On Burnouts and Finding Fulfilment in Life

Here’s for the hustlers, the graduates fresh out of college. If you’re like me, and already experiencing somewhat of a burnout, I hope this resonates with you.

Here I am, taking personal time out to write. That’s the first in 5 weeks since my last project ended at work.

I tell myself I should be allowed to do that. But at the same time, my mind is not at rest. Rather, it’s polluted with feelings of guilt.

There’s an internalised sensibility that one should be working, because every minute of work that goes towards the final product counts.

Not only that, it also seems like you better be able to suck it up – because if you aren’t willing to work hard, there’re many others waiting in line to take up your space.

And worse, the fact that I already feel somewhat burnt out when I’ve just entered the workforce makes me feel rather incapable.

But I know my experience isn’t unique. For many of us who have just entered the workforce, we feel the need to hustle, get our act together and prove our worth.

Except this time round, I’ve come to figure that – there really is a little madness in this.

I’ve slowed down by a fair bit, and I take that as a sign of my body naturally rebelling against the constant sprint at work. My question really is this. Is it really worth it? To create work I’m proud of, but at the cost of so much that’s dear to me – (1) time spent with family and friends, (2) personal time to make music, read, write, explore and spend time with nature.

There’s a dark side to work, which all sociology majors would be well aware of. The sad reality is that no matter how much you feel like your company needs you to get the work done, if you were to be gone tomorrow, you’d be replaced in no time.

Of course, real life is much more complex than a sweeping statement like that. After all, manpower is hard to find, and in a more positive light, relationships do develop at work, and that would make it more difficult for employees to be laid off.

But in the larger scheme of things, that’s how the workplace rolls in a Capitalist system. It’s not the fault of companies, but the underlying system that cages us all in, and shapes our rationalities.

In other words, “you matter less than you think you do”. It points towards the meaninglessness of work and life, as Weber (a Sociologist) pointed out way back in time.

I’ll admit. No matter how true the above statement is, that isn’t a very good headspace to be in. It has found me in some moments when I felt terribly alone in a pursuit that suddenly doesn’t appear to matter very much.

But from what I understand from Weber, because life is inherently meaningless, it is only liveable when we make meaning out of it. So here’s all the meaning that I’m making out of this.

To put it simply, my question is this. How is it that there are people who can do such amazing work and still get a life???

And here’s the answer I’ve had for myself.

You have every right to just BE.

This statement occurred in my mind a few days back, but there’s a lot to unpack in it.

This means that regardless of the directions and intentions of your team or your organisation that’s larger than yourself, nothing matters more than your journey. Take ownership of your own development; grow at your own pace. People can say you’ve done something wrongly, you’ve not done enough or even label you as a disappointment, but only YOU can measure your own worth.

This also means that you have to set your own boundaries and take care of your wellbeing. Nobody is forcing you to work more or work longer. In the same vein, nobody will ask you to eat well, sleep well, or not bail out of meet ups with friends and families. Be clear of what you want out of life, and be god-damn aware that it all boils down to personal choice. Be relentless in doing the things that fill your soul.

Lastly, take your right to be where you are as a given. You can be easily replaced, yes, but while you’re here, while you’re at it, ABSORB IT ALL. Learn all that you ever can, and if there comes a point when you’re replaced, then so be it.

And I’ve also thought about how it is we have a chance of being irreplaceable. I think the only ways are to leave behind meaningful works that matter, and to always remember to treat people right.

This post is really more like a #notetoself than anything. But I hope that these thoughts would help you as much as they’ve helped me. 🙂

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The Slight Edge: Be consistent in your pursuits, and you shall never fail

In essence, The Slight Edge argues that small disciplines when repeated over and over, can help you achieve major success in life.

Within weeks of finishing this book, I already feel different.

At the start of 2019, I wished for inner peace, and this book brought me exactly that.

  1. Be consistent in your good habits, and you shall never fail.

After completing The Power of Now, I felt peace at several moments of times, but still feel somewhat unconvinced. How can you focus on the now, knowing that (1) the future is uncertain and you can’t control it and (2) there’s always a chance that if you’re not doing WXYZ instead of what you’re doing now, that might negatively impact your future.

In contrast, the arguments from The Slight Edge bought me over because it made me realise the underlying cause of my anxiety, and gave me an answer.

In school, we all learnt that if we do WXYZ, we would get a good grade. But upon graduation, I had the impression that life is much more unpredictable. Your success depends not just on skill, but even more so on other factors that are harder to control, like connections and luck. I’d think that I’m wise enough to know what I need to do to move ahead, but it’s deeply unsettling to know that I’d never know if these would bring me the outcomes I so desire.

But The Slight Edge made me realise that while school life and work life is seemingly different in appearance, they are fundamentally the same. As with all tasks, if you were to do all that you needed to do, day in day out, and stick to it, you simply cannot fail. That’s not to say that things would always be smooth, but in the grander scheme of things, taking the baby steps required has a compound positive effect. It almost guarantees the completion of the task. Not only that, you’d reach there faster than you thought you would.

It’s the law of consistency I would say.

You may fail in moments, in individual tasks, but at the end of the day, but by taking these small steps, you’d definitely be a much better person than if you had never started at all.

  1. Be consistent in your bad habits, and you can’t help but fail.  

In the past 6 months of work, my body had been an utter wreck. The scariest part was that whenever projects got stressful, any food I consume immediately made me feel like throwing up. So I could go on for days without a proper meal. I also isolate myself when I’m in the eye of the storm of the project – I’d give up on Sunday breakfasts with my family, turn down meetups with friends and much more.

But upon reading the book, it brought home the message that while good practices have a compound positive effect on your life, the same can be said of bad practices as well. I could be making little choices that eventually further my career, but by starving myself, going on days without proper sleep, your health cannot but fail. By ghosting people again and again, my relationships with friends and family cannot help but falter.

These days, another episode that I’m producing is already well on its way, but I’ve been eating well. And I’ve been letting myself spend more time with parents, and grandparents. All these little things are truly investments, because the effect that they have on the things that matter to me – like health and relationships, compounds.

I have the feeling that whoever reads this would find all of these very duh. In fact, my thoughts exactly, when I was halfway into the book.

But Jeff Olsen is right. We all know what we need to do to succeed. We know that X –> Y. But what we need to do is embedded and lived out through the little actions that we take in every single moment of our lives. These little things are easy to do, but also easy not to do. As life goes by, the clear causation relationship between X and Y becomes muddled up.

For instance, I obviously know that eating poorly will lead to poor health. But the reason why I continue to do so is because I know it won’t kill me today. So eating healthily is easy to neglect. But the Slight Edge mentality reminds me that, I can be 100% sure that if this habit continues, eating poorly will kill me, because poor habits compound. This sounds incredulous, but I realised that eating a proper meal doesn’t take me that much time. If spending 15-20min a day filling up my tummy 3 times a day can save me from developing serious health issues in 5-10 years time, then why not.

On a side note – I think it’s rather funny for a Sociology major to be reading so much self-help/ self-development books lately that focuses solely on the onus of individuals in exercising their own agency. If I were to take on a critical lens to review this book, I’d say that while our actions may have a compound effect on life outcomes, the extent of the impact probably would vary based on the circumstance of each individual isn’t it?

Oh wells, but that’s another discussion for another time.

tl;dr Be consistently awesome, people!

The Power of Now: Wherever you are, be all there

“Cheryl feels anxious all the time. And by all the time, I mean, all the time.”

That was dated 15 Oct in my diary entry.

We’ve all been stressed out at several points of our lives. But in the process of transiting to the workplace and adulthood, I soon found out that stress manifests itself in a different manner.

In university, there were examinations weeks when anxiety is at an all-time high. And once that’s over, it’s over for a good one month during winter breaks and three months during summer breaks. Sure, some may find new things to stress out about – internships, external activities and all, but the stress levels would rarely hit the same intensity as they were during examination seasons.

Close to six months into the workplace, I noticed that while there were peak and lull seasons as well, anxiety is like a drone that constantly lurked at the background. There are four main reasons for that. First, it comes from the realization that work is a continuous flow, which meant that anything could crop up at any point of time. For instance, even during lull periods, someone might find an issue with a past project. Second, stakes of work are way higher, so the consequences of messing up are much more severe. Instead of simply getting a bad grade, someone might get sued, lose his or her job. In the worst-case scenario, someone’s mistake might even cost the life of another.

Third, in school, students get to change their classes every semester. That means new professors and new course mates. In the workplace, your colleagues and bosses are bound to be the same for a sustained period of time. That means that your reputation is an accumulation of all that you’ve done during your time at the particular organisation. Second chances are never guaranteed. I’m not sure about other people, but that thought sure keeps me on my toes 24/7. Lastly, as a newcomer in a relatively foreign environment, there is constant pressure to prove your worth, or risk feeling like a mere imposter.

As a result, every single project I took on at work led me on intense emotional rides. Panic, fear of failure, fear of disappointment, self-doubt, insomnia etc. would haunt me from the start till the very end of the project. When the project has concluded however, I would feel an intense sense of achievement, happiness and relief, but even then, I’m always anticipating what else can go wrong, because technically, all projects never “end”.

This cycle would repeat itself again and again. Then there came several points of time when I started to find this cycle absolutely intolerable. I thought to myself, surely there must be a healthier way to work, especially if work is going to last you a lifetime. I craved a deeper sense of inner peace.

I bought myself Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” with my first paycheque, and I must have guessed that that’s the one book I need to shift my frame of mind. I do not necessarily agree with all the points the book has made, but I’ll focus on the fresh insights I’ve learnt this time.

  1. Watch your mind

The book constantly emphasized the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness. I’ve always considered myself an extremely self-aware person. I’m always attuned to my emotions and opinions on matters. But the point is to not just know what you’re thinking, but proceed to the next level and think about what you’re thinking.

Such frames of thinking are not new, but they are also not the most common or intuitive. I still catch myself hurling negative thoughts at myself when my mind is left unchecked. Following Tolle’s analogy, we should be like “a cat watching a mouse hole” to be fully present.

  1. Relinquish psychological time

Tolle distinguished between clock time and psychological time. Clock time is the use of time for practical and useful purposes. On the other hand, psychological time is the perception we hold when we implicate our past or imagined future into the present moment. He identifies psychological time as the source of pain.

This concept appears simple, but there is so much truth in it. A lot of fear and anxiety either stems from lingering emotions from the past, or expectations of a doomed future. But we often forget that both our past and future are out of our control, so harping on them constantly would only make us miserable.

When you relinquish psychological time, all you’re left with is the “now”, in which life pans out. Tolle writes, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” And is it not true that while we cannot cope with what’s to happen, we can almost always handle the work that is immediately in front of us?

I’m going to quote my favourite analogy from him on how the concept of “now” relates to our past and future, and brings us clarity of mind:

“You are walking along a path at night, surrounded by a thick fog. But you have a powerful flashlight that cuts through the fog and creates a narrow, clear space in front of you. The fog is your life situation, which includes past and future; the flashlight is your conscious presence; the clear space is the Now.”

  1. You are not your mind

This was a huge lesson for me. First, as mentioned before, I was used to thinking that my reputation, and consequently, identity, is an accumulation of all that I’ve done before. If we subscribe to psychological time, that would mean that we’d have to carry the burden of our past with us wherever we go.

So imagine the relief when I reminded myself that I am neither my past nor my future. I am who I am at this very instant. This means that the self is perceived as ever-changing. This aligns with the concept of a growth mindset. Coincidentally, I can also see its affinity with my favourite quote of all time, “Our greatest glory lies not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fall,” which suggests that one’s identity is defined less by the failure of a moment, and more by the reaction of the now.

The more we are able to separate our sense of self with our thoughts, the less judgmental we are with others and ourselves. This, I found so refreshing. I’m one of the most self-critical people I know. I rarely admit this, but I can be as judgmental of others as I am of myself, which can spell disasters for relationships of all kinds.

Second, the reason why people identify with their minds is because it brings about a certain form of pleasure. I found this to be absolutely true. One of my friends once commented that I often write songs that express how “I’m just not good enough” in work, relationships or life in general. The same can be said of my diary entries, right from those that I’ve written in my secondary school days.

Obviously, these thoughts and emotions were true as of the moments I’ve written them. But when these internal “dramas” are written over and over, it’s difficult to shake them out of one’s identity. This aligns with a fixed mindset. I’d say there’s even some comfort in reinforcing that “I’m not good enough.” Because then it acts like an excuse – a form of getting away because I expected myself not to perform well anyway. As a result, effort is always put in to “become better”, but strangely nothing really changes in substance.

  1. It is what it is // Surrender

Tolle suggests that when we focus on the “now”, we focus on the is-ness of everything. This means that nothing can be judged as good or bad, just a situation.

At first glance, this defies my sociological understanding of how life is “interpretive”. It is impossible for anyone to not cast judgments based on our past or projected-future, or not interpret every situation as positive or negative.

While it’s debatable if there is an objective external reality out there, I accede that there is much peace to be gained from realizing the impermanence of matters and situations, which meant that something good can be bad and vice versa. If we simply see situations “as they are”, then we are invulnerable to all situations that life can throw at us.

Tolle used the term “surrender” to life situation quite often. At first I was quite resistant to that term as it suggests a lack of agency to change one’s life. But here’s what I understand from him. Surrender does not equate to inaction. To surrender means to accept one’s present situation fully, acknowledge all that you think and feel in this moment, then detach the situation from your sense of self and emotions. Only then can action be derived from an enlightened state of clarity, and not from reactive emotions.

Today, I actually made one of the largest mistakes I’ve made thus far in my workplace. It was terrifying, but I’d like to think that I quickly learnt what I could, and then moved on from it. I had a final chapter of the book to bring me through the ordeal though.

One aspect I loved about the book was how Tolle indicated right from the start that this book is not meant to “salvage” anyone, because of seed of enlightenment is already rooted in everyone, and he is merely trying to bring out this aspect in his readers.

So here’s hoping that I can bring on this sense of inner peace to the next year. May you find peace and pure joy from this season to the next 🙂

Busking = Begging?

Just this Monday (16 April), I submitted a sociology honours thesis on young music buskers in Singapore. A day later, a forum post entitled “Do not allow busking as a day job” was published on The Straits Times and it caught the attention of plenty. I feel emotionally compelled to give my two cents on it, especially having befriended so many buskers through this thesis journey.

My first instinct was the same as most people – to dismiss Susan Tan as an uneducated narrow-minded prick and scorn The Straits Times for publishing such a “skewed and biased” viewpoint. But upon some contemplation, I figure that the point is really not to throw shade at Susan Tan, but to get to the core of the matter.

I base my discussion below on my interviews with 24 young music buskers, academic readings on busking in Singapore and other countries, and newspaper articles on busking that dates back to the ‘90s. I do have to make a disclaimer that as all my interviewees are music buskers, I cannot speak for other buskers like magicians or mime artists. But National Arts Council (NAC) also states that music busking is the most common form of busking in Singapore, so I believe that my findings would still be relevant for this discussion.

First, I would like to clarify some factual and logical lapses Susan made in her forum post. This is only to form a better foundation for my discussion later.

(1) Young vs. Elderly Buskers 

In the post, Susan did not distinguish young abled buskers from elderly/disabled buskers. This distinction is crucial. It is not my intention to imply that elderly/disabled buskers are any less competent, but these two groups of buskers are likely to be busking for entirely different reasons. A discussion that conflates them would not be a productive one. Since NAC statistics show that over half of the estimated 300 buskers are below the age of 35, I use that as a rough guide to define young buskers as those below the age of 35.

If Susan was writing this forum post primarily in response to The Straits Times article entitled “On song and coining it” (April 15), which features several young buskers who busk for university or their music endeavours, then I believe it is reasonable to assume that Susan was referring largely to the young buskers when she used the term “buskers”. She started the post with the observation that the numbers of buskers are increasing in Singapore. It is more accurate to state that the number of (young) buskers have increased starkly in Singapore.

Following that, her statement that buskers busk “at certain places every day and for most of the day, suggesting that this is their permanent day job” becomes questionable. It is unclear if her observations relate to the young buskers or the elderly buskers. From my interviews, none of the young buskers treat busking as their sole source of income. Rather, busking is better described as a form of leisure that they take very seriously. Undeniably, busking is also their part-time job, in the same way that other students give private tuition as a part-time job. What ought to be noted is that the significance that buskers place on their earnings differs based on their own economic conditions. But even if the buskers come from a less well-to-do background, their earnings are spent on endeavours which are meaningful to them such as supporting the family and funding their education, which by no means reduces them to “beggars” who perform for the sole sake of soliciting money from the crowd. This is also because busking requires a sizeable amount of competence and skill sets that I will further elaborate on later.

(2) International Students and Foreigners 

On Susan’s concern about foreign students who are allowed to busk, I would like to make a clarification on the eligibility criteria for busking applications. According to the NAC Busking Scheme, all Singaporeans and Permanent Residents are free to apply to busk. International students need to obtain a letter of recommendation from their school, while foreigners have to obtain a written consent from Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before they can apply. Thus, there is already an additional layer of administrative hurdle that foreigners need to overcome before they can busk. Hence, my findings show that a larger percentage of young buskers are locals. Of course, I am aware that not all buskers are legal and these buskers save themselves the trouble of going through applications and auditions. But these buskers do not form the majority of young buskers.

Additionally, Susan maintains, “Foreign students should have the sufficient funds to finance their studies”. For one, as mentioned above, foreign students who busk are not only busking for earnings, but also as a form of serious leisure. For another, on a more sympathetic note, I contend that just because these students may not have sufficient finances to fund their education doesn’t make them unworthy of pursuing an education or future career in Singapore. What matters more is their merit, be it in terms of educational or musical capabilities.

Lastly, Susan makes the further claim that allowing foreign students to busk would encourage more foreigners to come to Singapore to earn an income through busking. This is a logical leap on her part. My findings show that as a gauge, buskers may earn about 15-50 SGD per hour (subjected to occasions e.g. festive seasons like Christmas). This means that busking pays relatively well compared to other part-time jobs, which is one of the reasons that incentivises young buskers to busk as well. However, the earnings are certainly not substantial or stable enough to attract foreigners to come to Singapore just to busk for a living.

Having clarified the factual and logical lapses in the forum post, I will now delve into an analysis of Susan’s main assertion. Stripped down to its core, the forum post implies that busking = begging. I’m sure she’s not the only one who thinks this way. Some of the buskers’ parents also had the same sentiments. I do feel disappointed by such an opinion, but I don’t blame them for thinking this way because I know that there are historical and social origins to this opinion.

In 1991, the Home Affairs Ministry stated that busking is illegal. At the time, the common discourse is that busking is a form of street performance that aimed to induce the giving of cash (i.e. begging). As official statements about the ministry’s rationale for framing busking as begging are limited, I turned to literature about busking in other countries. They illustrate that the state regulates the busking scene closely because an increase in the number of buskers who take it upon themselves to busk for money seems to reflect economic hardship in the country and the inadequacy of welfare programmes. This is applicable to the context in Singapore then, when economic growth is a real priority. Moreover, in the spirit of pragmatism, the public typecast busking as an activity left for those who are too incompetent or lazy to find a “proper” job.

This mentality permeates through the subsequent revisions in the NAC Busking Scheme. In 1992, busking was allowed but money had to be donated to charity. The rationale was to encourage buskers to busk for altruism and passion, rather than for earnings. In 1994, busking was banned yet again when buskers allegedly busked at undesignated spots and solicited money through their performances (which makes busking appear as a “disguised form of begging”). The Busking Scheme was reintroduced in 1997. This is possibly the result of an initiative to develop Singapore into a ‘global city of the arts’ proposed by then Ministry of Information and the Arts’ (MITA) and Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) in 1995. However, the fear that busking would “degenerate” into begging persisted. Earnings still had to be donated to charity after buskers offset their expenses. It was not until 2001 when buskers were exempted from licensing and only needed a letter of endorsement from NAC to busk, and until NAC allowed buskers to keep their earnings in 2003 that the number of buskers shot up. Seeing that the increase in young buskers is a relatively new phenomenon, it is of no surprise that there are Singaporeans, possibly those of the older generation, who still have the idea of busking = begging ingrained in them. As my findings show, the younger generation of Singaporeans may also have had the privilege of being exposed to vibrant busking scenes in other countries and have developed a different conception of busking as a result.

I do not wish to make presumptions about Susan’s age though. Regardless of her age, I would now like to make a case to defend the young buskers in Singapore. I wish to convince people who hold similar viewpoints as her that buskers are not “beggars” because of the skills and competencies that are demanded of buskers on the streets. As mentioned before, many young buskers treat busking fairly seriously and every act in busking requires much deliberation and learning. For the record, audiences on the street are said to be the harshest critics. One of my interviewees candidly said, “The crowd doesn’t lie. If they think you suck, they’re just not going to give you money.” A lot of skills are required to captivate a passer-by in the instant that he or she walks by.

In terms of musical competencies, buskers need to build stamina to sing for hours straight with little breaks in between. They often need to learn a huge range of repertoire so they can tailor their songs to passers-by that walk past at each moment. In terms of locations, buskers learn how to find a location that suit them best in terms of the crowd it draws (e.g. Orchard Road draws more youths who appeal to English music, while heartlands draw more elderly who appeal to Chinese music). They also need to work with other buskers to make sure that their busking locations and schedules do not clash, so that they can maintain amicable relationships with them. Lastly, equipment is a huge investment in itself but many buskers still pay a hefty amount of money to get the best equipment they can possibly afford because they understand how poor equipment can greatly impede the quality of their performances.

The skills that I have briefly described are only the tip of the iceberg. There are so much more competencies required that remain out of sight from the public, but they are what many buskers consistently seek to develop to become better performers. Through their efforts, I am certain that many Singaporeans no longer perceive busking as begging anymore, as seen in the comments section of the forum post. For that I am very glad, and I hope that more people would acknowledge the efforts of buskers, especially those that persistently seek to produce high quality acts.

Susan was right about one thing though. It may not have been fully explicated, but her forum suggests that buskers are busking because of a lack, be it in money or in performance opportunities. In recent years, newspaper articles about the busking scene have mostly depicted busking in a benign and almost angelic manner – busking enlivens the streets and provides a platform for young musicians to showcase their talents!!! But this forum post exposes the undercurrents that run deep in a discussion about busking. I aim to further demystify these issues here.

Evidently, busking is not all glitz and glamour. If it requires so much skill, effort and hard work to busk, then why do buskers still busk? As the article “On song & coining it” shows, many buskers do love performing, but they also use busking in an instrumental way. And there is something about doing art for an instrumental reason that sits uncomfortably with people in general. It’s the kind of irksomeness we feel when we witness an artist (a.k.a. sell-out) sacrificing his or her artistic integrity for commercial success. Where does that nagging feeling of annoyance stem from? It stems from the prized notion of doing “arts for arts sake”. It appears that if an artist is making art for a reason other than art, then they must not be “true” or “pure” artists.

But truth is – doing “arts for art’s sake” is a luxury some can never afford. In my own thesis, I further narrowed in on buskers who intend to use busking as a platform to enter the music industry. The buskers I have interviewed reveal their lack in one or more of these forms: money, connections and opportunities to perform or record their works. For some of them, busking is not just a good way, but the only way for them to showcase their works. Other trajectories include signing with a record label (which may be out of reach for them) and posting their works online (which is already way too saturated as a platform).

And how effective is busking as a platform to help them gain recognition as musicians in the music industry? I hate to say this but my findings show me … not quite effective. This finding would not be new to experienced buskers. In terms of money, buskers may earn quite a bit, but it is still not substantial enough for the production of singles/ EPs (extended play records) and the marketing efforts that follow. In terms of connections, the most common networks that buskers forge are connections with event companies that provide freelance gigs. But it is still difficult to break into the inner circle of the music industry. Buskers find it difficult to get connections with industry experts that can provide them with higher profile performance opportunities. Lastly, in terms of performance opportunities, buskers do have the potential to become excellent performers because of the sheer amount of training they gain from busking. But even as buskers shed off the label of “beggars”, there is still a stigma that they are not “proper musicians” or that they are “just another cover musician”. I asked one of the buskers if he considers himself a busker, and he replied, “I’m a performer. I entertain. But I am not an artist. Because artists have their own work.” The irony lies in the fact several buskers do have their own work. But busking as a platform encourages buskers to perform more covers that resonate more with the crowd.

That is not to say that busking does not help aspiring musicians enter the music industry at all. Another busker shared that busking is not easy, but one can “still get somewhere with busking”. Some buskers proclaimed that they started out with little cash, connections and experience. But I’ve witnessed for myself how they became polished musicians and even move on to produce their own singles and EPs. Some people say that the essence of busking lies in its spontaneity. But if you asked me, I’d say that the spirit of busking is not that, but sheer grit. I will never cease to be inspired by these buskers who try, try, and try, the best way they know how to.

What I do want to say is that these buskers are likely to face a considerable amount of challenges if they were to solely depend on busking to enter the music industry. This is why there is still a need for more opportunities that enable aspiring musicians in Singapore to showcase their music. But I definitely don’t agree with Susan that it should come in the form of “monthly events at major parks where local and foreign talents can freely perform” “for exposure”. Remuneration is a must for aspiring musicians to view music not just as a form of serious leisure, but also viable career. More importantly, as with every performance, busking is a two-way street. Members of the public deserves the chance to judge for themselves the worth of an act.

I quote my favourite excerpt from one of my interviewees:

There was this article in 2007 about Joshua Bell, a crazily cool violinist. The night before he played in Carnegie Hall, did his thing and people paid hundreds of dollars per ticket. The next day he played the exact same recital at the subway and got like (thirty) dollars. So then you know that that society doesn’t understand art. That society doesn’t understand quality. That society understands marketing. That society understands being seen where everybody wants to be seen. And that’s not good enough as a society.    

In my opinion, busking leads to the point when more Singaporeans walk past something, they are willing to stop, and having stopped, they have a deeper appreciation that the performance required skill and time to prepare and they are therefore willing to take out a note from their wallet and put it into the bag. (…) So how do you get a level when there is enough audience appreciation of not just what happens in the concert hall, but what happens on the streets? That people will understand quality wherever they see it? That’s the ultimate goal.

This is what I hope for as well. Busking is not just about buskers. Art is not just about artists. It is about Singapore as a society. Susan’s forum post suggests that there are still Singaporeans who view buskers as beggars. But the comments section heartens me as I find more people who believe that buskers can be excellent performers as well. Even then, that is not enough for me. My greatest wish is that in the future, all aspiring artists can find their place and be recognised for their talents, regardless of their backgrounds and limitations, wherever they may be.

(Note: Many details from my paper are intentionally left out in this post. I have also removed all academic jargons/ citations in hopes of putting across my points to the layman. If you would like to see my paper in its full form, feel free to drop me a comment or email me!)

The Winding Road

Here’s a new song about adventures and misadventures. Students from NUS would be familiar with the long winding path that stretches out from Utown to the bus stop – cues photo below! 🙂

JAN_ THE WINDING ROAD

Sometime in sophomore year, in the middle of the night after one dreary day of school, this little tune seeped into my mind. What’s it about? It speaks of being in the middle of a road to nowhere. Imagine starting out being so dead sure about your passions, your decisions. But along the way, you start realising that hmm perhaps that’s not quite what you wanted. It’s one of those dreaded moments when you go – oh shit, I think it’s the wrong way. And there’s nothing worse than feeling that there’re no hopes of turning back to where you started.

I picked this original to publish for the first month of 2018 because I foresee finding myself and all other soon-to-be graduates in such situations a lot this year. In the here and now, I’m thankful that my interests have stayed rather consistent thus far – be it for songwriting or for Sociology. But who knows where post-graduation would take all of us?

I simply hope that all my friends and I would find ourselves on roads that fulfil our hearts’ desires. And “If (we) find that (we’re) not, I hope (we) have the courage to start all over again.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Lyrics:

I’ll be on my way to the yellow brick road
I’ve heard a calling in my wildest dream I swear
I’ve packed my bags I’m all ready to go
I’ll be gone by the time night turns into dawn

I’ve been warned of all the monsters in my way
Still I thought with this shiny armour I’d be okay
But I was wrong, boy I was wrong

The winding road seems a little too long to see the end
Seems a little too dark to walk alone
But it’s a little too late to turn back
And a little too far away from home (X2)

OOooooooOoooh

I’ll be on my way to the yellow brick road
I’ve heard that treasures pile up in mountains there I swear
I’ll keep my eyes peeled on those fields of gold
I’ll be richer than the richest and as happy as a newborn

I’ve been warned that jewels can drown you with their weight
Still I thought opportunity never waits
But I was wrong, boy I was wrong

The winding road seems a little too long to see the end
Seems a little too dark to walk alone
But it’s a little too late to turn back
And a little too far away from home (X2)

OooooOoooohhh

I’ve hesitated posting this up for a while now because I find it regretful that I have just been posting up my originals consecutively. It’s not that any reader would find it irksome. It’s just that I have not been keeping up with purely writing, an act which I do miss and still do enjoy tremendously.

So the excerpt from above, which explains the genesis of the song, is a little different from what I’ve posted on other social media platforms thus far.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, I hope you’re well 🙂 And I hope that the next time you drop by here again, I’d be welcoming you with new pieces of writings.

xoxo

Somewhere Nice

Here’s a new original that I co-wrote with Lingyun for our favourite Christmas season 🙂 The genesis of this song came from days of looping Joanna Dong’s joyful jazz rendition of 老实情歌 on Sing! China, and a couple of carolling practices with Hwa Chong Voices that got me in the Christmas mood!

Am beyond grateful to Lingyun for ploughing through the lyrics and the harmonies with me, allowing the song to take a new life of its own! Also check out her covers on insta @infrondem! Her smooth jazzy vocals are #goals! Special mention to Zhong Yi for helping us figure out the chords, and Callie for helping with the ukulele tabs so that I can play the accompaniment with greater ease. I wish I had half the talent of all of you oh gosh. Without your help, this song might very well only be completed next Christmas.

With that, there’s no better way for Lingyun and I to wish you a Merry Christmas than to present you with our song! It’s not perfect, but we sure hope it’s enough to bring you to a happy place this Christmas. Enjoy! 🙂
hello 
If you have a uke and want to play it too, here is the link for the chords: https://tinyurl.com/SomewhereNiceTabs
hello 
Lyrics:
hello 
Somewhere nice is where we’re going tonight
Somewhere nice the bells will shimmer into twilight
Somewhere nice is where the choirs will sing tonight
Somewhere nice is where I know we’ll be alright
hello 
And we’ll jingle along to our favourite songs
Under all the Christmas lights
Nothing sweeter than the smiles on the streets
And we’ll dance in our pretty new shoes
To the happiest of tunes
We’ll be part of something nice
hello 
Somewhere nice a feast of turkey with candlelight
Somewhere nice waistlines will surely fade out of sight
Somewhere nice is where the trees will light up in sparkling delight
Somewhere nice our cuddles will be extra warm and tight
hello
(Chorus)
hello
What a lovely sight to see
Waited all year long for this
There’s no better way to say
Merry Christmas to you!!!

Human

“Human” is a song borne out of a very trivial mistake. During an event, I absentmindedly misplaced an item borrowed from a venue personnel and frantically went back to him. As it turned out, he found the item lying around unattended and kept it on my behalf. He proceeded in chiding me nonetheless. Having made that mistake (God knows how careless I am), and compounded with other issues then, I went home feeling really terrible about myself.

A few days later, I sat down with my guitar and three words popped up, “I’m only human.” As I started writing, I figured that there really is no need to pick myself apart for the mistakes I’ve made. It’s not as though they were heinous crimes.

One quarter into Honours year, I think this message is more important than ever. More chase, more haste, more mistakes – I’ve honestly never seen friends around me this stressed out before. But this song’s a reminder to them and to myself: Don’t forget that you are only human, and sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to be a little kinder to yourself. 

Have a good day y’all!

Lyrics:

It’s a funny world out there
People striving for their best
But who can keep up with the chase?
At least not without falling from grace

And I’m just one of them
Caught up in this mad race
Beating myself up over smallest of mistakes
But God knows who is keeping score

Sometimes we forget we’re only human
Perfection was never once an option
Sometimes we fall short of expectations
But were there ever rules to this game?

We’re only human x3

Sometimes we forget we’re only human
Making the best of what we have
We wear our calluses as medals
When all we want is a warm embrace