Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.
If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.
Don’t know if I can stay awake for the whole post because I’m absolutely knackered haha. I reached home at 5pm and I slept for 3.5 hours, initially thinking it would just be a twenty-minute nap. Anyway, this post is about giving thanks for things in the office finally wrapping up and how I spent my past three days.
Friday and Saturday
Finalizing the proposal, 4am to late nights and panicking, lack of communication (working with my colleagues but they are all new to me), being really fearful whenever I made mistakes. Small mistakes are fine but there were medium-sized mistakes too. I was terrified that we wouldn’t be able to get the proposal out in time because of a certain political situation but thankfully, it has passed. Now I can finally turn off my phone without worrying that a certain thing is pending or “the director hates my work”. I cried on Saturday because I felt so constrained by things and I felt that I was doing shitty work, work that even I wouldn’t approve on hindsight. You know that cold feeling you get when you realised that you really f-ked up a certain thing, and then it feels like someone cracked a cold egg down your head and your mind goes blank. I got that a lot because I was dealing with many different things the past two weeks, and the more work you do, the more difficult it is to get everything done well. In my defense, everything was new, I was slow because I had to first understand what I was doing before I could even start. Whereas everyone else on the team had 6-10 years of experience and so they work really fast. I have 7 weeks HAHA.
I had lunch with the director today, she treated me to cupcakes afterwards too and we clarified a lot of things that could have been done better. And she also apologised for her moods and how she was a bit unapproachable- which she honestly didn’t have to apologise for, so I appreciate that a lot. I mean, for someone so experienced, teaching someone who has no idea what consulting work looks like, must have been a pain in the ass LOL. Learning points: I need to communicate better, I need to follow-up even when I am scared, I need to be a lot more careful about the quality of my work and I really need to pay more attention in the meetings and not let my emotions affect who I work with. Am still afraid to approach one team member- she’s lovely in normal interactions, but when on projects she becomes really curt and slightly unfriendly, especially when stressed.
I spent the morning volunteering at Jalan Kukoh. It is with the same director whom I worked with on the above-mentioned proposal, she has a friend who is part of the volunteering team and they plan to go full-time so they roped us in for consulting services. At 9am we were packing eggs from larger trays into smaller cardboard trays that we cut from the larger ones. Then we packed the household things like detergent and perishables (Apollo cake, coffee, biscuits etc) and finally the heaviest items like soy milk. I didn’t think of actually volunteering with them at first because I have a strong interest in children, and tend to avoid the elderly when it comes to volunteering because I always feel that I can’t communicate with them and can’t really make them feel happier. But the idea is that we will be involved on the ground so that we can see the issues and the perspectives that the ground team has. I had the mindset that it was going to be a work meeting so I went with my laptop and dressed in a shirt-dress thingy, but I adapted and just started queuing up.
The organizing team really put thought into the project- they use recyclable bags so that the volunteers have to enter the house to put away the things, and then take back the bags. Ideally, we would also introduce each of the items to the elderly because the packaging and food items change sometimes, they told us a story of how an old man ate soap by mistake because he thought it was a dessert. Still have no idea what kind of soap packaging that is, but it looks similar I guess. It would be much faster to just pass over plastic bags but the concept is that the team should spend at least ten minutes with the uncle or aunty living there, because they are alone and need social interaction. We were told to look out for the people who seemed lonelier and wanted to talk, and that would possibly be the next phase of the project where they can send buddies down. Sort of like lion befrienders, but it’s linked to the current tech system which provides real-time collaboration with volunteers who log in their comments about the needs of the families they have visited.
There are 120 families on the list, it was recently reviewed so initially there were a lot more elderly but some of them moved on or moved away, or thankfully, found ways to increase their income. One team consists of a resident volunteer and the new volunteers- resident volunteers are residents who also stay in the rental flats but help us as tour guides, so they do not feel that they are just taking handouts- they are working for it. And it is very useful to have them on the ground with us because they not only know the place, they also know the residents, they know the RC people, they understand the lives of people who live in the area. They can give tips on how to deal with residents, and they share really interesting stories. On my team, there was a man who used to be abrasive and didn’t get along with anyone, but after two years of doing this with the volunteering ground up movement, he is now, well, not a lovely person, but a lot more talkative. His experiences are also really interesting- he is eloquent and really direct, just that he tires easily.
Rental flats are also interesting- from where you stand at the door, you can see almost everything in the flat because it’s really small. But at Jalan Kukoh, it is near Chinatown and more importantly, there is a fantastic view of the Singapore river in front of every window and staircase. I don’t know if this is the right term, but it is open air which means that the staircase isn’t blocked by a door like the one at my house, it is windy and surprisingly quiet. Although for the elderly who live in the houses, some of them might not even notice the river. Those who stay on the 12th floor have a really nice ambience, but there were families on the 3rd floor and the corridors were frankly dark and cramped, filled with old shelves and one hoverboard lol. There was a house which we went to, there was a bun (like a sandwich hot dog bun without the hot dog) that was literally just placed on the gate of the door, without any packaging. And the house had no sounds coming from within, so we were a bit worried about the aunty living inside. The bun looked fresh but it is just weird. But they should have followed up by now.
Post volunteering I ubered to church, we had a one hour bible study on Mark 2:1-12. I never really read that passage in detail, but today I did and I realised that it really spoke to me about my situation (humans have the ability to sense make everything). I am so worried about my physical and mental health that I never thought to place my spiritual health on the same level.
2 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
When I was younger I would think “of course it’s easier to say that sins are forgiven, you have to actually prove that the man can get up and walk if you told him to”. But now I realised that for Christ, it was more important that he should forgive the man for the very thing he came to earth for. To forgive us for our sins and transgressions against God, to make sure that we know how to repent, and to guide us when we are facing troubles like physical health and temptations of money and sex. Our earthly bodies are important to us- if I were paralysed, I would probably be deeply unhappy and angry that someone claims that my sins are forgiven, I would wonder what were my sins to be punished like this. In fact with health issues now, I feel tied to Singapore because I can’t travel without bringing my medication along. That feeling of having no freedom can really ruin a day, especially when I get stomach pains during meetings and I really need the toilet.
Now that I am older I see the importance of a Christ-like heart. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but after being in the church for seven months, I think I understand more about sin- how it causes us to turn away from God, and if we understood what God did for us and the beauty of his plan, and if we experienced the comfort of being a part of his family, then we would understand “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Never really got the gospel of Mark when I was younger, now I think I do. It is a sense of relief actually.
Typing this as I wait for my boss to reach the office. I’m on a different level today, because she wants a whole day blocked off to do a proposal. I left work at around 9+ yesterday, reached home, had a late dinner, went to sleep right after I bathed. I think for next few weeks I’ll function on survival mode because there are so many things that I should have done (should have applied for the warranty on my desktop monitor, should have read books that were recommended to me in May, practiced more meditation, bought a kindle etc) and every day after work I’m just like “ok let’s read a book or go swimming AND THEN I CAN SLEEP.” And the weekends are taken up by church and errands and meeting friends for brunch. I am going to be more intentional about how I manage my time after work, because I have been really unproductive (read: sleepy, tired, on medication, stomach pains, prioritizing friends over sleep sometimes) and I need to get my act together or I will not be able to achieve my four year plans lol.
It has been exactly seven weeks with my new company. It is my first job, and I am still not completely adjusted to the work flow yet, simply because each project is different and I don’t think the learning ever stops when you’re working on different industries and different skill sets are needed each time. Also, the client is always changing, which means that sometimes you have great clients who are really good with communication, and sometimes you get the spawn of satan who calls you at 3am to ask for something. And sometimes you have to prod the client to talk because they are so reserved. It is exciting because I like novelty, I like making human connections (especially because the people I’ve met so far are all such nice and genuine people) and I like the fast pace of things. But it is also terrible when you want to meet friends but your boss is like “sorry the client brought the deadline forward, can I have it ASAP”. Work life integration is a practice that I am not very good at.
Yesterday we had a women’s event during lunch, my director invited her to talk on value and worth as a female in the workplace, how do we find ourselves and how do we not lose ourselves as we get older and grow up. She was a principal consultant with a big 4, worked in investment banking and finally she is now a resident artist with the tedx space in Singapore. She spoke about how she got to where she was now while being sick (adrenal glands, brush with cancer etc) and through terrible things- rape etc. I felt that she was tackling something that was very relevant to me- how I look at my to-do list (which always gets longer), and how I think that if there is a rational need to do something, then it should lead to rational action. But I don’t know how to prioritize that ‘need’ above other needs, I don’t know if what society says that I need (money, relationship, a nice body, a place to live) is really what I would like to have. And so while I am functioning like a normal human being, and being quite happy about work especially because of the excitement with every project (and the real human impact especially for manpower planning), I don’t quite feel like I am expressing 100% of what I would like to do with my life. But I suppose it will come later, as long as I am patient. And also because I am not too sure of what I want either.
During the event we were invited to write down what we valued on a piece of paper that was provided to us. I wrote down
1. Emotional honesty- expressing how I feel about a person or an event accurately, without feeling that I have to hide anything or be afraid that how I feel is not what society expects. I struggle with this at work because you have to have this professional veneer, you can’t use complete honesty with clients and especially not with your bosses. There was a thread on the company forum that said, “how do you live (leave) a relationship”, and one of the four choices were “fundamental dishonesty”. To which many people agreed. But I just felt that it was a really sad way to live (partly because I have no relationship experience). If I can’t be honest with a person about everything, and if the person can’t take it like an adult and accept that it is genuinely how I feel, then why am I even in that relationship. This includes friendship. And I am aware that I have really kind and good friends, whom I value highly. What are people dishonest about, and how is it possible to live like that on a daily basis without feeling that nagging cognitive dissonance. That feeling that you are looking at yourself in the mirror and you have no idea what you are actually seeing. Who are you looking at? I am reminded that the most difficult thing, or one of the most difficult things to do in this world is to ‘know thyself’.
3. Openness to new experiences
As my top 3 values. And I realized that I also valued
1. Genuine human connections– similar to emotional honesty, because that is how I connect.
2. Making an impact on society and the planet- especially on the vulnerable, not necessarily people I can identify with. It doesn’t need to be someone from my race or nationality, I see all humans as equal as long as we have emotions and movement and family. As long as we understand what life means to us, and we acknowledge that other people are here on earth. As long as we find joy in small things and are conscious of our suffering, we will be human.
3. Accountability to oneself.
I feel that 2 and 3 have a bit of an overlap. To me, I might be open to trying out new experiences which can be uncomfortable at first but really fun overall. And there’s no commitment to things, it is just new experiences all the time. New friends, new places, new jobs, new hobbies, whenever you feel uncomfortable or you are bored you can just give up. But experiences can be valuable if you stick to it, and remind yourself that you are changing as a result of that phase in life. Adapting to that new experience is something that I constantly struggle with. With people, with my actions, with how I see things and how I feel about the experience. It’s like I am constantly psyching myself to not withdraw into a ball because that’s my default- I like to sleep under the blankets in my room when I am stressed out, or sit alone by the windowsill looking out at the cars and the trees and at what my neighbors are doing at home.
No one put ‘money’ as their top three values- I think money is more a function? It is something practical that you need to have, but you don’t need to have too much of it to feel that you have in sync with your heartfelt values. For me, I don’t expect to save much money in the next two years- I save maybe 50% of my salary (including what I give to my parents), everything else is spent on medical bills and food. And I am thinking of delaying a few trips to the therapist because it is so expensive. Literally, four trips to the doctor can send me to Phuket for 5 days, including flights and accommodation and medical insurance. But if I look at my values, knowing that I have to adapt to whatever I am experiencing now, and that I am accountable to myself for my health in the long-run, – perhaps I should allow myself to just expect less in terms of monetary achievement for these two years. Work and salary will only increase, but I doubt my mental health can get much better without medication.
Ok now I am drinking coffee really fast because I have to shake myself awake before my director comes. Kopi Siu Dai is my friend for this year.
Typing this on the taxi while I deliver stuff to a client for my boss.
I was thinking of all my earlier unhappiness this week- not being able to do this, or do that. But last night I sat on the bed, spending two hours trying to get to sleep. I realised that I’m staying with this church community because God is love and compassion. Despite struggling with all the rules and fixed beliefs about how he came to help us and what he wants us to be like, I still believe. Because I can’t find anyone or anything else like him in this world. Perhaps it is true that I am drawn to only what is unique and kind and therefore valuable.
I really admire the fact that Christ came to call sinners and the unwanted and not the righteous and those who, on the surface, live a blameless life. That almost every bible chapter calls us to look at our hearts and find what is wrong with us. The greediness that pushes us to do wrong to others or the pride and arrogance that causes us to divide ourselves and split into factions. The pride and defenses that we put up around ourselves. I admire his love and generosity for humans who can’t do as much as him. I love the fact that he will always have time for us, even though he is so much more than us. That he is, and has unlimited love for us.
I admire the fact that he dares to uncategorically state that only repentance will bring salvation. That you have to first feel remorse and turn away from sin, and not deny him from your life. I enjoy talking to him, although I do not always hear him. He will always have time for us even when we are feeling down and ugly and stupid. He won’t laugh at us or judge us according to the things we were born with. And he will always love us. He will always be a source of strength.
With God I never ever have to ask why won’t you love me. I know that God will always be there for me, when I chose to return. It is not conditional love where if you say rude things to your partner he’ll stop loving you, it is unconditional love, but also with standards as to how a human being should be like.
Sometimes I feel that we live such half lives today. Not daring to make a strong stand, not really living or dying for anything.
K the taxi reached.
Children help us to defer the painful task of confronting ourselves, and grandchildren take over from them. Television distracts us from the onerous necessity of finding projects to construct in the vacuity of our frivolous lives; by beguiling our eyes, television releases our mind from the great work of making meaning. Finally, God appeases our animal fears and the unbearable prospect that someday all our pleasures will cease.
I was in bed last night, at about 1am, reading this part from The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
I remember all that rain… The sound of it drumming on the roof, the paths running with water, the sea of mud at the gate to the farm, the black sky, the wind, the horrible feeling of endless damp weighing upon us as our life weighed upon us: neither consciousness nor revolt. We were sitting huddled together by the fire when suddenly my mother got to her feet, throwing the rest of us off balance; we watched in surprise as, driven by some obscure impulse, she headed to the door and flung it open.
All that rain, oh, all the rain… Framed in the door, motionless, her hair clinging to her face, her dress soaked through, her shoes caked with mud, staring lifelessly, stood Lisette. How did my mother know? How did this woman who, while never mistreating us, never showed us that she loved us, either by deed or word- how did this coarse women who brought her children into the world in the same way she turned over the soil or fed the hens, this illiterate woman, so exhausted by life that she never even called us by the names she had given us- to the point where I at times wondered if she even remembered them- how had she known that her daughter, half-dead, neither moving nor speaking, but merely staring at the door without even thinking of knocking, was just waiting in a relentless downpour for someone to open and bring her into the warm room?
Is this a mother’s love, this intuition of disaster in one’s heart, this spark of empathy that resists even when human beings have been reduced to living like animals? This is what Lucien said: a mother who loves her children always knows when they are in trouble. Personally, I do not care much for this interpretation. Nor do I feel any resentment toward that mother who was not a mother. Poverty is a reaper; it harvests everything inside us that might have made us capable of social intercourse with others, and leaves us empty, purged of feeling, so that we may endure all the darkness of the present day. Nor do I nurture any sturdy illusions, there was nothing of a mother’s love in my mother’s intuition, merely the translation into gesture of her certainty of misfortune. A sort of native consciousness rooted deep in the heart, which serves to remind poor wretches like us that, on a rainy night, there will always be a daughter who has lost her honour and who will come home to die.
Lisette lived just long enough to give birth to her child. The infant did what was expected of it: it died within three hours.
Reading the part about Lisette standing outside the door and then dying made me tear up. How alone she must have felt. There are many single mothers in the world, how many of them just function on survival mode hoping to give their kids a better future. Nationality, ethnicity, religion, such boundaries don’t matter when it is a bond between a mother and a child. How many people are alone in this world? Choosing to leave your family and identity behind is a difficult decision, until you have done it you will not be able to imagine what ‘never again’ means. Because you can’t return to the past. Other people will be affected.
I don’t like emotions because I always feel terrible when I have them. Shame, anger, guilt, loneliness. Sometimes, occasionally, true joy and comfort, but most a bland neutral outlook. But I have lived without the ability to feel for a long time, and I don’t want to go back to that situation when everything was the same, nothing mattered because there were no feelings involved. The same with dating- I am only comfortable going out with people I feel nothing for, because then whatever happens wouldn’t matter to me. Perhaps it is not a fear of commitment, having to stick to just one person and the feeling of novelty, but the fear of intense feelings and not knowing what to do about those feelings. How would I react, how would he feel, what can happen next, am I changing my life in a way that would matter?
“I’ll say it again to make myself perfectly clear,” says Kakuro, with the sort of infinite patience one exercises with children or, rather, the simple-minded. “Renee, you are not your sister.”
And as I go on sitting there like a moron, staring at him:
“I’ll repeat it one last time, in the hopes that this time you won’t choke on a piece of sushi that -I might mention- cost thirty euros apiece and normally require a bit more care in their consumption: you are not your sister, we can be friends. We can be anything we want to be.”
Got an allergic reaction to the medication I’m on, and then intense sleepiness so I took a long nap again. I still have overdue work so I need to drink coffee and then get my shit together for a long night. I am just upset that nothing in life seems to be going right now all because of health reasons, that my panicky moments affect how I see my day. Did it go well, did it go badly, how many times did I feel like I was in a cage and couldn’t breathe? I know that I am in a good place compared to many other people, I also feel that I am in another low point in my life. No longer able to look at events retrospectively and think, “all these were my becoming”, now it’s like “fuck what the fucking fuck again??!” Sorry for vulgarities- they are necessary because that’s my mind right now.
That said, I’m pretty normal most of the day, my mood is only much lower when I am alone or when I have to take a long nap to stop the yawning and it’s really late when I wake up. There are client proposals to be done this week hence I can’t afford to continue this medication, I don’t know when the side effects will end but I would rather not risk more allergic reactions. Other parts of my life are good- children’s church went fine, it got kind of zoo-like during the story time when kids suddenly decided to stop listening, some were walking around, which is unusual because they are all quite quiet during story-telling. Then Andrew, the youngest, he always gets overshadowed by the older and louder ones, he just gave up and laid on the mat fully outstretched and I was like “what are you doing LOL”. Esther is quite sticky, I had to carry her a few times today because she wasn’t crying but she just doesn’t like to be with the other kids on her own. And Ethan and Calvin, they fight for the same things whenever they are together- will remember to separate them in the future. It’s like it doesn’t matter what toy Calvin has, Ethan wants it. Until Calvin gives up and walks away. Then depending on his mood, Ethan might follow Calvin.
Sermon was by Pastor C. Which reminded me of how I have to be careful to not make stupid choices. It’s really easy to go from friends to friends with benefits. Or maybe I am just really open to experiences, I really like to try new things. And cute guys are exciting, it can be quite fun. Like a spark of light during the rather boring day where work is impactful but not exciting all the time. Pastor C. reminded us that if we don’t call on Christ (not his surname, it means the ‘Messiah’) when we are facing temptation or while sinning, we are likely to be ‘finished’- did not clarify what finished meant, because our sins were taken away by Christ when he died for us, and also when we continually repent. I was seriously considering sinning in a rather obvious way and then repenting, and be like a life-stage Christian where I am sometimes a Christian and sometimes not, and continually tick-tocking between the two. The response is that, if that is so, salvation isn’t ensured because your repentance at the end of your life might not be genuine. And what kind of heart are you carrying to church on Sundays then. But I’m also really tired and I would like constant company.
Bible study was back to basics, we are covering Mark for the next 13 weeks. Likely to miss a few because of overseas trips but we learned basic tenets of faith today. Who is Christ, why did he come, and what are we supposed to do in response to him. It is not just to turn away from sin, but also to do good works, and learn the experience of faith- how to trust God and let God lead.
Please, that at least let one of the problems in my life become less burdensome- health, work, finances (due to health) or relationships (or the lack of feelings). I don’t think I can last the whole month if my issues don’t pick themselves up.
That people in the world will not be so lonely or troubled. That even if they don’t find meaning or God, at least let their troubles be alleviated temporarily. Suffering is useful for long-term growth, but too much of it over the years can force a person to do odd things that a rational person wouldn’t normally do.
And pray that I will learn to pray more, and worry less. Be less anxious about work, about how people see me at work, about whether or not I am liked, be less anxious about the impact I’m creating and trust that a combination of prayer and sufficient sleep will work. Prayer is not just about communicating with God, for me it is trusting God.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
-Hebrews 6, ESV