Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: musings

Portable Stationery

Recently I came across this thread: What’s in your pencil case? Obviously, if you’re a postcard enthusiast who likes to travel, you want to make sure that you have all your essential writing utensils with you. The minimalist, of course, will just say that one pen is enough, but if you’re the sort of person who likes to make the back of a postcard visually interesting, you’ll need more than that.

Before the pandemic, I had a packed pencil case similar to the ones in that thread, but during the pandemic when I was trying to organize stuff at home, I decided to take everything out of the pencil case I had been using. However, whenever traveling becomes feasible again, I’ll repack a pencil case with what I consider essential postcard and journaling items:

  • A 0.7 mm black gel pen (with at least one backup),
  • A 0.5 mm black gel pen 
  • A fine or extra fine black ballpoint pen
  • A fine black sharpie
  • An extra fine black sharpie
  • Four 0.4 mm Stabilo pens of various colors, or equivalent
  • A mechanical pencil
  • A pair of scissors
  • A ruler
  • A couple rolls of washi tape (encompassing several themes)
  • A roll of clear tape
  • A variety of stickers
  • Around 10-20 postcards with various themes
  • A set of page flags
  • Some envelopes
  • Some postage stamps (if traveling within the US)

The trick is to try to pack as much of this stuff as one can in the smallest amount of space. I think I still have a ways to go to perfect that particular art.


I recently watched this on Youtube: Why Americans Including Asian Americans Have Issues with Foreign Accents. I agree that there are Americans who have some strange antipathy against people who don’t have standard accents, but this is also true in many parts of the world where certain accents have implications of ethnic groups, class, and socio-economic backgrounds. This just seems particularly prevalent in the US because, well, people are so vocal about it and it’s the most readily apparent because the US has many immigrants.

Perhaps other people have never noticed accents until they’ve ventured outside of their insular enclaves, but I’ve always been acutely aware of accents. It’s probably because I’m a child of immigrants–English is not my parents’ first language and even as a child, I’ve seen them discriminated against because they didn’t sound like a native speaker. (There have been times when I was a kid that I had to answer the phone because whatever crazy adult on the other end couldn’t handle my parents’ accents.) Technically English was not my first language either, but I learned it early enough that I mostly have “no accent” (or perhaps more accurately, the standard accent). If people do detect an accent in my speech, they would label it as Canadian.

I don’t really understand people who work themselves up into a frenzy because not everyone has a standard accent. Accents are an indication of someone’s background but it doesn’t indicate the true character of a person. I suspect some people use it as an excuse to divide the population into us and them because they are too lazy and too small-minded to try to get to know a new person. Unfortunately such people are still very pervasive in society and that’s why there are many who struggle to get rid of their own accents in order to get a job that would have been a no-brainer otherwise.

Once Again, I Fail as an Asian American

A recent article in Jezebel had me sighing. The premise of the article was that Asian Americans–particularly those growing up during the 1980s and 1990s–have a deep love of a music genre called New Wave, which included musical groups like Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, and New Order. I’m in that demographic, i.e. Asian American, growing up in that time period, a child of immigrants. I’ve even heard of those musical groups before. But do I even like them? No. I can tolerate it better than country music, but that’s all I can say.

I think where I differ from the other Asian Americans from the article is that I did not grow up in places where there were many other Asian Americans. And even of the one or two others around, there was very little chance of me forming any solidarity with them because they were musical geniuses playing Mozart and Beethoven on the piano and/or violin and it was all about competition with them, not solidarity. All of my teenage years was also spent in a place where it was country music all the time and I didn’t know anyone who liked New Wave.

Of course, that didn’t mean that I only listened to classical or country. I actually almost never listened to country of my own volition–such as my dislike for it.  Instead, some of my favorite music I discovered during this time period was through late night music shows on NPR, particularly Hearts of Space and Echoes. While other trendy Asian Americans liked listening to New Wave because it reflected how they felt in society–left out, alienated, and not quite belonging–I was listening to ambient and folk and electronic and new age stuff because it was weird. I don’t think I was particularly angsty as a teenager even though I was pretty much persona non grata socially, but I did like to seek out the strange and unusual.

Anyways, all of this is just to explain that whatever Asian American experience is exemplified in that article, it only applies to a subset of Asian Americans. It’s true that many Asian Americans do have some commonalities, but because we all grew up in different environments, it would be really difficult to state that specific touchstones apply to every Asian American. I guess my concern is that this article will only solidify in some people’s minds that All Asians Are the Same when in fact, the opposite is true.  And if there is only one way that an Asian American can be, I certainly fail in most of those aspects.

Food Can Be A Cultural Landmine

Not long after I wrote my previous post, I came across this article where the magazine Food & Wine apologized for messing up some traditional cuisine just because they wanted to interject their own aesthetics into the picture. Which made me wonder if my attempts at kolokythopita was an exercise in exerting my “privilege” (which seems very strange to say since I’m not a white dude and almost no one ever listens to me anyway) over an ethnic cuisine. I ultimately decided that my attempts at cooking was not the same thing because: 1) I admit I’m no expert at cooking, 2) I make no claims on authenticity and readily admit to any changes I made with the recipe, and 3) I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else that my adjustments to the recipe made it better, aesthetically or otherwise.

These days, if food tastes good, I’ll eat it. I think it’s because I live in a place where there is an ever present mingling of cuisines  in  pretty much any location that sells food. And I think everyone knows intuitively that it’s a fusion. No one’s seriously claiming to be an expert at an authentic cuisine–instead, everyone’s claiming to be the new hot thing. I think, too, that the blending of cuisines happens because there are the intersections of culture. While food can be a marker of identity, it’s also an easy way for different cultures to start understanding each other. 

Arguing about food’s authenticity is another matter. For example, I’ve had an antipathy for Chinese American restaurants because I didn’t think the food was authentic and it contributed to the stereotype that Asian Americans, and particularly Chinese Americans, liked this type of food and had the lifestyle that these restaurants conveyed. Of course now, I understand that the owners of these restaurants were just trying to earn a living like everyone else. And if they had to Americanize their menu to get the orders in, then that was what they were going to do. These days, I would argue that Chinese American cuisine is its own distinct entity.

But for the experienced chefs and other food experts of a particular culture who have spent a significant part of their lives mastering and understanding their own culture’s authentic cuisine? It would be terrible to override their knowledge just because you thought that your way was better. I don’t think this is any different than some prudish editor bowlderizing a work of literature or some new age guru misrepresenting a non-Western religion just to make a quick buck.

Comfort Gaming

These days, people talk a lot about comfort reading–diving back into known stories as a self-soothing activity during hard times. So I’m kind of surprised that people don’t also talk about “comfort gaming” which also seems to be quite popular with everyone still stuck inside. But perhaps there is an equivalent term in gaming that is being used but I’m not aware of. I don’t do games in the traditional video gaming sense. I prefer to play games that are a little more cerebral than mechanical. I’m not particularly interested in shooting games or games that depend on my dexterity with the controls. Puzzles are more my jam.

One series of games that I keep going back to are the Submachine games. This series was originally made by Mateusz Skutnik on the now defunct Flash platform. Objectively, there isn’t anything particularly comforting about these games–they’re variations of the escape room trope, you’re alone with the “submachines”, the storyline is mysterious, and the accompanying soundtracks are unsettling. But somehow I find them comforting even though it’s a weird, hand drawn fictional world. Maybe it’s because the puzzles are now familiar to me, they’re solved and not dangling off into the unknown.

A Brief Thought on Lights

I recently read this post on dimming one’s own light. I would have to say that I know a lot of people like this–that with any sign of criticism or implication that they’re not good enough, they fall apart. There are probably people with more traditional mindsets out there who would say that these people are acting like special snowflakes, they’re too sensitive, they need to toughen up. There’s criticism everywhere and you just need to deal with it. But there are way too many of these so-called sensitive people out there, including those people who keep calling for others to toughen up. Because if these “tough” folks get called on their BS, they crumple like a house of cards and begin throwing tantrums that are even worse than a two-year-old.

In reality, most people’s bailiwick is not toughening up or being resilient. They thrive better with positive reinforcement and kindness. But unfortunately, that’s not how current society works, especially when selfishness is rewarded and you get to score points if you’re able to poke holes in other people’s work instead of suggesting improvements. As for solutions? I have no idea. I’m not a psychologist or therapist. I wouldn’t know the first steps in changing people’s behaviors. All I can do is keep on trying to be the best that I can be and refuse to punch down.

Learning New Tricks

Is it really too late to learn new skills? Well, the short answer is no. Learning is not the provenance of the young. And the old certainly shouldn’t be smug about supposedly knowing everything. There’s more knowledge out there than any one person can learn in their lifetimes and if anyone claims that they know everything, they’re lying, delusional, or both.

As I march towards middle age (and some might even argue that I’m there already), I do wonder if I could ever do anything significant. It’s not that I’m afraid of learning anything new–it’s just that I have this practical view that I’m a fairly ordinary person–I am probably worth less than beans in the whole scheme of things. It’s been drummed into me since a young age that there will always be someone out there who is better at you at any given ability.

I know during this time when everyone’s stuck at home with supposedly more time to spend on learning new things that it’s, well, expected that you learn new things. Or at least try to. Otherwise, you might be labeled as a lazy bum. For me, though, it’s more like trying to do things I’ve been putting off before–like reading books or writing stories or getting sleep. Does this make me more of a lazy bum than someone trying to learn Swahili? I hope not.

Rinse and Repeat: Slapfights in Fiction

If any of you have taken a recent look into the literary part of social media, you would have noticed that yet again, people are up in arms about some literary fiction writer trash talking fanfiction and everyone else who has ever written fanfiction trying to defend its literary merits. For me, it’s sort of a facepalm thing–I’ve seen all these arguments before and I’m betting that the person who set all this off was just another young literary writer trying to establish that they are better than everyone else so they decided to punch down at something that is more popular.

I’m honestly annoyed and tired with hot shot writers trying to take pot shots at other genres of fiction that they deem inferior. It happens over and over and over again and bluntly, I’m calling bullshit on all of it. Genre does not dictate quality. Writing ability determines quality. I think some people just need to realize that their arguments for literary quality actually boil down to two things: elitism and money.

The core of elitism and snobbery in literature assumes that certain stories are worth more than others. They assume that tragedies are better than comedies, stories with moral lessons are better for your soul than stories for entertainment, literary fiction is more serious than genre. I find these assumptions absolutely odious because it implies that not everyone’s  voice is equal. Telling people not to write is the literary equivalent of telling people to shut up. Maybe you might not connect with someone’s story, but you don’t have to read it. However, this also doesn’t give you the right to tell people not to write their stories.

I also think it’s a matter of money. Many people write stories, but only a few of them will sell enough books to make “being a writer” a full time job. When some struggling writers see writers of other genres being successful, there’s the urge to try to tear them down in order to make themselves seem better. Unfortunately, there’s still this notion (especially in the west) that you should do work for the love of it. If you’re doing it for the money, you’ve sold out. (I see this in many fields, including my own. There is still this stigma that if you’re a scientist and go into industry instead of staying in academia, you’ve “gone to the dark side.”) But the reality is, everyone needs to make money somehow. That’s how our society works. The food on the table and the roof over your head aren’t going to magically appear just because you want them. And if a writer is able to commercialize their talent so they don’t have to live in a box, then congratulations to them. 

Related to money is competition. Obviously, there are only a finite number of publishing houses in existence and they only have a finite number of slots to publish books per year. On the other hand, I would argue that different genres are not competing for the same slots. If you’re aiming to be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tor or Harlequin will not publish you no matter how well you write. And even if you think your genre is too overcrowded with traditional publishing, you can always go the self publishing route. With today’s technology, there’s no excuse for not getting your story out there if you think it should be read by people. Of course, the readers only have a finite budget to buy books–but that’s something that no writer can control.

Anyways, my main point is that writers complaining about other genres should stop wasting their time complaining and go back to writing their own books and trying to make them as best as they can be. It’s silly wasting time arguing about how good you are and how bad others are instead of actually doing the work to show how good your books are without burning your bridges with other writers.

Reading Is Not “Normal”

So, I recently came across this AITA post from a mother who thinks her 22-year-old daughter is reading too much and that she should quit reading and concentrate on her studies and get a better job. Aside from the weirdness of such a parent posting on Reddit and complaining about her adult child who could make her own decisions already (if it’s a helicopter parent or tiger parent, why the heck would they waste their time on Reddit unless it’s someone trolling everyone for the clicks), it does make me wonder why so many parents out there have some stereotypical idea of a successful child who will study and have “acceptable” hobbies that always involve some form of socializing. 

Reading a lot for pleasure, strangely enough, is still considered deviant. Why is it considered normal to not read books? The average person hardly even reads one book a year, let alone several. For a lot of regular jobs, you don’t need to read any books if all you care about is the money. And, some would say that the obvious anti-intellectual streak in society is also a strong contributor to this disdain with books. To me, being stuck in one place with no food for the mind seems like a poor way to live. Books have so many advantages–it opens up the world, presents new ideas, stimulates creativity, and builds empathy as you read the words that come from someone else’s mind.

I think my parents definitely worried that I was reading too much when I was younger and that I needed to socialize more. Well, I guess I could have socialized more, but I didn’t like it. I’m an introvert through and through and even now, I’d prefer not to talk with anyone. Then again, even though my parents had said that I was reading too much, they didn’t really do anything to curb my reading, either. I always got to max out my library card and check out whatever I wanted–no limits.

The purpose of that digression is just to say that I’ve read a lot and I don’t think it has messed me up. (Unless you’re one of Those Parents who think kids are only successful if they are medical doctors, engineers, or lawyers–in that case I’m an utter failure.) Even though my current life is as far away from the house with the white picket fence, spouse, 2.5 kids, and a dog as it can get, I’m doing all right considering all the crazy in the world right now. And there are even people who call me normal. I’m not quite sure about that, though. Normality is relative.

The Avocado Toast of Planners

I recently saw someone on Twitter post that they were doing a “passion planner”. My first thought was, “Seriously, what kind of crap is this now? Is it just another fancy name for a bullet journal?” Well, it turns out no, it’s not exactly like a bullet journal. And while I find bullet journals too tedious for the likes of me–at least it’s flexible and people can actually be creative with it. Passion planners, on the other hand, goes the other extreme in focus and is probably even more tedious.

So what is a passion planner? Apparently it’s a planner where you set goals. There will be a yearly calendar where you write down your annual goals. Then a monthly calendar where you write down your monthly goals. And then a daily calendar to write down your daily goals. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it’s too much different than a to do list. But a to do list is about recording what you need to get done. Writing goals in a passion planner means that you’re going to accomplish things and be ambitious. There’s nothing wrong about accomplishing things or being ambitious, but this passion planner implies that you need to emotionally invest in this special to do list. It’s not only about accomplishing these things to become your true self but to be your best self. But is that best self an objective thing or is it just shaped by an artificial to do list dictated by what society thinks is success?

What this reminds me of is project planning which is just a morass of spreadsheets anyway. I don’t really understand why project managers love this stuff. Why do they get so worked up trying to get people to finish projects? Sometimes projects can go down strange paths because the world is more complex than the coding making up the spreadsheet. If there’s something I need to do, I do it. If I need to prioritize different projects, then I do the necessary organization. Sometimes things get messy and I have to tackle things at a different angle. But I certainly don’t call this “passion planning”.

I guess what I really object to is the terminology. I don’t really find this kind of thing a passion. My personal interpretation of “passion” is an intense emotional urge, akin to obsession. I’m sure there are people out there who go orgasmic over planners and this passion planner thing is perfect for them. But while I do have my own goals and ambitions, how I feel about those things is closer to cool calculation than burning desire.