I feel like I’ve never been passionate enough about anything. I love exploring, learning, and writing… but to say that I can write extensively every day is but a dream I don’t have.

In college, I studied interdisciplinary fields, applicable to whatever career I chose to do. I didn’t study anything technical because I was neither skilled enough nor ready to commit to a narrowed path.

In these moments of doubt, I like to come back to Goodwill Hunting. The film is, essentially, about choosing your path of passion. The math professor devotes his life to advancing the field of math. The therapist devoted his early life to his wife. The friends are devoted to one another, well aware of their limited fortune in this world.

Then we have Will, who seems to have both the intellectual and romantic idealisms at the tip of his finger. He’s burdened by a past he can’t change, but with the help of the characters above, he breaks free from his past.

I grew up believing that I can have everything I set myself to achieve. A career and a family, my own yin and yang. But I failed to account that these achievements mean nothing to me without that fiery, intense emotion I deem passion.

My job and my hobbies are parts of my passion, but never the whole. I like to dabble here and there, commit to one or two things for a while—then start fresh when the circumstances change. 

I can’t shake the feeling that a life without passion is a life wasted. The best I can do is hover near the top, but never actually reach the peak. Where is this nagging feeling coming from? Why can’t I, like Will’s friends, recognize my limitations and live life as it was granted to me?

Maybe I have commitment issues. Maybe, like Will (without his prodigy), I am hindered by a past I have suppressed. Or maybe my passion hasn’t yet been awakened. Murakami didn’t start writing until he was 29. Or, just maybe, my passion is laying dormant in this life, and my fate is not to reach the top of the mountain.

I recently watched Pink Skies Ahead, a film starring a 20-year old girl who just dropped out of college and moved back home with her parents. Set in 1998 Los Angeles, I would have been just a toddler. Computers existed in offices, laptops and smartphones were nonexistent, and life beyond your hometown was exciting beyond your dreams.

It’s crazy to think that one generation was all it took for life to change. Had I been born 10, 20 years earlier, my life would be on a different trajectory. My current job wouldn’t even exist until years after I graduated. Heck, would I even have studied the same majors, pursued the same career? Was my destiny largely defined by my birth date?

If you look at it from this perspective, the most secure jobs are those that have been around for a long time—and are not disappearing any time soon. Like writing, for instance. No matter how the book industry involves or the mediums through which books are published, words will never perish.

I would love to say that I would have become a writer in an earlier time. But the truth is, the chances of me becoming a prodigious writer in any alternate life are next to zero. A housewife aspiring to be an author, perhaps. An office worker scrambling to write in the wee hours of the morning, likely. 

I think of my past, alternate self with a fond, bittersweet warmth in my chest. Perhaps because it rings close to home, through the eyes of my parents and my grandparents. It was their reality growing up, and I can’t help but wonder if it had been mine.

When I think of my future, alternate self, my heart speeds up. The world changing at an unpredictable and exponential rate does little to assuage my fears. It’s easier to retrace a past that has survived the turbulence of time. I just hope I don’t project these concerns onto my kids, who will live to see through this reality.

Maybe this is a symptom of getting older, becoming more tied to this earth through the vividness of the past.

I remember hearing about Freewrite, a distraction-free writing tool. It looks like a 2000s gameboy with a screen that doesn’t look like a screen, a vintage-looking modern spin-off of a typewriter. The latest model came out this year, I believe. They come at $500-$600 apiece.

Writing on my laptop is easy. Typing is fast, vocabulary definitions appear as soon as I need them, and distraction is one click away. I didn’t realize just how much clicking away I was doing until I blocked all but my writing sites during my session. The number of times I was tempted to google the thing I was talking about (re: Freewrite) is insane. The amount of times I let myself sneakily google that thing with the incognito window is embarrassing. My attention span is fickle at best.

We have created tools that are so good at everything that it’s harming us. We now have tools to counter those harmful effects that we created, whether it’s as drastic as Freewrite or as simple as a Chrome extension to block websites. We are innovating solutions based on problems that we created for ourselves. We’re in a rat race against ourselves.

But hey, innovation—right?

When you stop multitasking, you realize how much stimulation your brain craves. How fidgety you are because your fingers aren’t swiping. How hard it is to just sit there and stare blankly at the wall, because gosh, when was the last time you had time to do that?

I can accept that you recognize the flaw in our inventions yet refuse to do anything about it. Most don’t. But I can’t accept the denial that modern age multitasking is more detrimental than good. These devices have been masked as an all-in-one tool to both increase our efficiency and completely consume our minds.

But as much as I love to glorify the times before devices were a household good, I know that the solution is not to backtrack our steps. Innovation is inevitable, and our lives are fundamentally better because of it.

My day job involves working at a screen, neck strained, for hours a day. My hobbies are now moving digital, always involving a digital device of some sort. I love my life. But however amazing the experiences are on-screen, I want my devices to remain as they are: tools to help me achieve my goals. 

My grandparents don’t use technology. My parents don’t have social media. I used to think they were missing out; now, I wonder who was the fool.

When was the last time you did nothing? Not working, not talking to someone, and definitely not staring at a screen. Just noticing the scene around you, observing. Being.

Whenever I catch myself in these states of nothingness, I can feel my internal monologue building up to a mental breakdown:

What do I do next? Do I need to keep working, or can I take a nap? My eyes hurt. I need to stop looking at the screen so much. But what else am I supposed to do? It’s too hot out. I shouldn’t go out. I’m tired. I want a nap. My heart is palpitating again. Why do I keep having irregular heart beats? Why is my life so boring? I want a kitchen. I need to learn how to cook. I need to move more. But I’m so tired. Why am I so tired? I want to watch a movie. No, I should read a book. I spent too much time on YouTube today. I shouldn’t take a nap. I will go to bed early and wake up at 6am tomorrow. Why do I feel like I’m the center of universe, and once I die, everything else also dies? Why am I so hyperaware of my existence? I’m scared. Did I eat too much today? I need to throw out the trash. Am I hoarding too much? I should throw out all the empty boxes that I don’t need. I don’t have enough summer clothes, but my closet feels too cluttered already. Why do I still feel my chest beating? I’m hungry.

Do you know how tiring it is to have this incessant monologue buzzing in your head? I’m sure you do. It’s exhausting. It’s even more annoying when you finally lay on your pillow at night and the more emotionally painful thoughts hit you. They are worst when you let your guard down.

I think this is where meditation steps in. I keep embracing and kicking it away, back and forth. It was easy during the cooler months of the year, when I would take long walks outside. Sometimes multiple times a day. It’s easy to take meditative walks, but it sure is hard as fuck to meditate in the same space that you sleep and work in all day.

Anxiety is a side effect of an overstimulated mind. Learning to do nothing is essential in order to find peace of mind.

It’s not that being busy is bad. It’s the fact that you feel like you need to fill your void with busyness, that is bad. If you were told that nothing matters in life, would you still be this busy?

Because, honey—nothing matters in life. Whether you act upon your anxieties or not, it doesn’t matter. It won’t affect the course of the universe, and it surely won’t affect you a whole lot. Life doesn’t make you anxious, your thoughts do.

Intermittent periods of idleness nurture your creativity. Don’t be busy all the time.

We have an endless supply of creativity in us, but it will run short if we occupy its space with clutter. Creativity thrives in boredom—that’s why we tend to get our best ideas in the shower.

I believe that creative work is only going to become more indispensable. It’s the one thing that we can’t produce en-masse. All jobs can be replaceable except those that originate from the mind and the mind itself. Maybe it’s a naïve assumption, but it doesn’t change the fact that creativity is how I make sense of the world.

If mental well-being is not important enough to make you consider slowing then, then perhaps you would do it for the sake of creativity. If not for yourself, then for your work.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Adam Grant, in The New York Times

If left untreated, languishing can be a predictor for depression. It’s a helpful term that can help us diagnose that in-between feeling, where you’re not depressed, but not happy either.

The remedy to languishing? Enter a state of flow. Become so focused on the task at hand that other things become secondary. The unpleasant things about life disappear, because it no longer matters. You are challenged, but in control. You could be working against a tight deadline, embarking on a passion project, or simply watching Parasite.

I personally experience passive states of flow whenever I’m immersed into a soul-sucking novel. My mind is completely immersed, my body limp on the couch. For those hours, nothing in the world matters. I gorge down a fast meal when I remember to do so, my lips are dry from lack of hydration, and the sky turns dark before I can look at the clock.

It’s easy to enter a state of flow when doing something a hobby that you know you enjoy. I try to steer away from potentially harmful activities like video games, as I never feel good about the hours spent in front of the screen. I also try not to start any binge-worthy shows (though I don’t always succeed), as they can prevent me from focusing on any task other than finishing all the episodes of all the seasons.

I find active states of flow much harder to accomplish, as it requires the removal of any distractions. Namely, the other tabs on my screen, my phone, and my stomach. I often think about how much easier it must have been 10 or 20 years ago, when screens were still a luxury and jobs weren’t dominated by the tech industry. But it’s futile to compare. Innovation rarely comes with its downsides.

To induce a regular state of flow, I set aside my mornings to completely free myself of any external demands. I block all sites but the ones that I write on. The anxiety about having emails and Slack messages to check at the start of my work day never leaves the back of my mind—but until then, the world can consider me asleep. I revert back to analog activities: eat breakfast, journal, stare at the clouds, and do what I need to do to sit down and write each morning. I pretend my laptop is typewriter.

Ultimately, I think flow is about pushing your mind to do its best work. Active flow states leave us more energized than passive ones, and for good reason. We feel best when we are challenged, focused, and creative. You don’t need to do important work; you just need to do what is meaningful to you. What matters to you? What makes you want to jump out of bed, even with few hours of sleep? What keeps you going when all sense of hope is gone?

I have been reading a lot this year, and I’ve made some strides in how I approach this pastime.

I primarily read purely for the enjoyment of it. A good book can pull me right into a state of flow, where my mind inhabits the narrative for the days that the words live in my mind. It’s an exhilarating feeling, one that I have to time carefully. Once I enter this state of flow, few things matter more than getting to the last page.

I’ve been sticking to mainly 2 genres this year: fiction and autiobiography. Both introduce me to the life of an individual from a parallel reality across every imaginable timeline. I love seeing the world from their eyes, experiencing life vicariously through them. The autobiographies offer a source of inspiration for me, but the fiction novels are the ones that make me fall in love with life. As different as the characters may be, they all seem to be pieces of the same puzzle.

I had a stint of reading self-help books for the few years where I felt completely lost within myself. But after a couple of them, you’ll learn that you’re reading the same thing. So now I only pick up those that delve into a very narrow field of study, and often not intended a self-help. I’m trying out more philosophy books. The purely philosophical, textbook-y ones are hard to digest, but I oftentimes come across those masked as sci-fi (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or literature (Atlas Shrugged), and I don’t end up disappointed. It’s not about agreeing with any outlook on life, it’s about opening yourself up to them.

I’m also looking forward to rereading some books. Whenever I read a book a second time, I’m always surprised by the details that I either missed or forgot from the first read. It’s like watching your favorite childhood film, years later. Watching Grave of the Fireflies at 7 left a somber aftertaste in my mind, and rewatching it at 22 left me sobbing for the same reasons that I finally understood. It’s those details that you brushed off the first time, that strike a chord when you pay attention to them next time.

In order to enjoy the reading process as much as possible, I will easily stop reading a book that does not pique my interest in the first few pages. It can have rave reviews and be hailed as a 21st century classic, but if I can’t insert myself into the narrative, it’s off my bookshelf. There’s not enough time to read all the books in the world, much less the books that I will not enjoy. If I only read the books that others deem to be great, then I might as well be illiterate. I choose the books. I choose your worlds. Never the other way round.

Another realization that I’ve had in the past year is that I don’t really like audiobooks. Admittedly, I have gotten through some amazing stories with it, including Stoner and Conversations with Friends, but I prefer listening to music and podcasts when I commute. I don’t like being cut off when I’m about to get off the subway. I don’t like not being able to reread passages at my own pace, and I hate not being able to look at the words that I want to ingrain in my mind. I also have to say that audiobooks are a lazy person’s way to “read.” You may be able to listen to an audiobook at 2x the speed in half the time it takes me to read it, but honey—you didn’t read the book. You listened to it. If you can’t make time to read and only read, then you’re too busy doing nothing.

I’ve always loved reading. I learned English from reading The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High series hiding in my school bathroom and every day after school. I lived in these worlds for a long time, before school consumed my life. Then I reclaimed my love for books when I once again found myself lost after graduating high school. I started off reading the books I thought I had to read, but the child in me knew what she was doing when she picked up books for the sake of living in an alternate world. To fall in love with the infinite possibilities that life could play out, with the endless lives I have yet to live, with life itself.

Dreams are terrifying and fascinating. One vile character, one wrong turn, and your life is ruined.

I still get awakened by dreams, panting and horrified at the ordeal I just went through. The vividness lingers in the minutes I lay semi-awake. The images follow me as I go about my morning, my brain foggy from the unraveled mind.

A few months ago, I started to remember my dreams. Before bed, I would give myself a pep talk: type my dreams down on my phone as soon as I awoke. I knew that I just needed a few rambling sentences to insert the dream into my long-term memory. It has kind of worked.

There are instances where I wake up at 3am and I realize that I haven’t finished the dream. I lay down again and will myself back to it, as if softly hypnotizing myself. I haven’t been able to fly nor create my happy ending yet, but I’m keeping an eye on the reality check tips that lucid dreamers offer.

Perhaps the worst thing is when you’re caught in sleep paralysis: that in-between stage where your mind is still awake, but your body frozen. You’re paralyzed from top to bottom, and someone at the corner of your room is going to get you. The same thing every time, it’s ridiculous. But on the plus side, this has become my reality check: Can’t move? Check. Feeling paranoid? Check. Dark human shadow in the room? Don’t look, you idiot.

The 3 words that I live by.

On the whole, it means to live simply. Don’t buy things for the sake of filling empty space. Don’t occupy time for the sake of busyness. Don’t try to run away from yourself, because at the end you will only wish you hadn’t.

It’s about doing forfeiting short-term quantity for quality. I am all about exploring, but slowly and extensively. I mentioned wanting to travel the world, as a slow nomad. I like exploring different sports, one or two at a time. Most recently, I’ve been reading fewer books at a time, so I can live in one world without being interrupted by other narratives.

At a deeper level, this is about being choosy about the content I let into my life. It’s not about traveling to as many countries as I can, but about surrendering myself to a totally foreign space. I might not read as many books this year, but it’s about what I did read. Did I learn from these stories? Did I enjoy them?

Another way this phrase comes in handy is when I’m faced with a difficult choice. When in doubt, resort to my values. Yes, there are many things I want to do, many choices I could make. But the one that I most value is the one I will make, because my values won’t fail me.

I could think of many more examples, but I’ve said enough. The 3 words are essentially a simple reminder of my values. They can mean anything I want them to, so long as they remind me of my core values when I’m in conflict.

My life is simple, and that’s a priviledge.

It’s all about having the freedom to pursue the life I want without having a financial burden. I want to do the things that I want to do now. I don’t want to wait until I’m 50 to realize that I spent half a century living for others. I would have lost my zest by then.

I want to remain humble, knowing that no happiness sponsored by wealth is permanent. I don’t want to inflate my lifestyle, even if my income skyrockets. I don’t want to have so much disposable money that I can buy clothes without looking at the price tag. The moment I start thinking about stupid ways I could spend money, I risk becoming too comfortable for my own good.

I want to be self-sufficient, and empower myself against helplessness. I don’t want to depend on others to create things that I otherwise could do myself. An extreme way of thinking about this is pretending that I’m training to live off-grid in a foreign country, all by myself: How would I protect myself? How would I ration water? How would I keep my tiny house warm during winter?

Of course, the questions that I deal with are nowhere as extreme: Can I borrow instead of buy books? Can I bike instead of bus? Can I cut my own hair? You get it. The thing is, I find these small challenges fun. They reduce choice overload, require me to be creative with the limits I have, and often require a safe level of risk. But I haven’t always felt this way.

Before I started working, before I had any conception of financing myself — I tried to live a frivolous lifestyle, though I was limited in doing so. I wanted to buy everything, because my identity was not yet formed. I was absorbing who my friends were, what celebrities did, and how adults behaved. I was still exploring who I was. I admire those who learn to be frugal from a young age.

I’m sure I wouldn’t give a shit about “living frugally” under different circumstances. I’m sure I would have different priorities if I had kids, or if I were in my mid-70s and retired. I’m sure I would think differently had I been born in another culture, or brought up in a different social class. So I understand that my specific circumstances are privy to the value I hold for being frugal now.

I want to write. Preferably fiction. Imaginary worlds in parallel with the current one.

Nothing has influenced me more than books have. Articles don’t do it for me. Non-fiction doesn’t do it for me (with exceptions). Good fiction rarely fails me. They suck into me into a state of flow that no other form of writing can do to me. But that’s not the why.

It’s a job that will leave you unsatisfied so long as you keep growing. Your past work will miss the wisdom that you have now. You may have external markers of success, but you can’t fool yourself. Your mind knows bullshit when it reads it.

To change my own mind. I try to create a new vocabulary or terrain for myself, so that I open out — I always think of the Dutch claiming land from the sea — or open up something that would have been closed to me before. That’s the point and the pleasure of it. I continuously scrutinize my own thinking. I write something and think, How do I know that that’s true? If I wrote what I thought I knew from the outset, then I wouldn’t be learning anything new.

Marilynne Robinson, on why she writes.

I’ve never really written fiction beyond school assignments. I find it hard to tap into my imaginary realm of thought. Perhaps because I never try for long enough. Yet I’ve convinced myself that this is what I want to do. I even bravely penned it in my seventh grade autobiography for class.

Out of all the lives of artists I’ve read, I’m most fascinated with that of writers. Authors. Their work ethic is chaotic at best. They are frivolous or stringent, with many holding work as their sole raison d’être. They have an insatiable fire within them that can’t be placated by promises of praise, nor threats of destitution. The mere act of reading about them, rather than trying to become one, is a telltale sign that I’m not like them. I don’t have it, but I’m still going to do it.

I don’t expect to have a career in writing. But this thought allows me to attach a tangible meaning to everything I do, to every success and every misfortune I have. This is a string that connects me to my past, and that I still hold on to as a source of hope when there is none.

Also, I might change my mind.