As a child, one of the punishments my mother doled out was a ban on reading. Didn’t do chores as required? No reading for three days. Forgot to do homework for class? No pleasure reading for one week.
Here’s how my mother taught me how to read. Even at the level where Peter and Jane books had only one word per page, she would only teach one page.
First day, Peter.
And then she would tell me stories based on the picture in the facing page. When the story was done, the book would be closed and no more would be allowed until the next day.
My mother kept me in suspense. And I was always craving more, more, more stories. My brain was forever going, “And then what happened?”
In my family, reading has always been positioned as a pleasure, a privilege. Something I get to do, not something I have to.
And since being able to read on my own, I have never been able to stop.
In primary school, I used to play truant… to go to the library. In high school, one of the things I was disciplined most for was reading storybooks under my desk during class.
They say that forbidden things are the most attractive. My love for books has only grown.
A story can be a lifesaver.
In Life of Pi, the protagonist creates an astounding story that helps him overcome trauma. In Heartburn by Nora Ephron, the main character — a food writer — uses anecdotes from her life to process her husband’s affair.
Some stories are cautionary tales, like The Handmaid’s Tale that shows how life could be like if religious concepts are misinterpreted and implemented as rules.
And then there are superhero tales that take you away from the drudge of daily life and for a moment, you’re living in someone else’s story.
But the stories that can have the most impact on our respective individual lives, I think, are the ones we tell ourselves. Even those on a subconscious level.
I did this because someone else did that. I’m doing this because I have no choice. I set out to destroy her life because she did something to upset me.
In all of these cases, the person telling the story is not in control, reactive, not proactive.
And if you’re the hero in your own story, what does that make you? If you were reading your own story, what sort of character would you look like? Who do you want to be?
Expressive writing can be therapeutic, especially if you practice self-distancing.
I’ve found that changing the way I tell my stories changes the way I look at the world. Like Pi, like Rachel in Heartburn, writing is how I process my life.
Public policy is starting to catch up with the digital world.
According to Bloomberg, under new EU copyright rules, “online platforms will be required to compensate publishers and creators for the content that appears on their websites”.
These online platforms include Facebook and Google. I’m assuming this will also include their related platforms like Instagram and Google News.
More and more these days, I’m beginning to see more digital ecosystem-related regulations popping up and I wonder if that’s a sign that the Wild West era of the Internet is really coming to an end.
I’m curious to see how this will play out.
I’ve been fascinated by public policy lately and am coming across a lot of references about how regulations can affect whole industries. It doesn’t just affect the economy, it affects you and me.
In the world of drinks, the popularity of certain spirits rise and fall because of regulations. Even certain ingredients used in food can be altered because of regulations and restrictions.
Policies made at a high level of government affects the everyday life of the common man. This is why we should care. And if we live in a democracy, this is why we should say something.
“How are you able to create and consume so much at the same time?” A friend asked the other day.
The secret is to not do it at the same time. Or even in the same period of time.
Besides time-blocking, I’ve begun to work-batch as well. This means that I focus on certain things on specific days.
Correspondence, which includes sending recap emails, update messages and further suggestions, are done on the same day. Along with meetings and calls.
Learning, working on my own projects, reading the heavy books are done on Sundays and in the wee hours of the night. (Heavy reading means books like Don Quixote or The Art of Fermentation.)
The rest of the work day is client work, which means executing on ideas.
We take our brains for granted. We load it with so much information and/or entertainment 24/7. How does it know what to focus on? How does it know what to efficiently process?
By time-blocking and work-batching, I give my brain freedom to ignore everything else that isn’t vital to the current task at hand.
This also means that it has the freedom to truly relax when the time calls for it. I can do things like binge watch RuPaul’s Drag Race without nagging back-of-the-mind anxiety.
There is a kind of freedom in constraints.
There are days when I think about this: if I were working a full-time job, should I be paid 80% less than a man?
I’m not saying that would make me happy. But it’s something I consider once a month during my period, when everything feels like too much.
Although I am still productive at work, there’s definitely a dip compared to my usual level of productivity. I’m more tired, and occasionally, in more pain. That dip is inevitable.
As an independent writer, I factor this into my calendar. But what if I was working for someone, had less control over my work and took a monthly salary?
Consider that this state lasts about five days every month. Why should I be paid the same amount as a man who was my equal?
Do I deserve to be paid the same amount as a man who has the same level of intelligence and competence, but doesn’t experience that five days of lowered capacity?
On the other hand, say I had more control over my work in a full-time job, and was able to complete the month’s worth of work, with less days than my male counterpart. Would I then deserve to be paid more?
I don’t have answers to these questions.
Sometimes the Universe gives you exactly what you want, even if you never explicitly asked for it. And for some reason, in my current life, the Universe has been looking out for me.
A year ago, I was in a bad place. My business was doing well and after two years of profitable bootstrapping, was providing me with a steady personal income.
But I wasn’t happy. There was no personal satisfaction and no indication that I would ever be free of that business, which at that point, I found restrictive and antagonistic to my personal goals.
There were days when I wondered if running a business was just an excuse for not pursuing my creative writing life.
Then things happened. And I found myself having to start over from scratch.
I didn’t see it as freedom in the beginning. All I knew was that the world that I was familiar with had disappeared.
In The Hero with A Thousand Faces, the hero is often forced into his journey. He is forced to cross the threshold between the ordinary world and the unknown world. That’s where he discovers his magic.
Likewise, I found myself having to cross the threshold and it turned out to be a good thing.
The real adventure begins when you cross the border between familiarity and the wild outside.
Last year, I was persuaded into writing a conference report. At the time, all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and let the world move on without me.
It was initially presented as a choice. Just come for the conference. If you want, write some articles about it.
I said, okay because even though it felt like my life was falling apart, I was still curious.
And then a day later, just send me a quotation for a report. I sent over a quotation.
I ended up covering the conference. And it opened so many doors for me.
“Friends give you what you need, not what you want,” said the person who nudged me into this. He’d known the state I was in and yet, had expected more from me.
I’ve realised that this is what true friends do. They don’t just cushion your falls. They make sure you have your chute on, then push you to the doorway of the airplane and ask you to jump.
They listen to you sobbing over the phone then tell you that yes, you’re not in a great place right now but get up and move forward.
They tell you that you will survive. They say you must succeed. They ask you to tell your story.
True friends challenge you to be better than you are.