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Multitasking is possible, but it’s more complicated than we think

Back when I was still working in a hotel, one of my main jobs in the afternoon was to send the invoices of all the guests that checked out during the day. I’d have to go through each account one by one, determine which folio to send, and ensure that I send it to the correct email address. The whole process would take about an hour and a half to finish, and I kept doing this job for a year and a half. By then, I was so good at sending invoices that I could do it within 30–45mins while effectively listening to an audiobook, or holding a conversation with a guest on the phone.

I know the feeling so well. The task completely blurs out of my cognition, and I could use my full attention to do whatever I please. It’s like playing the piano and singing at the same time, which is another form of multitasking.

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Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

Recovery

I’ve been running a mile
non-stop for a while. The exhaustion
is like scattering, escaping
with no trajectory. Circles and
spirals, dips and laborious climbs.
Patterns with no discernible
uniformity, just even shapelessness.

To take form, to move with
thoughts that swirl around you, like
birds of different feathers
in a never-ending rice field. The rumbling
noise of your machinery is the only
thing leading the flock. They ought to stop.

When the thoughts move
again, they fall into a file. When you
settle like a kettle, on
a stove, they flutter into discourse with
the treatise they can’t assuage. Why
not? Recover. The ducks will tell you, that
it’s just all luck.

 

Photo: Rice Field, Biñan Laguna, Philippines (February 2019)

The real reputation of Taylor Swift

We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us. — Taylor Swift

The first song I’ve ever heard by Taylor Swift was back in 2007. I was in the back of the car watching the rain on the window, and “Teardrops on My Guitar” was playing on the radio. I couldn’t understand what she was talking about in the song because I was only fifteen at the time. But as I listened carefully to the lyrics, and pictured how she laughed and held her breath the way she described it, somehow, I understood what she felt.

Twelve years and six albums later, I still listen to her songs the way a devout parishioner would sing their hymns every Sunday. I definitely identify as a Swiftie, and yes I know at least 98% of her songs by heart, so don’t question my superfan license.

I am not a stranger to what her critics are saying about her, and I admit that it’s part of what makes her so interesting. Because you can see how her environment and her celebrity status affects her process and ultimately, her music. However, being there with her in the open arena of social media, and in the stadiums of the tours I have attended, I can tell that there is a huge part of her persona that a lot of her naysayers are not seeing.

There was one article I read the other day that really got to me. It pointed out that Swift has mastered faux-intimacy, and is an expert in addressing millions of strangers as if they were close. This was hurtful. Not because it isn’t true, but because it is misguided.

Yes, Taylor exudes an aura that is overtly friendly, but that is part of her performance. Her particular brand had always leaned on the theatrical, where her winks, seductive smug, fake laughs, and even her sincere dialogues are all part of the act. What blurs that line are the candidness in her tone, the traces of sincerity, and the depth in her message.

I understand that some children may have a hard time telling the difference, but that is where parental guidance plays a key role not just in Taylor’s case, but in all forms of entertainment. The rest of us adults are not as dumb and delusional as what the critics and haters seem to think.

So if she’s not a manipulative fake bestie and psycho ex-girlfriend, then who is Taylor Swift to her fans?

Taylor Swift in the rain — ANZ Stadium, Sydney, November 2018

 

Music is widely varying, especially in today’s world where anyone who can splice coherent noises can post their work online and call it a song. But where Taylor is distinguished as an artist is that at the centre of her music are her lyrics that are grounded in real love, and real pain.

Some of those lyrics are almost autobiographical, filled with vivid images of love stories and wildest dreams, but also of treacherous heartbreaks and bad blood between former friends. And that is why her songs are popular because they speak from personal experiences that make them relatable.

And you understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars. And why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words.
— “You Are In Love”, 1989 Album, Taylor Swift

Apart from her music, she also doesn’t shy away from getting real with her fans. I attended her 1989 World Tour in Sydney back in 2015, and there was a moment where Taylor addressed the crowd as part of her transition to the next song. She talked about societal standards and the pressures of fitting in; about criticism and how they echo in your mind and become a part of how you see yourself. And then she said in the unmistakable tone of someone who has been thoroughly bruised, “that the moment you realise that you are not the opinion of someone who don’t know you or care about you, is the moment you feel clean.”

Those words — uttered by design but not without care, struck a chord with many of us in the crowd that night. Her openness about her struggles became the platform from which her fans could process their own, embellishing her image into their personal lives. This is the profound effect of empathy, and how Taylor Swift transcended from being relatable to being relevant.

Subsequently, and true to her form, she opened yet another vein in the Reputation Tour when she talked about how we all love the feeling of finding something real. She talked about gossip, and our fear of the things that can threaten the prospect of genuine relationships. “Having a bad reputation in our mind could get in the way of you finding real friendship, real love, real acceptance” said Taylor Swift in her sequinned rainbow dress. And yet again, we are incredibly moved.

Why is that? Well, never before has a generation been so susceptible to criticism than we do now in the age of social media. According to a survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health, social media sites often inspire feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and self-loathing among young people who frequently use the top five platforms.

Whether it be from self-comparison to other profiles, public disagreement, or outright bullying, many people, especially millennials, are now at risk of facing a similar dilemma as Taylor did. And while that may vary in scale by a lightyear, the anger and shame injures our mental health in the same way.

Taylor Swift is the embodiment of a generation that is constantly berated. Therefore, it is no surprise that we are responding to her music the way we do, because this is the life we all live now.

The Reputation Tour closed at $345.7 million, a considerable leap from her previous 1989 World Tour in 2015, which made $250.7 million according to Billboard. And many of her critics have since changed their minds about her, like this one:

In the end, her enduring devotion to her work is what brought her back to life. She poured herself into every song, and every performance; and I know this because I was there with her under the heavy downpour in Sydney, and it was one of the best times of my life.

The album, the tour, the people who supported it, and its unprecedented success were Taylor Swift’s real reputation. Proving to everyone that no amount of condemnation, fabricated news, and receipts will ever be stronger than a sincere act of human connection.

 

Featured Image Source: studybreaks.com

I am becoming a morning person

So here’s the thing: I didn’t actually work to be a morning person, I just kind of fell into it as a leaf would from a tree. I’ve barely had great mornings in my entire lifetime, so I was never a fan of departing from a dream.

However, I have recently moved back to the Philippines from Sydney, Australia, which was 3 hours ahead from Manila. So when I wake up at 5AM in the morning, I’m essentially waking up at my regular schedule of 8AM in Sydney. Jet lag was how this whole thing started.

Now you may not know me yet, internet, but this is shocking news. I was getting a serious case of cognitive dissonance when I first realised that this change was happening in my body, and trust me, I retaliated. I told myself that I did not consent to this, but my sleep was not a democracy.

I was irritable for a few days, but eventually, I was forced to adapt. And the more I’m evicted out of my bed before daybreak, the more I understood why so many people do it.

It’s a different kind of world in the morning, like opening a secret bank account filled with money you never knew you had. And the good news is that no one usually bothers you that early, so all that currency is YOURS.

I know it sounds like I’m selling a pyramid scheme, but hear me out for a minute. And maybe after this, you can sign yourself up for a free seven-day trial.

Here’s why you should try it:

Take a moment of peace
We are all sensitive to our environment, more than we care to admit. So if you wake up at a time when your neighbours are already banging away in their kitchen, it can be hard to find another opportunity to have a quiet time, especially if you have a day job.

It’s a lot for our brain to be exposed to noises for an entire day, and that overload of information is what makes us so tired and wanting more sleep in the night.

But if you keep yourself from pressing that snooze button in the morning, and instead spend a few minutes resting in wakefulness, you already have a moment of tranquillity that you can carry with you in your lunchbox for later consumption.

They roll over you know. That zen quality of the mind is abundant in the morning when everything is still quiet. So start accruing moments of peace, that they may tip over and manifest throughout your days.

Finish the day early
The feeling of being productive is grounded in knowing that the things you absolutely need to do are actually finished.

Getting a headstart in the morning gives me at least 3–4 hours of uninterrupted work, which usually gets the job done like a prayer. That may be lesser for people who have a full-time job, but if you can get at least 1–2 hours of your day to do something meaningful to you, it can have a significant effect on how you perceive the rest of your day.

For me, once I know I’ve put down a minimum word count, and read a few chapters or articles online, I can spend the rest of the day doing whatever I want without the guilt that I’m not being productive. It’s nice to eat lunch knowing that my day is done, and I can spend the rest of the afternoon watching Netflix and be totally chill.

Mornings are a great way to start a ritual
You know that thing you said you’d do better at in 2019? Well, this is the perfect time to do it. That “don’t mess with me” death stare in the morning is a powerful defence mechanism to ward off people and devices who are all competing for your attention. And less interaction means less distraction, so it’s easier to focus on a single task. Why not use that time to focus on a ritual?

It doesn’t have to be complicated at first you know. It can be as simple as making your bed, doing a few situps, and brushing your teeth. Anything physical that tells your body that it’s time to start your day, and preferably something that does not involve diving headfirst into a sea of distraction.

Once you get used to a ritual, you can start adding more things into it, like a 15-minute workout, cooking your own breakfast, or reading the news. A good foundation is very important if you want to build something. And a good foundation, when translated into a mental process is merely a structure.

Bang your own drum
Sometimes, you can have your entire day planned out, and you completely miss it from the very beginning because your monkey brain is so susceptible to being sidetracked. It’s hard to recover from that, and catching up for lost time is going to be even harder from there.

I recently discovered that anything I do in the morning reverberates throughout my day. If I work at a slow pace in the morning, I’m more likely to be slow in the afternoon as well. So if I start my day with a structure that follows a steady beat, it’s easier to keep my flow in that same rhythm.

Getting used to a structure is like a noise-cancelling headphone. Your concentration sharpens, you are able to prioritise easily, and you naturally harness the skill to tune everyone out, especially when you are dancing to the beat of your own schedule.

— —

I’ve always thought that being a morning person was never possible for me. As I said, I’ve had extremely few glorious mornings in the past, so I didn’t think I would ever love doing it on the regular.

But if anything else, I learned that our capacity for change is greater than our own identity. There are no morning birds, and night owls, there is only our ability to adapt.

Three lessons that I will carry with me in 2019

I know, I know, I’m late for the party.
I’ve set some goals for myself and it didn’t kick off right away. Everyone has already left the starting line, and I’m still stretching my legs behind the broken ribbon. But that’s okay, because what matters is that I’m still on the race.

The novelty of the new calendar has worn off, and I no longer make the mistake of writing 8 instead of 9. For some people, that may be the only thing that changed, and business goes as usual. But for a few daring minds who are setting out on a new journey, this could be one the most gut-wrenching moments of their lives, and it certainly is for me.

Now, where do I begin? Well, ‘start with what you know’ seems like a good mantra. That way, I don’t feel like I’m starting with nothing. So instead of sharing my goals, I’ll be sharing with you three of the best lessons I’ve learned so far. Lessons that are going to shape my year of Mastery.

Focus on the marathon, not the destination
There is something about a shiny prize at the end of a task that just makes it so enticing to do, and that may be easy to achieve in smaller tasks. But when we start to look for bigger prizes at the end of even bigger challenges, that huge distance can feel like an eternity to tackle.

But what makes a destination worth getting to, is not the place itself. You can join a marathon, secretly drive to the finish line ahead of everyone else and not feel like you’ve actually won. Because what makes the destination worth going to, is the amount of work you put in to get there.

Enjoying the process rather than obsessing over the result is what keeps people staying on the race and wanting to do more of it in the future, even after completing a particular milestone. So only use the goal as a means to determine your route. Focus on the road, and don’t forget to take in the view.

Enjoy your failures
There will be difficult times when you definitely want to quit. They will no longer feel like a hypothetical, and there will be actual moments of quitting. Sometimes, you will fail so hard that your entire sense of identity will crumble before you, and the only place you will ever feel safe is in a dark bedroom, buried underneath your bed. Do it. Let go. It’s okay.

People will tell you to keep going, even when you know you have nothing more to give. But holding on to a sinking ship is not going to keep it afloat, it will only drag you deeper into the abyss. There is a time to fight, and there is a time to give up, and there is wisdom in knowing how to choose your battles.

Not everyone succeeds, we all know that, which makes failing very common. So if you associate failure with painful emotions like shame, guilt and regret, you’re gonna feel like shit most of the time.

But if you learn to accept your mistakes, treat them with kindness, and love every single one of them, they will start to feel like a dear friend. And someday, you won’t have to hide in a dark bedroom anymore when your life comes crashing down.

It is my journey.
It doesn’t belong to the readers of this blog. It doesn’t belong to any of my competitors who would like to see me fail. It doesn’t even belong to my family and friends who believe in me, even though I share most of my journey with them. It is mine, and mine alone.

I may look as if I had nothing but I was sure of myself, sure of everything, sure of my life, sure of my impending death. Yes, that was all I had. But at least I had a hold on that truth as much as it had a hold on me.
—Albert Camus, The Outsider (Modern Classics Edition of The Stranger)

I used to think that I owned my life because it is very easy for a person to feel like they do. But after spending years of studying, working and halfway succeeding in my former job as a hotelier, I didn’t feel any better about myself in the long run.

Of course, there were a few months of stability and even fewer bursts of triumph. But as a whole, and certainly in the latter years of my career, every second felt like agony. And that’s when I knew that my dream of being a top management executive was not my dream.

Just because you are succeeding in what you are doing does not automatically mean that you are owning your life, not if your intentions are mere reflections of other people’s expectations.

So brush off the pressure of pleasing anyone. Think about what it is you really want to do and start doing it as often as you can, with the end goal of doing it every day. Don’t worry about being late, don’t apologise, and don’t wait for the stars to align before you start something new.

It’s your journey, seriously — do whatever you want. That includes taking your time and being late at something every now and then.

 

Photo by J.M. Glodoviza – Adelaide, Australia (August 2017)

My Manifesto: Be vulnerable.

I sometimes stare at the blank page, and think of writing as wringing the mind and spilling its contents on the paper; or more accurately (as I find my handwriting atrocious), letting it flow through my fingers, and onto the keys of my old MacBook Pro. I allow them to leak, word by word, like droplets from a loosely shut valve.

I discovered, while fully immersed in this process, that the blank page is not really on the screen before me; not a canvass that I hack with a paint-loaded brush or a cup where I let the pulp and juice from an orange ooze into. No, the screen is not where the blank page lies.

The blank page is a space so empty, that neither light nor darkness exists in it, but where both can be brought into very easily when willed. It is a space where everything is welcome; colours, music, emotions, words. It is a sanctum where my world is conceived, and its address is in my head.

Whenever I write, there is a strange phenomenon that occurs in my consciousness. It doesn’t quite say the words, or show it, as these are merely the symptoms of what is going on in my brain. It feels more like carving, where the chiselled scar is the thought, shaping itself the more I tap into it and becoming its own realised copy of what is otherwise an obscure and formless breath of air. It rings in my head like electricity running wild in a vast network of copper, messages sent from nowhere, glorious bolts of lightning in the sky. This is a phenomenon that I have become so obsessed with exploring, experiencing, and mastering — and this is why I have decided to become a Writer.

Yesterday, I think it was, or whatever day that is now, I wrote an odd piece. I printed it, folded it twice, not knowing what to do with it, and is now laid out in front of me, finally discovering its purpose as I share it here:

“There’s something about my fear of being vulnerable that makes me question if I’m really cut out to be human. I just don’t want to do it, you know. Show my face in public when I have a big cystic acne on my face. Talk to people in the morning. Talk to people. Share my thoughts on social media. Co-exist with another living and breathing judgment-capable being. I just can’t anymore with human interaction, and yet my depravity of it is the cause of my misery, the same misery that makes me so afraid to live my life. So whatever I choose to do now, either way, I am well and truly fucked.

But the thing is, whether I’m cut out for it or not, I am human. And the many things I rationalise, wrestle with, and hate about myself, are precisely the things that make me a human being. So there is no reason to fight it or to run away from it. I don’t even need to accept it if I don’t feel like it. Because in the end, being human is only built around two options: to live, or to die. And if you haven’t already learned by now, I don’t care to share which one I choose.”

Now I don’t know whether it’s my profound and chronic lack of sleep or the fact that I wrote this in the morning, at work, being miserable in a career that I spent six years mindlessly slogging away to please other people and to earn a decent living. But this piece of paper is a sad piece of work, and yet it struck me so hard to realise that it is mine. I am this self-loathing person. This lonely, anxious, and angry person. So I share this work now despite its flaws, its raw and contradicting persona, and its intended incompleteness; because it is honest, and I need to start telling the truth more often.

It is true that I am anxious about sharing my own thoughts. It is true that this is making me stressed and depressed and be filled with existential dread. What is not true is the lack of reason to fight it. Because yielding to depravity, and misery, and self-deprecation, builds the case to choose the second option.

I choose to live, and I do care to share what I think. I choose to live in the company of people who believes in me, to spend my days reading great works of art, and to sit in a room with a keyboard and a pot of tea, writing fiercely. And I will share what I think, but only if my thoughts are honest, and mine. These are the only two premises I will allow my writing to build itself upon.

Be gone with you, wretched witch of criticism. Burn in hell you falsely-comforting blanket of depression. Fuck you, sleepless nights spent in the company of my fear of being vulnerable. I laugh maniacally as my fingers dig into the keys, and I cast away all my demons. You will not stop me from living the way I intend to, for alas, I have gone mad! I am free from you at last!

In their wake, I call upon my new and magnificent imaginary friends, born out of my love of their amazing work. Seneca, Albert Camus, George Orwell, Ludwig Wittgenstein you beautiful genius, Noriko Ogiwara, Haruki Murakami, Lois Lowry, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Anne Dillard, Elizabeth Gilbert, Robert Greene, Ryan Holiday, James Clear, Viktor E. Frankl, and to countless others that drink my tea and save me from the perils of my former friends. In my mind, you whisper to me, your voices kind and mellifluous, words you have written which give my life meaning. I thank you for sharing your lives, and with gratitude, I now share mine.

Although my private portfolio is merely a bunch of journal entries, uneven short stories, and unfinished novels, I will fix them, and finish them, and share them on this page, along with my poems which wouldn’t mind their company. Whether or not they are read or appreciated, they will learn to sit in this place, and I will make a home for them here.

I shy away from calling myself a Writer because I feel society expects so much from that title. But having written things over the years, and held them close to my chest, or tossed them into the garbage can, I have learned that being a writer is not about being published, it is not even about sharing. At least for me, it is merely about the act of writing, and doing it over, and over, and over again.

So why share them now? Why bother going through the gut-wrenching act of writing a manifesto, and flinging myself so boldly into the doorstep of other people’s free time? Well, I love writing. And whether I’m good at it or not doesn’t matter to me now, that stuff will sort itself out the more I do it. I love writing. And I believe that when you love something so purely and wholeheartedly, you must share it. Because the ultimate purpose of love is to be shared.

I am terrified. That is still true. But this fear in me has taken on a new form, a faint innocent cry, like the wailing of a newborn child jolted by the sensation of breathing for the first time. My skin is crawling, my insides are turning, and I feel like being sick at the thought of posting this online. Maybe I will throw up after I send this out into the world, but I know it will feel like purging the poison in my system, from a long night of drinking and wanting to be numb.

So here it is, world. Here I am. Do with my love as you please. Take it, hate it, pass it on, or give some of your love back in exchange. I am vulnerable at your feet.

Acid Dreams

Sometimes it’s about being left behind, by a bus that leaves for a field trip, or by the only plane that can take you home.

Sometimes it’s a crowd in a football stadium, frowning and pointing at you as you stand naked on the field.

Sometimes it’s about an accident, driving blindly in the dark, and running over a woman crossing the street.

Sometimes it’s everybody recognizing your face, knowing you’re the person who ran over the war hero, and mother of six.

Sometimes it’s a family reunion, relatives asking if you’re proud of yourself, eyes filling every inch of your vision.

Sometimes it’s the immortal woman in red, chasing you with a sinister smile and a long knife in her hand.

Sometimes it’s just yourself, floating in a cold and empty ocean. Screaming with no voice, breathing with no air.

You wake up at the ungodly hour, your stomach churning, your mind returning. It’s just another night. What a sad thing to get used to.

You try to go back to sleep, but you shuffle until the night is gone, and you wonder when you will ever feel safe again in the arms of a sweet surrender.