We received a recommendation from a friend that if you are looking for excellent roast duck, then don’t miss out on the famed cherry valley duck (櫻桃霸王鴨) in Taiwan’s Yilan county. Specifically, the place to try is the Red Lantern (紅樓) at Silks Place (蘭城晶英酒店), one of the region’s top hotels. And so when we knew we would be read more
I love Ben Stiller’s best work, but his resume has been a little mixed in recent years. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a loose modern adaptation of the 1939 short story by James Thurber, is very much a Ben Stiller project (he directs, produces and stars), and it’s definitely some of his best work. Stiller read more
I’ll get this out of the way from the outset: The White Tiger is the best novel I have read in years. Not one of the best. The best. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a piece of fiction so addictive that I tried to read it every chance I had, to the point read more
It’s a Christmas Day miracle! Yeah, you better believe it. I have finally finished watching and reviewing all the 2011 movies (ie, movies with a 2011 release date according to IMDB) on my list and I’m ready to deliver my worst and best lists of the (last) year. Sure it’s a little late, but better read more
About 10 days ago, I posted about taking a new approach to my writing, and that’s to treat every single day as a challenge. So far, it has worked out OK. I’ve been more efficient, but still nowhere near as effective as I want to be.
Part of the problem is that the extent to which I challenge myself can vary greatly on a day-to-day basis. Some days I feel pumped and challenge myself to do a lot. Other days I’m not in the mood and I challenge myself to do very little.
And so I’ve come up with a second prong to my strategy, and that’s to set (realistic) goals every day. Back in the day when I was busy working at The Place That Shall Not Be Named, writing daily task lists was my favourite thing to do. I loved writing down everything that needed to be accomplished and then enjoying the sense of accomplishment as I ticked them off one by one. To some extent it did help me become more organized because there was often so much to do that I felt completely swamped, but usually it was so I could tick things off a list and feel good about myself.
I need to bring that back. From now, I will write up a list every morning of the things I should complete for the day. I usually set extremely unrealistic goals for myself, so I’m going to try and slowly build it up, like a workout (you can’t start off with the heavy weights, you know).
Is it August already? Hory shet. Time has flown, again. And so I go back to feeling ashamed about how few steps I have taken towards achieving my writing goals.
But I think I have figured it out
My problem has always been — apart from laziness, procrastination and too many distractions — has been the steadfast belief that I have the power to just put my foot down and say, “That’s it, from now on I am going to be a writing machine, every day until I accomplish my goal.” I would plan ahead and tell myself that I would start powering through at X date, or as soon as I finish X.
Of course, nothing ever goes according to plan. There’s always something else. And so I keep postponing, and postponing. On paper, some of the reasons are legitimate. I might get sick, slashing my productivity at work in half and squeezing dry any free time I otherwise would have had. A child might get sick, in which case my energy levels drop to near-empty and I can barely even think. I might get a new freelance case that gobbles up both time and energy. Paul George might break his leg and plunge me into a mini-depression for a few days.
The line between reason and excuse, however, is perilously thin and often blurry. I’ve postponed writing because I needed to watch a movie or listen to a Grantland podcast. Because there were new levels available in Candy Crush or Plants vs Zombies 2 that had to be conquered ASAP. Because someone recommended me a new game on the iOS. And my fall-back excuse: I still have blog posts I need to catch up on.
I compare this to my constant thirst to begin a healthier diet, which may prove even more difficult. Last week, the excuse was because my parents bought us a few tubs of gelato. This week it’s the honey mustard pretzel pieces. And yesterday I bought some addictive Japanese sour grape gummies. OK, so that last one’s legit, because it’s impossible to stop once you start eating them.
Anyway, what I should have realized long ago is that when you have something you want to do, you just need to do it. This “start when I’m fully ready” thing never works because I’ll never be fully ready. I don’t think anyone is ever fully ready for anything. From now on, I’m going to treat every day as a challenge. A challenge to get as much writing done as I can. It could be work-related, blog-related or one of my writing projects. Doesn’t matter, as long as I challenge myself to get the most out of the day. Sometimes I’ll have off days and struggle, but the goal will always be the same. No more looking into the future and no more pointless planning.
I don’t need you to tell me that I suck. That’s why, starting from today, I’m going to be a new me. I had actually intended to write this post about a week ago, but instead I continued on my lazy, uninspired ways, yet another reason why I suck. But suck no more. The power of Christ compels you! Be gone, undisciplined self!
Shortly after I started my current job two years ago, I knew I would have a fair bit of time on my hands during the week. I started dreaming of wonderful writing experiences, magical ideas and just a truckload of awesomeness heading my way. Two years later, I’m still in the same position, with nothing but a sore ass to show for it. To be fair, two kids is no joke, and often I find myself just wanting to chillax and watch YouTube videos at work. The days, however, a rolling by too fast, and I was stunned to realise this weekend that we are almost 2 months into 2014.
I’ve developed some bad habits. I’d like to blame other people for how lazy and unmotivated I’ve been (lots of targets at work), but the truth is I’ve got no one to point the finger at but myself. I’ve been distracted and zoned out like Walter Mitty, dreaming of wild fantasies and unrealistic expectations instead of going out and accomplishing them. My focus isn’t where it should be. I’ve been disciplined when it comes to this blog, my work (day job and freelance, relatively speaking) and my exercising (for the most part), though for some strange reason I can’t seem to apply that same discipline to thing I want it to be applied to most — my writing.
I’ve figured out that it’s not that I’m afraid of failure or anything like that. It’s not that I don’t want to put in the work. It’s just that I have my priorities all messed up. I recently wrote an article on Elon Musk, the 42-year-old billionaire who co-founded Paypal and runs visionary electric car company Tesla Motors. His first ex-wife, Justine Musk (nee Wilson), is a Canadian-born author who bore him five boys — twins and then triplets! Despite having to look after 5 boys (OK, so they were rich enough to have lots of help, but still) and having to overcome depression and the SIDS death of their first child, Justine still managed to have three books sold to Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Now that’s impressive, and there are many more similarly impressive stories out there to make me want to stick my head up my butt in shame.
From now, I’m going to get my priorities straight. It’s not necessarily about sacrificing other things I want to do — rather, it’s about doing what I should be doing and looking towards the long-run as opposed to immediate gratification. I’m also going to be disciplined and stick to it. And I’m going to be efficient. I used to think multi-tasking was the shit, but I’ve come to realise it’s just…shit. If you really want to do something well, focus on what you need to do, zone in, and get it done before moving onto the next thing.
OK, no more writing about wanting to write. My fresh start starts…now.
Finally, I’ve accomplished something I set out to do. 2013 was a big year of reading by my pathetic standards. As a father of two young’ uns working a full-time job plus freelancing on the side and loads of TV shows and movies to watch every night, reading time is hard to come by, but I set a goal to read 20 books last year and I did it, finishing with an overall total of 23.
It was a healthy diet of books for review I received from a trade publication, a lot of sports biographies (went through a binge phase), some recommendations, a few writing manuals and a few bestsellers. They were (in reverse chronological order): And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Housseini, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, 13 Ways to Steal a Bicycle: Theft Law in the Information Age by Stuart P Green, Party Time: Who Runs China and How by Rowan Callick, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Justice by Michael J Sandel, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty, The War for Late Night by Bill Carter, Cybercrime in the Greater China Region by Lennon Yao-chung Chang, Dream Team by Jack McCallum, Inferno by Dan Brown, The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, Tokyo Sketches by Peter Hamill, Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott, and Fifty Shades Freed by EL James (I had read the two books in the series the year before).
To avoid disappointment, my goal is to hit 20 books again for 2014, and I’ve already got a preliminary reading list at hand. This year I hope to get to more fiction and classics, and I intend to read a couple of fantasy and horror classics to get myself in the mood for my own fantasy novel. I’ve also dedicated some time to non-fiction as well as spiritual learning by setting aside a few pro-Christian and anti-Christian books, just to balance things out a little. There will likely be more additions as I receive them in the mail for review and other bestsellers and recommendations that come up throughout the year, but for now, this is (in no particular order) my reading list for 2014!
Stoner, John Williams
Simply Christianity, John Dickson
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan
Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman
My Story, Elizabeth Smart
Sycamore Row, John Grisham
Dracula, Bram Stoker
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
All That I Am, Anna Funder
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Magician, Raymond Feist
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
Dreams from My Father and/or The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama
I was surprised to see that it’s been about a dozen days since I last posted. And is it really October already? Time flies when you have a full plate.
The last couple of weeks have indeed been hectic but have also allowed me to put things in perspective. My elder son contracted some crazy contagious virus again at daycare and I had to take a few days off work to look after him because we had to segregate him from my younger son to prevent contamination.
Spending so much time with him has been exhausting and great at the same time. He’s really become obsessed with basketball (“ba-ke-bo”, he calls it) and we went about four days straight to practice at nearby courts, sometimes for as long as two or three hours. We would then follow that up with a stroll to a mall in the afternoon and then games at home after a shower. My wife has her hands full with the three-month old so most of the time it’s just me and him.
Kids really are amazing creatures. Maybe it’s because I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck (which I am in the process of reviewing) which is all about living up to your potential by equipping yourself with the right frame of mind. My son has that eagerness and fearlessness right now; he’s curious about everything and once he becomes fascinated with something he can work at it for hours and hours without getting tired or losing interest. He just wants to learn and grow, whereas most of us grownups just want to get by, or worse, achieve something without genuinely putting in the time and effort.
Initially I thought taking a child who hasn’t even turned two to play basketball would be a waste of time because the ball was nearly as big as him and he couldn’t even hold onto it properly. Besides, I wanted to play myself and didn’t want to share the ball. But he chased me around and whined and he whined until I gave the ball to him, and then he began trying to imitate me bouncing the ball off the ground. He stumbled and fell at least a dozen times, scraping both knees until they bled, but he wouldn’t let me take the ball off him or show him how to do it. He wanted to learn for himself.
Amazingly, by the end of that session, he had learned how to bounce the ball with his hands a couple of times. It was only then that he would let me teach him to try and bounce the ball with his fingertips rather than slapping it with his palms. He continued practicing for the next couple of days and got better and better at it, and he even learned how to throw (toss is probably more accurate) the ball further than before. And he was so proud that he had improved.
Unfortunately, he hurt his finger a little bit practicing one day and got scared of bouncing the ball, so I went and bought him a smaller and softer ball to practice with. He’s also become obsessed with watching basketball highlights on TV and loves flipping through books or magazines with basketball pictures. It’s the kind of childlike wonder and passion I wish I had. Not knowing — not believing — that there is a limit on what you can achieve must be a marvelous feeling.
Speaking of passions…I recently celebrated my birthday, and the sinking feeling that I’m not moving forward with my writing is starting to scare me. I’m still writing every day, usually on things I don’t mind writing about, but not on the things I should be writing about. There’s still that fear of starting, that fear of failure, that fear of not being able to do something as well as you imagine you could.
So I’ve been coming up with a lot of excuses. I need to exercise (I do, but maybe not as much). I need to watch TV (which is only true in the case of Breaking Bad, and that’s over now, and the new seasons of The Mentalist and Homeland and Revenge haven’t been very good, though The Walking Dead seems promising…but I digress). I have too many blog posts to catch up on (that is true, but they can wait). I have too many freelance cases to do (I have some, not too many). I have to play Candy Crush, Scramble with Friends and Plants vs Zombies 2 (I don’t). Anything but writing the epic novel or screenplay I have been planning to write for years.
A few weeks ago the names of a couple of my old classmates from my 2010-2011 writing course popped up. I was ecstatic to see that they had each published their own novels, some of which were actually projects they were working on in the course we did together. But at the same time it made me sad and ashamed to realize that I’ve barely touched my own in-progress works. And even with two kids and a full-time job, I probably still had more free time than them.
It’s not just writers either. People all around me are going after what they want. I have friends — some of whom I would never have pictured doing anything — running or trying to run their own start-ups and businesses. Studying things they would like pursue a future career in. Taking risks, chasing dreams — or even just doing something they enjoy more.
I have the time to do it too because of flexibility at my workplace. About three weeks ago one morning I was really pysched for some reason and started writing a screenplay. I got a couple of pages done — it wasn’t particularly good either, but I loved the thrill it gave me. I thought the momentum would carry on naturally and I would keep working on it every day after that, but I haven’t touched it since. What it’s telling me is that if I really want to do something I need to keep at it and don’t think it will come easily. Persistence!
This is on the fringe of relevance, but I will mention it anyway. Last Sunday was one of the most exciting days of my life. I went to watch the Indiana Pacers take on the Houston Rockets in Taipei — courtside — and the experience blew me away. I’ll blog about this soon, but what I want to mention is a former Pacers player I saw sitting in the stands. I was surprised to see him there because this player has not played in the NBA since 2008. He was a promising talent who was selected in the first round of the draft, but his on and off court attitude and drug use pushed him out of the league in a hurry. After playing overseas for a few years he’s still looking for a chance to get back to the NBA, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now and couldn’t even get an opportunity in the NBA Summer League this year. I looked him up on Twitter and it seems he is full of regret over blowing his past opportunities and taking the people who genuinely cared about him for granted. Now that he’s finally grown up and ready to play the opportunity is no longer there.
I guess this is a roundabout way of saying I don’t want to look back years from now and regret having squandered an opportunity to go after what I want when I have the time and energy to do it. So this is it. It doesn’t mean I can’t still do the other things. It just means I need to get down to doing what matters. No more excuses.