Sometimes all your body wants is enough sleep.
For the last three months, I’ve been battling major skin issues. I wasn’t sure if it was eczema or bug bites. At one point, I even suspected scabies.
I boiled my sheets (and some of my clothes), cleaned my surroundings, slathered on creams. And yet the ugly red marks remained.
Then on Wednesday when my alarm rang at 7am, I said fuck it, turned it off (instead of snoozing) and went back to sleep. At night, I didn’t set an alarm for the next day.
Three days in a row, I got my eight hours of sleep and I began to notice that the red marks looked less angry, slowly blending back into the background of my skin.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been sleeping at between 3-6am. This is normal, for me. The only difference was that I’d been forcing myself to get out of bed between 7-9am.
There are so many things I want to do and I’ve always seen my body as a vehicle. It’s always been a tool to propel me through the day, a shell my mind lives in.
But that mindset doesn’t work.
When the body has had enough, it finds a way to speak. And eventually, bodily harm hurts the mind as well.
Living in grayscale. It feels like that’s what I’ve been doing since I turned off colour on my phone.
Although some people do it to reduce phone usage, I find that it hasn’t brought on that effect for me.
But while my time spent on the phone hasn’t reduced, it’s changed my phone use behaviour.
Although I’ve turned off notifications for most social media, I still found myself opening these apps at random times of the day. I still found myself scrolling through aimlessly.
That is, until I switched to greyscale.
The first thing that greyscale does is make those apps less noticeable from my home screen.
When I do click into them, greyscale makes them less engaging.
What I end up doing is switching to one of my reading apps instead — iBooks, Kindle, Medium. Or even to my Notes app to write.
Having on greyscale doesn’t make the real world more colourful. It hasn’t made me more focused on the now. It hasn’t made me more mindful.
It’s just made certain phone activities less interesting, and has created a change in my default behaviour when it comes to phone usage.
There are days when I think the human brain is much like a computer. There are complex algorithms at play within our grey matter that handle more variables than we are aware of.
Like AI, our brains need to be trained. So that our bodies do what they should, not what they want.
Today I finally sat down to work on a couple of my own projects. The aim was to build a bit of a directory of the cocktail bars in Malaysia (that I like or would like to visit).
This serves a dual purpose — to document, as well as to pick up Vue.js where I left off. The goal was to build an app with Airtable as the database and Vue.js to handle the frontend.
However, like the trumpet, coding is something that’s rather unforgiving. Stop practising for a while and you get rusty.
I gave myself a deadline — get the website up by today. But after reading, learning how to use Airtable and trying to set up my local environment for two hours, I was getting nowhere. I ended up with a plain HTML page (without CSS even!) and an embedded iframe.
It’s a start, I suppose. The website is up, and it’s a skeleton of what I imagine it to look like in the future.
The reason I gave myself a deadline was so that I would focus on what was necessary in the present. Right now.
And also because the other part of my day was meant to be spent on my documentary pitch, for which I had blocked out time for as well.
One of the best things about time-blocking is that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s just unacceptable when you’ve got a task to complete within a specific timeframe.
In the midst of all the chaos, I’ve discovered order.
It’s crazy how much one can do, with focus. This morning, I found myself awake at half-past five. (My stomach was acting up last night.)
After reading for a bit, I decided to get an early start on work.
(I do this intermittent sleep thing, not on purpose, but because I have irregular sleep habits. I sleep as much as I can at anytime during the day.)
I completed one assignment, submitted it. Did some agenda planning and research, to make a list of recommendations and next steps for a meeting I have today. I looked at the clock, hoping that I’d have time to go back to sleep. And I did! Heaps!
It turns out, I had done that in less than 20 minutes. There are days when I love the duality of time. Even though the 24 hours in a day seem to go by in a snap, a third of an hour can seem to stretch for an eternity.
If you’re focused, a lot can be done in an hour.
Time blocking has proved to be rather effective for me. Besides helping to control my anxiety and that feeling of being overwhelmed, it also helps me to focus.
One task at a time, don’t even think about anything else. 2000 words in an hour? No problem!
The thing about writing is this, especially if you do it without holding back, the more you do it, the more there is.
Since I started this practice of writing 200 words for myself daily, the thoughts and ideas have been pouring in.
It’s not a matter of whether I’ll be able to fill the blank page anymore. It’s about whether I can get everything down in time before it’s all lost.
Words are slippery things. Ideas are even more so.
I initially thought that allocating time and headspace out of my day to write something that’s just for me would take away from the work that I do for clients, for business.
On the contrary, it’s made my brain feel more elastic, stretching itself out to fill the demands of what the workday requires.
I suppose that’s why they tell you on planes to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then only on those in your care.
In the short term, it might seem selfish. But there’s a long term rationale to it.
How can you take care of someone if you’re not around to do it? That’s why you need to survive.
That’s why self-care is vital.
It’s been almost five years now and yet, I still find myself keeping tabs on journalist jobs.
“Want to move to Phuket?” I said to Ming the other day. Yesterday I asked him if he’d like to spend summer in Italy.
The truth is, I miss it. And yes, I’m finally, slowly finding my way back to it. Perhaps not journalism, but some form of storytelling.
Back then, and even now, people say you can’t make money as a writer, you can’t make money as an artist.
Why do we listen to these voices? I’m slowly learning to take what they’re saying into consideration, and disagree politely.
What I think they mean is this: if you’re just a writer, there’s a low probability of you being discovered and making money.
If you wait around to “be discovered”, for your writing to gain some kind of traditional form of “approval”, you might end up waiting forever.
In Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday writes that making the art is only one part of the process. After you’re done in your role as artist, you need to take on the mantle of marketer.
You have to share your work.
After creating a product that sells, you have to sell that product.
Last year I did a CliftonStrengths test on Gallup and it’s shed some light on why I am often distracted by “shiny things”. I love novelty and occasionally, feel myself watching myself experience something new.
However, in a development blog that I’ve been following lately, developer Flavio Copes writes that choosing the “boring stack” is important. It helps you stay focused on the thing you actually want to deliver.
What’s ironic, is that since I properly learned to code in 2015, I’ve spent less time writing code than I did before. Not because I’m better at syntax, no.
(I mean, even my English vocabulary is lousy, why would I remember syntax.)
But because these days, I think about why I’m trying to build something. And before I even write a line of code, I look to see if there’s a tool — that’s cheap and easy — that I can use instead.
And now that I’m jumping back into coding, I’m choosing languages and frameworks that I believe will support my goals better — Python, Vue.js, perhaps SQL.
For solving problems on Project Euler — I do it for fun sometimes — my go-to language is Ruby.
I’m learning that I have to control that impulse to keep crossing over to greener grass.
“The grass is green where you water it,” I remind myself.