, but about women's rights in general. Till I got increasingly disturbed by their anti-gay statements, which I cannot put in words exactly how disturbed I feel to be reading the comments made by them.

They say we are very often abused by our fathers

This was one of the most disturbing ones:

"On a personal front, I've given ministered, I've counselled them. So you need to understand I'm not talking about... They are in pain. And very often...where you have abusive fathers, they do things with their daughters and the daughters revolt, rebel against society. We understand this is what it's all about." – Dr Thio Su Mien

Excuse me?! My father is one of the nicest men you will ever meet and he will feel very personally insulted and hurt to read this. I seriously do not think this self-proclaimed 'feminist mentor' should be even allowed to speak in public with all the insulting rubbish she is spouting.

I cannot decide whether I am petrified or amused that such narrow and un-evolved minds exist in women who had been highly educated and possess high-flying careers. These are the very same women who now want to fight for gender equality.

So, according to the new exco, led by 'feminist mentor' Thio Su Mien, me and my peace-loving, society-contributing gay community are criminals, abnormal, wicked, anti-family – basically in their eyes we do not seem to warrant a place in society, supposed to be abused and in pain.

The consequences & implications

Speaking from the bottom of my heart, I really wonder if they have considered all the implications and consequences before making such statements and having such beliefs? Is there even an absolute truth in anything? Did they even consider the feelings of people like us, or even the youth who are confused about their sexuality? To be marginalised and criminalised in this manner, to be made to feel as though as we do not belong anywhere, have they even stopped to think for a second if they may be causing a lot of hurt?

Supposing if they win the EOGM, and the possibility that the new sex education material is made to reflect homosexuality as a negative word, would there be a possibility that young, talented, confused minds will be driven to depression, or even suicide? What about influencing young minds into being homophobic individuals, subjecting their 'abnormal' peers to gay-bashing and discrimination?

Brainwash people to be gay?

I did not have an abusive father, sorry to disappoint Dr Thio, I do not remember having sex education in my school days, and homosexuality in my era was largely a taboo subject. There were no gay films, no gay propaganda, no media reporting on homosexuality, almost zilch.

Having no gay 'influence' when I was young did not stop me from falling in love with another girl. For me personally, for many of my gay friends, being gay has nothing much to do with preference for bedding the same sex. It is as simple as falling in love with another person. We just don't feel the same for the opposite sex, does that make us less of a human?

Why can't the new exco and paranoid parents simply realise that presenting homosexuality in a neutral perspective does not brainwash your precious kid into being gay? If your kid is gay, even if the poor kid is blocked off the entire media will do nothing much to change how he/she feels. You can probably threaten to disown the kid, make her/him marry someone, have kids, but do you even know how much more pain and suffering that causes for the person and the people involved? What about the marriage partner who was deceived into believing that their partner loves him/her?

The reverse is also true, if your kid is not gay, no amount of external influence can change that as well. I have plenty of straight friends who loves going to gay parties, watch gay films, hang out with gay people, but they would still rather be with the opposite sex. There is a healthy mutual respect, a mutual respect which would be in danger for the youth if the new exco manages to have their way.

Personally

I am proud to be who I am. I am in a committed relationship with a partner who loves me more than anything in this world, despite and in spite of my flaws; and I feel the same way for her. We are both doing our best for the causes we believe in – animal welfare and environmentalism. We like to give our time to stray animals whenever possible, she recycles everything that can possibly be recycled. We are not well off, but we are contented with what we have and are both working very hard to pursue our individual dreams. She has been my pillar of support, I would not be where I am today if not for her. Yet, according to Dr Thio, the new exco and their church, we should both seek cures (read an example of their supposed cure program). We have done nothing wrong except to love each other with our hearts, yet in the eyes of the new exco, we are dysfunctional and really need to repent.

I am lucky. My parents accept me for the person I am, we go out all together for family outings and occasions. My mom asks about my partner if she could not be present for some reason. I am out to everyone who knows me personally. I never had a friend who ended our friendship upon knowing I am gay. In fact, I never really had someone dear to me shake their heads in sadness and look at me with pity or distaste, but the harsh reality is, there are plenty of people who are subject to such discriminatory and hurting behavior.

Being in the minority has allowed me to be sensitive to other minorities. From my very own spiritual perspective, I see it as a blessing. I feel the pain and hurt when people exhibit discriminative behavior towards other minorities, be it the foreign workers, other races, etc. In fact, in many parts of the world, Asians are being discriminated upon as well. I do not feel it is fair to discriminate anybody if you do not want to be discriminated upon as well.

Mis-informed judgement

I deliberated for a very long time whether I should write this post. Like I mentioned previously, I am out to everyone who knows me personally, but I have never mentioned anything about my sexuality on my own websites, because the possibility of being judged by business associates and clients. I do not think that it is fair to be judged if people do not have the chance to get to know me personally first. That is the precise point I am trying to make. It is not fair to make a sweeping statement representative of gay people if you have not personally experienced their personal lives and relationships.

Yet I eventually decided to write this post, just like how I decided to out myself to everyone I know when I was in my youth, because I believe people will accept me for the person I am and not base it on my sexuality. People who make pre-judgments would not really appreciate me for me anyway.

Lack of empathy

I do not think the new AWARE exco has once stopped to put themselves in the shoes of gay people, or in the shoes of those parents who have gay children. They simply do not understand or empathise and is only concerned on their own selfish agenda of doing things THEIR right way.

Think about those teens who are already confused about their sexuality prior to this whole AWARE saga and take a moment to imagine how they would feel now. Take their adolescent sensitivity into consideration, their pain of not being accepted by society and the people they love, and being labelled as abnormal, disgusting, and other tons of negative words the new exco and their church have used.

Standing up for AWARE

I do not have the literary gifts of Adrianna nor am I remotely close to the impressive outspoken Pat Law, but I write from my heart, truly and earnestly. My readership for this blog is nowhere near their numbers as well, but it does not matter. Every effort counts, and even if I fail to bring awareness to a single soul from this blog post, it does not matter. This is still my heartfelt attempt to find my voice for the women in Singapore.

They have both made theirs:

I have never been active in local politics or activism, and I doubt that I will ever be. However, I still made sure I cast my vote carefully during the General Elections. When the news first broke out that AWARE was under a coup, I read it with detached interest. Only when a friend sent a Facebook message asking her contacts to join a newly setup Facebook group in support of the 'old guard', did I actually even start to comprehend the gravity of the matter.

The above articles have already provided a good overview of what is happening. The Facebook group is an excellent resource and chronicle for the series of events leading up till now. Supporters of the old executive committee has also set up a new website advocating their stand.

Personally, it is really not about pro-gay vs anti-gay. It was how the new leadership had handled the whole takeover, in suspicious manner and circumstances. If they are aboveboard, why is it that their behavior and response have been evasive, to say the very least? Take away the supposed anti-gay agenda, I find it difficult to trust that these women will fight for our equal rights when they go to a church that preaches 'the wife is in subjection to the husband'. I believe that God will not discriminate against the minorities – women or homosexuals included. And I have faith that most of the church-goers I know have the same belief as well. It is precisely extremist views like this that gives religion a bad name.

I am tempted to remain in silence, tempted to believe that some women will definitely fight for the right causes, I am extremely public-shy after all. After a few mere seconds of deliberation, I knew in my heart I would not be able to answer to myself if I did not make an effort. If I do not make this effort, what right do I have to ask someone else to make the effort? If everyone shifts this responsibility, it is of no wonder why this even happened in the first place.

I will not hide anymore. I signed up at AWARE over the last weekend, and made sure I did my part on Facebook and Twitter. I was hoping that prominent bloggers like Adrianna and Pat will make a clear stand, and felt very comforted that they did, so did local celeb Irene Ang. It can be a sensitive situation for public figures like Irene, but she has eventually decided to turn up. On the other spectrum, being nobodies can mislead us into thinking that our voices do not matter – they do. In times like this, every voice counts,  and when the vote is being counted your status/job/etc does not matter. This is what equality is about.

I implore you to turn up and be heard. You do not even have to be in support of any side, but the point is to be aware of what is going on. AWARE has done a lot for us women in Singapore in the past, a huge factor why we women in Singapore live in comfort and security knowing we are protected. This is the time for you to do something for AWARE.

Resetting my priorities and perspectives due to shame

The past few days, if not weeks, have been hugely reflective for me. It seems like a major conspiracy from the universe to wake me up from my deep slumber. I have been feeling quite disturbed for a long while now, it has been such a while that I do not even remember when did it all start.

The issue on the surface

I have always prided myself for loving what I do and being able to do what I love. This has not been entirely accurate lately and it has been bugging me from my deepest consciousness. It eats me up slowly.

Is it because:

  • I have overworked myself
  • I have taken up web projects because of the freedom it entails me and perhaps being a print designer at heart I am actually trying to condition myself into settling for less because it gives me more
  • The projects themselves are not interesting enough
  • It is not about the work but the issue is me

The deeper, actual issues

The above questions to myself may be the cause of my dissatisfaction partially, but my gut (or my higher self) tells me there is more to it.

I have been neglecting the bigger picture.

The bigger picture has never been the work itself. Would I be satisfied and truly happy if I am doing the best work or the most interesting projects? If I imagine myself as one of the best-recognised designers right now, will that take away all my dissatisfaction? If I had less work now and have the chance to rest, will that make me feel significantly better?

A couple of years ago I have realised that even if I was doing the best work, earning the best keep, I would not really be satisfied, I would not lie on my deathbed and smile, telling myself that I have lived a good life. What is the point of even if I were to be recognised as one of the best? It does nothing except to feed my ego and probably I can tell myself I have been one of the best designers – but what comes after that? This is not meant to be any disrespect to the best designers out there now, honestly, just that different factors make different people happy, and I would not say that being one of the best makes me truly happy. I love my work but it is just not what my life should revolve around.

The picture changes significantly when one is able to contribute to the greater good with the work. I have always been a fan of Stefan Sagmeister, not because of his creative, provocative work, but rather that the messages he carries by just being himself. The work he does encourages people to be themselves, not get sold into the whole materialistic lifestyle and most importantly, to pursue your dream. Or one of those industrial designers who designs something that enables handicapped people to move more freely, for example. Or the copywriter who conceptualises the ad that carries a life-changing message to the mass public.

Yet I asked myself honestly if I thought I would ever touch people in this manner and the answer was no. It is not because I am pouring cold water on myself, but a very honest assessment of my own self. I have been doing consistently good work, but it has never been in that league. I will not say never ever, but the possibility is really remote.

What truly makes me happy on my deathbed

One of my facebook contacts had linked an article that profiled a woman with the highest recorded IQ, and the article questioned if one was obligated to use his/her natural high intelligence to 'change the world'. I remember responding to it on facebook, commenting that not everybody has to be Obamas to contribute positively to the world. I really do believe in all of us having the ability to contribute in our own unique ways, however small or supposedly insignificant it may be. The point of it is to have the intention or desire. One small gesture may change someone else's life. I have had other people's small gestures that significantly changed mine.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost. My work has taken up so much of my time that I no longer had time to do things that I deeply cared about or that I originally set out to accomplish.

Success in the typical sense will not feed the soul, because we will always want more. Creativity declines when the soul is not being fed. I guess this makes up a lot of the reason why I have been feeling like something is withering inside me.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost.

The conspiracy that woke me up

As I mentioned earlier, I have been feeling disturbed but I only started an in-depth interrogation within myself only when I was clearing my Google Reader's feeds and discovered that quite a few  high-profile personalities in the web industry have written about their stress-levels, work-related depression and significant decisions to do something about it. One has called it quits to his freelance career and returned to employment, one has decided to halt his thriving small business, another has gone on to another level by revolutionizing his life.

I asked myself what was I going to do about mine. In order to know what I needed to do, I have to find out the root of the issue first. That started my whole self-analysis. That was not all.

Feeling ashamed

I was extremely ashamed, yes ashamed of my own lack of guts when I saw Susan Boyle's courage to take the stage despite the expected public ridicule of her age and looks, while I would not even go anywhere anything that resembles a stage. I was totally envious and ashamed again when fellow local blogger Adrianna, at the tender age of 24, escaped a suicide bomb blast in Yemen by a twist of fate, not because she was there for work, but she was touring the Middle East by herself because she wanted to. Like seriously? I have reservations touring just South-east Asia by myself and someone else is enjoying her life and death tour to the Middle East?

I can continue to cite many more examples that made me look at myself and shake my head. That I am sitting here, being troubled about my work and not having enough guts or determination to change the situation. That I am moping while someone almost lost his life when he offered himself to the pirates as a hostage in exchange for the release of his crew, women in South Africa are getting raped to 'correct' them of their homosexuality. I feel very ashamed to have allowed mundane issues to depress me, when there is actually much greater pain and suffering out there – not to mention that there are people who are doing actual meaningful work with their lives at risk, some without a penny to their name.

Rectifying the situation

I do not want too much more of my life to tick by and lessen the time to do whatever I need to do to make myself proud at my own deathbed. This has been an on-going merry-go-round for me because I have been aware and yet getting lost repeatedly. I want to share and set my intentions openly with all of you. I may not succeed at first try, but at the very least I want to try.

The list of intentions consists of things I would like to do that I feel will bring back my passion for my work, as well as actions I can initiate in order to aid my quest to lessen my stress levels and increase the quality of my life, plus some perspectives of life in general I should constantly remind myself of in order to be grateful and not wasteful (the rhyming is not intentional ;p). Lastly, I want to consciously increase the opportunities that will allow me to contribute positively in my own ways, within my own capacity, as much as possible.

  • I want to learn hand-lettering. Looking at type, especially hand-drawn type, makes my heart skip a beat. I did not think I would be good at it so I never really tried because I suck at drawing anything by hand, but I do believe that anyone can learn almost anything if they set their heart to it. If I start drawing circles now perhaps by the time I'm 40 I may be remotely good at it. I should stop having the mentality that I am too old to start learning how to draw. (stifles laughter at myself)
  • I should not give up on doing things I truly love because it seems difficult to.
  • I must try to find more me-time and time for non-commercial creative projects to feed myself creatively.
  • I really need to look into how I can gauge myself more accurately and stop overloading myself with work because it is my number one stress factor. I will consciously finish whatever I have to do on hand and re-look into the type of work I should be working on in order to create a better creative and time balance.
  • I will also need to look into diversifying my income streams, especially the passive ones, which I do not even have one yet.
  • I want to explore other avenues of interest apart from design. I have always been interested in spirituality topics - perhaps more workshops?
  • Travel plans are still in place and will take place soon. This is important because I feel called to do so. I have a feeling this will open up the doors to more avenues for contributions.
  • Find ways and time to contribute more to the causes I support. I have been neglecting to give to my causes because I have been so caught up in my own work.
  • Should really start meditating regularly and having proper exercise soon. The health needs to be taken care of in order to have the ability to accomplish more.
  • Constantly remind myself to be grateful and to be aware of the suffering of other beings. That I should focus my energy on meaningful matters than to get myself down over minuscule matters compared to people starving in third world countries and people dying in wars. This is extreme yes, but it is real. There are people and animals who are really suffering out there and I feel upset with myself for feeling like it is the end of the world when I encounter small setbacks.
  • To not let fear affect my life and my desire to be true.
  • Spend more time writing to share my experiences so that some souls may benefit from it.
  • Write more openly and honestly on this blog about myself, my fears and failures, not worry about what the negative reactions to my honesty, and instead focus on those who appreciates me for me.
  • Give my best in trying to do what I want to do, but try not to let myself get attached to the outcomes, and not let my desire for self-improvement become unrealistic self-expectations. It is the journey that counts, not the destination.
  • Understand that while it is nice to be doing great and interesting work, ultimately whatever work I do should enable me to live out my purpose and live my life the way I want. I should never give up on finding the best compromise though – between the quality of life and the quality of work.

I hope I have not bored all of you to tears with my list and it will also be nice if any of you can share some of yours with me. :)