life

Day One. D-Day. Determination. Hermit Life.

Reading: Ender’s Game – The Graphic Novel
Listening: James Vincent McMorrow  – Cavalier (Samuraii Remix)
Watching: Korra Season 3, Elementary
Playing: To the Moon…very slowly

And so it begins! Today is the first day of my six months of “non-participation in the workforce”—according to my dear brother, I am not technically “unemployed”, because I am choosing not to have a job. Thanks, Mr. Pedantic! (In all seriousness, he could very much lay claim to that name.) Here’s to six months of watching my savings dwindle away. Here’s to six months of living the hermit life. I am both tremendously excited and a wee bit nervous. Make that a whole lot nervous. A wee lot nervous?

Over the next few months, I will aim to keep to a dedicated schedule. Wake up at 7.30am or so. Work from roughly 8:30am to 5pm without too many long breaks. Work consists of brainstorming, researching, planning, writing, finding ‘inspiration’, blogging, and hopefully, more writing. In the evenings: work on my online courses, play soccer, socialise (that foreign concept), read, watch TV shows, play games, get further inspired. I haven’t yet worked out the weekends. They might be a shorter half-day of work: perhaps 3-4 hours in the mornings, if my creative brain isn’t feeling wrung out by then.

My poor sad ankle isn’t still fully recovered from the battering it received on the futsal court two months ago. It looks like what started out as a Grade 2 ligament tear of the ATFL (ligament on the lateral side of the ankle) has progressed into a tendinopathy of the tibilis posterior and also of the peroneus longus and brevis—basically, the tendons/muscles around both sides of my ankles. My foot and ankle ache after even a brief stint of running. It got me pretty glum at first. I guess I’ll just have to keep resting it, and maybe ease gradually back into 1-2 games per week.

I am still in the middle of interviews and applications, so my brain isn’t one hundred percent dissolved into holiday mode quite yet. One more interview tomorrow, and then quite possibly I am finished with trying to impress my superiors. And then I’ll have to wait another month or so to find out whether I have been accepted into the training college. The college interview on Friday didn’t go very well, so I’m feeling extremely ambivalent.

On Friday night we ate out at Meega: a tiny Korean place at the back of a Korean grocery store in Glen Waverley. We ordered sausage hot pot, ramen, rice, beef bulgogi, and two kinds of fried chicken (spicy sweet chilli; garlic and soy) between four of us, which was just the perfect amount. Since then I’ve been craving a plate of delicious japchae (Korean sweet potato noodles). Come at me!

Jap Chae

 

Reading back over this post, it sounds like I’m a bag of mixed emotions. Thrilled, happy, nervous, glum, stressed, and frequently hungry. But I reckon I’m mostly thrilled. I mean, who gets the chance to have six months off to write, roll around and dream of imaginary worlds? It’s a privilege and an adventure.

Here’s to the next six months! Time to put my creative hat on.

 

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Differential Diagnosis: A Meaningful Life?

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What does it mean to live a meaningful life, I muse as I sit at my desk on a sullen Tuesday evening, listening to Seven Lions and shovelling lemon slice into my mouth. It’s a question that has popped into my head from time to time over the years, until I get distracted by more pertinent issues such as licking the icing off my fingers and checking Facebook.

It’s a question that has done a little more popping than usual in recent months, maybe because of the nature of my work. I see a lot of people who feel their lives are meaningless; or, sometimes, we look at them and judge them to have meaningless lives.

I see a lot of people who don’t leave the house. People who find it a challenge and a personal success to go out for a fifteen-minute walk, who struggle to get dressed and take a shower and do their chores. I see others who have no motivation or desire to do anything. They wallow, unwashed, largely unseen by the rest of society, in their bedrooms, playing video games (X-Boxes are particularly popular). They survive on unemployment benefits.

They are not productive members of society. We treat them and we try to improve their “social functioning”, try to improve their connectedness and train them in “job skills” and get them involved with “activities”. We try to gift them with “meaning”.

Is productivity, then, a measure of a meaningful life? If you contribute to society in some way. If you give back to your community, if you make money and pay taxes and fuel the economy, if you have big projects and do things that change the world. Is the cardiothoracic surgeon, then, or the human rights ambassador, living a more meaningful life than the stay-at-home parent or the post-man? What sort of contribution to society should we aspire to?

When I went to church, this was a huge question. What is the meaning of being alive? As teenagers, we talked about it with each other all the time, shiny-eyed and eager to discover our callings and our place in the big wide world. We decided that a meaningful life was simply one where you did what God had called you for. I have no doubt that many people still follow this path today and derive a lot of fulfilment from it.

What about creativity? Creating something, whether it be a work of art, a piece of writing, a design, a recipe, a precedent, a building or road, and leaving it in the world to be a legacy after you are gone. Is that meaningful?

Still others talk about finding meaning in pursuing your own goals and seeking your own happiness. After all, you only get one life, and your life is entirely your own, and no one else’s. Why not seek to put yourself first?

And still others talk about finding meaning in touching other people’s lives. A life cannot be meaningless if you have done something to better another person’s experience, if you have left your fingerprint in someone else’s book. That, they say, is how you will know you have lived a good one.

I’ve run out of lemon slice. Time to get another piece and check Facebook.

The Humble Life

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My parents have never been to Europe. They’ve never backpacked around South East Asia, or toured down the Nile, or seen the white thumbprint of Mount Fuji on the horizon. They’ve never set foot in the United States, even though they have siblings there. My parents grew up in a world where travel was a luxury, and luxuries were not a habit.

They bear only good cheer, well wishes and excitement for my globetrotting adventures, though I imagine if I were in their shoes, I would judge my travels to be excessive and gluttonous. I blow a grand or two on plane tickets, and then spend several weeks dashing madly from city to city, attempting to absorb culture. I come back with a pile of dirty clothes and badly shot photos. It’s just so easy to travel nowadays. And not only that–it’s the done thing.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phenomenon. Holidays between semesters and annual leave from work beget the inevitable wide-eyed question: “Where are you going?”

And if you answer, “Nowhere, I’m just staying at home,” you trigger the cry of, “What? Why? You should go somewhere!”

You should go somewhere. It’s a bit of a mantra for us Gen-Yers. While our parents idealised owning a home and having a cushy job, we crave experience and adventure and all those other wild things that we imagine equate to really being alive. We see other countries as wildernesses to be explored. We find lists of places you MUST visit and foods you MUST try. You just must, must, must, before you die, otherwise you haven’t really lived.

My Facebook news feed has become a dizzying display of exotic locales. It seems half my friends are climbing mountains and the other half are skiing down them. I’m not saying that I am blameless, either. I started travelling in university. At first, the summer holidays meant giant group road trips. We rented a big house down in Lorne. The next year, we flew up to Queensland. Then I ventured overseas–an overambitious, five-week romp through Europe. The following year, Malaysia/Hong Kong and then Samoa. Then Japan and New Zealand. Then China. Soon it became almost expected that a break from study or work meant leaving the country. I haven’t spent Christmas in Melbourne for years.

The adventures we embark on are indeed amazing, and many friends have had much more amazing adventures than I have. But I suppose this essay is a little reminder to myself to remain grateful. It is a privilege–no, even a miracle–that we can buy airplane tickets at the click of a button, step onto a flight, and, a few hours later, disembark into a whole different country, on the other side of the bloody world. Is that not mind-blowing? It is a privilege that I have been born into a family, a society, and an education that has allowed me to afford such luxuries.

My mum’s idea of happiness is coffee, a good book and a bed. She hardly ever spends any money on herself. She buys dresses for fancy dinners from the Salvation Army and makes them look stunning. She saves plastic bags, rubber bands, tofu food containers and scraps of paper so that we can reuse them. She has mentioned, on and off, for years, that she’d like to go to America someday, to visit her sister, or maybe Scotland, to see the castles.

My dad’s idea of happiness is a safe and secure home, eating together with the family, and a beanbag in front of the television. He drives more than an hour each way, in heavy traffic, to work. I can’t recall a single time he’s taken a sick day. He wore the same hat for years and years, until I bought him a new one. He is delighted by a bargain.

I can’t help but feel there is something valuable and precious in the humble life. It shines in its simplicity. Keeping an orderly home, looking after your family, finding peace in being alone or being quiet or being still…perhaps these things aren’t as breathtaking as sky-diving, but neither do they mean that you haven’t lived life to the fullest.

The Mexican fisherman

You may have heard this little story before. I heard it a long time ago but it must have struck a chord in me because every so often it drifts back into my mind :) It reminds me to continually evaluate the meaning of success. Hope you find a gem of thought in this too!

The businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The businessman complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while.

The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time? The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos; I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The businessman scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and I could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City where you would run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?” To which the businessman replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then, señor?” The businessman laughed and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.” “Millions, señor? Then what?” The businessman said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”



Winter is coming.

It’s the last few weeks before the Big Exams and the heat is on. Also, the heaters are on as med students huddle in common rooms, hospital libraries and the dark recesses of their own bedrooms in scholarly preparation. It doesn’t help that the temperature is shedding numbers and my fingers start to chill just typing on this keyboard.

Normally, I make it taboo for myself to write about medicine here, since this blog is supposed to be an escape from the world of physiology, pharmacology and lessons on how to be nice to patients. But, as the hard work of the past year comes to a point of culmination in the next month, I feel like my life is being absorbed in my studies. Almost like I am being absorbed.

The amount of learning demanded of us is ridiculous. Stress levels are high; students roam the corridors like zombies. I’m trying not to let it all rub off on me, but some days the combined feelings of expectation, competition and dread can be overwhelming. Yawning my face off while making the long drive from Rowville to Epping, and back from Epping to Rowville, only to come home to the loving embrace of my books…it’s no fun.

My philosophy to survive the next few weeks is to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and perhaps most importantly, slack off from time to time. ‘Cause I know I’m the type of person who sometimes demands too much from herself, even when it’s uncalled for. After all, it’s only medicine. It’s not life. Not mine, anyway =)

As I am a little girl inside, one of my escape mechanisms is to crawl off into an imaginary world. This weekend past, the imaginary world was…*drumroll*…WESTEROS!!!

Yes, that is Boromir. And yes, this is the TV series adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I finally checked out episodes one and two on the weekend after recommendations from both Kat and Jez. The reviews are right. It is a 9.5/10, and it does have a lot of boobs and gore…usually not in the same scenes.

I’ve never really seen epic fantasy done in a TV series format before (well, apart from Merlin, but I don’t know if that counts…) and to be honest I never expected this adaptation to work so well. The big budget is evident: the buildings, costumes, armour, scenery, everything…it’s all done in such detail that it’s effortlessly believable. I love the ratty black cloaks of the Night Watch. The helmet shaped like a leering lion. The hemlines of the woollen gowns stained with mud.

Each episode feels like a movie. It’s Lord of the Rings, but grittier. Instead of orcs, there’s the freaky White Walkers of the north. Instead of your bearded, axe-wielding dwarves, you have the cunning, whoring midget Tyrion Lannister. Instead of gypsies, you have the half-savage Dothraki tribe, who eat horse hearts and slay each other at weddings. The King isn’t benevolent. The good guys might not win. In fact, who are the good guys?

If you want to watch Game of Thrones you’ll need to keep your head around multiple characters and concurrent storylines, which might be easier if you’ve read the books, or have someone awesome sitting next to you to answer all your questions. (Me! Meee!)

After thoroughly enjoying the first two episodes, I got to wondering aloud about why it is that all humans crave adventure. It seems to be built into our physiology. Though we claim that we are creatures of habit, we tire of monotony and dream of our own personal epics. Whether you are a housewife who dreams of being 20 years younger and swept off your feet by a “perfect, ice-cold vampire” or a kid who puts on a stretchy Spidey suit, we are all mesmerised by the thought of being a part of something bigger. Of being a hero to someone else. Of changing the world, and maybe leaving a small legacy.

Maybe it’s a pointer to the fact that we were designed for more than just our physical, self-driven lives. Or maybe it’s an evolutionary twist designed to keep us striving for greater achievements. It’s up to you to decide.

You make your own enemies

Snapshot of my day…

Reading: The Art of War, by Sun-tzu

Listening: to other people talk

Wondering: if someone could invent an algorithm to predict traffic patterns? Please?

I used to think that there are always certain people you can never get along with. And maybe that’s true. Narcissists, perverts and people who don’t know how to spell ‘separately’ would probably be at the top of my Avoid At All Costs list. (I kid…some of my friends are perverts.) But lately I’ve come to realise that you can get along with almost everyone if you put your mind to it.

Sometimes you meet someone and you click. Maybe you have a similar interest, or mannerisms, or background. More often than not, though, you are surrounded by people who are different from you in some way or another. You have conflicting opinions. They think the world revolves around them. You shudder at the way they pronounce ‘specialty.’ Or maybe they smell bad and you just don’t know why.

It sounds selfish, but I reckon you’ve got to weigh up the effort of making a friend out of them, against the benefit of having them on your side. I know, it sounds like some awful calculating method of self-promotion, but I promise it’s for the sake of your own health. Some people are not good for you. They will sap your energy like a carbon freeze.

My new rule of thumb is as follows: befriend those who are interesting, multi-dimensional, different from you, opinionated but not obnoxious, compassionate, gentle, altruistic, idealistic, intelligent. Befriend people who are from all walks of life. People whom you respect. People that you feel you can learn something from. Who bring out the best in you.

Who do I respect the most? I think I respect two kinds of people. One, people who are curious about the many fascinating aspects of life. People who are hungry to learn make me want to learn from them and from the world. Two, people who are compassionate. Selflessness is a remarkable trait.

And the rest? I think I’m going to give up caring about what they think. I officially have passed the point in life where I want to worry about the opinions of those who hardly even matter to me.

Most importantly…fill your inner circle with your favourite people. The few you respect the most; the ones who paint the world for you in brighter colours. In the end, they matter the most. They refuel you at the end of a long day and help mould you into the kind of person you want to become (like two pieces of flint, carving each other into shape). If you put yourself next to people who are narrow-minded, you will become narrow-minded. If you keep the company of the ever-curious, perhaps you can discover the world.

PS. I forgot to mention: having a bad sense of humour is unforgiveable. Just unforgiveable. No.

In other news, I read this book the other night:

 

It’s full of wonderful short stories with even wonderful-er illustrations. Shaun Tan is a master storyteller. Another book of his, The Arrival, comes highly recommended. Anyone who’s ever migrated from one country to another will relate closely to the story, which is told entirely in pictures.

Anyway, I’ll sign off now, since I’ve had my vent and it’s late and I’m too tired to make much sense. More next time!