Caring deeply

In 1962 Fred Rogers created “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood”.

For 31 seasons, 912 episodes, over a span of almost 40 years, Fred Rogers showed up – rain or shine – at his “television house” and talked directly to children about subjects as disparate as kindness, death, assassination, divorce and so on, and at a pace so slow and gentle as to seem radical today.

He taught millions of children about self worth and made them feel – even through a television screen – that they are loved, cherished, important. He taught them to be open to all kinds of feelings, no matter good or bad, and showed them that it’s okay to feel blue sometimes. He taught kids to wonder and to make believe, but he also taught them how to deal with the darkness of this world:

“The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.”

Fred Rogers made wonderful, meaningful television that created a real impact in countless children’s lives, and he did it consistently for 40 years. And he did it because he cared.

He cared deeply about the well-being of children. He saw that television was instrumental in shaping the inner lives and consumption habits of children who would grow up to be adults, so he created a children’s TV series that had nothing to do with coveting, but “about appreciating what you already have, about caring for others and seeing the best in them”.

Fred Rogers once said that caring is discipline. He didn’t explain further, but he must mean that to be able to create top-notch work day in, day out, one must be disciplined, and this discipline must surely be fuelled by a deep caring.

What is it that you and I care deeply about? What do we care about so deeply that we can find the will in us to be so disciplined that we can work at something in a consistent manner over many years?

I think this is a decent question to ask ourselves every day. Because when you really think about it, consuming meaninglessly, upgrading our homes, chasing after the next promotion, mindlessly pursuing financial goals – these just don’t cut it. When it comes down to it, we must recognise that life is finite. We are only here for awhile. And yet there seems to be some deep, mysterious, inexplicable joy to be had when we get to do something we truly care about, no matter how hard or painful the process might be.

Maybe the answer to that question will not be immediately obvious or take the form you were expecting. But listen to your inner voice. Reject convention. Take that first step. Fuck, jump off the cliff if you need to. But whatever it is, know that as long as you are seeking the answer, the answer is already revealing itself to you.

May we all find what we are looking for.

Always on the go

It was words that made me want to travel.

Bruce Chatwin and his Patagonia. Annie Proulx’s Wyoming stories. Paul Theroux catching train after train on “The Great Railway Bazaar”San Mao’s wild tales in the Sahara Desert. Jack Kerouac traipsing across America, cigarette and beer in hand. Allen Ginsberg, journaling his way across India. Then there was Chet Lam, writing melancholic songs about New York and Vancouver and other places he’d been to…

“This morning I’m leaving New York / A place of letting go / A place of moving on / Here’s to New York… / Don’t matter where you’re from / Just matters where you go / No one clings for long / New York…”

So I did. I traveled. Tokyo, Sapporo, Taipei, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, LA, Copenhagen, Munich, Budapest, Prague, Dubrovnik, Oahu… Further and further away from home I went.

And I’m still on the go.

One reason I love traveling – especially alone – is that I fall into a zone that doesn’t seem to exist when I am home. An alternate universe of sorts, you might say. The things I see, the people I meet, even a random walk down a foreign street can cause my brain synapses to connect in a different way from usual. My awareness is heightened. New ideas bubble up easily.

Traveling has become an important part of my creative process. It allows me to escape into a pocket of peace, and in this pocket I can think and hear myself more clearly. I can write and plan and brainstorm with little disturbance. Then I bring these ideas back home and see how I can execute them later.

Traveling alone also fulfils a strange desire of mine to be apart from society. Just another stranger in a foreign city, doing my own thing. Zero attachment, no obligations and nowhere I absolutely need to be. And to be away from the daily drama and hustle and stress of being in Singapore.

Sweet freedom.

Last year I spent a few weeks in Boston. I had no agenda for being there. I had a friend in the city who was there studying for her PhD. I bunked in her bedroom. I spent the days alone and did whatever I wanted to – lying under a tree in Harvard Yard, sketching and people-watching; visiting bookstores; walking along the Charles River; writing in cafes. At night I’d meet my friend and her housemates for dinner if they were free.

I have come to love and relish that feeling of being both apart and a part of something.

Now I’m in Hong Kong, just for the weekend, typing this in a Starbucks in Lan Kwai Fong. I first came to this Starbucks maybe ten years ago. I remember it was my first time overseas. Hong Kong was rainy and grey that time. One cold afternoon I found this particular Starbucks and found some unexpected warmth in this crazy city. Today I came back here again in search of that long-lost feeling, that tiny memory of a place from ten years ago, and Jeff Buckley was singing “Hallelujah” through the speakers.

I was just listening to the same song yesterday.

I take that as a sign from the universe that I am at the right place at the right time.