Notes from Being Adrift
April 9, 2018
I have been tired.
I didn't know how tired until recently.
Last December I flew out of Toronto back to Hong Kong, and after spending the winter holidays with my family, flew to Singapore for a self-imposed three month working holiday.
I spent much of the last three months alone (when not working), wandering the city of my birth, having all kinds of new and familiar experiences, in conversation with myself. Solitude was a gift I offered myself, and the freedom I carry on with me from that space is life-giving.
I have always been a person who cares a lot, and wants to be free from those cares in equal portion. This makes it difficult to fully care or to fully detach. Because of this, I find myself in limbo a lot, voicing one sentiment while feeling the tug of the exact opposite. On my best days, I am able to care with abandon; on my worst days, I feel angry that I have to care. I have struggled to reconcile this with myself as long as I can remember.
Solitude has allowed me to be completely present in my landscapes of care, and my thirst for freedom. In my aloneness I hear myself better.
I am not someone afraid to look back and say I was wrong or misguided. I think we grow into ourselves season after season in wonderful ways, and shed skin will always look inadequate in the light of our current vibrance. As I shed the last four years of burden intentionally, I find more strength in me to hold my cares and need for freedom in balance.
I am holding peace in the wonderful posture of solitude. In this peace the paradox is true, and what is true will guide me on my way.
Looking back at the speed I've been moving at over the last four years, I wonder why I felt the need to work so hard.
For many of us in the arts, grassroots, or who are self-employed, there is an omnipresent pressure to work more and work harder. It is almost as if, by sheer quantity, we can make up for the sentiment of devaluation directed at our work. As an Asian artist whose friends and peers are largely from STEM and business careers, I am relentlessly pursued by this anxiety, blindsided by uninformed assumptions, and discouraged by unintentionally harmful comments. Working alleviates this pressure, so I work from the moment I wake up till 2 AM in the morning, 7 days a week, throughout the year.
I guess if I mapped out the steps that took me here, it started with the need to make enough money so I could work other jobs that didn't pay, but would help me along in my career. Fuelled by the need to be earning a certain amount, that amount increases with age, with normalized expectations of career climbing, with increased financial responsibilities. At my worst, I was working four jobs simultaneously, Monday through Sunday. That mindset has never left, even after I gained enough working credibility to be able to land paying jobs. It never feels like it's enough.
My sleeping hours have, since early undergrad nine years ago, been highly irregular and few. My eating habits have fluctuated greatly and although I can be a great cook, I rarely indulge in that activity. Hours that were committed to purely social events were succeeded by an equivalent amount of makeup work hours. To be clear, it wasn't about not knowing how to relax. It was about feeling the need to earn a certain type of respect.
I am not certain of the exact moment I decided enough was enough. All I know is that when my body began to feel actual rest, I began to recognize just how little of it I had given to myself. I have begun the process of learning from my 12-year-old self, who rose with the sunrise to have breakfast and take walks by the pond with her friends before school. Here are the things of consequence, Jasmine, you already know them. Hold them tightly.
I love my work, and will continue to work hard. But I am nurturing the contentment of a well-rested self. I am still practicing letting go of the anxiety of comparison, but as I practice, I succeed more often.
Since beginning Project 40 in 2015, I've changed in drastic ways. Instead of a defensive and guarded posture that protects an innate shy insecurity I've had since I was young, I have experienced the joy of connection and growth that comes with an attitude of openness and vulnerability. The past three years have been rich in conversation, relationship, and learning, but also, rich in inconsiderate demands and unrealistic expectations. Mediating different kinds of expectations and perspectives is just a regular part of running a collective, and remaining open to correction and direction is a responsibility built into the role. But it is easy for us, who believe in and yearn so deeply for a more just future, to demand the ideal in perfect wholeness and forget about the strenuous effort that goes into incremental change. I find myself harbouring that same impatience too.
Managing those conversations with grace and conviction means learning gentle firmness. That balance is something that is acquired through multiple failures, spectacular battles with the unknown, and many heart-to-hearts with the self.
More recently, I have also begun the practice of voicing my limits with other people. This is how far I can reach with what I have, please accept this. I too am dissatisfied and will continue to grow, but please understand.
I am cultivating another iteration of boldness — of soft heart and tough skin / yet / soft but resolute, tough but porous.
Dear me, be well and wonderful. Dear me, be loving and free.