Trouble-shooting

The past week has been a non-stop barrage of numbers – working through spreadsheets of marks, item analysis, troubleshooting Excel worksheets and trawling through cells worth of formulas just to find that one cell which has been wrongly tabulated.

I find a sort of perverse joy in troubleshooting Spreadsheets, a joy in tweaking formulas and adjusting cells until all the numbers appear nicely, without a single Div/0 and everything I need is presented before me.

Perhaps it was also the comfort of knowing how to adjust and work through something to reach a solution, where the end-goal was clear and the steps, though tedious, presented themselves lucidly before me.

How do you fix something when you don’t know how the end-state looks like?

How do you resolve a problem without a right answer?

How do you start tweaking when you don’t know how the components interact?

Where are the instruction manuals to guide, or the exemplars to follow? What if instructions give you more to think about, rather than procedures to follow?

Yet in the midst of all these, inaction and inertia is the worst solution of all.

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Making it a Spring

Psalm 84

5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
         Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
         They make it a spring;
         The rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion.

 

Pastor shared a message today on the various kinds of trials we go through in life, which was indeed a relevant message for me, but what made the most impact was this verse, which he ended the message with from Psalm 84:6.

The valley of Baca was a perilous pass through which pilgrims travelled on their way to Jerusalem. It was a place of difficulty and dangers. The grounds were parched. It was an arid and dry land. The sun always shone harshly above this valley. It was a difficult place to pass through for those whose hearts were set on that pilgrimage.

Yet, in the midst of this parched land, they made it a spring.

It became a place of refreshing, a place of overflowing living waters. But who did it? Who made it that place?

Was it God?

No, it wasn’t God.

The verse says they made it a spring. It was those who were passing through it, those who were on the pilgrimage, who made that choice to draw near to God, and change that experience through the valley of Baca into one of drawing near to God, and one of refreshing.

Many times, when we go through times of difficulty, we ask God to change the circumstances. We ask to be taken out of the valley, for the sun to stop shining so relentlessly, for the burdens to be lifted off our shoulders.

Yet in the midst of it all, these people whose hearts were set on pilgrimage, made an active choice to make the most out of those circumstances, and make it a spring – a time of growth, a time of refreshing in the Lord, a time of new beginnings and of spiritual growth.

God has taught me in the past week not to let my circumstances and valley experiences overtake me, but to take control of my circumstances and turn them into a spring. I’ve allowed myself to be defeated, but now I’m more spiritually alert, and more sensitive too, ready to turn my valley experience into a spring. And by doing so, I pray that I will grow from strength to strength, so that I will be able to handle a lot more in the future.

Magic Realism

Don’t we all have a wish sometimes to run away from it all – from all the troubles, commitments and heartaches – to somewhere where we can just do what we want to do, be who we want to be?

To be too absorbed in that would be called escapism, but what is the in between then between realism and escapism?

I always remembered what my Lit tutor from JC told me about Salman Rushdie’s works being a mix of the magical and the real (though more often magical than real), in what is termed magic realism.

I would really like a dose of that in my life.

I read last weekend a blog of my ex-teacher who was now pursuing her dream, after having paid her dues. She was doing something she had always wanted to do, pursuing her passion, making a living and having great experiences.

Dearie and I spoke earlier this week too of our dream careers – what we always wanted to do, but knew it would be too idealistic to pursue.

I’ve always dreamt of starring in a musical, travelling the world and entertaining audiences. I’ve dreamt at times too of being a travel photographer, simply travelling the world and capturing its sights, while getting to know the people as well. Music was an integral part of my life during my schooling days, and during those times, I dreamt that I would become a world class musician (or pianist in particular), wowing audiences with the melodies that would just come effortlessly. I’ve wanted to write and produce the great Singapore movie, that will be launched in Hollywood.

Whether any of the above will be fulfilled, who knows?

These dreams give me food for thought, as I take a breather from the very real struggles that beseech me each day. We both want to run away from it all, but we can’t.

Yet I can’t say that in the past few months, I haven’t caught a glimpse of that magic realism, the world of dreams and fantasy pulled down and mingled with reality.

And that has come through two ways.

One, more vicarious way, is through the ones I teach in school. Sometimes when I look at them, I imagine what they could be, what they could achieve in the future and that moment seems both imaginary yet real. Regardless of where you teach, every single individual before you can achieve more than what you can imagine. Even imagining them go thru army (for the guys), going thru university and the phases of life you have lived through has a sense of realism to it. I had a moment like this last week, a moment where my imagination just ran wild (triggered by the music that was played) and I saw my students running ahead to the future that awaited them.

Closer to myself, and more real to me – my life of magic realism has been created and shared with my dearie.

These moments have not been easy to create, but when we capture them, they are all the more precious.

Moments we’ve shared on Mount Faber or Jurong Hill, looking into the starry night intermingled with occasional glows from docking ships, imagining our futures, sharing an intimate moment where time seems to stand-still.

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Spending a day away, being pampered in a resort with no-one but us, lunching in a field of coconut trees, with just us and an (annoying) dog…

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Getting lost in books and various paraphernalia in Books Actually and PolyMath in Crust for two hours, being dazzled by poster-art from the 1950s and 60s, fanciful bento box lunch sets, cartography sections, type-writers and picture books… 

It seemed like we were in our own world, doing things we loved, sharing them with love to the one we love.

Magic realism, at its best – magical, with a reality that enhances that sense of splendour and wonder, because you can’t believe you’ve found it.

We may not be living the dream, but at least we are learning how to create dreams, in our reality.

A Breather

It’s been a tiring and stressful month, with changes in the home and work piling up in school.

Work really never ends – one assignment’s done and another comes in. In the midst of all this, I’m thankful for the moments of respite and rest I’ve found through…

1. Kite-flying at Marina Barrage (Inspired by my students)

The wind was too strong and our kite was way too small. Instead of ‘flying’, it was darting up and down unpredictably, much to the horror of my dearie. Our kite looked like the inferior cousin of all the other huge, elaborately designed kites over there. We gave up after an hour, but it was fun nonetheless.

2. Cookbooks!

Strangely enough, reading cookbooks has a very therapeutic effect on me – perhaps its the effect of looking at pictures of good food rather than actually reading thru the recipes themselves. I treat it more like a ‘picture’ book than a cook book. This is my current read:

I might actually try some of these recipes in December to relive my ‘baking’ memories from Uni.

3. Good food

Dearie brought me to Ice Cream Chefs two weeks ago to enjoy a Milo ice-cream with peanuts and loacher chocolate wafer mixed into it, one of those cold slab style ice-creams. It was lovely. Interestingly enough, one of the bloggers I follow is an ice-cream fanatic and has mapped out all the home-made ice-cream stores in Singapore. Sounds like it’s time to go on an ice-cream hunt!

Spent time with our families at Crystal Jade and Killiney Kopitiam. The food was alright, but spending time with each other’s family made those meals heartier.

Hung out with colleagues at Hatched (a restaurant near Botanic Gardens that serves eggs prepared in many different ways) and Casa Verde, a restaurant just at the visitor centre of Botanic Gardens. Both places are very good breakfast/ brunch places, a good place to go after a jog perhaps.

4. Dancing

The staff have been engaging in the Bachata (a Latin American dance) over the past two days, as part of our welfare and also in preparation for Staff Dinner on the 30th. In spite of the fact that I was extremely reluctant to go, I ended up enjoying myself quite a lot and having quite a lot of fun – all thanks to my dance partner!

5. Conversation

Through it all, the times of sharing, teasing and commiseration with my Dearie make it so much easier to endure through all this… Sometimes what we need is not a fancy restaurant, or an elaborately planned day out a the museum… All we need is a place that allows us to simply enjoy each other’s company. Very often, that place happens to be a pavillion!

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Truly thank God for these moments of respite through this time. Time to press on and continue work on my students’ drafts!