2018 was a pot of soup

Ever since I can remember, there has always been soup at home. Either a pot of it that gets increasingly thick with flavour from being repeatedly reboiled over two or three days; or in the form of handy packets of freeze-dried instant stuff. Of course, the instant soups can’t compare to my mother’s. And like all Chinese children, there’s something about my mother’s soup makes it perfect. There could be a more ‘correct’ or luxurious version of her soups out there, in Michelin restaurants or ‘authentic’ soup restaurants, but every Chinese family thinks that theirs is always the best.

So maybe last year was kind of like my pot of soup. It might not be the best year when you compare it to the grand scheme of things, but it was certainly good enough for me.

And okay, if we’re being totally honest here, I just really wanted to make some kind of literary metaphor that matched the ideas of ‘taking stock’ of the year.

When I first left full-time work back in May, I was in a bad state made worse by a whole ton of uncertainty. So I made a list of small, achievable things. Goals that wouldn’t leave me stagnant but also wouldn’t set me back into a depression spiral. Because golden ratio or not, spirals usually only lead you to a narrower end.

Anyway, since I’m Chinese, let’s start off with money. It’s one of the things that stresses me out in general. I’ve always had a tenuous relationship with it, and I had to juggle my finances even more this year because I had a mortgage and renovation to deal with.

So one of my goals was to make enough money so that I didn’t need to touch my sabbatical funds. It was a little tough at the beginning, but thanks to friends who sent work my way, and a couple of companies who are taking a chance with me, this freelance gig can continue for a while more.

It might seem like a small goal. Just making enough. But it’s taken me thirty years to realise that ‘enough’ is what I really need to learn to be happy with.

Taking Stock

Here’s an insightful questionnaire that Rebecca Toh made, and which I felt compelled to answer.

LOOK BACK

1. What was the theme for your 2018?

As cheesy as it sounds, ‘rebirth’. But I think the first part of my online name ‘kaiten’ would be a more accurate. Aside from its more sinister association with kamikaze torpedos, ‘kaiten’ can mean ‘changing the world’ or ‘turning the tide’. Things I needed to do, and did.

2. What’s one new thing you discovered about yourself this year?
My depression was a lot worse and long-running that I had imagined. It isn’t a happy thing. But knowing that this malaise I’ve been feeling since I was 18 is actually depression—and not me being ‘lazy’ or ‘difficult’—is a much-needed discovery.

3. Tell us a happy and an awful thing that happened between Jan-Jun.
A happy thing: I started therapy sessions.
An awful thing: I left my dream job.

4. Tell us a happy and an awful thing that happened between Jul-Dec.
A happy thing: I got the keys to my first home!
An awful thing: My trusty old MacBook Pro of six years decided to retire.

5. Any random thing you’ve missed telling us because life moves faster than fingers?
I’ve got two retainer clients! How did I do that!?
My hair is also, not very pink anymore. This makes me a little sad. But that’s going to change real soon.

LOOK AHEAD


1. What do you want the overarching theme for 2019 to be?
Spark.
I’m simple. I don’t need to set things aflame, or have a bonfire of ambition. I just want to keep this tiny spark alive. I want to be sparked by someone, spark off new ideas and projects, and basically be the spark for my colleagues, friends and family.

2. Which personal quality do you want to develop or strengthen?
Courage. The internet says that Coco Chanel once said, “The most courageous act is to think for yourself. Aloud.” I want to be fearless with the things I think about and say.

3. Name three goals for the next year.
– Travel overseas with my husband
– Work from an overseas base for a while (yeah, let me experience that #digitalnomadlife)
– Financial stability

Are these boring, millennial goals? I guess so.

4. Give a one-liner to motivate, inspire or encourage yourself in 2019.
Never forget your beginner’s spirit.
It’s probably etched on someone’s body but it’s also undeniably something that keeps me going whenever I get angsty about work and life.

Making Stock (I)

I’d like to think about the year as me making a huge pot of soup. Here are some things that made my soup-year extra tasty.

  • Had my own table at the Singapore Art Book Fair and sold a whole bunch of zines from my previous run. It was great talking to other zine-makers, customers, and getting some validation about my craft.
  • Took part in MINI EXTRAODDINARY, a group show/arts & culture trail curated by Kinetic. My ex-agency invited me to participate as a word-based artist and I created PLANTED, a site-specific piece for them!
  • Developed, wrote and edited an entire newsletter for one of my clients.
  • Met up with Furo-chan, who I’ve been following online for a while now! She writes about food (I always have vivid dreams of the things she describes!) and travel in Japan—two of my favourite things. Her newsletter is one of those I like to read on slow afternoons.
  • Speaking of newsletters, my inbox is full of wonderful newsletters. I highly recommend Maekan‘s twice weekly newsletter, Ann Friedman’s, and my all-time favourite Craig Mod’s. There are so many others—I’ll probably do a post about them soon. (Really!)
  • I read 51 books! One book shy of my goal of reading one book a week (mostly held up by super thicc books like the Outlander series).
  • Listening to a massive amount of podcasts. I have a huge backlog still (I only really listen during my commute, because I find it hard to concentrate when working) but life’s not about completing every list. Recently, I particularly enjoyed Andy J. Pizza’s episode on creative burnout. Super timely because things were getting out of hand the past couple of weeks.
  • Embarking on my biggest creative project yet: finding out what a ‘home’ means to me (and my partner).

Making Stock (II)

I’ve been percolating this post for over a week and I really should just let it out into the wild. This is a problem I have. Wanting something to be perfect.

Working closely with an editor over some book chapters made me realise that writing isn’t solitary. Aside from the reader who is going to well, read and respond to the work, every piece of writing is a collaboration between me, the research I do, the people I speak to, my editors, colleagues, the books I read. There’s so much of everyone else that goes into writing that I really, honestly, shouldn’t feel burdened by the idea of ‘me’ achieving some sort of fuzzy ideal of ‘perfection’. What the hell is my idea of perfection anyway? The bottom line is I want to treat my work with the respect it deserves, because everyone who’s made it happen and everyone who is going to make it happen (by reading), deserves respect too.

Enough of rambling.

Here’s what I hope can go into my 2019 soup stock:

  • Learning to say no. I still suffer from FOMO and FODE (Fear of Disappointing Everyone) so I tend to say yes too quickly to people and work. This year I want to learn to say no or at least, ask for something. I want to be able to devote enough attention and time to all that I do.
  • More book chapters! I’m not writing my own book (yet?) but I’m contributing a couple of chapters to a design publication I really like. I want to write more design and brand-focused features like these.
  • Write more for myself. Like here. Does anyone even read this?
  • I also want to get a little more clarity on what makes me happy when I write. That same chat with Furo left me with a lot more questions than answers. Which is great, because I’ve been living in a constant state of responding to people’s demands of me, instead of actually questioning my motivations. I don’t know what exactly I like to write about right now, since writing has been work for the past six years.
  • Ask more questions. I used to work about asking the wrong questions, so I never asked any. I didn’t want to appear stupid. But really, the people who judge you for asking anything at all, don’t really matter.
  • Stop sounding like a rehash of self-help podcasts and blog posts. I realise that this ENTIRE post is some weird echo of everything I’ve listened to and read in the past year. If this is what internalising the message is, I want it to be over.

And now we get to one of my big problems with writing: how to end. I’ve struggled so much to actually start this, push it through and now it has to end? No! Don’t make me! But this post really needs to be read, and not be forever unpublished.

So… Let’s end with a question:

What do you want 2019 to be?

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