10 Lessons I Learned From NaNoWriMo and Daily Vlogging

I’m not sure when I first heard of NaNoWriMo, but when I did, I knew at some point I would be participating in it. Additionally, when I started my YouTube channel, I knew that eventually, I would end up daily vlogging, if just for a short time. In classic Elliot Chan fashion, I decided to kill two birds and attack both marathon projects at the same time.

This is what happened:

 

Now that it’s over, I am both relieved and exhausted, but with what little energy I have at the moment, let’s reflect on the experience. Here are the 10 things I learned from doing NaNoWriMo and Daily Vlogging at the same time:

1. YouTube Gave My Videos A Chance… But Didn’t Change My Life

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My YouTube impressions

The first few days of my daily vlog, I thought I was going to go viral. I literally did! I thought my channel was going to explode. I got excited. After all, I got more subscribers in the first week of NaNoWriMo/daily vlog, than I got the past 5 months of producing my ultra niche experimental writing content. This was huge — except it wasn’t.

YouTube’s impression plummeted during the second week, then rose again during the weekend and then dropped again. More research is needed, but it was interesting seeing my content get a solid chance at the start… perhaps when the NaNoWriMo interest was at the highest.

2. Viewers Have Been SO Supportive

I was genuinely surprised by all the support I got from my viewers. As someone who is new to YouTube and the NaNoWriMo community, I thought I was going to get a lot of people correcting me or telling me how to write or that I’m not focusing on the right things by vlogging, and on and on. I got none of that.

Just a Movember request from my buddy Sean *sigh* you can’t please everyone:

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If you’re worried about trolls, I say don’t, in general most people are kind — or at least they mean no malice.

3. Outlining Was Helpful at the Beginning and End But Not in the Middle

I couldn’t imagine doing this tandem project without an outline. I tried to at first… but with limited time in my day, I couldn’t allow myself to sit there for even 5 minutes and get inspired.

I needed to attack the page and an outline helped me do that. However, once I got going, I veered away from my outline. Not too far, but enough that I dilly-dallied on a few scenes or on a plot point that I wasn’t anticipating.

As I rounded the corner on the last week, I realized the importance of finishing (at least knowing where I would finish). I created another outline, this time from the ¾ point of the novel. This gave me the direction and momentum to wrap up my novel (which to my chagrin, is still unfinished).

 

 

4. Something’s Gotta Give — Not Everything, Just Something

At first, I was like, “I’m going to drop everything to do NaNoWriMo and daily vlog.” Then I realized that that would be a) unrealistic b) make for a really boring vlog.

I strategically drop stuff that took away my time from writing and were not interesting to film. So watching sports and tv shows were the first to be dropped from my schedule. Nothing eats up more time in my life than simply sitting and watching tv.

The other thing I had to drop, unfortunately, was cooking food for myself. I had a lot of precooked Costco meals in November because cooking is time-consuming and I’m not great at it. It would be an uninteresting repetitive chore that I didn’t need in my life at this time.

What I didn’t drop was seeing my friends. As much as I wanted to hit my word count goal, I realized that my vlog is an opportunity to capture my time with the people in my life. I tried to say “Yes” to invites, knowing that this project was more than simply writing and video creation. It’s something nice for me to look back on.

5. People Will Make It Seem Harder Than It Is

Every time I bring up my tandem project, people will ask me why I’m doing it. There’s a tinge of “Do you really want attention that bad?” in their tone.

Why do people run marathons? It is a challenge. People who run marathons aren’t trying to impress everyone else. They are doing it for themselves. Many will constantly say things like, “I can NEVER do that!” As if what other people are doing is that hard. It isn’t. It’s committing to something for a month. I understand, what I’m doing is not for everyone, but I’m confident that anyone who wants to do it, CAN.

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6. It Feels So Good to Get It Done Each Day

Every morning this November I woke up with a goal: to write and to upload. If I do those two things, it was a great day!

I had 30 great days in November.

Sure, there were many shitty moments during the month, but the end goal was always achieved. If you want a reason to pat yourself on the back, be consistent with something every day. It doesn’t have to be a hard thing, it can be super easy.

Write a paragraph every day. That’s SOOO achievable. Not every day did I write 5,000 words. Few days I wrote less than 500 and was done. But there were days where I wrote over 5,000. It doesn’t matter how much I did, it evens out eventually, but what matters is that I keep doing it.

 

7. Waking Up Early Didn’t Work

This project was not all successes. Over the 30 days, I was hoping to develop the habit of waking up 1 hour earlier than usual. In theory, that hour would be spent writing or some other productive pursuit. This would be incredibly useful during the week, as I have 9.5 hour days at the office. 1 hour would make a huge difference. I had a few wins here and there, but consistent I was not. This was not the way I will get an extra hour to write so I will have to find that extra hour somewhere else… 

 

8. Developed A Daily Plan

Every day, I knew exactly where I was going to be, who I was going to meet up with, and when I was going to write and edit my video. In another word, my day was structured. This was not what daily vlogging was meant for, but it was the only way I could get through it. I used my daily vlog as a breakdown for my day. Then I went through my day and got b-roll footage. The b-rolls became the little snapshots of my life.

At the very beginning of the project, I said that this will not be a writing project or a video creation project, but rather a time management project. This is how I approached it. If I wanted to have a video uploaded at the end of the day, I need to know where I will be having dinner that night. If at a restaurant, I’ll need to edit beforehand. If at home, I’ll edit while my Costco food heated up in the oven. Thrilling behind the scenes details here.

 

9. Don’t Overthink It, But Don’t Ramble

My least favourite part of this whole project was pointing the camera on myself and speaking. I hate it because, I feel that I’m bad at it, so I get in my head and psych myself out. This happens every day. I continuously psych myself out until I do it… then I feel relieved for about 24 hours.

I also wanted to challenge myself and do at least one episode a week in public. I did 8 out of 30 in public with strange normal people around. This increased my nervousness by another 30-40%.

The more I practiced the less I psyched myself out. It became routine. I didn’t overthink it the same way I don’t overthink speaking up at a meeting at work when I had something to say. I’m am just myself talking.

However, I learned that it’s better to pause and say nothing and to think at times, even when the camera is rolling. A common annoying habit I noticed was that I kept repeating myself just so I can keep talking, keeping the action going. I rambled when I can just take a moment to breathe, refocus and continue with a new thought.

 

 

10. Vancouver’s Weather Is Weird (I knew this all along)

I always knew Vancouver is a city where it can be raining in the morning, sunny in the afternoon and storming at night.

I didn’t know that in addition to documenting my writing and day-to-day life, I was also documenting the city I live in. I love that. I didn’t want to display the city I lived in, because I was initially wary about privacy, but over time I realized that the city was as much a part of my life as the people and the story I was writing. Seeing my mood coincided with the weather was either a juxtaposition or representation of what was happening. It brought an element to my life I wasn’t expecting to capture.

 

Now, I’m certain I learned more than 10 things from this project, and over time, I’m sure the lessons will materialize. While many things can be taught, commitment cannot. You cannot learn to commit to something from reading a book or watching someone else. Commitment is something you need to practice. That is what this project allowed me to do — practice.

 

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo, now what do you do with your draft? Click here to find out. 

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My favourite album of 2018: Kyle Craft “Full Circle Nightmare”

How a poignant album made me smile

Giving music recommendations is tricky. You’re selling someone on an experience, but it’s a challenge expressing how a song or an album resonates with you personally. So often when sharing music, all we can do is offer names of songs or artists, but fail to share what matters most: the place the listening experience took you emotionally. This is my attempt at taking you there.

Here’s an unverified stat: 80% of the music I listen to is from the same library I listened to 10 years ago. It’s harder to make it onto my rotation than it is to get airplay on the radio. Music used to be a bigger part of my life, but now, it’s simply the backdrop to my working hours. However, every now and then a song will come on and I would have to stop what I’m doing to listen — actually, listen — to it. Those little moments in a person’s life are special, and I’m glad, even in the hurly-burly, I can still have those.

 

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Listen to the album. 

In the same year that Eminem, Kanye West, and Arctic Monkeys dropped new albums, it’s, in fact, a newcomer into my musical lexicon that shook me. And that’s Kyle Craft’s Full Circle Nightmare, which came out in February 2018.

Said to be inspired by Bob Dylan, Craft’s lyrics unfold a complex story of pleasure and desperation: two apt descriptors for myself lol

Before we go further, I’d like to thanks my unpaid Spotify subscription for this discovery. This alone makes me want to subscribe for $10/month, but as a marketer, I feel I need to support the platform’s advertising business model.

Okay, what is it that I like about Full Circle Nightmare?

On The Consequences of Saving Time

The song that introduced me to Kyle Craft was actually from his debut album: Dolls of Highland. The song: Lady of the Ark.

Note: I recommend listening to the music embedded below before reading on 🙂

Craft’s abrasive sound woke me. The lyrics telling a tragic tale of a relationship and the aftermath. The heavy guitar strumming in the background, making me shake my head to all the repulsive things I’ve done to get what I want… to only have the luster fade soon after.

Lady of the ark I think you were the start

I think you were the key with which his heart was closed

Not his only secret, not his only weakness

I found him at the party feeling through her clothes

And he cried, cried, “I’m wasted”

And he could look you straight in the mouth

But all that time he’d take it

Even though he didn’t watch the words come out   

Oh why, why did you leave me

Craft singing in an almost scream “We’ll try… TRY…” makes me ache. We all try so valiantly to get and then to keep. All the while, we ponder how to apply sin to the effort, and debate whether the time we saved in the short term will end up being spent in the long-term, questioning what we’ve done.

This song got me hooked and I quickly went through Craft’s whole discography without looking back.

 

On Making a Living

Full Circle Nightmare and Kyle Craft found me at a particular time in my life. I felt as though I have finally reached adulthood. An adulthood that 15 years ago, I thought I’d never find: I’m heading home to my wife for a night in and planning on rising early to head to work tomorrow. The days where I could give up on things simply because they were hard is over. I’m responsible now.

Heartbreak Junky, to me, is a song about self-destruction. Thinking you’re undeserving. Feeling like an imposter. In that state, it’s easy to implode upon yourself. Throw up your arms and come clean. I AM not good enough. This can happen in a career, a relationship, and most certainly a dream. You say, “I’m not good enough,” and then you wake up.

 

You were a charmer, I was a heartbreak junky

You were a diamond, I was the heap of fool’s gold

You were the jet plane, I was a parachute failing

I was the cheap ad, when you were the centerfold

 

I’ve worked more per hour per week this year than any other in my entire life. I say this with pride and dismay. At times I felt like giving up. All of it. Everything.

All that work and this is all I have to show for it?

Some people have jobs, but I have callings. How I make a living is so much a part of me, it becomes my identity. It is my life. Over the years, I accepted that there are two types of people in the world, those who work to live (the weekend warriors) and those who live to work (where what they do goes beyond a paycheck). I categorize myself in the latter.

This year would have been hard — much harder — if I didn’t have Sharon, my wife beside me. I owe all my achievements (the tiny upward trend) over the past 4 years to her. She had become the foundation. Even if the sky was falling, I knew I had something solid to stand on while I carry the world on my shoulder.

I’m a worker. I can wind myself up and go, but Sharon is the one that sets me in the right direction. Divorced from my old job was traumatic and frustrating. The comfortable sheet was pulled from me. Exposed, it would have been natural for me to fall in despair. I tended to. I didn’t for one reason: having someone reminding me that I’m not the imposter, I often convinced myself of being.

For that, I feel lucky, so I trudge onwards.

On Our Past Self

Then there is a song that gave a strange tingly sensation. I smile, like remembering an old joke from a friend.

While this is the year that I worked the most hours, it’s also the year where I was invited to the most weddings. In addition, it was the year where the number of children in my friend circle increased significantly. Like… what just happened to us?

Each time I see them, I realized that we were all battling a unique war. I wasn’t the only one facing responsibilities, nor was I the only one squeezing the lemons that life was flinging in my direction. We were all being challenged every day. We are all on the verge of giving up… but to do what though? What’s the alternative?

We can’t go back in time now. We can’t undo what is done. Not unless we all agree to do it together.

This leads me to my favourite song on the album, The Rager:

 

And your head never hurt so bad

Thinking ’bout the fun you had

What on earth did we do last night?

Why’s there blood on the shower wall?

Who’s that sleeping on the hardwood floor

And what’s the number written on my palm?

Yeah, my keys are somewhere in my pants

But I ain’t trying to get back home

Then she wakes up, and she quietly laughs

“There’s a party tonight if you wanna go”

The lyrics encapsulate the slippery slope that I remembered walking on so well. I missed those days as dark as they may have been. In my mind, they were always illuminated, as if the memories were drenched in glow stick liquid.

Craft, in his somewhat autobiographical album, summed up the youthful naivete and how in our current lives we’re going to be charmed and misdirected by lives that could have been ours. We gotta remember the times as good and have confidence that we’re heading in the right way. We must abandon the feelings that we’ve let our younger, wilder self down. But know, that this — right here, where you are — is where your younger self had wanted to be. And if the young me could travel to the future and see what I get to return home to, he’d trade his spot with mine.  

In Gold Calf Moan, the last song of the album, in the last verse, Craft sums it all up.

 

But when the party’s over honey and your key to the kingdom

Don’t fit the new lock

And everybody’s shoving camels through the eye of a needle

And you’re punching the clock

Yeah when your new squeeze talks both your ears off baby

You’ve got that open-road feeling

You send your regards when your heart is ripe for the stealing

 

This, like everything else, is just a phase and in 10 years, I’ll be looking back and hope I still have that little tingle, like remembering a joke from an old friend. I’ll see how far I’ve gone and how far I have left to go. The funny thing about having success in your 20s and 30s is that you have another 40 to 50 years to mess it up. Hopefully, I’m still building upwards and not tempted to break it all down.

Full Circle Nightmare is a tragedy, but it reminds me that my life is not. And in moments of stress and frustration, I’m thankful for that clarity. That’s why it’s my favourite album this crazy year.

 

Buy me a cup of coffee, it helps to keep me writing.

Naming Your Characters: 3 Tips

Naming your character can be challenging. Unlike naming your pet or your children, a character comes with their own experiences and history.

While it might seem like a name can be something you can tack onto any person, that is not so.

A name can alter the way other people interact with your character and how your character thinks about themselves.

In order to find discover or create a name that fits, we must think less like the writer and more as the parents or guardians who named the character. Once you know the naming conventions of that society, the family within it and what external factors influenced the choice, you can be assured that the name you have given your character is one that fits.

When I wrote my story, I didn’t dwell too long in coming up with names for my character. I simply needed to get my story down and introduce my characters. Well, here I am at the editing stage and it’s time for me to think a bit more about what my character’s names should be.

In the video, I highlighted three characters, whose names were mere snap decisions. I decided to delve a little deeper into those names, understand why I picked them initially if I can unlock any hidden meanings behind them, and massage them to discover another level of creativity that might fit those character’s personalities better.

The 3 tactics I took — that you should try as well — towards finding a perfect name for my characters included:

Understanding the etymology and meaning of the name

One of my character’s name is Delaine, which means “a lightweight dress fabric of wool or wool and cotton made in prints or solid colors.” However, my character doesn’t resemble the traits of being lightweight or soft. He is tough, gritty, and vengeful. I should consider giving him a name that correlates to his personality… or I can keep it as such and find the irony in his name.

Thinking from your character’s parent’s perspective

Imagine what it would be like to be the parents of your character. Were they proud of their heritage and wanted to ensure that certain names were passed down from generation to generation? Or were they hippies and liked to give unique names? Getting into the mindset of the actual people naming their children will give you a clear direction on how to name someone or something.

Combining different words together and changing the spelling

My character Bernard Barnwell is a farmer: Barn-well. That’s by no means clever, but that was literally how names were created in the beginning. People simply received names through recognizing who they are or what they do. Such as Johnson, means John’s son. Nevertheless, here is where you can attempt to be a little more creative. Take Barnwell for example, what I decided to do was make it less obvious. So, I found the Old English word for Barn: Bearn, and combined it with the Norse word for skill (replacing well) skil. Combined I have Bearnskil. A name that is, generally speaking, unique.

Are you writing your story and having a hard time coming up with a suitable name? Give these three tactics a try and see if you get a spark of creativity. Don’t forget to have fun, and enjoy the process.

Follow my writing journey on YouTube!  

Achieving Oneness and Other Things to Think About Before Drinking

Why did we start raising, clinking our glasses and saying cheers?

Let me set the scene: your friends have gathered around, each holding a glass of champagne or a shot of tequila — it is a night to remember, even though you may forget in the morning — and you know there is only one way to complete this scene, with a toast and then the obligatory clink of the glasses.

The three-traditions-in-one of raising the glass, clinking it, and saying a few kind words may have originated at different times for a variety of reasons. Some historians believe that the act of raising the glass came from the Greeks, as an offering — a prayer to the Gods for good health.

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Source: Unsplash

Whereas the clinking of the glass, or making any sort of noise with the glass or goblets, might have come from Germanic tribes. It was believed that the noise would scare the ghosts and bad spirits away who were often suspected of frequenting large social gatherings and festivals.

Then there is the small speech, the toast. The toast was once used in a literal sense, as people used stale toast to soak up the acidity in the wine. As the vintages back in the days were not as high quality as they are today, this helped with the flavour. It’s also worth mentioning that the act of wasting food just wasn’t something that people took part in back then. Think of it as a wine-soaked French toast.

I digress. The toast, the small speech version, was established in the 17th- to 18th-century when offering a praise or a shout-out to friends, family, and associations and then taking a large gulp of wine was an apt way to get drunk. Eventually, toastmasters were established to reign in the people who were giving toasts. Left without officiating, people would end up toasting everyone in the room.

Nevertheless, the explanation of why we clink the glass and say a few words before drinking that I appreciated the most is the idea of Oneness — how drinking excites all our senses.

Achieving Oneness

Think about it. What do we do when we drink a glass of wine?

Sight

Before we drink a bottle of wine, we are most likely in a liquor store, browsing through the aisle looking for the right one. Now, you might already have one in mind, but sometimes, you need a bit of marketing to help entice. Whether that is the label, the award badges, the copy, the price, or just the way the bottle looks — as superficial as it sounds, sight is often the first attractor when selecting wine.

Then, once you pour the wine into the glass, you bring it up to the light and appreciate the colour. Is it red or white? Had it been influenced by oak during the process? Before you even touch the wine to your lips, you already have an idea of what you are dealing with.

Touch

Depending on the type of wine, we might chill it or we might serve it at room temperature — heck, we might even heat it up. The temperature of wine matters if you truly want to experience the drink at its ideal state. This can rather mean storing it in the right place, like a wine cellar or putting it in an ice bath before serving.

Then you have to find the right glass to serve the wine in. This also equates to the sense of touch. The way your hand holds the glass when bringing it to your mouth, the way your mouth contorts itself and creates the pathway for the liquid to flow. As wine lovers know there is a certain art to the way your wine sits and aerates in your glass and the way you hold the vessel. Certain structures of the glass change the way you hold and drink. It changes nothing, but in a way, it changes everything.

Smell

The third sense of consuming wine is the sense of smell. We all know how smell affects taste, and this is quite clear when you are wine tasting. We all have this postage-stamp-size nerve cell in our nasal gland called the olfactory tract. Some believe that our olfactory tracts do more for the way we appreciate taste than our taste buds. The sense of smell opens a channel, enabling us to taste the wine in an expansive way. 

Taste

I always like the idea that you can only taste something for the first time once. It’s like watching a movie or reading a book for the first time. You are taken on a ride and each turn or dive the author takes you on is a surprise. The second taste is when you actually get to experience the nuances of the product. You recovered from the slap in the face. You begin to notice the red herrings and the details of the story, the same way you start to sense the full bouquet of the wine. 

Hearing 

Lastly, here is where I like to think the clinking of glass comes from. By contacting glasses together and uttering a word — “cheers,” for example — we complete the experience. We give the moment what I like to call Oneness, where the act of drinking wine becomes an act that evokes all the senses, thus completing it.

We often like to think of ourselves as one physical thing. We are not. We are the combination of many living particles. We, like the universe, are made up of a bunch of interlinking elements. We are the bacteria living inside of us, we are the thoughts drifting in our head, we are the perception that other people have of us, and we are the presence when we enter a room. Yet, when it is all combined, we have this Oneness.

The idea of Oneness teaches us to take care of every little part of ourselves. In wine tasting, in order to achieve oneness, a completion, a care for every part, we needed to add it ourselves. We have to go out of our way to do it. So it goes with achieving oneness with other aspects of our lives.

For more on oneness, check out this trippy article.

Investing in Friends: Three Heartbreaking Books About Loyalty

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I used to see my friends as an escape from the real world. They were a little treat I gave myself. If I deserved it, I get to hang out with my friends.

As we got older, what was once a treat has now become a bit of an obligation. That’s growing up. I used to meet up with my friends for pleasure, now I meet up with them because I know how important it is to keep the ship afloat. “I should be resting,” or “I should be working,” says my guilty self. Still I go and I have a good time, often. It has turned into an expense, a holiday, an indulgence. I’m paying to keep them. I need them for a rainy day as if they are insurance. And like insurance, even if nothing bad happens, it’s worth having.

The idea that these important people can fade like an old memory is heartbreaking. But it is the way it is. A good friendship like a good investment, compounds. You have to keep attending events, buying gifts, showing that you care so that you keep making memories. You need to keep money in savings, and only withdraw when necessary. My life is not split into events, but rather the people entering and exiting my life — depositing and withdrawing.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, that I read multiple books at the same time. I’m a polygamous reader. The same way I can have different relationships with different people, I feel the same way with books. Some books teach me, some books make me laugh, and some books make me empathetic. Friendships are the books of you, written in partnership with another, and should that partnership ends, the book goes unfinished — unread.

In one way or another, we’ve all gone through a situation where a friendship met its demise. This could be because of irreconcilable differences. This could be because of geographical changes. This could be because of the volatilities of life, things that are out of our control, twists of fates that pull two people — two groups — apart, stranding them on their own. In this world, we pick sides, what are the chances that your friends won’t pick yours?

This article, I pose that question to you…

I want to discuss three novels where the loyalty of friendships and families are tested, pulled to very limits, and allowed to snap.

Friendship as an Expense

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

The Slap is one of those stories told through the perspective of multiple characters. Each chapter, the vantage switches and we see through the eyes of someone we thought we couldn’t possibly feel sympathy for. That’s the beauty of a good book, it can make you love and hate many characters individually. One moment you are rooting for them and the next you are cursing them.

At the heart of the story, The Slap asks us to pick sides when an invisible line is crossed. It ask you where you yourself set the lines. Would you cheat on your wife with a younger woman? Would you use a racial slur without malice? Would you hit someone else’s child in order to protect your own? Where is that line for you in this gray world? And should you cross it, how will you live with the consequences? What if it was your friend who crosses it? Will you stand by him?

There are numerous themes coursing through the veins of this book, and when I finished it I happily, but without confidence, claimed to my fiance (now my wife) that this was the best book I have ever read. I said it like this, “I think it’s my favourite book.” This one found me at exactly the right time in my life, as I watch two of my best friends make their way into parenthood.

Whenever I hear that one of my friend is going to have a kid, I put on a smile and congratulate them. It is what they want and I am happy for them. In my childfree life, I’m saddened to know that those wild late nights with those individuals have officially ended. I will see them on key occasions throughout the year — birthday parties, Christmas, etc. — but otherwise, we aren’t going to hang out like we used to. Even if we lived close by, it becomes a long distance relationship. We now see the world differently. But that would have happened otherwise. Different jobs, different neighbourhoods, different gender of the child you bear will lead to different life values.

Time is not the only thing that is gone. What they want to talk about also changed. What they were once proud of has changed. I look at the pictures of their children as they show me, and I smile… once again happy for them. We are friends still, yes, maybe even family in some way, but we aren’t sharing the same qualities that friends share. You see that when friend circles gather together, at say, a BBQ, like the characters of The Slap were when the conflict occur, when the child was slapped.

Parenting, like food or politics, is something that every person has an opinion on whether they have children or not. People with kids are quick to dismiss the thoughts of those without — and those without see parents as fixed in their ways. It’s easy to be fixed in your ways because the consequence is so far away. You don’t know your child will turn bad until later on in life, and even then, can you really say parenting was the fault?

I digress. We, as our own person, just like the eight characters we enter the minds of in the book, we don’t feel what other people are feeling. We can never know what it’s like to be a parent without having kids, we can never know what it’s like to be ethnic if we are not, and we cannot know what two people are like when they are alone, so how can we judge someone for adultery — when in the same situation, in the same life, we would do it as well?

Watching my friends have children made me realize that from this point on, I’ll never see eye to eye with these people. We’ll have different politics. What is good for them will no longer be good for me. What makes them happy, will not be the same thing that makes me happy. Yet, beyond all that can we still be friends? Of course. But what happens if I cross the line? How great is our loyalty then?

There is a way of thinking that says, if your friends can’t propel you forward, they are holding you back. I think that’s true. What’s the point of having friends if they are just going to make you miserable or keep you from reaching your potential? The key is to notice this before it’s too late. Loyalty in friendship is honourable, sure! But it’s not always healthy. Recognizing your friend’s values as they change will save you from crossing the line in the future.

But of course, like the obligation of going to work, we are at times obligated to see our friends. They are family. We enter the social scene and at the end of the night, we leave breathing a sigh if nothing bad has happened. The Jenga pieces that are our friendship wasn’t destroyed, but each time we see each other we are forced to pull a tile from the bottom and move it to the top. That’s progression. But what if it does fall? Is it tragic? What if it wasn’t you that knock down the pieces either? It was someone else, another friend. There you watch as two friends bite at each other… their relationship is sent to the fringe. By staying neutral, you lose both of them… what do you do? That is the case with many of the characters in the novel The Slap. Friends are told to pick sides and in that — loyalty and value are tested.

It’s not about who you share the most precious memories with that holds a friendship together. It’s about who you will keep as friends as one by one each of them crosses that line you drew for nobody but yourself.

Friendship as an Investment

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The painful idea of having to pick sides between friends led me to my next tragic novel by Haruki Murakami. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (a mouthful), for me, falls into the category of mystery. In The Slap, it’s so obvious what happened. The knife that severed the bond of the friendship was clear. But what if the situation wasn’t? What if suddenly one day, all your friends stopped talking to you?

To me, when I talk about wealth, I’m not always talking about money. Sometimes, wealth can be having a supportive group of people around you. When you are ill, is there someone that will come and take care of you for free? If no, then you are poor. If something great has happened to you and you want to celebrate, is there someone you can immediately call and share the news with and know that there won’t be any jealousy or animosity? If not, then you are poor.

Like money, the friends in our lives are currency. You don’t need money to pay for movers if you have a group of burly friends with freetime and a truck. You don’t need money to pay for dinner if you have a friend that is a culinary fiend and just wants you to taste his latest recipe. You don’t need to rent a hotel if you have a friend who has relatives in New York or San Francisco or London or Tokyo and they are happy to have you for a few days to a week. Not that you bother all those friends all the time — being a good friend, and a smart investor, is knowing when to cash out.

Wealth in any form can be lost. One morning you can wake up and find that it has all disappeared. Like you had been robbed, all the friends you thought you had. The friends, like your savings that you were hoping will be there for you until your old age, will be gone. That is exactly what happened to Tsukuru Tazaki.

Like a poor investment, the same feeling is felt with people. You wonder where the mistake was made. If your core group turns their back on you, do you have more in the reserve to call upon? Will you demand to know what happened? Will you take it as the natural forces of growing up? A painful lesson. If a friend decides to stop showing up to parties, if a friend stops responding to your messages, if a friend disappears from your life completely, will you be okay with it? If you lose a hundred dollars, wouldn’t you want to know where it went?

Every person within a core friend circle needs to fill a role. You might not consciously recognize this, but it’s true. Like a community cannot have too many bakeries or too many tailors, it cannot have too many members with the same characteristics, skillsets, or functions before they start stepping on each others toes.

For example, in a group of five where three are male and two are female, it’s going to be tricky for the third boy if the two other are paired up with the two girls. The boy will ultimately be forced out, this is especially true if he has feelings for one of the girl as well. When you pick your core group of friends, the ones you want to be sustainable for the rest of your life, ask yourself will you betray one of them for your needs — will they betray you? And if they should, will the others join you — or will you be the odd man out?

With friends, we often think in the short term, we walk into a party, we see a group of people and we join in. Slowly we learn the dynamic of each person within the circle, but is this the group where you want to put your chips down? Sure you can invest a little in this group and a little in that group, and create a lot of little bonds and feel that when they are looking around at the stakeholders of the group and wondering who they should buy out, most likely it’ll be the one who only chipped in a little. Like accumulating monetary wealth, generosity is a necessary quality for establishing friendships that is sustainable. It can’t all be fun. If you want someone to take care of you when you are sick, you better be willing to do the same for them. Getting wealthy with friends is not about winning the lottery, it’s about investing, it’s about paying insurance, it’s about putting funds in every day, week, month, year, and knowing that when shits hit for you, they will be there tenfold.

Friendship as a Debt

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

In The Slap, we witness what happens when friends turn against each other. In Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, we see what happens when friends turn against us. But what happens when we turn against our friends? Like a dog with an incurable itch we scratch at ourselves, and when our friends, our companions, attempt to block our nails from another vicious scratch to the face, the neck, or the wrist, we bite at them.

A Little Life is hands down the saddest novel I have ever read — and thus making it a book that I encourage anyone that needs a heavy dose of empathy to checkout. It may cripple the light hearted, but those that are having trouble feeling grateful for the simplicity of life, they need to read this epic novel based around a group of male friends living in New York, growing old together.

We are all troubled. Every one of us. Everyday we wake up and we face our demons. Your demons might be addiction. Your friend’s demons might be a repressed childhood experience. Your other friend’s demons might be a relationship he or she is trapped in. We are all facing our own battles. Sometimes, we lose and our friends have to watch as our defences, our fortress that they so proudly built with us: our confidence, our happiness, and our successes — they watch it all crumble. Nobody will really know what it’s like to be you. Nobody can ever save you from yourself. But a friend is one that hopes — a friend is someone who doesn’t give up on you. They wait across the moat, watching the dust settle and for you to emerge from the ashes ready to lower the bridge, ready to let them back in, and ready to rebuild.

Jude, the protagonist of A Little Life, had built a facade, a shield he hid behind. For the majority of the story, we only learn what he tells his friends, especially his closest friend, Williem. His childhood injury that has caused spinal damages and affected the way he walks was merely addressed as a misfortune. His self-mutilation was hidden because he will never be seen by others without a shirt or with short-sleeves. His inability to be intimate was shrugged off as him not feeling any sexual desire for anyone, male or female.

When we build a fence or a wall, we do two things: we keep people out and we lock ourselves in. What Jude has done is that he has build a wall around his castle in ruins. He is there alone trying and failing to repair himself. His friends want to enter to help, but for much of the novel, he shuns them with one reason or another: he cannot trust that they are not Trojan horses entering as a gift and dismantling his world ever worse. Additionally, for the friends he knew who were loyal and noble, he did not want them spending their short life on Earth, helping him salvage what little life he had. His friends were all successes in their profession: artist, actor, architect. They deserved better than him — he did not want to be a charity case.

I have a problem with empathy. In day-to-day life, I’m failing at that trait — maybe barely passing. I am not the most empathetic person I can be, which at times, I feel can make me a less than perfect friend. When I was in high school, there was a class… actually, it was more of lecture, because it wasn’t so much of a course, as just a social worker coming into talk to us. We watched a movie where the main character went through some trauma and was cutting herself. I uttered out loud that indeed this movie was fiction. At that age, without having ever faced trauma of my own — misfortune yes, but nothing I can call trauma — I couldn’t understand why a character had chosen to hurt herself. The social work failed in empathy that day as well. All she said was, “I hope you never have to understand,” which was a weak attempt at educating, as if a math teacher will say, “I hope you’ll never need to use long division” after I failed a test. Empathy is such an important skillset and I feel like I was handicapped at an early age, because it was not something that came naturally. I had a hard time practicing empathy, so now when I see my friends in trouble, I wish I could do more, but I merely stand at the perimeter, from my tower, looking in their direction, hoping they will figure it out before it’s too late.

A Little Life taught me more than what that high school social worker teacher (or whatever she was) could. It taught me that loyalty goes both ways. A dog defends its master and the master feeds the dog. The thing is… in this scenario, sometimes the master gets sick and there is nothing the dog can do. Sometimes the master dies and there is nothing the dog can do… That is the lesson I got out of A Little Life, we might end up being the dog without a master. We are all hanging to life by a rope or a string or a piece of thread, awaiting to drop into oblivion. If we only have one person to rely on for our needs: food, shelter, love, then we are merely hanging by a thread.

Empathy becomes the knotted tether. Empathy gathers other threads and strings and binds them. If we want loyalty. If we want lasting friendships. If we even just want to be nicer to strangers, it all begins and ends with empathy. If we can’t do that… then we don’t deserve it. To have friendship without empathy is theft: theft of trust and loyalty and will ultimately lead to a sad heartbreak. We can’t always know our friends truly, but when things get bad — and they will, because the world is hard — we must lower our weapons, because our friends are fighting a must tougher enemy, one that you can’t see. We can help them instead.

I recommend these three books to anyone feeling the pull of life dragging them away from the good times. I recommend these three books to those who have lost a friend, be it through betrayal, misunderstanding, or tragedy. I believe sometimes the best way to cry is in the rain, so that nobody can see, but we can’t control the weather, so let it pour from the heart.

 

This piece was originally published on Medium.

If you enjoyed this piece, check out What I discovered when I read Fight Club and The Four-Hour Workweek together.

 

Introducing It’s Not a Problem Yet

It's Not a Problem Yet

It’s been a busy year (2017). Aside from getting married and doing that whole thing, I also turn the heat up on a passion I developed. Boiling over now, it is my obsession to learn as much as I can about — you guessed it — booze. Before I go any further, I must let you know that the project is called: It’s Not a Problem Yet. While I have registered for the domain name, the YouTube channel is where the majority of the attention is placed at the moment. It’s a mixture of everything I enjoy.

What is It’s Not a Problem Yet? Well, above all else it is a philosophy. Look at this guy, talking about philosophy, who does he think he is? I don’t know, but I know that so much of life is wasted worrying about the consequences. So much so that we end up not pursuing something that you enjoy. I enjoy booze. I’m getting more and more comfortable admitting it. When I told people this, I got a lot of caution. Uh Oh! As if I just announced to them that I had decided to nurture a horrible addiction. Yes, a lot of people are alcoholics. It’s a problem. But then again, a lot of people are ill in many other ways. Substance abuse is one crippling effect of life. Addiction is something we all face as people. There are many addictions, I can list them all, but I won’t. Everybody is doing something they enjoy that they shouldn’t, that they think they can stop, but they can’t. What the philosophy of It’s Not a Problem Yet is about is that you can do what you want… this potentially dangerous thing (like base jumping is pretty dangerous too) and really go down the rabbit hole. I want to walk down this slippery slope, but I’ll do it with full awareness, fully sober. I will do it with confidence that each step I take is deliberate.

I’m fascinated with the ancient craft of brewing, distilling, mixing, and winemaking. I love learning about the geography, the history, the culture built around booze. I love how long it takes and how worthless it becomes… (pee). It doesn’t matter if it’s a $1,000 bottle of scotch or $3 beer, it all ends up the same. Such like life. I think there is some deep shit in all this. It helps grounds me in everything I want to learn and be. It’s a little rebellious like me. I like that. So to the people who are worried about what I’m doing with my free time, all I have to say is “It’s Not a Problem Yet.”

The First Rule of Worklife Freedom: ‘Fight Club’ or ‘The Four-Hour Work Week’?

Fight Club and the Four Hour Work Week

I’ve recently finished reading two books that shared some eerie thematic similarity about society, class, freedom, and identity: Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Workweek and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.

If you judge books by their cover, they don’t have any visible similarities. One is non-fiction, encouraging want-to-be entrepreneurs to abandon the old route towards wealth by innovating and automating their lives, thus becoming the New Rich. The other book is the source material for the famed Brad Pitt-Edward Norton movie about a man suffering from insomnia, meeting a mysterious individual named Tyler Durden, and starting a terrorist group that spawned from an underground fight club.

What association am I seeing? What am I even trying to say? Well — let me connect the dots for you and you can tell me if you see it too.

Read the complete article here on Medium. 

End of 2016 Update…

This has been an exciting year for me as I have taken a long-term hiatus from freelance writing to focus on my role as Marketing Manager at Control.

The new responsibility means that I am spending less time sitting at the desk finding the perfect word, but rather sitting at the desk — or the boardroom table — contemplating and deliberating strategy from content creation to public relations to affiliate programs.

In order to keep my footing in my new role, I’ve put a pause on creating my own content… but I have worked with some brilliant talents to produce a variety of marketing material for Control that I would really like to share. Have a look at this dope infographic about The Stripe Ecosystem, designed by Visual Capitalist.

I’d also like to start sharing my experience as I learn to be the ultimate marketer (en route to being the best all round writer I can be). I might do it here or I might do it on my Medium page. Either way, I’ll try to be sure you find it. That’s kind of what marketing is all about, right?

Until then, if you would like to see what I’ve been up to or if you are a payment analytics fanatic or someone who is starting a business and wants to learn how numbers can help you grow it, check out the works from our content team at the Control Blog.

Student apathy and other problems for the editor-in-chiefs of the ‘Other Press’

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A conversation with six leaders of Douglas College’s newspaper

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. July 8, 2016

You are a runner in a relay race. As your teammate approaches you, you see her hand extend, holding the baton. Your feet move to keep pace as she draws nearer. The fingers in your hands blossom out, creating a target, not just for the baton, but also for the responsibility, the confidence, the weight of the entire collective. You are the runner; you are the next editor-in-chief of the Other Press.

 

The Other Job

The sprint is a year long and starts in September. Douglas College gathers for orientation, and the parking-lot-like building that is the New Westminster campus fills up with young minds. Sitting at a foldout table in the concourse is an optimistic individual, driven to make a mark on the long legacy that is the Douglas College newspaper: the Other Press.

With a welcoming smile, the editor-in-chief of the only student newspaper on campus showcases the publication to new students entering the post secondary institution and sometimes to students who have been enrolled in the college for years already.

“When you are talking to people and trying to recruit people to the newspaper,” says Natalie Serafini, editor-in-chief from 2014–15, “they are often surprised that we have a newspaper.”

“It’s also surprising the amount of people that say that they read it,” says Jacey Gibb, editor-in-chief from 2013–14. “It sounds bad to say surprising.”

During the length of the orientation, the editor-in-chief is not only present to increase readership, but also to recruit contributors by introducing the variety of roles that goes into running a publication: writers, designers, illustrators, photographers, distributors, etc. The editor-in-chief is not only the boss, but also the ambassador.

“You only need to get one person for these events to be worthwhile,” says Sharon Miki, editor-in-chief from 2012–13). “You are never going to have an event and get like 20 new writers and 1,000 new readers. It’s Douglas College. It’s such a small community. You only need to get one.”

The Other Press, like a collegial program, is a revolving door for students to collaborate and gain experience in preparation for the real world. Each year, the editor-in-chief position opens up. The incumbent can choose to reapply and serve another term, or choose to leave the shoes for someone else to fill.

While much of it feels like training for the job of the future, being the leader of a student newspaper is a responsibility that weighs heavy, especially when working with a group of unseasoned writers, editors, and contributors. With ego and inexperience colliding, it is the job of the editor-in-chief to both calm the waters and steer the ship.

“I felt like a lot of my time was spent dealing with the personnel,” says Liam Britten, editor-in-chief from 2008–10. “That was challenging: dealing with people who should just not have been there. You just can’t get rid of these people. It took a while.”

“I’m sure everyone else had this experience,” says Gibb, “where I’ve gotten a piece—especially as a section editor—and you are just reading it and you’re like there is no way this person reread what they wrote, because this doesn’t make sense and it’s just total garbage.”

“[The Other Press] equipped me with skills like dealing with problem children and persevering through really challenging experiences where you don’t know what you’re doing and you are just flailing through it,” says Cody Klyne, editor-in-chief from 2011–12. “And you do and you are kind of just given a lot of responsibility and you can take that and really run with it or you can sit on it and not really have any ambition for the newspaper for your term.”

 

The Other News

Hidden away on the first floor is the Other Press headquarters in Room 1020. During the Fall and Winter semesters, the collective gathers weekly in the bowels of the campus to produce a newspaper. The issues will sit on black metal stands at entrances and high traffic areas of the school, but with only 50 per cent pick up—roughly 500 hundred hard copy readers per week—it often seems like a job that is supplying without demand.

Without a need to feed the beast, it’s easy to become apathetic. The editor-in-chief term at the Other Press is indeed a marathon, but the leader is not running alone. Leading a team and keeping them from falling into the grips of apathy is as challenging as keeping up with all the emails that pile up. The job is not just about meeting deadlines; it’s about producing quality work.

“I guess one of the main points is showing that you care,” says Eric Wilkins, the current editor-in-chief of the Other Press. “If you don’t, nobody else is going to follow. First and foremost is making yourself as enthusiastic as possible.”

“I know as editor-in-chief, one thing that was very frustrating was how hard it was to get people to write Douglas College-centered stuff,” says Britten, “or even Lower Mainland-focused stuff can be a challenge. Let’s be honest, nobody reads the Other Press to find out what happened somewhere else in the world last week, right? But that’s what people’s instincts are; that is what’s interesting to them. You have to look for not the most obvious story, I guess. Look for opportunity to localize things.”

“If you are a sports editor, go watch the damn Royals play,” Britten adds. “Or if you are the arts editor, you might have to go see a Douglas College play.”

The Other Press began in 1976 and it has always struggled to find its place within the Douglas College ecosystem. Splintered from the rest of the institution, the Other Press requires the editor-in-chief to bridge the gap between the different societies and communities, while staying true to the publication’s journalistic values.

“It’s so rare that anything noteworthy happens,” says Miki, “that if it ever does happen you have to talk about it. We’re not a PR magazine for Douglas College. But if we were, then yes, we wouldn’t say anything critical. But if something happened—and it’s true—we have to report on it.”

 

The Other Problems

The Other Press is an organization with many moving parts. It’s often hard to keep track of the squeaky wheels. In an effort to produce a newspaper on a weekly basis, there are going to be mistakes. The lesson is in how one recovers. Consider all the errors that take place in a classroom: spelling mistakes, incorrect facts, plagiarisms, etc. All these problems are magnified when it is printed a thousand times and handed out to the general public. The editor-in-chief’s face is on every issue printed. If there is a problem, there is no hiding and there is no blaming; he or she must face the hard light.

“My worst fear was that I was going to do something that would end the newspaper,” says Gibb. “I’m sure everyone had that fear. I actually had the opportunity to end it, in that our contract with the college student levy was up for renewal in my term. It happened to come upon a very funny time.”

It was a funny time indeed. A humour article mistaken as legitimate news got the Other Press in hot water at the tail end of 2013. Gibb was the editor-in-chief at the time and he received the brunt of the backlash as the article involved the New Westminster Police Department.

“If the paper hadn’t been on such strong foundation,” Gibb adds, “who knows what would have happened?”

At the time, it was no laughing matter for the publication. But Gibb laughs it off now, reminding us that the words printed on the paper have impact. Being the leader of a media organization, even one as small as the Other Press, carries a certain responsibility. It’s not just for the people who speak out, but for the people who don’t as well.

“You focus in on the fact that you get surprised when people say ‘I’m surprised that there is a newspaper at the college,’” says Klyne. “Like you are kind of taken aback by that statement. It’s just, you do pour so much of yourself into it, but there are a lot of people who do read and don’t make their voices known or participate, and they are just the readers. And that’s their place in life and they are just happy to do that. And it’s our job to just be there and supply that.”

Each week, the editor-in-chief of the Other Press chases the clock, rallying the collective to produce a high-quality publication for the readers. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first few steps in September or the last leg in August, they know their efforts will be visible in print and digital not just for Douglas College to see, but for the whole world. They also know that their time is fleeting. This learning experience they treated wholeheartedly as a “real job” will soon be over.

“I feel like there was so much I wanted to do that I never got around to doing,” says Serafini. “There would always be a fire—not a literal fire—to put out. I feel like by the end of my first semester I was so exhausted, I was just trying to find the next person to fill a position—put out the next fire.”

You are a runner in a relay race. You receive the baton—but it’s not really a baton, it’s a fire extinguisher. You are the next editor-in-chief of the Other Press. You want to make your mark, but it’s actually an environment to make mistakes. If that’s the case, the best mark is to continue the legacy, improve the organization incrementally for the next generation, and allow room for the leaders of the future to solve the problems that are as ingrained into the institution as student apathy.

“You don’t need to be a born leader for anything,” says Wilkins. “You grow your way into it. You learn things. You figure out how stuff works.”

For over 40 years, the Other Press has been a fixture in the Douglas campus community. While it might be considered fringe, because there are no academic programs linked to it, it a necessary part of the institution. The craft of writing, editing, and communicating is a key to professional success, regardless of the student’s career path.

Why does a school have gym? Not because we want our students to become body builders or professional athletes, it’s because we want them to establish a healthy lifestyle. The same goes with a student newspaper. It’s not about the product; it’s about the work itself, and it’s about getting better and stronger at the craft. For the editor-in-chief, it’s his or her chance to learn what no course in Douglas can teach, and that is a unique opportunity.

Why we need to say goodbye

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In order to grow, you need to say bye to old friends and family

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. August 4, 2016

I’m reaching a transitional point in my life where my time with friends and family is diminishing and therefore, growing ever more precious. Yet, the times that I do have with them are spent idle, spawning zero growth. We’re old friends—we’re family—we know what our personalities are like, we know what our opinions are, and we’ve reach a comfort zone where we no longer feel the need to push each other. My old friends and family have become content with the way I am, and therefore, I must say goodbye.

My mother did not want me to move out. Her plan was to have me live with her and take care of her. Additionally, she wanted me to progress, get married, get employed, and succeed. There was no way I could have done those things without first finding my own independence. She wanted me to stay the same caring little boy she thought I was. Selfishly, she wanted to keep me.

The same goes with workplaces. A quality worker is hard to find and quality employers know this and will do what they can to retain them. However, many workforces don’t offer good employees room to grow. Look at the diligent server or the hardworking barista; it doesn’t matter how many hours they put in, eventually, they will hit the ceiling. There are no more rungs on the ladder to climb.

With friends, it can get a little more complicated. There are no resignation letters, although you can write a Facebook message explaining why you don’t have time for their birthday parties or why you can’t go see that concert with them. Life is full of resistances and some come in the form of comfort. Friends are like a comfy bed; they don’t care if you get anything done during the day or if you lie there dreaming. Friends want you with them, but in doing so you revert to idleness, and that would be a great shame.

There will be a time when you have to make the decision to say goodbye to all the comfortable relationships you’ve created. Those moments weren’t wasted. Those moments lead you to where you are now. But you, like me, will one day reach this transition point, where you need to be realistic with the time you spend and ask: “Do I want to sacrifice my personal growth and potential success just so I can make this person, organization, or team happy?”

It’s not abandonment. It’s merely a departure. They can join you if they want, but they’ll have to understand the journey you are going on will be long and arduous. It can be an academic pursuit or it can be a business opportunity; either way, they need to buy in 100 per cent. If they don’t follow, no worries. There are many more people along the way, heading in your direction, waiting to say, “Hello.”

So, think about all the friends within your circle and ask yourself: “Are they joining me? Or is it time to say farewell?”