Book Nook: Letters to a Young Poet

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I’m in the midst of reading Letters to a Young Poet and it’s a testament to how beautifully written it is that it’s a short book and I’m not even near half of it. Now on the face of it, that seems to defy the very definition of page-turner, but the best analogy I can think of (surprise, surprise, it’s food related – but hey, you write what you know!) is when you take a bite of something so delicious that from the get go, you force yourself to slow down and savour every bite. It isn’t only that every phrase I’ve read uses words that feel so deliberately chosen and lyrical (hehe, like how a great chef chooses every ingredient of his dish), but Rilke's advice itself is nothing short of insightful. 

I confess that I've never consciously read any of his poems, but that's definitely going to change. Although his letters went to an aspiring poet that he got to know, they are just as applicable to any one of us. Here's one of my favourites:
“to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your while development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to question that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.”
Yes, yes, and yes. 

As he shares his advice, he holds little vanity for the help he offers. In his words, “many things must happen, many things must go right, a whole constellation of events must be fulfilled, for one human being to successfully advise or help another.” Sure, this doesn’t necessarily gel with my job of giving out legal advice, but when we look at how people receive advice, often it has to come at the right situation, with the right words, at the right time for it to really hammer home. Recognising this reality takes away so much of the pressure with giving advice and even in receiving it. 

It must be incredible to write with the passion with which he does. He implores the recipient of his letter to seek the reasons for which he writes, to see if it has “spread its roots into the very depths of his heart”, and if so, would he “would have to die” if he were forbidden to write. Whoa, right? I don't know if such an intensity even exists. There's hardly anything I can find myself dedicating months to, yet alone an entire lifetime. But let's say we've found this passion, this thing of which we could not live without; Rilke then advises that we “build our life in accordance with this necessity, and turn our life, even in its humblest hour, as a witness to this impulse”. Purposeful living at its finest. His words ring with a religious rigour and have roused a desire in me to seek out things I’m passionate about, rather than pick out the life that brings the most comfort. How rewarding it must be to pursue passions and yet know that the validation we seek isn’t external. 

I’m not sure if Rilke intended this, but I find his words so inspiring in my exploration of Christianity. When asking us to seek out what we would die for and to dedicate our lives to it, it gives a little insight as to how the disciples must have felt when sharing the gospel. Looking away from external validation reminds me to look to God because it’s not about what the world thinks. And as I learn more and more about this faith, I stumble across so many hurdles and am by no means done learning. Rilke has this to say about growing: 
It's not like “numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.” 
Maybe if I had read this sooner, I wouldn't have written my previous post the way it turned out. Because I have dedicated many thoughts on adulthood and growing up, and if I just trust in it and do as Rilke suggests, maybe I'd be less concerned with who I want to be, and instead, be more interested in who I am. 

It’s such a great book, with a pdf available online here for those who are interested. Highly recommended for anyone who's stuck in the millennial conundrum of who to listen to now that real life is rearing its head. If you’ve read it, do let me know your favourite bits and we can start a conversation.

Till next time! 

What makes us adults?

Friday, September 16, 2016
Not the kind of question that there's a definite answer to but the kind that gets lots of answers anyway. 

I think adulthood is the sort of thing that always seems a little elusive - you know, when we're 13, we think we'd really be grown ups after high school at 17, only to realise ha, not really, we're not; then waiting till we're 18 because somehow being able to legally drink means society trusts us enough to make responsible decisions, which well, for the most part just plainly isn't true, so maybe we'd be adults after university, or after our first jobs, or after our first heartbreak, etc - and it's something that seems almost perpetually out of reach because when will we ever be truly mature??

I think we live a lot of our lives having people look after us, and then almost suddenly, we're the ones responsible for someone else. I suppose, one day, you'll be reflecting on your life when you wake up to find that you have lived a decent number of years and learned very many things and perhaps, that's when you'd realise that adulthood you were searching for as a child has arrived and boom, you're in it and people are relying on you. Well, that's what I think. 

And it's a fitting thing to think about because in a little over a week, I'll be turning a year older. It's not so much the age of 22 that's significant, but the fact that in the year that's passed, there has been many milestones to celebrate. From graduating from university, to moving back home to Malaysia, and starting my first ever full-time job, (which are conventionally 'adult' things), there have been a couple of times where I've wondered if this was what adulthood is like? 

After thinking about it, I've come up with a preliminary hypothesis about how to do life that would work for every scenario. Put simply, focus on priorities and consequences. It's pretty obvious but once I vocalised it, it really helped me think about the person I want to be and making decisions became a lot clearer. I don't think anyone knows our priorities better than ourselves and we are the ones who have to live with the consequences of our decisions. 

When we make decisions, we can always ask ourselves what are our priorities and what are the consequences of it? What is it that's important to us? Why is it that we do the things we do? Family? Money? Feelings of validation? Once we determine what's important to us, we know the choices we'd consider. 

After that, we think of the consequences. And this is a potentially never-ending list depending on how imaginative we can be. But when it actually comes to making a decision, the only question you really want to ask yourself is.. "Can I accept the consequences?" Every action comes with its own set of consequences that may range from good to bad, to meh doesn't matter, and if you can deal with these consequences, even the worst possible one, then make that decision. No one can tell you how the consequences make you feel, because like it or not, we all react differently to different things. 

It's easy to get bogged down with making the right decision. At the end of the day, think about things that matter to you, whether it is God, or your family, or the opinions of others, and recognise there aren't really any right decisions; if someone makes up their mind to do something and things do not go as planned, if they can deal with the consequences, they can make the best of the situation. 

So in the past few weeks, I've been trying to live life with that in mind. My family recently adopted a dog from the SPCA, which was a very difficult decision to make. We've been dog owners before and it definitely isn't easy. We eventually settled on Lisa, a golden retriever mix with tendencies for nipping that she developed at the shelter. It's been a tough journey trying to get used to having her but rewarding at the same time. At the point of adoption, I felt that getting a dog was a priority to me. 

I really wanted one after coming home, but it was the consequences that we had to think about. If things didn't work out, what was the plan? Since she's been home, she's chewed on furniture, bitten me till I bled, and we have a few ripped pairs of slippers. But I find myself being blessed by her company and her cheery face; I felt that I could deal with the consequences, although I've had others recommend that I send her back or even wait a few months before picking her up again. It was what mattered to me and being able to accept those consequences made me more relaxed when dealing with her, and I don't just hope she doesn't act out, but prepare for the event that she does. 

The dog that gets treated like an Egyptian goddess 

I've been trying to make my family a top priority and have been taking steps trying to show them more that I appreciate them. The great thing about finally beginning work is that I now get a paycheck, and I was privileged to have been able to treat them to a meal from it! Now it's not anything extravagant but it's still a pretty satisfying feeling being able to sit on the other end of the bill. 

My brother very kindly offered to get the cheapest thing on the menu :P 
Over one weekend, my mother and I headed back to Taiping for some food hunting with the grandparents. Is it just me or are sunsets in rural areas so much better?? As per custom, we took a walk around the neighbourhood my mom grew up in, complete with the requisite oohing and ahhing over the changes her old primary school went through. We strolled as the sun began to set and by the time we got back to my grandparents' house, the sky was a burst of warm colour - a beautiful gradient we couldn't help but stop and admire. 

Spent some time admiring the gloriousness of RM3.50 meals (about 70p?) too.

Weekends are built for activities and my mom and I even signed up for a pretty lame workshop on making candle holders. Notwithstanding the damage I caused to my fingers with the provided hammer, I have to admit it was pretty therapeutic putting my hands to work. And I suppose thinking of my priorities and the consequences I'd accept helped me a lot more in deciding whether to hammer that next nail in. And well, what I wanted to do with my time, money, and stomach space. 

Hammered at my fingers so many times because.. hand-eye coordination is a stranger I never got to know. 

Right now, adulthood is as elusive as ever. But I like where I am and am going to enjoy it. I'd like to think the decisions I'm making now are ones I can look back fondly and free of regret in the way I'm choosing to spend my days. It's not to say that years later I won't look back and wonder why is it I chose to spend so many hours of my life typing away here, but I guess for now, that's a consequence I can deal with.

Till next time! 

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