majulah

(Mentos being very silly and funny)

Hey folks. I was going to write you a totally navel-gazing, soul-searchingly deep post about what it means to be Singaporean and all, but on this my country’s 48th birthday, I’m just going to relax. Submitted the third of my four fundraising course assignments yesterday, and I still feel a little like a new mum who’s given birth but her body hasn’t quite realised it yet. My brain is still all jumpy and thinking about word counts and ROI and LTV. I even woke up with the hiccups that I had while doing final essay edits last night! What.

So it’s time to properly wind down for the summer. The last of my stressful deadlines is over. You know, I used to never wind down; up until four years ago I’d never intentionally had a day off in my life. (Going on holidays doesn’t count – that’s like binge-resting.) And in some ways, that was easier, because boy, working is what I do best. When I’m achieving and producing, I’m worth something. It took so much more character and discipline to just start cherishing myself and my relationships, than it did to carry on staying late at the office.

But I’ve found that there’s a real wisdom in that, because that’s how the upside-down secret way works in life. Want to live? Die to yourself. Want to be rich and successful? Learn to be poor and childlike. Want to find freedom? Train to surrender and submit. Want to produce and contribute the most? Take a break.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – Jesus, John 15.5

So as we celebrate Singapore’s great successes today, I’d like to invite you to remember that progress isn’t linear, but seasonal, and that most of what causes success to apparently just pop up all of a sudden is long, slow spiritual and character formation in secret. Perhaps you can use some of your long weekend to find that secret, still space.

I, for one, am going to find some bubble tea in Coventry city centre and harvest my friends’ garden (hello, courgettes and rhubarb! Nice to eat choo).

Have a secret, still weekend, everyone.

*

Also, I give you some more National Day-themed links:

Singaporean 90s-kid nostalgia.

Google loves us.

And ok not really National Day-themed, but Singaporean and close to my heart – include an ‘outsider’ in some way this weekend, won’t you.

Excerpts from my favourite Singapore film ever, here and here.

And, wah! Mr Brown got music video.

dear Warwick graduand

warwick graduation

Dear Warwick graduand,

I’m glad that the sun has been shining for your graduation this week. That’ll sure look nice in those photos. I hope you’ve had a good time and not too much trouble keeping your family happy.

Just as an ‘oldy mouldy’ who’s seen a few Warwick graduations – fourteen, to be precise – come and go, I wonder if you might allow me, for an instant, to burst into all this Bubble hubbub, to burst your bubble.

I would like to invite you to identify who, or what, receives the honour from your graduation ceremony. There are two time-honoured ways of recognising what humanity values – the diary (time) and the wallet (money).

Let us think – you have spent the last three, maybe four, years of your life learning the ways of the world on this campus, examining some of the foundational theories of your academic discipline, and hopefully making some lifelong friends and not getting too drunk or high along the way. This has been, without a doubt, a formative period in your life. And you are emerging from it – you, with all your gifts and genius and weirdness and just distinctive individual interesting humanness – to a ceremony that allows you to walk across a stage for 30 seconds. Wearing basically the same outer costume as everyone else in your department (compulsory or else you cannot walk across the stage), identified only as ‘a degree holder in your subject’, and distinguished only from the other people walking on before and after you by the hierarchy of your degree classifications on your certificates. Hmm.

Let us think – someone has paid tens of thousands of pounds for your university education. Someone, somewhere, has worked really hard to generate enough of a surplus over and above the costs of survival, that you could be here. You yourself maybe, like many of my friends, have had to work part-time to keep yourself here. It has also cost your parents quite a bit to be present today (and astronomically more, if they’ve travelled from abroad) – look at that nice frock mum is wearing. And now that they are here, guess what? It costs yet more for you to be part of the 30-second walk across the stage in the right costume. Those flowers and balloons are not free. If your department is having a celebratory event, it also comes with a price tag. Hmm.

I am not saying that you should not have fun. I am not saying that you should not smile in those sun-drenched photos and be happy and have a great day. What I am saying is, understand that the flows of time and money on your graduation day are not really being directed by the University towards your honour – not very much, anyway.

What I am saying is, the universities across this country, indeed the world, convert the natural curiosity of young adults and the love that their parents have for them into large flows of time and money that shore up the university system. I am not saying that it is the universities’ fault either; that just seems to be the system, and indeed as far as Warwick goes, it’s a brilliant university to have spent three years at. Also, I know, I know, you have the day to get on with, and you’re not going to change the system today. But perhaps we should ask – as we pause to take off those high heels and apply plasters in between camera flashes – what exactly is it that we are shoring up? What are we celebrating and honouring? And perhaps more importantly, what should we really be celebrating and honouring instead?

Here are some suggestions.

1. You made it – many people don’t. Celebrate that somehow, partly through your own effort but very largely not, today the sun is shining and you are on a campus savouring this particular moment in your life. What a gift. Why should you be so lucky?

Please do NOT celebrate the fact that you, by your supreme human effort, have successfully climbed to the top of a very slippery pile, which usually involves desensitisation to your own values, and are looking smugly downward at all the other bodies that you have stepped on. Gross.

2. Your ‘framily’ – these are your friends and family who really, really do care about you. That flatmate who held your hair back when you were throwing up over the toilet. Your long-suffering parents who kept phoning you even when you weren’t really interested. Please, celebrate that you have them. Celebrate them.

If you are hoping that your 30-second moment of glory on the stage will produce this magic rush of approval and affirmation, and wishing that your awkward teenage brother and decrepit grandmother weren’t here, then have I got news for you. You are probably not going to finish your life rich and famous, but you can finish your life with lorryloads of framily. Public approval and affirmation will not make you feel deeply loved. Framily, although it is slow-burn and sometimes induces feelings of going crazy, will.

3. Uni Veritas – universities were originally started as a place for scholars to find the ‘one Truth’, the ‘Uni Veritas’, and to learn to live by it. Now, I happen to think that the original ‘one Truth’ that these places were set up for people to find is completely valid, because Jesus is the only thing (Person) that has ever made my world cohere. But this is not really about that, not directly anyway. The point is, celebrate the discoveries that you have made over the last three or four years as to how you want to live your life. Celebrate that you have certain values, which move you to live for things that are bigger than yourself. Celebrate your choices made consistent with those values, especially when you were tempted to sell out. Celebrate those times when you chose courage and fought fear. Celebrate your in this manner becoming more fully alive and human.

In other words, today, please don’t celebrate the university system, and please don’t celebrate yourself instead of that system. Celebrate your good fortune (‘God’, if you like), your community, and your ability to sell out your life for something much bigger than yourself.

Grace and peace, and sunshiney photos xx

before midnight

Not much to say today, except that I’m going to watch this film sometime soon. Sorta grew up with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke through my secondary school years — their characters always a few lifestages ahead of me, in some ways marking out a path forward that would involve lots of similar strolling through cities, plenty of wine and randomness, and everyday dramatic conversation with a really good but sometimes also really annoying friend.

I love the vulnerability of Delpy and Hawke, in choosing to keep acting in this film series as they themselves age. So excited.

Handmade

 

I spent the weekend travelling to old places and new. I didn’t tell many people I was going, and as a result spent three days not speaking to anyone other than shop assistants. I went to this which was amazing. The picture above is from here, I bought postcards by the artist from the ARTs*LABO stall at the market.

It was good. I spent a lot of time by Tokyo Bay, watching ships depart and wondering why most of them are named something- Maru. I went to Meiji Shrine, where I was too early for the irises, then went back to the humid embrace of the rainy season, which is 9 days too early.

I am trying to forgive. I hold on to grudges unremembered by anyone else, and honestly, I think if I told someone what exactly I remember, they probably would find it quite horrifying. I find it quite horrifying. So I’m trying to forgive these little things I remember, to make space for new things. Memory is difficult, and talking about it is hard, because you don’t know how much people remember, and how much of yourself you will lay bare. I do genuinely wonder if my memories are my own, and how many of my stories in my head are just stories, half remembered conversations I’ve stiched together from different people, places I’ve imagined that I may not have been. It’s terrifying, this doubt. I envy those people who’ve had friends who’ve been with them ever since they can remember. I suppose that’s pretty much like a communal memory, for some things.

So I am trying to forgive, everyone, really, that I can, and slowly dissolve these unyielding pinpricks of time. For my own sake, and no one else’s. Since no one remembers, it is mine to let go.

makkurokurosuke

I am travelling this weekend, in part to clear my head. It is, probably, very privileged of me.

I dislike those recent memes “Why you should date a girl/boy who…” It sounds, really, like a hard-sell by girls of themselves. Don’t sell yourselves, ladies. Seriously, if you have to tell people why they should date you, I don’t think you should be dating them. And, also, if you are defined by your love of travel, of books, of all these pretty things, then clearly you have the time and money to actually do these things. What about the girls who don’t? Are you saying don’t date them? Because they are not you? What is this stupidity? Date whoever you want! Let boys date whoever they want!

I am also rewatching Totoro. I didn’t realise this, but makkurokurosuke aren’t actual youkai. They were made up by Studio Ghibli.

This is a brilliant documentary. In part this fascinates me because these are really kids who grew up in bad circumstances, in the poor banlieues of Paris who decided/ created a movement based around beauty and strength. I realise, now, that many of the people I’ve grown up with actually, deeply believe that poor people are somehow lesser than they are. They believe that education, wealth and intelligence is the right of those who can, and those who cannot, didn’t gain enough merit in order to deserve it. This bothers me. This is perhaps why I’ve stopped talking, really, about things that matter to me to a lot of people who used to matter to me, and often still do. It’s hard enough for me to talk about this to myself, but to talk about this to people who won’t see it the same way terrifies me beyond words.

Anyway, I do, really, recommend this: