Always wandering, always lost. Mostly quite happy.



Go to Blog

I just want to report that there are days when I feel so glad to be alive.

Especially these days. This morning I woke up feeling vaguely optimistic that it would be a good day. No reason, no rhyme. Had the usual set lunch at the usual cafe, finished some work, made some drawings. Right now we're stuck in the cafe because it's raining cats and dogs out there. By all accounts this has been "just another day".

Just another happy day.


Happy like puppies

It feels like my soul has finally eaten a good meal and she's spread out on a grassy meadow, staring at the sky, just watching the clouds float by. The blue of the sky is the perfect tint of brilliant blue that goes with everything. The breeze is firm but gentle. The smile on her face feels like it belongs there.

Could it be the nourishing creativity that I've been exposing myself to? The hours of losing myself in drawing just for the sake of drawing? The long conversations with K, my art teacher, which meander down long and winding paths to nowhere, paths that I had always wanted to venture down but never did because I didn't know how to? The flashing eyes of my Japanese teacher, Another K, who empathetically said that she agrees fully with the Japanese essays that I write (the content, not the grammar)?

Could it be the routine everyday that I had craved so badly last year when I was living out of a suitcase, skipping from hotel room to hotel room, wondering what I was doing with my life? The servers at the neighbourhood chicken rice place and the cafe we go to every week know our usual orders by now. Ukulele class on Wednesdays, yoga class on Thursdays, Japanese class on Fridays, art class on Sundays. Even Spot peeing on my house slippers isn't so bad, since Leo cleans them up. Bless him, bless the cats, bless everything routine in my life.


Spot sleeping peacefully, as if he did not pee on my slippers

Could it be that things make sense in this country again? Every day I open Malaysiakini with eagerness. So far it's been two weeks since we've changed governments, and the novelty has not worn off. Every day something extraordinary happens, something completely inconceivable a month ago, as I shake my head with wonder. I agree with many of the policy decisions and stances that have been made (not all though). The simpering pink face of greed and cowardice is finally facing the music. His counterpart, the bloated and stiff face of horror as well. Our national debt is through the ceiling, but the very fact that I actually know this, gives me hope.

Could it be that I'm doing work that I like again? I've just accepted a part time lecturing position in a university, and I'm tweaking and redesigning the course that I'm going to teach. It's a different ball game from a research project and is actually, dare I say it, fun. And every other day I get some random potential project. People ring me up and engage me in all sorts of small projects, sometimes it goes through and sometimes it does not. Lots of times it's a promise of something that might happen, and I'm forever waiting. I'm still in the red, but I'm optimistic about staying afloat.


Frog says no to paparazzi

It's just this feeling of being at peace, building stuff, laughing at small things, again. Some of that old naiveté is back. Believing that good things will happen. Having faith that even if bad things happen, there is enough strength to withstand them.

It's been years since I've felt like that. The hitch hiker's thumb. The mischievous smile. The surge of confidence in the "definitely, yes".


High on life

I made all the drawings. Regular updates at @juneysketches.

[Scroll down for English translation.]




最後は、方法です。別々の分野の人々は、世界を理解するために 、それぞれのフィルターで物事を見ています。理系と文系は同じ世界に暮らしてますが、別の世界を見ています。だから、同じ問題を研究していて、別の答えになったとしてもおかしくないです。その 方法や手順 が科学的である限り、問題はありません。研究者は適切な手順を使って、一つ一つ問題を解決します。

研究とは、科学的な方法で地道に答えを見つけ出していくことだと思います。 したがって、 研究者はそのような仕事を楽しんでできる人に向いていると思います。


I am a researcher. Upon graduating from university, I had only done research-related work - so, last year I took a break from research and tried out coordination work instead. Through that, I realised that I am still more suitable for research. Therefore, right now I am looking for research-related work.

In my opinion, I think that there are a few characteristics that the researcher should have. First is curiosity. Questions emerge from everything you see - for example,  why did that situation happen? What is this design for? What is the best way to do this? Connected to the observation that children usually have many questions, I think that everyone has the potential for being a researcher. However, there is still a consideration of whether the questions are interesting, if they are worth investigating, or if some other researchers have already come to a conclusion to the question [note: I have more thoughts on this but I didn't want to elaborate in Japanese - basically even if other researchers have come to a conclusion, if you get a good angle of the research question it may still be worthwhile to investigate it, maybe even debunk the original conclusion. But if you are studying a question that already has a pretty well-established answer, and come to the same answer... well, that might not be the most interesting study.]. There is a difference between a good research question and a lesser one.

Secondly, is the ability to work for a long time until you get the answer. As there is a possibility of not arriving to a conclusion for a long time,  one needs to persevere. Research work is suitable for those who cannot stop thinking about the problem until they solve it. However, a stubborn character might annoy the colleagues working around them, this is something that we need to be mindful about.

Lastly, the important thing is the methodology. People from different fields see the world differently, with different filters. Scholars of the arts and the sciences live in the same world, but see different ones. Therefore, it is not strange for the same research question to have different answers. As long as the methodology and procedures are scientific, there is no problem [comment: well, here there may be some dispute on what is considered scientific methods in different fields, but that's a can of worms that I don't want to open.]. The researcher needs to use appropriate procedures, and answer the question step by step.

Research is about using scientific methods to systematically and gradually find the answer to a research question. A researcher is therefore someone who finds this kind of work interesting, I believe.


Note: I wrote the above in Japanese first, and did the translation later on. It is interesting to observe that something that I feel runs quite smoothly in Japanese doesn't have the same ring to it in English - and the resulting translation sometimes either sounds clunky, or has to lose some nuance that it had before when it was in Japanese. Which is to say, when I write in Japanese I think differently from when I write in English. This is nothing new in the psychology of linguistics, but I thought that it was quite interesting, experientially.

Note 2: Featured image is what I made when I was doing my PhD, with the angst and self-doubt of a researcher, no technique, and possibly lots of wine.

I've been on a persistent high the last few days. Sunday was when it started. I had a long conversation with my art teacher K - we didn't do any art in class that day, but just sat and pored over the works of artists, Impressionism and post, while another student and I listened closely to K's commentary on them. With Google Arts and Culture, it is possible to look at thousands of pieces of high definition masterpieces, zooming out and in, from Cezanne's landscape and still life compositions to Van Gogh's individual brush strokes.

We did exactly that. And while I was earnestly absorbing the visual buffet with my amateur eyes, we also discussed technical and philosophical questions of art. What constitutes good structure and composition? Why was Cezanne considered the father of modern art movements such as cubism and abstract art? And the one that has been occupying my mind a lot - what is the point of art? Is it too optimistic to imagine that, through finding the meaning of art, we might also find the meaning to life?


Paul Cezanne - The Basket of Apples (circa 1893)

Classes are supposed to be only two hours, even though K never really enforces it. By the end of four hours, we had sat through a two-hour storm in the poolside pavilion where we usually have our class. The other student had left an hour ago, and I was nursing my lukewarm tea, with a million thoughts racing through my head, each one deserving and competing for my attention. The sudden expansion of information to digest took up all the brain space that I had, the pieces fusing into each other and I couldn't remember where each piece started and ended. It was all very confusing - but satisfying.

K believes that art is a tool for self-expression, an innate need that humans have had since the age of the cavemen. To communicate something that is within ourselves, to create something from nothing. Within a technically adept painter may not necessarily live an artist. They may be excellent at portraits and landscapes, but remain at most draftsmen that are mostly good for commissions (I sense some quiet contempt there). The point of art is therefore not to please others. It is through art that we can understand more about the world and about ourselves, and through that achieve freedom.

gauguin self portrait

Paul Gauguin - Self portrait with portrait of Bernard, 'Les Miserables' (1888)

To K, art is freedom. It is the ability to make full use of our senses, and to then translate all of this into a piece of unique work. A true artist has philosophy behind her work, not only technique. She draws not only with her hands but also with her mind. Upon further research at home, I can see through some quotes from Paul Gauguin, an artist that K adores, the philosophy that he might hold. Here are some that I found endearing, encouraging or wise.

  • Art is either plagiarism or revolution.
  • There are two sorts of beauty; one is the result of instinct, the other of study. A combination of the two, with the resulting modifications, brings with it a very complicated richness, which the art critic ought to try to discover.
  • Out in the sun, some painters are lined up. The first is copying nature, the second is copying the first, the third is copying the second... You see the sequence.
  • A critic is someone who meddles with something that is none of his business.
  • I have come to an unalterable decision – to go and live forever in Polynesia. Then I can end my days in peace and freedom, without thoughts of tomorrow and this eternal struggle against idiots.
  • There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite.
  • Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?
  • Go on working, freely and furiously, and you will make progress.
  • With practice the craft will come almost of itself, in spite of you and all the more easily if you think of something besides technique.


Vincent van Gogh - Bedroom in Arles (1889)

I am increasingly convinced that, art is but a tool to communicate one's truths and emotions. The better we get at it, the more robust our ability is to express ourselves, accurately and exactly as we see it. Through writing my Japanese essays I have become painfully cognisant of the fact that I have at times had to embellish what I originally intended to say, only because my arsenal of Japanese vocabulary and grammar is insufficient to explain the nuances of what I had wanted to express. Far more rarely, but it does happen - is when I want to say something in English that would have been easily said in a phrase in Japanese, yet in English it comes out feels clunky and unnatural.

From the top of my head, an example: 来てくれたんだ roughly translates to "You have come for me (in this statement there is a slight nuance of appreciation - thanks for making the effort for coming to see me/attend this event because of me)" but I can't think of an English equivalent that is as succinct as the Japanese phrase, that doesn't fall flat on its face.


Katsushika Hokusai - Two ladies with a telescope from the series "Seven habits of grace and disgrace" (1798 - 1811)

However, the real and bigger question does not lie in how well our craftmanship or mastery of language is, since that is something that can be acquired over time with lots of practice. No. The real and bigger question is that, do I have something worth expressing? I believe that this may be the key of how art links to life. Perhaps the most pressing mission that an artist has is to find that burning something that she has to shout out to the world, her emotions, her struggles, her worldview... and that comes from a life with meaning.

What then, is my life's meaning?

Is art then, an invitation to open this door to self-exploration, of introspection, of listening closely to the murmurs of our souls? Am I up to the task of finding the authentic me, even if it might yield an answer of disappointing mediocrity, of a life not worth communicating?

The thinking continues.

Featured image by Josef Koudelka. K said that a good composition is when every element within the picture is essential, taking away something will render it ineffective. Incidentally, I watched Amadeus last week and that was what was said about Mozart's composition - it is perfect, as is. Add or take away a note, and its beauty is diminished.