Blogger Question

Bloggers, here is a question for you:

Do you ask questions at the very end of your blog posts?

Always? Or only when you genuinely want to know the answer?

When I started blogging years ago, I never asked anyone any questions.

I blogged mostly for myself and even when I started blogging for the sense of community and knowing that other people read it, I still didn’t do it. I didn’t need to do it. Because without even asking them the people who wanted to say something would still leave their comment.

But then the blogging community boomed. There are more blogs in the blogosphere than ever. “Reader engagement” has become the main goal. ” You are none without your readers” has become a cautionary tale. “Build Your Tribe” has become a money-making marketing mantra. And I am not even going to touch the constant “reminder” to build a mailing list dished out by every single blogging guru I know.

One of the tricks, I mean methods, they teach is to ask the question at the very end of a blog post. To engage the reader to leave a comment. You know, to build a community, as they say. So a few years into my blogging journey, I started doing just that.

Not only had I been writing a post and ending it with comments, I even went as far as going back and adding questions at the end on the old posts too. Just in case anyone went back that far to read them and somehow inclined to connect with me to comment but not sure how to start because I didn’t ask them any questions to initiate the conversation.

Spoiler alert: hundreds of crafted questions later. None ever answered any. But I still follow the formula. Writing a post and ending it with a question.

Even if the questions are not well written, well placed, well asked, it’s always well-intended. 

Until one day I woke up during this pandemic (of course, it must be during a pandemic because when else would my brain have the time to think about all these things) and decided to stop asking a question on every single blog post. Not only that, me being the Virgo that I am, I went and wiped most of the questions I posted in my old blog posts.

And let me tell you I have asked some fucking cringe-worthy questions. I have asked people which fish market they go to buy their seafood on at least ten different posts. No wonder none left any comments. 

If you ask me why I did it — as in why I wiped the questions at the tail end of my posts — I can’t really say why. Or whether it was even the right decision for my blog. The only thing that I can come up with right now, while I am typing this, that might not even be the right reason, is I feel like not asking the question at the end of the blog post, unless I really want to know the answer, give back a bit of authenticity to the original act of blogging. Gosh, I am clearly rambling.

Do you think it’s important to ask a question at the end of a blog post?

— see what I did there??
Japan Train Station Film Photography

A Personal Blog Might Be The Answer

I have been ignoring the notion of keeping two blogs simultaneously for the longest time. I pushed the idea almost immediately when it sprouted in my mind. Tbh, I think the idea could have never been my own, as it’s just beyond me why people would keep two blogs at the same time.

Abandoning one and starting a new one — with a new look, new niche, new topic of interest or new name? — sign me up. I am here for it. And I have done that plenty in the past (RIP Tr4velGeek, ForeignGeek, NomadWitch, JoyMagick, TarotKween, DaysofW, and QuarantineBuddy).

But never keeping two blogs at the same time.

I didn’t see the point because I could write whatever I wanted in my one blog. Until it was pointed out to me, by a “blogging guru” if I want my blog to grow, it’s best not. Because you know, niche and all. So I weeded out the KultureKween blog, removing anything that is not within the cultural niche.

A year ago, I asked a tarot reader to read about my blog. It was the first reading of many on the same topic (yes, I am obsessed enough with my blog to get multiple reading for it).

I don’t remember much of her answer, most probably because I couldn’t resonate with it. But there was a part where I complained to her that felt like I can’t write about other things other than culture, how that thought crippled me, and I ended up not writing at all.

Sometimes a trip to a beach is just that, you know, a trip to the beach. I want to be able to write about it on my blog without constantly trying to tie the experience from a cultural angle”. I mumbled to her.

She pulled out a card and suggested the obvious:

“Why not keep another blog on the side?”

I peeked over the card, The Temperance.

At that time, I had just started learning tarot reading and Temperance was (and at times still) a card that I have a hard time understanding. Balance was the only thing that came into mind.

Maybe” I answered her noncommittally, because the truth was I came to her because I was tired — feeling dragged by the current blog. Therefore, having another blog, a second blog, seemed like going in the opposite direction of what I wished for: to draw joy from my passion.

Fast forward to a few months ago (read Covid Diary: 6 Months), when I sat on the bathroom floor, feeling panicky for not keeping a diary to record my life during the early stage of Covid.

The midnight mild anxiety attack stemmed from reading people’s Covid diaries. I felt a pang of jealously.  Not of their experiences — but because they recorded their thoughts meticulously.

Dawn O’Porter even managed to write and publish a contemporary memoir about the pandemic, titled Life in Pieces, during this pandemic!

The next day, 8 August 2020, I paid $4.99 to Apple and jumped into the Dayone app. I spent the next week painstakingly copying the drafts I have kept in Evernote there. From then onward, I restarted diarising my life. Sometimes it is just a one-worded entry. Other times it goes on to a length of a blog post.

Though I didn’t notice it immediately, keeping a diary has been another anchor for my mental health well-being during Covid. Keeping a journal and updating it regularly pushes me to observe and write more. Soon after, I read Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies and was inspired to write morning pages daily. 

These were the things that restarted my passion for writing anything and everything I wanted. It’s not in a noncohesive morning pages kind of way, but more like it might not be great, but still shareable kind of way.

That’s why I started Kovfefed. Well, it was Kovfefed.wordpress.com at first. I told myself I don’t need to pay for yet another blog if I can commit to writing on it daily for a full month.

That was two months ago today.

Kovfefed.wordpress.com turned into just Kovfefed sometime in between when WordPress offered 50% off of their paid plans. I subscribed to the cheapest one so that I can upload more photos. I also changed the Libre theme (which layout I loved the most) to Seedlet (which has the pagination at the bottom). It’s not the best, but that’s the only free one. One day, if I commit to daily writing for a more extended period of time, I will treat myself to Gema, the sexiest theme on WordPress.

Meanwhile, I also managed to dump all unrelated-to-culture posts which I removed from KultureKween to Kovfefed. These posts ranged from the time I started my first blog when I moved to Singapore 13 years ago to the current happenings.

I filled the archive with my tarot notes, obsessive thoughts about blogging, jobless rants, travel photos, shareable morning pages, random musings and snippets from my diary. Some just with a one-word and picture or even just a title (for now. I plan to fill it later).

Unlike Kulture Kween where I feel like I have the obligation (and I say that as a term of endearment) to write about culture-related posts, Kovfefed is more like my blank canvas. A fun, creative outlet. 

My goal for KultureKween is to learn about culture by sharing it with others in writing. My goal for Kovfefed is to write and to practice my writing. And I can write whatever I want. Things I like, things I hate, and everything in between. That has been liberating.

And now, the actual point I wanted to make when I started writing this post 15 minutes ago, I can’t believe it took me this long to realize that having a personal blog is one of the best things I could have done for myself. If you are stuck with a writers’ block, consider that it might not be you, but it’s what you are writing about. And maybe a personal blog is the fix that your mind seeks.

Melbourne

Goodbye Brown Box

I went through my to-do list today and saw “brown box” as one of the things to tick-off today. “brown box” has been in my to-do list for months now. Being rescheduled every time it shows up on the day’s agenda.

The reason?

I don’t know what “brown box” is.

I must have written it during one of the times I woke up fresh at random hours past midnight, unable to sleep again. Or as I refer it here as my 5 AM Thoughts nights.

I have rescheduled “brown box” too many times, hoping to coax my brain into recollecting what was it instead of giving up on it. Like in that one episode of Seinfeld, when Jerry woke in the middle of the night, noted down a joke for his stand-up but couldn’t read nor remember what was it the next day.

I decided to cross off “brown box” of my to-do list today. Hoping that since it has been months, I most probably won’t need a brown box nor brown book nor to borrow a box nor to bury a box anymore.

That’s it. You are released “brown box” —into the unknown.

I am not going to look at it and spend extra few seconds every time I see it to figure out what could it be.

You can relax now brain. I have given you extra space. But it might also mean I have given you extra room to load ten more things for me to try to figure out for months before I give up and delete it again from my to-do list.

Either way, your move, midnight-brain.

Covid Diary Month 8: On Travel

What is the point of travel?

I read this half asleep the other day. What a loaded question. It managed to slap the brain back to an alert state. Unable to sleep, I counted how many months its been since I have not been traveling.

I remember landing in Bali at the beginning of the Covid nightmare. Greeted by multiple messages from my loved ones once I disabled the flight mode. How did so much Covid (back then it was referred to as the Coronavirus) related dramas happen in the span of the 6 hours flight from Melbourne?

A few days later, we left Bali. Passing the heat temperature machine set up in the airport to make sure we were symptoms free.

That was six months ago. Half-year.

Plane

Sure, in the grand scheme of things, 6 months is nothing. But, it has been 7 months since I hung up the phone, frustrated because the budget airline refused to refund my Sydney ticket which I couldn’t use because the border had been closed. 11 months since I shared a meal with my parents. 13 months since I hugged my best friend goodbye in Copenhagen.

B.C (Before Covid), I always tell Amma that “I am just one flight away from you, I will come whenever you want”. I am still one flight away, but there is no flight that will take me to her.

This was the first time I realized that I might have taken travel for granted.

Yes, I am aware that it is a privilege. But for me, as with writing, travel has been an anchor, parts of my identity, source of my long-term happiness. And not having any travel plan in the future has been giving me constant mini anxiety for the most part of the year.

I know that I need to at least make some travel plans.

In the beginning of Covid, Jik had kept me sane by making pretend travel plans to Fiji (somewhere we planned to go for real last June) but we dropped it rather quickly when the lockdown in Melbourne got stricter, and the world state grimmer, as it made me feel more depressed.

But now, almost a year later, when things seem like it’s getting better, at least here in Australia, maybe it’s time to dip into the travel pool again — as an act of self-care. Even if it means regional travel. Or even day-trips.

30 going on 365

I started this blog only last month (the posts in the archive are loaded from various old blogs and written journal entries). The same time during the same month, I vowed to do daily writing. Committing to doing it at least for a month first. Privately reminding myself that if I fail to write every day about anything and everything I want for a month; I am not allowed to claim writing is my passion.

Harsh, I know.

But I have been mopping around instead of writing for the most part of this year (blaming it on Covid), that I felt a little bit of writing-self-discipline was required.

Today, WordPress reminded me that I am on my 40-day writing streak. I have passed the measly goal I set for myself early. By my own account, I am now allowed to call myself a writer. Woohoo!!

Now, my goal-oriented brain is taunting me with:

You did it for a month, can you do it for a year?

A tall order, I know.

Especially since I am hoping the next 300-ish days will be less grim than the past 300-ish days. Where I dream of sitting in my office cubicle, travelling to Fiji, celebrating my parents’ birthdays together with them and hiking Kumano Kodo trails. Even now, before doing any of it, all those things seem more important than committing to daily writing for a year. Or is it? I don’t have the answer yet.

What I know for now is that daily writing has been an anchor to my mental health. It has kept me sane and centered. And I can genuinely say that I am happier now compared to my pre-daily writing days. And I do wonder if it makes me feel this way only after doing it for more than a month, how will I feel in a year time if I commit to it.

Alas, here is me, committing to finishing my daily writing journey from 30 days to 365 days, starting from today (which, to my woo-woo side delight, is the 11th of the 11th), the start of the holiday season, mid of NaMeWriMo and end of lock-down.

Tower Moments

Of all the “bad cards” in tarot, the Tower is something I am comfortable with. Maybe even a little too comfortable.

The 16th card from the Major Arcana, the Tower is traditionally seen as the representation of disaster, sudden change, significant disruption and chaos.

Those are enough reasons for people to not want to see it in a reading.

It makes sense. We, human beings, tend to seek stability in our lives. I am no different. As I write this on top of my picnic rug, in the park soaking the sun, eating the cheese and getting a bit buzzed from the wine, I too don’t wish for the rug to be pulled from under my feet. Both metaphorically and literally.

But it didn’t start this way for me.

I came from a somewhat traditional Indian family. I say somewhat because my parents are smart people with kind hearts who want nothing but, what they think, as the best for their daughter. But at the same time, they are bogged down by society and at times dated and jaded traditions. Growing up, it had always been a constant struggle between following the social values and just being a child, and later, a teenager. For example, they would let me wear whatever I wanted, which was more than most Indian girls growing up in a traditional family could ask for. But at the same time, I wasn’t allowed to date.

I did both. With that, I turned into the rebel of the family and started what I called as my Tower moments.

My Tower moments started when I, as a teenager, laughed on the face of the priest who told Amma that he could magically make me stop rebelling. A major tower moment was when I cancelled my wedding a couple of weeks before the day. Another one, when I moved to Singapore without a job and proceeded to live there for almost a decade before uprooting the somewhat comfortable life I had built for myself to go back home because I wanted to heal my relationship with my parents. Again without a job. I also summoned The Tower when I migrated to Melbourne, and again when I married someone from a different background in Bali. This time without any priest.

The Tower is a shadow self that I have accepted. It taught me to be calm throughout chaotic periods in my life. From the period when my dad stopped talking to me to being bullied; even when I was made redundant. I went through these with a zen-ish outlook.

And I know I can go through similar shit moments in the future because I had deliberately chosen to walk through worse things, either because it aligned with my values or to chase my dreams.

I also learned that even though I always have plans for my life (Virgo baby!), sometimes the Universe grants my wishes in different ways. And based on my past experiences, it could just be in the Tower mode.

It’s good to remember that fundamentally the Tower is about radical changes. A reminder to:

“Be positive, it is time to replace the old foundations of the past with something that is more genuine and will serve better in what is to come”

Labyrinthos.


Not gonna lie, knowing that — if tomorrow, something happens and I have to uproot my life yet again — I can do it, feels pretty empowering. And I blame my semi-traditional Indian parents for it. They shouldn’t have instilled the value of resilience in the young rebellious me.

Brewing The Two of Wands

It was still pitch black dark outside. I had been up for some time. Unable to go back to sleep. This time it wasn’t because I was sick or stressed out. After all, I just had a long weekend. My mind had been filled with random ideas.

Ideas for the day (I should run first before attending my first 9 AM meeting), for the week, month and the end of the year. Faster than those ideas were the ideas on what to write for my NaMeWriMo drafts.

I tried to remember some of these ideas while dismissing the others because the last thing I needed on this garbage of a year is feeling burnt out. Especially, this close to the holiday season. After some more time passed, and it was clear to me that I would not go back to sleep, I sneaked out to the living room.

Once outside, I reached out to my trusty tarot deck — waiting for me on the bookshelf — took a few deep breaths and pulled out a card.

Two of Wands

On point.

For me, two of Wands (Aries) carries the energy of contemplation.

The tea-brewing of ideas. I’d need to let it steep first, witness the colour change adding flavours thanks to the heat before sipping it.

All these metaphorical ideas brewing made me crave for an actual hot cup of tea. A perfect company for the cold Melbourne morning (mornings in Melbourne generally tend to be on the cold side no matter what time of the year it may be). On this morning it was Singapore Breakfast tea from T2Tea.

While waiting for my tea, I rummaged through my witchy-drawer where I kept the rest of my tarot decks. I pulled out the Two of Wands from The Light Seer Tarot and This Might Hurt tarot decks to company the first Two of Wands from The Spacious Tarot deck. The card from Rider Waite Smith tarot deck was not required as I have memorized the traditional image.

A man, wearing a red robe, holding a globe in his hand, standing on the fortress, overlooking the sea with two wands standing in between him.

It’s not too different from the This Might Hurt deck, which has my favourite depiction of the Two of Wands. On it, a girl is sitting on her car front, reading the opened map in her hand, there are two different sized wands in between the car.

Though the Two of Wands is often associated with travel (both the globe and the map), today I see it more of the planning stage. The stage of collecting and brewing some of those ideas who came knocking way too early.

I considered waking Fafa up, so he could take a picture of me ‘contemplating’ from the balcony with the sunrise as the background as the image depicted in The Light Seers Tarot deck, but decided to let the man sleep in peace. Also, the sky is too grey to make an Instagram worthy picture.

Instead, I opened the laptop and wrote this in morning silence, while sipping my tea. I must say, among those many 5 AM ideas, writing this experience felt like a good one to follow.

Life Lessons

Travel pillow is a good investment. Also, you will lose your travel pillow. Buy it again.

Don’t buy, cook, eat any Mie Sedap brand instant noodle. Even when the picture on the packet or the new flavors looks good/spicy/mouth-watering.

Stretch daily.

Make sure you have a plan to celebrate your birthday the way you want to. Don’t count on others to make it special.

Your words carries magick.

Take an aspirin before you sleep after a drunk night. And maybe another one after you wake up.

Avoid chain-hotels — stay in Airbnb instead.

Onesie only looks cute in the pictures and while doing general shenanigans. Wearing it to sleep is hell.

Nurture a hobby or two.

Always say yes for long walks. Even alone.

Writing can be uncomfortable at times. That’s okay. Keep at it. Even when there is water dripping from your wet hair to your hand. Like right now. Keep at it. Finish the word. Finish the sentence. Finish the paragraph. Finish the draft. Stop only when the time you set for yourself is up.

Life is filled with easter eggs.

Writing Morning Pages can be a life-changing activity, whether you are a writer or not.

Taking a selfie with film camera is hard and most of time is a waste of the roll.

Wine on the flight, on the way to your holiday destination, is never worth it. On the other hand, drink copious amount of wine on your way back to ease the post-holiday pang.

Stop seeking approval from the people who you don’t respect.

Buy a good quality PJs. Or two. The best your money can buy.

Don’t be a decorative piece in someone else’s life story.

Read old journal entries to remember past high and lows because your memory is not that good. And at times you either take things for granted or forgive and forget too easily.

It is so much easier to go through life with a best friend. Or two, if you are lucky.

We are magic.

What Inspires Your Passion?

What inspires you to write?”

— saged-traveling lady on the train to Beijing.

I was taken back by the question. Not many have asked me this before. I forget when or who asked me the same question before that day when I traveling solo in China.

My mind traveled back to earlier that month when I just started contemplating on changing my writing direction to focus on culture, which eventually birthed Kulture Kween a few years later — to 2012 when I started a travel blog — to 2007 when I started a blog after I read a classmate’s poetry blog — to 2004 when Erwin Tanudjaja introduced me to the concept of a blog. The same Erwin who introduced me to the internet in 1997.

But, it was two years before that, I realized my passion for writing.

On the day I forgot to bring my homework. I called Amma from a rusty (even for 1995) coin-operated payphone from my school begging her to bring my homework.

It was not compulsory. It was an extracurricular activity. My grade wouldn’t be marked. But for some reason, I put an effort to write an essay with a not-appropriate-for-middle-school topic. I spent the whole long weekend in August to write and rewrite it in longhand (it was 1995). Finally, I put my rebellious twist on it. I know it would be marked by the school principal and didn’t care if he was going to penalize me for it. I just didn’t want it to be a cookie-cutter school essay with a sprinkle of mundaneness.

Thankfully Amma refrained from executing a teachable moment that day. She took an auto-rickshaw and dropped the paper to me at school. Just in time for me to slip it to the stack of papers waiting in the Principal’s office.

My essay won. No gift. The acknowledgment was done and dusted in less than two minutes. But it didn’t matter. I felt such joy at the moment, more than scoring a solid 100 on an exam paper.

That moment topped my childhood happiness chart.

That was the moment that gave the answer to what inspires my passion question asked by the stranger on the train. The foundation for me slogging hours and hours on writing/blogging/journaling.

Thank you for not penalising me on that day Mr. School Principal. I hope my hoarder parents still keep the winning essay somewhere in the house.

NaMeWriMo

Yesterday, I found out about NaMeWriMo (no, not NaNoWriMo — the Me is for Memoir), and no convincing was needed because I decided on the spot, without much research, that I am going to do it. I am declaring it here so you can hold me accountable for it.

I have done daily writing before—even daily blogging (Blogtember circa 2014). But I have never published a memoir piece every day for a month. I know it’s going to be challenging. The writing and even more so the digging through the memory bank and sorting it through a cohesive thought process parts.

But I also know it’ll be rewarding if I commit to it. And it will support me to progress on my writing journey, which is great. I signed up for Write Your Memoir Month on Creative Non-Fiction to get the daily prompts and some inspo.

I am not sure I will stick with these prompts throughout the month, but hey, it will help direct me if and when I am stuck with memoir writer’s block.

I am very excited about doing this NaMeWriMo for the first time. I feel so grown-up, so writer-ey. Wish me luck!