Mostly Void, Partially Stars

“Past performance is not a predictor of future results.”

I am 90 episodes deep into the wonderfully weird podcast that is Welcome to Nightvale, which tells the tale of an American desert town that is home to a Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in your home, a five-headed dragon, beings we cannot legally acknowledge to be Angels, and black-hooded figures that patrol the forbidden (to both people and dogs) Dog Park.

To call Nightvale weird would be an understatement, but beneath all its creepy and ominous tales, there is a sense of comedy, absurdist at times, but often strangely raw and… real. Since the strange is so normal in Nightvale, the normal as we know it is often made fun of or put in such blatant terms that we realize how weird our ‘normal’ lives actually are—and how scary in its uncertainty.

Which brings me to scariest thing in Nightvale. Not evil Glow Clouds, or soul-sucking Strangers, but “Past performance is not an indicator of future results.” If you Google the phrase, you’ll see it floating around business articles about the risks of investments. It certainly feels like a jab against the repeated use of it and how corporate they made it sound, for something that is pretty much common sense. We like to believe that our previous successes are going to translate into our future endeavors, and while it might help your chances, there are no guarantees. It’s almost become a running joke in the show, the repeated use of this saying, often in out of place ways.

Out of curiosity, I went through the transcripts of all the episodes (there’s 111 as of this writing) and a quick search shows that it’s only said in a handful of episodes. Considering that the show posts episodes only twice a month, for regular listeners it would be months, maybe even a year before the phrase pops up again. But for me, every time Cecil says “Past performance is not a predictor of future results” is like a slap in the face.

For some reason, it sticks out to me.

Often, Cecil says it after a new unexplainable thing is revealed or something horrible and foreboding just happened, in an effort to be optimistic. Just because things ended up badly before, doesn’t mean that the future is certain to turn out poorly. Past performance is not a predictor of future results.

However, I internalized the phrase differently. I even misremembered it as “Past performance is not an indicator of future success,” which I think says a lot about me, the emphasis on success. Another way you could interpret the phrase is that, how you performed or succeeded before has no bearing on what is going to happen in the future. Which, of course to me, is terrifying, because it seems like everything I do is ultimately futile and everything is really a haphazard roll of the dice. Any success I do have is a fluke that can be chalked up to mere chance.

There’s a lot to be said about being prepared. You are more likely to succeed, if you make sure you are ready to seize any opportunities that do happen to come your way (more in another post, perhaps?). But the fact remains, that there are so many external factors that are outside of your control. There will be times where you give and give and give, every ounce of effort and prepare for every minute detail—only to fail. Not for a lack of trying, but for a lack of fortune.

Which sucks, of course. But it’s also inevitable.

This has been a very long segue into me talking about how out of control I feel like in my life right now. I’ve been in San Diego living with my brother for two months now, and while I do have an internship that involves getting paid to write, it’s been not very exciting. I’ve essentially been suspended in a state of limbo, being in a place where I know I’m not going to stay in for the long run, excited about the next step but also wondering what it is, because it all depends on a certain chain of events happening just the way I want it to. And, of course, reality is not so accommodating.

So, I am very much going with the flow (which right now, seems to be pointing the rivers back home to Indonesia). Which is fine, honestly. There was the slight fear of oh no I’m back where I started before I went on my gap year, this whole thing has been a waste and I have nothing to show for it, which quickly went away once I took a few moments to get over myself.

Past performance is not an indicator of future results, after all.

Not everything has to be a goddamn metaphor, and me going home doesn’t have to mean starting back at square one. In fact, I’ve talked myself into being excited to go home. We moved into a pretty nice house a while back, and I never got to spend much time in it. Staying there for a bit long term means, I’ll have my own bed, my own room, a yoga mat to get back to doing yoga/pilates again, a piano I can practice on to my heart’s content, a spacious kitchen I can take advantage of to learn how to cook/bake. Possibilities are endless!

Slight frustration though: I’ve been thinking about what it means to “settle down” and set up roots. Not necessarily in a get-married-and-have-kids sort of way. My life has been built around moving from place to place, and there’s a certain comfort to staying in one place for a long time that I will never really have.

Building a foundation takes time. By being in one place indefinitely and being surrounded by the same people who get to see you change and grow, it makes past performance is not an indicator of future results become a more sentimental… sentiment. It’s the people who have you seen your past that have more to say about your future, usually along the lines of I know you and I know what you can do. I’ve seen itAnd I know you have what it takes to do it again. If you don’t have those people in your life, it’s hard to feel like you’ve really grown, because no one is there to really remind you of how much you’ve changed.

In terms of friends, it’s complicated. For me to have to put myself out there all over again every time I find myself somewhere new and be a different person with every batch of friends that I make. Not that I’m playacting, or pretending to be someone that I’m not. I’m an amalgamation of my experiences, a product of the things that have happened to me. When you meet me for the first time, you’re meeting a specific version of me who at that point in time is an updated version of the person I was—older, wiser, and (on good days) a better human being.

Not everyone sees how I got to that point, and of course, with time, I could let you in on the messier parts of me and my journey. But that rapport-building is nearly impossible, or becomes simply incomplete when we’re not interacting long enough for it to happen. It’s hard to believe that people are accepting of who you are, when the picture they have of you is served piece-meal. It would be nice to have someone who has seen it all—and after all this time, chooses to stick around anyway.

It’s the same thing with jobs or trying to perform. Taking a new job means essentially starting from zero—you have to navigate a new space, new people, new dynamics. You have to prove yourself all over again, build that rapport so that people have an actual past performance that they can witness and use to make predictions of your future. Things are just easier when people give the benefit of the doubt because you’ve already proven your capabilities and worth. Seniority has its perks.

TL:DR: My life has no consistency. It’s like nothing carries over, and the past is, well, past and it doesn’t matter as much any more. Every next step is a vicious cycle of starting over, putting in effort for the time being that will essentially mean nothing once you reach the next step. And without a past performance to base my present, or the future on, what foundation do I have to make sense of myself?

The answer, to that, can also be found in the weird and wonderful podcast that prompted the question in the first place. In the words of Nightvale Community Radio host, Cecil Palmer:

We understand the lights. We understand the lights above the Arby’s. We understand so much.

But the sky behind those lights—mostly void, partially starsThat sky reminds us we don’t understand even more.

—Welcome to Nightvale, ep. 25, “One Year Later”

Life is full of uncertainty. No matter which way you slice it, there will always be things that are out of your control. And while you can take past performance is not a predictor of future results to mean that all your efforts are an endlessly futile struggle, there are moments, rare moments, in between the massive void, that just… make sense. And they make you think that maybe, just maybe, the effort is worth it after all.

I mean, isn’t the void exactly why stars look so breathtaking in the first place?

—Karin Novelia, Stargazing into the Void


The Lives That We Lead (Reprise)


Before I took up my scholarship to Singapore, me and my fellow scholarship recipients, went on this retreat to the countryside of Bogor, a town up by the mountains, an hour drive South from Jakarta.

The purpose of the trip was to mainly bond us as a group—we were about to spend at least 2 years together in the same hostel dorm; 4 years in the same country. But the retreat was also designed for reflection and using that introspection to then visualize where we wanted to go from here. (I wrote a blogpost years ago on it which you can read for some deep 15-year-old angst wisdom here)

And when I was asked about what I wanted to do with my life, I ended up filling a tiny square of origami paper with a huge list of things that I wanted to be—photographer, author, journalist, filmmaker, designer, musician, etc. Of course, I realize now that what that list really was, was simply a list of things I wanted to try—photography, writing, music, videography, travel, etc.

“My Mom says that when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my typical response was princess-ballerina-astronaut. What she doesn’t understand is that I wasn’t trying to invent some combined super profession, I was listing things I thought I was gonna get to be.” — Sarah Kay from her TED talk “How many lives can you live?”

Once I got in front of the group, I felt a horrible fear grip me. I can’t read everything on this list, it’s ridiculous. While this was a safe space, I didn’t allow myself to dream. At least, not in front of this group of people I had just gotten to know. So I answered with a cop-out, fell into that repetitive answer of oh I want to be a writer. Maybe be a journalist for a magazine or newspaper. Write novels on the side. You know, just write. 

How did I come default to journalist and/or writer? There’s this pressure to answer the question “What are you gonna do with your life?” with something, anythingeven when it’s an answer you don’t fully believe in yourself.

I don’t know, doesn’t fly.

So I say I want to write because heck, it was the thing I was most good at, at the time, and I even enjoyed it. And if I’m being honest, it was probably the closest thing I’ve ever had to a passion.

Instagram post dated January 19, 2017:

I hate writing.” actually saying those words aloud came as a surprise. it wasn’t surprising that I meant them but more that I could say them aloud without feeling bad about it. it’s merely a statement of fact at this point. there’s nothing glamorous about writing. my first exposure to the idea of writers were of quiet recluses and tortured introspective souls who live on after some great epiphany, mental breakdown or commit suicide… yeah not the best image for a preteen to look up to.[…] writing is solitary and isolating, it’s just you and your thoughts, giving your all to make something out of nothing. why do I write? maybe I started out liking it. maybe at some point I even loved it, because I was good at it, because it was the one thing I could certainly say was mine. now? it’s a means to an end. I write out of habit more than anything. I hate writingI say out loud. yet somehow my hands still put words onto the page. funny how that works, huh?

Passion is the narrative we are constantly being fed; the one sure-fire way we’ve been told will make us successful and/or happy. Follow your passion, the world screams at you. If you don’t you’re doing yourself and your life a disservice.

I hate how boxed in being passionate makes me feel. Because my “current” passion is to write, that that is all I’ll ever get to be a writer. We’re often forced to choose to focus on one thing. You can’t be a dancer and an expert theoretical physicist, right? But the choice that passion demands is a false predicament. There are people who do a combination of highly-skilled things. I’ve heard of them. Maybe as kids, we simply don’t hear enough of them.

Being labelled as a writer also comes with the connotation of being “artistic” and while that doesn’t necessarily mean the opposite of intellectual it refers to a specific type of intellect, the humanities-based kind. I spent so much time, having to navigate through other people’s limited perception of me. Like the instances when people are so surprised that I’m into the sciences and get good grades in maths and physics or chemistry.

I didn’t think that’d be the type of thing you’d be good at, they’d say. And I started getting a bit of a thrill from proving people wrong.

If the world was telling me that you can’t do all these things, you can’t be all these people at once, I wanted to be the one to ask, Why the hell not? This has made me stubborn and ambitious and arguably very impatient. If I’m going to do all the things I set out to do, if I’m going to leave a legacy, I better get started. So I rush, I live like I’m running out of time.

“She told him, ‘You know you’re never gonna leave a legacy when you die, right? Because to leave a legacy you need to focus on one thing and you just haven’t had that kind of focus in your life.'” — Elizabeth Gilbert from her talk, “The Flight of the Hummingbird: The Curiosity-Driven Life”

So I want things. I can’t believe how hard it has become to allow myself to admit that, even to myself. Perhaps wanting things and being entitled is a luxury I deny myself purely out of a nagging belief that I haven’t done anything to deserve what I want.

And goddamnit I want things. I want so many things, I want too many things. I want them so bad that it hurts.

But there was no reason for it to hurt in the first place.

In her talk for Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sessions, Elizabeth Gilbert “speaks against passion” and calls instead for us to follow our curiosity.

Curiosity is a gentler, kinder, more humane instinct than passion. And it’s so much more accessible.”

My life thus far has not been the straight, narrow path that passion often carves out for us. It started out not out of choice, but by circumstance. I didn’t ask to be born in the Philippines, in the same way I had no choice in the decision to move to Indonesia (if I did, I never would’ve left). From then on though, I threw my life into chaos of my own accord. Moved from country to country, city to city. Eventually, chaos became something I was accustomed to. And yes, while those changes were partly fuelled by panic (ohmygosh I don’t like where I am and I don’t want to be stuck here so let’s leave like right now) it was also driven by curiosity (I wonder what the grass is like on the other side?)

When I was younger, I used to hate how complicated my life seemed. How the mere question of “Where are you from?” sent me into a momentary panic and identity crisis. I would’ve given anything to turn back time and just had a “normal” and “stable” childhood. But then I realized how much perspective that instability has granted me. I look at the world through a more nuanced lens.

“The world is divided into two kinds of people; there are the jackhammers and the hummingbirds. Jackhammers are people like me, you put a passion in our hands and we don’t look up, we don’t veer, we’re focused on that until the end of time. And it’s efficient, you get a lot done. But we tend to be obsessive and fundamentalist and sometimes a little difficult and loud.”

So now that I’ve had a taste of how much the world has to offer, I do want more. And while my itchy feet want to take me as far as they can go, I’m also being asked to consider a future which, for some reason, comes with the implication of settling down. Be an adult, think about getting a job.

Part of me does want that. Wants to get her own place in a bustling city. Wants the comfort of a routine, of coming home to the same room, sleeping in the same bed. Wants the luxury of being able to fully unpack her bags without worrying about accumulating things she will eventually have to give away. Wants to find something, one thing, to hold on to and never let go. Wants the now and what I have to feel like enough.

But most of me, wants novelty. Wants to follow her “whims” and “impulses” and see where that takes her. Wants to indulge in that list of a million different things I can do, and check things off that list simply because I want to be able to say Well, I tried that. What’s next? Wants to believe in the endless potential of the individual so much—my endless potential—that I want to come alive and be brimming with the life force of a thousand suns. Wants things to never feel like it’s enough.

“Hummingbirds spend their lives doing it very differently. They move from tree to tree, from flower to flower, from field to field, trying this, trying that. And two things happen. They create incredibly rich, complex lives for themselves. And they also end up cross-pollinating the world. That is the service you do if you are a hummingbird person. You bring an idea from here to over here where you learn something else and you weave it in, and you take it to next thing you do. Your perspective keeps the entire culture aerated and mixed up and open to the new and fresh.”

There is a singularity to our lives. This idea that each person has a unique life, a distinct combination of outer and inner worlds. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a boy growing up in Finland or a girl living through The French Revolution. While there is a certain to beauty to that, it does mean that my life has limitations too. And as much as I want experience everything the world has to offer, not everything is possible.

But that’s not going to stop me from trying to lead a life that makes the most of it.

—Karin Novelia, “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.” [Sylvia Plath]

Links to cool things:

  1. My original post The Lives That We LeadI wrote this when I was 15 or so and while that post explored how we can live multiple lives through words, connections and stories, this post is a focused exploration on how one person can do multiple things with their one life hence the (Reprise) part of the title. Just seeing the way I write as compared to back then is mind-blowing. We’ve come a long way, folks.
  2. Sarah Kay’s TED talk, How many lives can you live? Her other talk, If I should have a daughter… though not exactly relevant, is beautifully delivered and touches upon the power of words and connections. It was the talk that introduced me to spoken word poetry and inspired me try my own hand at it as well.
  3. Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk The Flight of the Hummingbird: The Curiosity-Driven Life. Recommend watching the full talk, especially if the word passion make you anxious and you have yet to make peace with the convolutedness of life.
  4. Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk, Why some of us don’t have one true calling. It’s one of the less anecdotal talks where Emilie, who is a life coach, essential boils down the concept by giving non-passion driven people a name, “multipotentialites” (mouthful, I know), and explaining our capabilities in 3 superpowers.




Not Yours to Hold

“Last week was a week spent in denial. I feel like I haven’t had a moment to myself to not only catch a break, but to catch up with my thoughts and process how I feel.”

I can’t remember the last time I felt this perpetually tired. If I had to hazard a guess, it must’ve been 2 years ago, when I was still in Singapore. I was recently reminded that the workload I’ve had to deal with during Launch (a workload imposed by none other than myself) is unsustainable. I knew that to be true, but deep down this incessant feeling of fatigue and panic, felt normal. Worse, it doesn’t even come close to how hard I worked myself during my busiest times as a student in Singapore. I’m actually sleeping and eating regularly, exercising too. Yet for all my efforts, I feel like what I’m doing will never be enough.

The busy-ness seemed to come to an all-time high this week, as everything I’ve set up the past couple of weeks finally came together. I had signed up for multiple volunteer opportunities, a pilates class, 2 piano lessons, and even an evening venture to Oakland to see a movie and take photos and footage. All of this happened on top of my already extensive UnCollege commitments such as showing up for workshops, internship prep and even taking over the UnCollege Snapchat account for the week.

My coach, who has a tendency to mess around, starts climbing up on the banister of the conference room. When he turns to me and asks if I want to try climbing up there, I internally shrug and think why not. Maybe getting off the ground will help me put things in perspective.

Whenever I fall into an endless rush of things to do, my work ethic kicks in, my autopilot mode falls into place. And while being in autopilot does give me an almost superhuman ability to Get Shit Done, it comes at the cost of ignoring valuable, introspective me time which results in me repressing any and all emotions.

I must admit, in an almost masochistic way, I love being so busy that I nearly run myself into the ground. It means I’m on a roll, on my way to finally being productive enough that my dreams start to take concrete shape. I simply have to keep this precarious balancing act stable just enough to keep it all from collapsing. If I do burn out and end up passed out from the fatigue, I’d wear a hospital visit like a badge of honor, a sign that it makes me one of them, the truly successful, and not some cautionary tale of ambition gone too far.

“Pretend that I’m not here and this is the break you’ve been wanting to get. What are you thinking about?”

One simple question from my coach while I’m a few feet off the ground leaves me dumb-founded. I panic at first, because I realize I’m not really thinking about anything. I’m spacing out. But I pull my head out of the clouds and force myself to confront the tiny little voice I’ve been ignoring.

“Um, I think about what’s happened since I got to San Francisco, all the things I’ve done. And I’ve done a lot. I think about how much time I have left and how much I want to make the most out of it. I think about *** and how much I worry about him, even when he probably doesn’t deserve it. I think about Tina and Sidney, and how close we’ve become as friends in the span of 6 weeks, which is kind of a big deal for me. I think about how I have no idea what’s going to happen after Launch, and that scares the hell out of me.” I pause as I choke up and feel the tears roll down my cheek.

I had a lot of breakthroughs up on that banister. I voiced out deep-seated fears that I probably would’ve keep on ignoring by focusing on work.

“I’m scared that once all of this is over, I’ll undo all the progress I’ve made. I’ll go back to being the person I was before Tanzania, before UnCollege. I’m scared that once I do let myself have a break, I won’t be able to start again. That the break will be so comfortable, I won’t want to do anything else. What scares me the most, is that I kind of want to. Want to take a permanent break, because it’s easier that way. I’m just so tired. I want this all to stop.”

I am barely keeping myself together. And odd thing is, it’s not the work that is driving me onto the brink of insanity. The work is my one saving grace, the one thing forcing me to get my shit together long enough to keep on going. To stop now—not even stop but to pause now—would mean giving myself a chance to unravel.

And I can’t afford to do that right now. Not even for myself. I have other people depending on me, depending on me to keep myself together. Falling apart, even momentarily, would only mean letting them down—and that could have dire consequences.

“I have a best friend, he’s bipolar. He used to be a lot worse before I urged him to see someone. Now he’s on medication and doing a lot better. But he depends on me a lot, I’m really the only person he talks to about his issues. After the panic attack, I just felt so fragile, I wasn’t sure if I could handle his issues on top of my own. So one time I remember getting a phone call from him, picking up at 4am. He’s out of it and not making any sense. He’s crying his eyes out and he’s hallucinating too. Keeps on saying he’s hearing voices. Then he hangs up. And I’m terrified. I’m half-way across the world so I can’t even go and see if he’s okay. I call up everyone I know. They had to break down his door and he… And I know I can’t be responsible, if something did happen while his brain was… off. But I still think about it. Think about what if something did happen, worse, what if it happened because I wasn’t there, wasn’t willing to pick up the phone and be there for him. I just can’t…”

I cried in a way that I felt like I’ve never cried before. I suddenly felt this deep ache in my chest as the floodgates opened and for a moment, I feared they would never stop. Because how are you supposed to respond to this constant fear that letting someone down could mean leaving them to die by their own hand?

“It is not yours to hold.”

My coach repeats this to me several times, and each time it only elicits a new burst of tears from me. I still wonder why exactly did those words made me cry. Did I feel comforted and relieved to hear something I know to be true be confirmed by someone else? To have that sense of responsibility and guilt be absolved? Or did the confirmation ring hollow? Did hearing exactly what I wanted to hear make me realize that words, in the end, provide very little comfort, do nothing to get rid of the fear I cannot help but feel?

If I’ve learned anything these past couple of weeks, it’s that I have a very low opinion of myself. I hold no significance in my own eyes, and perhaps, in an act of desperation, I cling onto the notion that by devoting myself to the need of others, I can erase myself in a way that has purpose, in a way that at least saves someone, gives them life in my place.

It is not yours to hold.

I know it isn’t. But I don’t know what else to call mine.

—Karin Novelia, waiting for the sadness to stop but it just keeps on going

Embrace the Panic

Embrace the Panic Beach Scene

I really do not need induced stress in my life right now.

I started off this week full of dread as my second Work Sprint loomed around the corner. After a emotionally draining week of learning how to be vulnerable, my productivity hit an all-time low. I needed a break, a moment spent not doing anything but wallow in my own misery and existential dread. But the fast-paced lifestyle of San Francisco and Launch allowed no time for that. I had to buckle down and get back on the horse immediately, lest I get left behind. I swallowed by rampant emotions and my burning desire to get some sort of closure and pushed it all the way down, deep into the depths of my subconscious.

Work sprints are something we do in UnCollege that is based on the idea of “bias towards action.” Fellows in the program are asked to come up with an idea and bring it to life within 48 hours. The time crunch and the urgency to deliver a concrete product, is supposed to be a learning opportunity, a chance to try something by going into it blindly and making mistakes willingly.

My first work sprint was a whirlwind of emotions propelled by juggling too many things at once and sleep-deprivation. Having gone through it once, I felt afraid that having such a calculated period of induced stress would finally break me, send me off the edge of my increasing anxiety.

I’ve got a singular impression things are moving too fast // And you say, “Oh, no, step on the brakes // Do whatever it takes but stop this train // Slow, slow! The light’s turning red” — Moving Too Fast, The Last Five Years

Fuck, I have no idea what to do for this work sprint.

It is Tuesday night, the night before Work Sprints officially start and I’m sitting in the 5th floor common room, trying to come up with an idea. I’ve decided to team up with Tina and Sidney, but on what, none of us really know beyond this vague idea of projecting animations onto the walls of a darkened room.

I’m a notorious procrastinator. Or at least I used to be. I used to take pride in being able to work well, sometimes even better, under pressure. But after my panic attack, I’ve taken great pains to avoid such unnecessary strains on my mental health. Panic became something to be feared and avoided at all costs.

When Wednesday morning came around, I woke up filled with dread and panic before the real work began. I tried to take control of the panic, beat it down to submission by slowing myself down that morning. I took forever to get showered and get dressed. I plugged in my earphones and played Paramore’s new album, After Laughter, on full blast, taking slow steps and focusing my eyes on nothing but the space in front of me. I could feel the spacey-ness start to kick in, felt myself dissociate in an effort to distance myself from the panic. In fact, I welcomed the spacey-ness.

My newfound sense of “calm” did feel familiar and oddly grounding. Then a new panic settled in, a fear that this calmness was complacency in disguise, and try as might to convince myself that I do not care about work sprint and its outcome, the fact of the matter is that I do care. And there’s nothing wrong with caring.

But I say: No! No! // I barrel on through and I don’t complain // No matter what I try // I’m flying full speed ahead — Moving Too Fast, The Last Five Years

I realized how much I have rearranged my life around this panic. Cut the puzzle pieces of my life haphazardly in a way that they will never fit. It was the same panic, the same fear of not achieving the big dreams and ambitions that I set for myself, that pushed me to move away from home; the same panic that gave me a panic attack and leave Singapore, drop out of college. I suddenly felt sick of this notion that panic had become such a leading factor in my life, an aspect of it I could not control.

Embrace the panic.

This string of words suddenly came to me in the midst of that morning walk to the office. I snapped myself back into the present moment, pulled myself from the alluring false sense of security being spacey had always provided and forced myself to face the panic head on.

The panic maybe terrifying, but it is the exact same panic that means that I care. I care about work sprints, I care about giving it my all and doing well.

Embracing the panic did wonders for me. Looking it straight in the eye actually made it smaller in my eyes, and I sifted through the waves of panic well enough to be very productive. The pieces of the puzzle started to come together and our vision of our 360 dark room animation experience started to become clearer and clearer. I animated like I never did before and was surprised about how much I could do in the span of 48 hours.

I lost sleep, perhaps a bit excessively so. The night before Friday presentations, me and my team literally did not get any sleep. We stayed up until 7.30am setting up projectors and adjusting our final animations, before finally heading home long enough for a quick shower and break.

After playing our animation to an audience sitting in the middle of a dark room, there was an alarmingly extended silence. I had been pacing throughout the presentation, anxious to see how well our work would be received and that I took that silence as a sure sign that we had missed the mark, our vision had fallen through.

Oh, oh…! Maybe I can’t follow through // But oh, oh…! What else am I supposed to do? — Moving Too Fast, The Last Five Years

As I walked off solemnly to turn on the lights, the room suddenly burst into raucous applause. I heard so many positive responses from my other fellows and the UnCollege staff, some even coming from an emotional place.

The sleep deprivation and fatigue was nowhere to be found or felt, as a surge of satisfaction and happiness overwhelmed me. Seeing our final product up and running and coming pretty close to how I envisioned it would be filled me with a sense of gushing pride.

The panic had pushed me — and Tina and Sidney, my amazing and talented teammates — to produce work that I didn’t expect we could pull off in such a short time.

I’m feeling panicked and rushed and hurried // I’m feeling outmaneuvered and outclassed // But I’m so happy, I can’t get worried // About this singular impression // I’ve got a singular impression things are moving too fast — Moving Too Fast, The Last Five Years

I took a well deserved break after Work Sprint presentations, enjoying the good weather with lunch at the park with cupcakes for desert and even a nap in the shade.

If I learned anything from this week it’s that I’m capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for. What’s more, if I had the cooperation and support of some amazingly talented people (who are also wonderfully good friends) then we can achieve more and end up farther than we could’ve gone on our own.

Here’s to hoping that my next Work Sprint project is even better.

–Karin Novelia, I just keep rollin’ along // And I think, well, well, what else is in store?



Honestly, I don’t think anyone should have to deal with [gestures to self] this.

I realize that this is the second time I’ve said this in one week. I had just begun to feel like I’d found my footing here in San Francisco, a good rhythm to being productive and rebuilding my sense of self, only to have my progress be undermined by negative thoughts.

It is week 5 of Launch phase and while I was already internally panicking that I am already halfway through my time here in San Francisco, Friday Review was an emotional one.

I’ve come to realize that I never had much of a childhood. I grew up way too fast and I’ve had to deal with a lot of things a 9-year-old should not have had to deal with.

After talking about the scars we get and carry in our hearts, we had another “vulnerability circle” where everyone has 2 minutes to get as real as they want to be. I was already a bit shaken up by our earlier Friday Check-Ins. I’ve been feeling unmotivated and detached from everything this past week, and while I have been productive, the numbness of it all scared me.

I hate crying. I’ve been raised to see crying as something to be ashamed of, but once I started tearing up, I realized I couldn’t stop. Even when I was listening to other people bare their hearts and not thinking about myself or how I felt, they came out anyway, as if they were a physical release from a cup that’s been filled to the brim with anxieties and worry.

no, i’d rather pretend i’m something better than these broken parts // pretend i’m something other than this mess that i am // ’cause then i don’t have to look at it and no one gets to look at it // no, no one can really see  — Words Fail, Dear Evan Hansen

When it was my turn to speak in the circle, I said, “I don’t even know why I’m crying anymore.” The more I spoke, the more I came to realize things, voiced out thoughts that weighed on my mind but I never really dealt with.
The biggest breakthrough was the realization that I don’t think I matter, or at least, my feelings and needs are secondary to everyone else’s. I’ve spent a lot of time growing up, accommodating the needs of my family and friends, mostly because feeling needed and helpful to other people feeds my self-worth, so much so that I take it to extremes. I embrace the role of martyr and find solace in self-sacrifice.

I’m a contradictory person. I used to think that I was just indecisive, but my reluctance to think about my own needs and wants first, results to a disregard for my actual feelings. I’ve numbed out how I felt to be ‘logical’ and ‘functional’ for so long now, that I’m not sure what I feel or think about a certain situation. Everything is fine, or it will be, if I manage not to let my feelings cloud my judgement. I end up swinging between I don’t care about this and I’ll do what needs to be done and I really care about this, and my feelings are kinda hurt and I want to be petty and cynical and passive aggressive.

In the end though, my feelings and input are irrelevant. This has enabled me to be the bigger person in certain situations, which is good and all. But why does being the bigger person always make me feel so small?

Another contradiction: I don’t mind being vulnerable and talking about my struggles — until I do. I’ve spent so many hours explaining to people what happened to me surrounding my panic attack and advocating for mental health and self-care, and I’ve equally spent as many hours berating myself for being weak and forcing people to deal with the mess that I am.

I can pour my deepest fears and feelings out, onto the page or verbally, but the next moment, I close up as fast as I opened up, put on this mask of I’m fine, what I said never happened. I panic and freak out and push people who got too close away, keep them at a distance, partly because I don’t want to acknowledge that I am that fragile.

i never let them see the worst of me // ’cause what if everyone saw? // what if everyone knew? // would they like what they saw? // or would they hate it too? — Words Fail, Dear Evan Hansen

After I was done, closing my spiel with my typical uncertain, yeah I don’t know, my coach interjected and asked the room, “Who here feels closer to her now?”
I managed to somehow pull my eyes away from the interesting patch of carpet I’ve been staring at throughout this entire thing, and it felt like I was in one of those poignant movie scenes. I watched everyone in the room put their hands up at once, and I had a quiet little of oh.

The haze in my brain lifts enough for me to do what was asked of me this entire week: actually consider the mere possibility that I am worthy of love. And maybe the way to believing that I am worthy is by bearing my soul, letting myself be vulnerable and letting go of the fear and shame behind having that vulnerability be rejected. People care more than you think.

Brene Brown does an excellent TED talk on the subject of vulnerability (watch it here) and she echoes a sentiment I’ve realized to be true over the past couple years.

“The problem is — and I learned this from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these[…] You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.” — Brene Brown

I am no stranger to numbing out my emotions. I’ve become an expert at turning off my emotions when they become too negative and overwhelming, but the numbness really isn’t the better alternative. I’d rather feel sad than to feel nothing at all.

And it’s strange how contradictory the notion of vulnerability is. We’re taught that it is something to be avoided and ashamed of. But honestly, I felt a tremendous weight be lifted off my shoulders after the vulnerability circle. I was still a mess and on the verge of crying the rest of the day, which I managed by looking for fun distractions and spending time with good company. And eventually, I felt prepared. Prepared to go out into the world again with a clearer heart, and a willingness to get hurt again, be vulnerable again. By being vulnerable and opening up to the world, I also open myself up to letting light into my life.

“Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”— Brene Brown

Brene Brown does a great thing by calling the people she studied who were vulnerable yet found themselves worthy of love, “the whole-hearted.” What a lovely sentiment. That to approach life whole-heartedly is to approach it with a fearlessness to being vulnerable. Being vulnerable means opening yourself up to heartache, and it’s scary, but being whole-hearted means being optimistic about it too. I’m going to put my heart into this because it matters to me and because I care. Life is too short to hold back out of fear.

I guess I want to be one of them, the whole-hearted. My limited time in San Francisco and the uncertainty of what will happen after Launch terrifies me to no end. I’m scared to invest in something, invest in this place when it is highly likely that I’m going to have to leave it behind, my feelings and wants be damned.

Here’s to knowing that things have a very good chance of not going my way — but choosing to believe the universe will conspire to help me anyway.

— Karin Novelia, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”

Better Versions

Hey, hello, um, hi!
… Damn. I really am rusty with this thing.
It’s been a good month or so since my last post, and that wasn’t exactly a happy one either.
If I am being honest here, or at least as honest as I usually try to be on this blog, I fell into a bit of funk by the time I got back from the June holidays.
I was, for lack of a better term, depressed.
Now, I’ve had inklings of this feeling creep on me before and they were never this bad. They were fleeting, at best, only temporary.
But this time… this time was different.
It was the kind of depression that was stifling, crippling. It really inhibited my ability to fully function and emote. It was scary. Really scary. And in the midst of my lacking emotions, I found that in my struggles to actually feel something I was lashing out, holding on to the pettiest feeling of irritation and anger, simply because they were there, they were accessible, they were the easiest thing to hold on to.
Long story short, I was a bitch for quite a while. There was damage done, some of which is still apparent, but hopefully can be patched over. Sometimes, it seems like it’s irreparable. I guess that’s my own fault.
Good news, though, I’m getting better. One main reason I think lead to the depression getting so bad was my initial refusal to acknowledge it. Although I said it was crippling and limited my ability to function, I could still push on. Keep Calm and Carry On as the Brits say. It made me incredibly guilty to even think about calling what I felt ‘depression’ because I know that other people have it a lot worse, other people can barely get out bed, other people have better reasons to be depressed. What was I doing? All I was being was ungrateful.
This change however, when I came across an article on the Internet. It was entitled Walking Depression and it described exactly what I was feeling, and perhaps what I knew all along but found no justification to properly acknowledge.
Walking depression is the type of depression that most people might face at some point in there live. It’s the kind of dissatisfaction that makes it just a little bit harder to get out of bed. But you get up anyway. It’s the kind of sadness that makes your days a little less brighter. But you go on and study and work and be productive anyway. Being functional is all fine and dandy but what’s the point if you feel so unhappy?
Disillusioned. That was a word I attributed a lot to this, um, phase. It was like I was pushed, head first, into an empty swimming pool called reality, one that called that I be practical and let myself die a bit inside to ‘succeed’. I wasn’t really functioning. I wasn’t really living. I was… trudging. That was another word that seemed so apt. I was being a soldier, keeping my head down, shoulders hunched, carrying on with no complaints.
Thank God that’s over with.
You might be asking, what changed then? Well, acknowledging that I was unhappy was a nice first step. It gave me this sense of clarity and determination to find some way to fix it. So I set aside my pride, put down my armor. I apologized to people who needed to know how sorry I was. I tried looking out for more silver linings. I stopped being so hard on myself and occasionally let myself feel. I realized that I’ve been blowing a lot of responsibilities off — and though it was too late to fix that, it was never to late for redemption. I reminded myself of the things that I love and why I do things that people may not approve of just because they think that having different priorities somehow makes me less of a person than them. The end goal wasn’t necessarily to feel happy — just okay enough to see the point in everything again.
I’ve been a bit interested in matters of the mind, and if you take the more scientific approach, how the brain works. Psychology and psychiatry are apparently two entirely separate fields. A recent article my tuition teacher gave me was even on anxiety. I’ve just finished a book entitled Hector and the Search for Happiness which talked about well, happiness, the way we perceive and process it in our brains.
I tend to say that I’m just a messed-up, giant ball of neuroses and perhaps that’s true. Though from what I read, I don’t fit neatly into one category. I have the faults of both ends of the spectrum apparently. I even came across a Tumblr post which nicely describes it.

So yeah. I think I just really needed to get this off my chest.
But, please tune in very soon as I’ll definitely be posting some more positive posts 🙂
Look out for my OBS post and my latest initiative, something like a Learning Journal (sounds lame, but give me some time to think of something catchy). I’m trying my hardest not to lose interest in studies, but studying never really appealed to me. Learning, however, does. And I find that most of the time, I’m digesting things but not really processing them and spitting out some thoughts. Hopefully this Learning Journal will help me not only to express myself but to keep my interest burning strong. It of course won’t be limited to what I learn in school. It could be about anything really, from what I thought about a TV show, a movie to classical music, the arts like Vincent van Gogh. The works. Mind you, this Journal will basically be a puke space of creativity, so don’t expect any coherence of thought that I don’t really have time to do anyway.
I really think I’m in a good place now. OBS, which was this outdoor camping course, was uplifting (but more about that later) and strengthened my resolve to be someone people can look up to. I once said that every time I looked into the mirror, I didn’t really like who I saw — this Paper Girl who was flimsy, thin and fake.
That Girl’s gone. Maybe not completely, but I’m getting there.
And now, when I look in the mirror, I see a sincere smile, a slight glint in my eyes. I see a better version of me.
Let’s hope there’s only more good things to come.
Thanks for reading!
–Karin Novelia, Feeling So Better After a Long Time

The Stories, They All Sound the Same (Off The Grid: Day 10)

My brain is seething. I’m bubbling with hundreds of new ideas. They just keep welling up.
Perhaps it’s possible to control thoughts to a certain extent, but to stop thinking is asking too much. My head is teeming with beguiling notions, I’m not able to fix them before they’re ousted by new thoughts. I can’t keep them apart.
I’m rarely able to remember my thoughts. Before I manage to dwell on one of my inspirations, it generally melts into an even better idea, but this, too, is so fickle of character that I struggle to save it from the constant volcanic stream of new ideas…
I read the opening paragraphs of Jostein Gardner’s The Ringmaster’s Daughter and my mind instantly recalls the dozens of notebooks filled with half-baked ideas, the pages and pages of synopses, each unique and pertaining to a specific story, typed up on my laptop.
I throw a glance at my window, to make sure Jostein Gardner isn’t somehow keeping an eye on me. I feel vulnerable, exposed. Like someone decided to write about me on paper.  I feel a strange relation to his character who as you can probably tell, is something of a writer.
Then I think of every other fictional aspiring writer I’ve seen/read and realize I’m probably just a mass of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. I’m a collection of writer stereotypes. Except maybe for that whole childhood trauma aspect…
This “writer” brought to life in The Ringmaster’s Daughter is named Petter, and I do share his pain. Whenever I let my brain roam too far it just starts churning, spitting out ideas and stories. I can write out a synopsis fairly easy. My ideas usually start out being so abstract — a random scene here, a piece of dialogue there. I can expand it, detail it, to as long as 4-5 pages, at best. When I try to expand it even further, that’s when I fumble with the words.
I suppose I lack the focus to write a novel. Like Petter, I also lack patience and soundness of mind. Sitting still in front of a desk can be unnerving. More often then not it feels like a waste of time, it’s frustrating and tedious. No sooner after I begin typing, my mind is racing farther ahead. My hands may be set on writing down one scene, yet my brain is already working on another.
There’s one aspect where I Petter and I differ. I’m unshakeable on my becoming a writer, despite the difficulties. Petter however, doesn’t see the point. He has no intention of becoming a writer. He finds it a shame though, when his ideas are left untouched. That’s when he comes up with a strange business idea. He’ll sell his ideas, make his living out of it. Sell ideas and stories to aspiring writers who find themselves with nothing to say.
Little Petter Spider becomes the cure for the dreaded writer’s block, weaving his own web of manipulation.
At last I’ve decided what I want to be. I shall continue doing what I’ve always done, but from now on I’ll make a living out of it. I don’t feel the need to be famous, that’s an important consideration, but I could still become extremely rich.
Petter starts out as a very precocious child. He learns to talk and read and write before the age of four. He’s quiet and in his head. He’s creative, definitely. But he is also pretty damaged.
When he starts to decide to sell his ideas, through this ominous platform he dubs “Writer’s Aid”, it’s a dubious trade. Petter cherished anonimity above everything, and although what he’s trying to sell is something that’s in demand in the writing community, he knows there’s a risk. A risk of getting caught, being mistrusted and hunted down.
He pays attention to make his clients feel exclusive to his services when they’re not. He builds up their trust, makes them believe he’ll never spill the beans. Little Petter Spider catches his victims within his web with promises not to eat them. All the while he thinks he’s doing them — and himself — a great service.
And I strangely found myself agreeing with him. That what he’s doing is almost justified.
It’s interesting to see into Petter’s psyche. Although he was quiet and unsociable as a child, he grew up to be quite the people person. He’s amiable, able to carry a conversation. But at times he simply uses that to his advantage. Every writer, editor, friend is merely an expansion of his network. A business opportunity, or a casual relationship to make him feel less lonely when he wants company. Some might call him a sociopath.
The result of this casual approach to relationships leads him to trouble, as we find out in the final chapters of the book.
He has pretty eccentric views. Jostein Gardner is known for being philisophical in his writings, and seeing some views from Petter sets the mind going. The thing about Petter is that he’s a story-teller. And so projects these view in short stories he tells throughout the course of the novel.
All in all, I loved The Ringmaster’s Daughter. It’s thought-provoking and insightful, with a touch of fantasy. Some might find the material a bit heavy, but it’s worth the read. Petter is a complex character, the kind reader’s would love to unravel as they read. The plot was original, cohesive. A must-read really, for writers.
(My name was eerily mentioned in the book, which was just unnerving and let’s hope not foretelling)
There’s one specific aspect of the story which I find interesting. While selling in Writer’s Aid, Petter made sure he never sold the same idea twice, to prevent suspicion. But as the book came to the end, ironically, I realized there were parallels spreading throughout the entire thing. I began to see how a short story told when he was older happened to correspond to things that happened to him as kid, and vice versa, a story he told when he was younger strangely related to something that happened later in his life.
A coincidence? Maybe. But then again, maybe not.
There’s a huge debate in the writing world on whether or not anything anyone comes up is really “original” at all. Like Sherlock Holmes once said, “There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.”
Somewhere out there, someone’s falling for their best friend. Someone is cheating on someone they love. A little kid is chasing their dream. Someone’s getting married, getting divorced. Someone’s celebrating a birthday, going to a concert. Someone’s fighting for what they believe in. Someone’s moving to another country. Someone’s taking a leap of faith.
It’s a weird thing when you think about. But it’s undeniable too. They may differ in the details, but when you strip down the stories, they all sound the same.
And that makes me wonder whether I have anything worth saying at all.
–Karin Novelia, Just Bursting With Ideas