Complaining

There are days when everything feels like too much, and I am tempted to complain or rant. But what purpose does this serve?

What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.

― Maya Angelou

Daily Stoic often talks about how much control we have over our own lives. More than we think. We have control over our thoughts, our perception, and how we handle our emotions. 

In one of the articles titled Don’t Complain or Blame, Stephen Hanselman writes, “Complaining is so comforting precisely because it excuses us from taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions”. 

I realise that my desire to complain stems from a feeling of lack of control. When I don’t know how to handle a situation, when I am tired of handling things, the urge to complain becomes stronger. 

But if I pause, step back and really analyse the situation, it becomes clear that there’s something that I can do about it. And if there truly is nothing that I can do about externalities, there’s always something that I can do internally. 

I can change my behaviour towards a situation that seems unpleasant. I can remove myself from the surroundings I perceive as negative. I can find a way to navigate through an undesirable setting. 

There are always choices and the choice I make is within my control. 

Habit

I started blogging every day because I was inspired by Seth Godin, who says that the first 1000 days are usually the most difficult. That’s almost three years.

After three months of doing this, I have come to appreciate the habit. It improves mental clarity. It forces me to think about things, rather than just mindlessly consume. It helps me remember the things that I hold important.

I fear the blank page less these days. And this practice of writing daily has made other creative processes seem less daunting.

Write a book in a month? Okay! One day to finish a conference booklet? No problem! Write 12 short video scripts in an hour? Sure thing!

There are days when it’s harder, of course. Perhaps because of a lack of time or because I’ve been pushing out other work all day. It takes more brain juice than you think it would.

(This is probably why I’m losing weight. The brain is a calorie guzzler.)

But being able to keep doing it is proof to myself that I can push harder. That I am more able than I think I am.

Godin says that “even if no one reads your blog, the act of writing it is clarifying, motivating and (eventually) fun”.

He’s right.

Vein

“Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”

–Red Smith

Some people read this quote and think that what it means is that writing is easy.

What I always took it to mean was that writing is easy, yes. But it’s also really, really hard. Potentially draining, possibly life-threatening, definitely painful.

You give something of yourself up as you write. You expose yourself, in a way.

You open yourself up to the world, and hope that after putting yourself through the pain of bleeding onto paper or screen, nobody will say your blood stinks.

Writing requires courage, even if you don’t share your work with anyone else. Because who knows what you might discover about yourself? Who knows what buried pain you’ll dig up?

Writing takes practice. Everyone can cut themselves and get blood everywhere. But it takes practice to open a vein effectively.

Maybe you start with clumsy stabs, you botch things, you keep trying again. And after doing it again and again, it gets easier to get that vein on the first nick. It gets easier to start bleeding.

And then you reach a point where yes, writing is easy. But it’s also really, really hard.

Easter

In the first season of American Gods, Wednesday brings Shadow to a mansion where Easter is being celebrated. There’s the goddess Ēostre and of course, Jesus. Except there’s more than one Jesus.

One of the reasons I love fantasy fiction is because although it’s fiction, they have a certain level of universal truth.

And it’s true that while there are so many Christians in the world (around 2.3 billion in 2015), and on the surface it may seem like they all have the same religion, the Jesus in each person’s mind may actually take a different form. Some people even imagine him as white (lol).

I struggle with accepting the concept of Jesus as “God”. But when I think of him as a man, who lived and died, he becomes fascinating.

How is it that this man became so deified that till today, he still has believers from all over the world? Believers who live their lives as an answer to the question “what would Jesus do”.

Was it because, in an age when “branding” meant marking livestock and the word “marketing” didn’t exist, someone developed a story?

A story that could be passed on. A story that would attract whole communities. A story to make it easy to keep people under control.

Home

Earlier this week, someone asked me this question: If you were going to die in a week and could travel anywhere in the world (all expenses paid), where would you go?

“I would stay at home,” I said. Having to spend a quarter of the last week of my life on a plane makes me feel nauseous.

“What if you had a month instead?” she asked.

I thought about it and about all the places in the world I want to visit before I die. And then I said, “I would stay at home.”

As I get older, I’ve been starting to think that at the end of the day, whatever adventures we have are made more valuable if they are shared with the people we love.

And as flawed as this country is, it has its own quirks, its own delightfulness as well. Which country doesn’t?

I’m always surprised when Malaysians who have moved abroad start extolling all the goodness of the new country that they’re living in, while demeaning their own country.

It makes me wonder about what sort of experiences they must have had. Was life in this country so difficult? So horrible?

Perhaps I’ve been fortunate. And it’s not that I’m just accepting the status quo. But whatever flaws there are, I believe that we have the power to fix them.

Ocean

“So this is the year you get your life on track,” a friend said.

“I suppose you could put it that way,” I said.

We were talking about our respective plans for 2019, things we wanted to achieve. This was not something I usually did.

For years I lived with the idea that I wouldn’t be long on this earth. And with that in mind, I’ve lived a life that has gone from moment to moment without intention.

Everything I’ve done has been happenstance. From learning to code to starting a business. I’ve followed my curiosity and my impulses.

But it’s becoming clearer to me that I owe it to myself to live deliberately. I owe it to myself to create the life I want.

In Choose Yourself by James Altucher, he writes about “becoming the ocean”.

“No matter how hard it tries, a ripple that laps onto the shore will never be as powerful as the ocean that created it. The goal is to be the ocean—the central force in our existence that moves mountains, creates all life, shakes continents, and is respected by everyone,” he writes.

He goes on to write that we have to choose ourselves to be the ocean.

“So everything that you do emanates out like ripples, everything you do moves the earth, and enhances your life and the lives of all the people around you.”

What I’ve done so far has been ripples. Now I’m ready to be the ocean.

Doghair

If you’ve been out for a long night of drinking, you may know what it’s like to wake up hungover the next day. Some people say that hair of the dog cocktails work to cure a nasty hangover.

(It doesn’t. Perhaps it works in the moment, but it’s just delaying the inevitable.)

What I’ve always been more curious about though, is why it’s called “hair of the dog”.

A phrase that’s shortened from the longer phrase “hair of the dog that bit you”, it apparently originates from a supposed cure for rabid dog bites. To treat the bite, a person had to place hair from the dog onto the bite wound.

Apparently at some point, dog hairs were used in a salve to treat hangovers. The recipe for the salve called for dog hairs, some plant and olive oil! This salve was then supposed to be applied on one’s forehead.

It’s fascinating how these phrases are added into our shared language database and come to mean the same thing to a large enough set of people.

I am reminded of the phrase “top of the morning”, which I read about recently in Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrov.

The top part of the churned milk was apparently the best part. So when someone said “top of the morning” to you, what he meant to do was wish you the best of the morning.

The way food and how its processes change our language is a long story for another day. If you’re a food nerd, I write sporadically about things like that on Curious Eaterish.