What I should do instead of writing

I have a dark secret. I incessantly watch Youtube every day now for years. 3-4 hours per day is normal. When I’m working from home, there are days that I’ve spent watching videos continuously, sleeping and waking up with videos still running. It sometimes feels like waking up from a hangover. Dizzy and delusional, I realise then that I’m a youtube addict.

Image via Flickr

Controlling my addiction is difficult and I’ve given up on trying different things. The worst possible combination that usually gets me into the vicious cycle is sitting on my sofa and start watching on TV. Then I thought, maybe instead of working from home, I’ve started working at a co-working space for startups. The people there are nice and friendly, they have good coffee and plenty of empty toilets so I don’t need to queue long (Thanks overactive bladder). Sold.

Yet deep down I don’t really think my youtube addiction is that bad. I’m a voracious reader, averaging around two books a week. My Youtube shows have similarities to the books I’m reading. Why does one pushes me to an addiction and the others don’t?

Kevin Kelly, in his book The Inevitable, included screening as one of the trends. He said,

“We’re no longer people of the book, we’ve become people of the screen.”

He pointed out that screens are everywhere and we’re getting sucked into them. Just look at how a toddler attention gets magically fixated with an iPad, and compare it to other items (with the exception of TV). If this is a trend, then my fight will be futile.

My reading patterns typically are a lot narrower than my watching patterns. I read mostly non-fiction books, with a high percentage of the books being productivity, business and writing-related books. I didn’t learn swimming through reading books, but I probably would if I need to do it again. Facing any unknown areas of knowledge, I would feel much more confident if I can sink in several books before I have to talk to anyone about it.

My watching patterns are much more random. I watch late night American TV show Seth Meyers, video essayist Nerdwriter, and You Suck at Cooking, the last one being something that I can only describe as the peak of human creativity. Youtube usually presents the next video to watch even before the current video ends, and that feature alone allows me to subscribe to various distinct channels.

Comparing both consumption patterns strike me as depth versus breadth. Book reading gets me to the core of the issue fast, but it’s just on one issue. The current book I’m reading is Man’s Search for Meaning, and the author tells me what the meaning is by the middle of the book (Where is the climax?! Damn non-fiction). Youtube watching doesn’t get me anywhere in finding what’s the meaning of life, but it opens my mind to broad opinions of people, wide-ranging topics, and insight on how other people are dealing with their own existential frustration (no matter how shallow it is, like lighting a firework on a friend’s arse). After watching videos, I decided, that I needed both in my life.

I also like what books and videos represent. Books are written, and videos are spoken. Maybe someday I’ll have a youtube channel on top of this blog. I’ve never done video editing before, but it doesn’t seem to be as hard as swimming (I started swimming only at the age of 17). Maybe I’ll gain a distinct benefit to writing in the same way that videos giving me a different advantage to books.

What do you think?

My other mother

Several weeks ago my aunt Dora asked me to rub her back before she fell asleep. I would massage her for ten minutes or so, said my good night, then tucked her in nicely under a blanket. This became a habit, and it turned out to be one of our favourite recent pastime.

Koala_and_joey
Back rubbing is nice

The process started with putting a big slab of Vicks VapoRub and layering it on her back. Then I would massage her for some time until she felt comfortable to sleep. On one of the sessions she asked me unexpectedly, “What will you remember of me?”

I took a big gulp and stayed quiet. It was a question I’d mulled over for weeks. How do I summarise years of adoration and admiration of her in a single answer? She was a role model to me. And anyway, what would be enough to please a dying woman in her last few months of life?

I told Dora, “You brought me into your life and helped started mine in Australia. I wouldn’t be able to do that without you.” She looked at me intently, dissatisfied. I knew I should look for a better answer.

She was always the first to everything. The eldest daughter, the first child to get a degree, the first one in the family to make a living overseas. She was infinitely resourceful, she would always find a way to make it work. Just over five years ago, when I got married, she said she was going to make my wedding cake and handle the decorations. I will always remember her hunching over watching Youtube videos on how to make flower arrangements and three-tiered wedding cakes.

When she came to Sydney, she was penniless and without relatives. She became an accountant, held down three jobs to make ends meet. In the 70s, when it was unheard of for women to hold mortgages, she bullied her way in to hold down two. And she made it work juggling all those jobs, and a toddler to boot. She was constantly learning and was constantly evolving.

If she was given another decade to live she would have become a writer. She had spent the last few years unravelling the stories of when the Chinese first landed in Australia, four generations ago. A story that had filled her curiosity for the last decade ever since we visited her husband’s great great great grandfather in Young, who arrived from Malaysia by boat as an interpreter.

Most people overestimate what they can do in a year but underestimate what they can do in a decade.1 She would always find a way to make things work. Would that put a dying woman’s mind at ease? Maybe I should find a better answer. Maybe it was about always getting what she wanted?

Dora knew what kind of mould she was meant to fit into. But she broke the rules and smashed them to pieces. Again and again and again. It happened when she went to med school, most girls at the time only had high school as their highest education. It happened last December when the kitchen was accidentally burnt down. Dora was told by her insurance agency that she wouldn’t have a kitchen for Christmas but within two weeks after the accident, we acquired a fully functional kitchen. It was amazing to watch her relentless focus to call and email people to get what she wanted.

Her willpower was the most evident when she was faced with medical issues. She had her knee reconstruction surgery several years back to be able to travel more after she retired. Most people took three months to walk normally, whereas she started hobbling out of her room by the first week. Being allergic to morphine and all other opioids didn’t stop her, she managed the pain with just panadol!

I believe her willpower was just an extension of her productive routine. The saying went, if you wanted something to be done, you had to give it to the busiest person. This person was obviously Dora. It was a habit, and her habit was to achieve the goal she had set out for herself.

She would always get what she wanted. Would that be enough for the woman I so respected? Maybe I should look for a better answer. Maybe it was about her way of doing things?

It was her way or the highway. When I told her that I couldn’t swim, she said I would learn it in Willougby Leisure Centre the week after. She didn’t ask why I haven’t been able to, or about a drowning incident I had when I was 10. Those were simply excuses. She thought it was important for me to learn how to swim because I needed to clean the swimming pool at home. It wouldn’t be funny if her niece died of drowning in her own backyard, she thought. Amazingly enough, six weeks later, I was able to swim at the age of 17.

She was fixated on doing things her way. She had strong opinions and she didn’t always rub people the right way. But she had always had an opinion, she taught me to always decide consciously what was best for myself first before external events dictated my situation. George Bernard Shaw said, and I’m *definitely * paraphrasing here, “The reasonable woman adapts herself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to herself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable woman.”

And she made a lot of progress. Even two months ago, when Min’an and I just arrived in Sydney, she told us to get a third mortgage, after we already had two. “Killara or Gordon, good areas to buy.” My first thought was “Is she just being unreasonable?”, but the market would probably prove her right.

At the end, I still didn’t have a better answer that evening. I continued with the back rubbing though. I did her favourite massage on her spine. I ran my fingers down the left side of her spine, and up the right side immediately afterwards. She let go a sigh of relief. Then she said, “Ah, you do it best”. I realised that the long flights from Sweden was worth it just for that moment. It was a moment I would cherish forever.

P.S. This script formed a part of my tribute for Dora’s funeral on 19th Jan 2017, just shy of two months before her 70th birthday today. Rest in peace Theodora Widianti Winata, I miss you.


  1. A famous quote from Bill Gates.