The need to belong (+ a new project in the works)

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When I was in primary school, a few of my classmates would start up not-so-secret clubs, and inevitably they’d have all the cool kids in it. Knowing that there was a secret club (they did a crap job of covering it up, really), I was bewildered – why wasn’t I invited? Why can’t I join them? There would be a secret rule book, a secret handshake, secret meetings and the whole lot, all under an umbrella of a cool club name.

I was young and while I didn’t know it yet, I wanted so much to belong. To be a part of something, even if I wasn’t sure what it stood for. The fact that it wasn’t so secret made it so much worse. It made me wonder if I wasn’t special enough to be a part of it.
As I grew up and started working, I thought I’d left this silly world of secret clubs behind. Turns out, the secret rule book, a secret handshake, secret meetings, and the whole lot – they all still exist, only this time they didn’t need a name, nor was it secret. It’s still unofficial, to be sure. The only difference is evidence of its existence is plastered all over Facebook and posted for posterity on Instagram. And it still felt like a huge imposing wall I couldn’t scale.

I encountered the same thing working in publishing. And especially when I started freelancing. I watched as colleagues did other stuff together after work – shopping, watching movies, and chatting at cafes. I hoped to be able to slink my way in but at the same time can’t help but feel hurt – it felt like I never left primary school. I was again an outsider without an invite. I can’t help but watch TV shows like Friends and the Big Bang Theory and sometimes ask myself (stupidly, of course) – does everyone come with a permanent set of 5 friends but me?

To be clear, it’s not anyone’s fault – no one really thinks about these sort of things (maybe?) and I’d like to think that people don’t hurt other people’s feelings on purpose. Maybe I try too hard, or I don’t try enough. I understand that some people just click together, and some don’t; whether it’s through shared experiences, proximity, history or opinions. It’s just the way things are. Even if you try hard to be included, sometimes it’s just not in the cards – I’ve come to accept that fact, as much as I accept that friendships come and go. But it still feels rough.

When I started Pikaland, I didn’t know where I was headed. But one thing I did know was that I wanted it to be inclusive. It was to be that space (virtual as it was) that I could make for myself. Subconsciously maybe it was even something that I needed. If I couldn’t get on the inside, heck, I’ll start something. It would be a place where others could feel as though there wasn’t any pressure to belong. Just come. Stay a while. Or not – it’s okay. I’ll be here – if and when you come back. That has been a constant throughout my journey, even if my presence have been a little scattered of late.

Last year was a time to recollect, regroup and refocus myself. I went into hiding (well, just a bit), and soaked up things and experiences for myself. It was my time to be a little selfish – to fill up my well and to re-examine what I wanted for Pikaland, and how I can do better.

Being an outsider has been a constant theme and thread that has carried me through my life until now. I was always on the outside, looking in. Whether as a friend, colleague, illustrator, writer, or even a teacher – I’ve always chosen to do things a little differently. But this year, I realized something. I’m not alone. You guys are with me, from the outside looking in. You’ve always been there with me as I go through ideas that are fun and silly (but hopefully helpful at the very least). Demystifying the subject of illustration has seen me scratching an itch for almost a decade now, and I am finding that things are still continuously changing and growing. It’s a fascinating subject and practice that I feel has so much potential to make us better people. Better artists. A chance to make the world a better place.

And so with 2017, I’m launching a new project with this goal in mind. A place where everyone can feel they belong. A place where you’ll find unconditional support where we get to hang out together, and we’ll fight the same fight together, in a safe space. Will it be a secret club? Not really. It won’t be a secret (not anymore, anyway). It will be driven by a common goal of discovering your superpowers as an artist, and how you can train and harness your creative abilities. I’ll be there a lot, and I hope to see you there too.

While we won’t be sitting in a coffee place across from one another physically – I’m aware nothing comes close to being in the same space in real life – but hey, I’ll take what I can get. It’s an alternative that I’m thrilled to have, thanks to the internet.

Thank you for indulging me and for your continued support of Pikaland. I started the blog with the idea that it was to be a bright, happy place to be. You’ve made it so and so much more.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

[Illustration by Yeji Yun for The Mighty Artist]

Oh just do it already

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Whenever I opened my laptop, it took 10 minutes for it to be operational. And that’s barely functional. I couldn’t have more than 3 applications open at any time, and if I had to open a big application like Photoshop or Illustrator, it would take up to 10 minutes for it to load completely.

It was bad.

My laptop is 5 years old, and I’ve been living with this situation for about a year. Maybe more.

On the off chance that Mr. T came over to my side of a desk to use it, he would get frustrated. Grimaces even. “I don’t even know how you use this thing – it’s so slow.” I just brushed it off because it’s still usable. At least to me. But I knew it was time to do something when I realized that all those minutes – waiting for applications to open, close and process – they all added up. A big chunk of my day was waiting for things to happen. It was frustrating. It was a waste of precious time.

Getting ready is not enough

I called a service center who could get my laptop into working condition again. Turns out a few things needed to be swapped out to make it faster, if I wanted to run it with a new operating system. New RAMs, new solid state hard drives, and a complete reinstall of the operating system. Which would mean losing all my files, and that freaked me out a bit.

It took me a month to clear my files and move them to Dropbox in anticipation of the servicing.

And when I was done with the files I kept delaying the laptop upgrade. I kept thinking maybe there’s something I had missed. Some stuff that I haven’t saved. Like settings and passwords or something, or all the tabs that’s open on my Chrome.

But one day, I woke up and thought this is enough. I called the service center and scheduled an appointment to fix the problem once and for all. I didn’t schedule it the week after. I made an appointment the next day. It was now or never: I had only a few hours to straighten things out and to make sure that I’ve gotten everything I needed off the hard disk. That was it – no more waiting or waffling about.

When I got to the service center, I was a ball of nerves. I handed my unit over to the cheerful assistant and waited. And waited.

Overthinking paralysis

I remember why it took my so long to come here: every time I made up my mind to come, my brain goes into overdrive, making me worry about things that might not have happened. But in my mind, they could have. It was a cruel, painful circle that incapacitated and frustrated me at the same time. It was so embarrassingly simple too. Just send it over to the service center and get it over with! In hindsight, that should have been enough for me to hightail it over. But it wasn’t. It was a fear of the unknown, and I was hesitating to make the leap. And so I stalled. By not penciling in the appointment, there was no end date and thus it got dragged out for as long as it did.

Mainly I was scared that sending in my laptop for a repair would mean not being able to use it for a few days or weeks. Or that something bad would happen to it that we didn’t talk about before. Or that when I got it back, things would be worse than before. You know the phrase “don’t mess with things that aren’t broken?” Well, I knew that technically, it wasn’t broken, so I didn’t want to throw a wrench into things (but if you were to see how the laptop performed back then you might have actually thrown a wrench at it!)

Don’t put off the pain (maybe there isn’t any)

When the technician handed me the laptop half an hour later, I was shocked and relieved. But I was also surprised. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. The wait was nothing. Everything just went away – the doubts, the anxiety, the crazy scenarios that made me paranoid about sending it away for repair. Poof. All gone. What I got in return was a brand new (well, almost!) machine that was able to finally function properly, the way it was meant to be.

I now feel extremely silly for letting a slow laptop eat into my time. Heck, even that spinning beachball was not much fun to look at. But it got me thinking – don’t we all have something that we put off for another day? I’ve learned, that if it’s not something that you look forward to, it probably might not happen (until it’s too late).

So while you may not have the exact situation like I did. Maybe you’re putting off going to the dentist. Maybe you have a project you’re not ready to show to the world. It might be a small thing, or a big one. But if you’re putting off something that should have been done a long time ago, take a leaf out of my book –don’t let it drag on longer that it should because there’s a ripple effect that you might not know about. Here’s what you can learn from my sorry experience:
Pencil it in.
Schedule an appointment.
Set a date.
Just get it over with.

What about you? What’s the one thing you’re putting off right now that could improve the way you work?

[Artwork: Jack Strange. Spinning Beach Ball of Death. 2007. Motor, paper, wood. Diameter: 1″ (2.5 cm).]

What if you don’t like social media very much?

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It’s everywhere.

Pictures, updates, tweets. From people you know, people you follow, people you like, heck, even people you don’t know.

Social media isn’t going away, so why not just embrace it right? If you can’t beat them, why not join them?

Scars and selfies

I’m not particularly keen on having my pictures taken.

When I was a teenager I had horrendous cystic acne that could have scarred me for life. That whenever I walk to class, I might be ambushed by some well-meaning (yet tactless) folk who would look at me and ask “why is your face like that?” I couldn’t look in a mirror for a year or more because when I look at myself I would cry. Or that when I got up in the morning my pillowcase would be spotted with blood and pus from the night before.

The scars and pimples have mostly gone away. The ones you could see anyway. The ones deep down – those are hard to shake off.

So I cringe when I think about having to take a photo. My mind goes into a bit of a tailspin.

“Dang it, I have an oil slick on my face.”
“I’m not pretty, why am I in this picture?”
“No, I’m not ready!”

It used to be that when pictures were taken, they wouldn’t see the light of day. I’d rest easy because who would go through those pictures anyway? I would nervously laugh and think that it’s okay. I was mostly right. Like old photographs that belong in photo albums, your audience would be your Uncle Marvin or Aunty Yvonne – mostly family, and rarely shown to anyone else.

These days, however, whenever I hear a shutter click (or a phone click), I freeze up. Those photos aren’t just going to sit in a soon-to-be-forgotten album. They’re going out to the whole wide world. Before you know it, that picture with my face on it will be uploaded, tagged and bandied about, dangled in public waiting to get some likes and shares. My thoughts at this point: I feel like an animal who was an unwilling participant in a photo-op at the zoo, trying to claw its way out of the frame.

I’m self-conscious, with a side of self-loathing going on. Throw in some jealousy plus envy, and there’s that: the reason for my lack of updates, photos or selfies on social media. I don’t have a strong reaction to those who do post them, however – my motto is and has always been to do whatever you like.

If you ask me to take a selfie together with you though (effectively making it a wefie), I hesitate a bit before my brain tells me to snap out of it: by golly, smile and make sure you look at the right place so you won’t look like a dork when it’s plastered on Instagram or Facebook. OK? Here we go!

What I do instead

Seeing as I’m not brave enough to have my face on the screen most of the time (these people are brave, in my book!) or that I don’t share a lot of stuff online, you can bet that my social media feed isn’t the best place to hang out. If it were a room, you’d see cobwebs and the occasional visitor saying “is that it?” and then leave to find where the party’s at.

But that’s fine with me. I’ve always been a private person anyway. And that’s how I like things. I don’t clutch at memories, going all possessive and hissing “MINE, ALL MINE” – it’s just that I’m not inclined to share them with anyone else, because while they mean a lot to me, I’m acutely aware that they might not mean much to other people.

You still can share them anyway – I can hear you say. True, I can. But I choose not to. Well if you’re a more private person like me, what should you share? For me, it’s not just about what I’m sharing, it also has to do with how much I share. I share the things I’ve seen (sometimes). The places I’ve been (maybe). And some of the things I hope that others might find useful (not often enough).

Should I worry that I’m not keeping up on social media? Maybe.
Would it affect how others look at me? Maybe.
Would I be forgotten? Maybe.
And that’s okay.

You see, if I did force myself to post on social media more than I’d like, it’s akin to feeding an imaginary monster because you’re scared that it might just eat you up. So you throw everything you have at it in the hopes that you’ve fed it enough for the day. Until tomorrow. And the day after. It’s very, very tiring. That’s not what I want, so I chose to opt out of keeping up with the rigorous schedule needed to sustain a social media presence.

Of course, some people actually do like the monster (in which case they’re no longer known as one). They’re real good friends with it and they have a beautiful relationship that’s based on mutual trust and respect. That’s perfectly fine too. I’m envious – jealous even.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to toss the monster a bone.

You know where to find me.

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I’d like for you to share with me – am I the only feeling this? What’s your relationship with social media like?

Illustration by Manjit Thapp
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