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.

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

Terry Pratchett

The reason I talk about moving to a new country as “when” and not “if” is because I will do it. When the time comes, I will leave my current life, move to a new country, and do as the locals do. I will do it because this goal precedes any other goal I may have.

I find 1-3 years to be the sweet spot before making the next transition, enough to go through all the phases of cultural shock: honeymoon, anxiety, adjustment, and adaptation. The path to adaptation is emotional and unstable, as it has been in my past 2 moves, but that’s what makes them important. You can’t grow if your reality is never challenged.

I look forward to shedding my identity in the face of new social rules. I like to play the part: dress like them, eat like them, behave like them. I want to seep into their community as seamlessly as I can, and when I go home at the end of the day — I will come back to myself feeling richer inside.

While the physical moving portion is the ultimate goal, it’s not the end goal per se. I will continue learning languages, devouring books based in different cultures, and immerse my mind in other worlds all the same. You see, this goal can’t fail me. A tangible way to do this can enforce the transition, but it’s not a requisite.

It makes me happy to think and plan for the Next Move. It’s aligned with my values, it gives me something long-term to look forward to, and it makes me appreciative of everything that has come before this moment. Every priviledge, every achievement, and every failure I’ve had — I thank them all.

I used to be deeply affected by natural disasters and social issues. I wasn’t personally affected by them, but seeing how people had to ration their water supply while I was taking hot, steamy showers every night was a horrible feeling. Why did I deserve hot showers when others barely had enough to drink? I felt like I was contributing to their misfortune. I dedicated my high school and college years doing community service, because I was convinced that there was nothing more noble that I could do.

I mostly advocated for social issues, and strived to inspire others to dedicate their free time to volunteering. They were great experiences, but I ended up feeling more at odds with myself. I was disappointed that my actions were temporary. What was the point if everything will just revert back to its status quo?

Since graduating, I’ve been able to distance myself from the things I feel I “need” to do and have turned to just slowing things down. I’ve turned inward, scouring books and inside my mind to understand how I should live my life.

I came to the conclusion that, while spending time contributing to others can help both parties grow, I cannot depend my sense of achievement on them. I can’t make my life purpose to help x number of people. I can contribute for the sake of contributing, but my life purpose will always be something within my control. Whatever I dedicate myself to, that’s the thing that will have the biggest impact on others.

Alex Honnold is the first and only climber to have free soloed the 2,900-foot El Capitan in Yosemite. His main life purpose is to become the greatest free soloer that he can possibly be. After his documentary Free Solo came out, many people were inspired — but that’s a secondary effect. He never set out to inspire others, but he’s done so precisely because he’s focused on achieving his goal of greatness. He’s also doing this by causing the least amount of burden on nature as possible, by living a low-budget, vegetarian lifestyle.

I want to achieve my form of greatness at the lowest cost to nature as well. I want to contribute to the communities I immerse myself in, but my heart and soul will always be devoted to that thing that speaks to me. Only then can I say that I am living my life; I’m not living yours, and I’m living for you, I’m living for myself.

I do wonder how things would differ if I had been raised under different circumstances. Would I have arrived to the same conclusion? What if I were to have kids? Would I see them as an extension of myself, or would they force me to reevaluate my life?

I think we all harm ourselves inadvertently. We scold ourselves for acting like a fool in front of others. We think ourselves weak when we oversleep. We long for things we don’t need, in attempts to mask our true unhappiness. We harm ourselves mentally, because no one can see the damage with which we treat ourselves. It has become such an immediate response, that we no longer question how we treat ourselves.

I tend to talk down on myself to the extent that physical symptoms manifest. Back pain, irregular heart beat, tiredness. As a teen, I didn’t make the connection right away. How can my mind cause physical pain? It’s easy, actually. Remember when you would have a stomachache every time before a stressful presentation? It’s the same thing for your other emotions — only, they become more permanent when putting yourself down becomes a constant in your life.

We’ve all heard the same old advice that You should treat yourself like you treat your best friend countless times. Maybe it’s too soon to call myself my own best friend, but I can see myself becoming one. I got my own back, but I also call myself out when I act out. But if I just talked down on myself all the time, my life would be purposeless. The voice inside my head would not give me a chance.

Now, my reason for not talking down on myself is simple: I want to accomplish my goals. I need the freedom to think and ponder about any kind of thoughts that come across my mind. There is simply not enough space for “talking down on myself” anymore. It doesn’t do anything but sink me deeper into a dark hole. It prevents me from making progress, and affects those around me.

I don’t claim to be free from mental self-harm, but it helps to have a very clear reason why I should invalidate it in my life. It’s not about being kinder to myself, because emotions can be a fickle reason to do anything. Rather, it’s about achieving my goals, something that I will always strive for regardless of how I feel.

It’s late at night, and I’ve been twisting and turning for hours. Why do I want to do it? Should I do something else instead? What will people think about it? I’m such an idiot.

Rumination sometimes leads to inaction, but more often it leads me to an intense desire to redo my actions. It’s like this urge to paint over the canvas before it dries, because I just can’t let my painting sit like that. Sometimes, I take it as a good sign that I’m growing. Other times, I wonder how traumatized I must be to not be able to face my own work.

When I first started blogging, I had a hard time re-reading my posts. I just wanted to tap “Publish” and start a new page. It was easy to do that. Then I started creating videos, and it got worse. I just could not watch a second of my video after I published it. Ironic, isn’t it? If I’m posting something, I can’t be embarrassed about it; otherwise, why the hell would I post it?

I always hoped that my skills would level up to that of my creative eye. To match my creation with my expectation. Both are in constant flux, but my eye seems to change faster than my skills can keep up with. It’s like when you try to draw a face, as an untrained artist. You can see how it’s supposed to look, you can even picture it in your head when you’re not actively looking at it. But when you lean your head back to get a good look at your drawing, it looks awfully unproportional. The eyes are too big, the nose is not right, and it doesn’t resemble the actual face at all. You may know how it’s supposed to look, but your skills deceive you by penning only the most memorable parts of a face and leaving out the rest.

I’m not mad about this dissonance. If anything, it forces me to write more, create more, and post more. I want to receive praises and criticisms — I take them all. Not because it will change what I ultimately create, but because I know I’ll grow immune to them. They might signal validation (or lack thereof) of my work, but the only criticism that matters is that of mine. If I can stop listening to others’ criticisms, then maybe there’s a chance I’ll grow more resilient to mine.

“A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

Jorge Luis Borges has put my thoughts precisely in the best way possible. The way I look at my life experiences — any experience that evokes strong emotional reaction — is like raw material that I can use to develop my art.

I have no art to show as of now. I blog and I make content, but they’re merely expansions of my experiences; ways for me to process what I’ve experienced, but nothing that would be classified as art.

The powerful thing about thinking of experiences as art materials such is that it gives me a sense of purpose when I see none. I may feel like I have sunk to the bottom of the pit, with no way out — but if I just think beyond that moment, I will realize that when I get through it, I would have garnered juicy passage that no one else has.

I don’t think there’s a greater form of true self-expression than the art that you create. It abides by no rules, it listens to no one. Its intent is purely the act of creating itself, to enlighten no one but the artist herself. This art can come in different forms, but I think it’s undeniable when you spot it. The art speaks for the person behind it. There’s no need to justify it or to make it useful. The art just is.

For many years, I preferred pen on paper. Words are unpolished, but the physical constraint forces you to convey your thoughts more efficiently. I also have an online journal for rants; there, I prioritize getting my feelings out over coherency. Sometimes it be like that.

Recently, I started posting my journal entries here instead. Emotionally, it’s a terrible idea. I lay awake at night, thinking about the stupid things I’ve written that day and do everything I can to prevent myself from coming back here and deleting it. Was I too insensitive? Self-conscious? Immature? Stupid?

Rationally, I want to get to the root of my fears. I want to understand why the way I come off to you matters so much to me, and how I can prevent that affecting my work. I want to become more poised, albeit faked at first. Perhaps I’m all the things I fear; but they’re poor excuses for inaction.

Text, and other pieces of writing, are precious reminders of the past. I went through old emails of my first hotmail.com yesterday, and I was immediately flooded with memories about my school days. Email chains between friends, self-email reminders to study SAT vocabulary, one-line emails from friends asking about Spanish homework. I deleted that email right after. Memories can last forever, but the evidence doesn’t need to sit there. It would be extremely easy for me to just forget about these old emails, and unearth them again decades later. But I see no reason to leave a digital footprint if the only time I unearth it is when I’m grappling what to do with it. Thank you for being part of my past, but goodbye.

I guess journals are a bit different. They’re a way for me to remember who I once was, no longer am, and still am. Most of my entries seem like useless rants, but years later they become key pieces of my identity. Getting rid of these entries would be like erasing private thoughts that only I have access to. They are precious because they are solely mine.

Now, I journal as a reminder to do something for myself only. What’s the point of investing in a hobby if my ulterior motive is to profit off of it? The moment I make it profitable, it stops being about myself and starts being about what others want. I risk losing the creative autonomy that, once lost, will be easy to forget. Journaling reminds me that I am the only audience I need to cater to. I am writing for the 13 year-old me, the 30 year-old me, and the versions of me who need a reminder of what I stand for.