Cats have 9 lives, humans have 10!

I recently read an article to do with being a songwriter. It said you are a songwriter first and always can bring that to anything you do. This made me smile because there are many moments I’ve written songs on napkins in clubs, written lyrics on the back on receipts on a bus, recorded quietly in a corner on my phones voice recorder in the street. Plus I’ve written poems for funerals, songs for friends, work projects, rhymes in friend’s cards, the list goes on.

It also reminded me of an exercise I read in a book for artists, around self-development, which said that you should imagine 10 alternate lives for yourself and then try and incorporate bits of those into your life. Mine went something life this.

I’d be:                         So I would:

A writer                      Start blogging…again, with this post! (I must make time!)

Be an actress             Experiment with a bit of facial expression in music videos? |

A dancer                     Have morning solo discos, go clubbing more!

An artist                     Go to more art galleries, get inspired, go home and DIM!

A political leader       Join the Green Party, go to meetings, maybe more?

A Mermaid                 Go swimming more often

A tree hugger             Go to the woods, hug trees, get in nature every weekend.

A Kung Fu master    Go to Kung Fu more often, train at home, go to a Temple

A farmer                     Try to grow more than one tomato plant…

A famous musician   Keep writing, recording, releasing, working hard, be true.

Being true was the most important to me, I added that now as actually although fame was this alternate life, it is not a goal, a goal for me is something I’ve achieved without necessarily the need for anyone else’s recognition (although that’s always nice!) like when I can finally do a flip in Kung Fu!

And talking of what people think, I’m also not a brave person, I get scared, I scream, I run away. I’ve been forcing myself to face my fears, one step at a time lately. My dream is to be able to be totally free, to not care what anyone else thinks as long as I am happy. My uncle Man Yan is my inspiration on this, and I am sad he lives so far away and I really should see him more often. But his stories from his visits live on.

I want to be able to dance and sing in the street when I’m walking down the road with a banging tune on in my headphones, because I’m really feeling it – I hate having to restrain myself just because I don’t want to look weird! But like living little parts of our alternate lives, I am taking little baby steps – I went from humming, to swaying, to singing the odd line and one little dance move. One time two people stopped their conversation looked at me, then carried on – it was great, they really didn’t care!

It’s a great feeling to know you are moving closer to who you feel you really are and I don’t want to miss a moment. I know life can ‘get in the way’ but like the advice about being a songwriter always first, whoever you are, surely we can slip in that little bit of us – either as part of all we do, or in slithers in between the things we ‘must’ do? Because whether you get one life or ten, we want to be us right? For me, the only way to be whole is to live in the moment as much as possible AND shuffle in those little tasks and steps that to take me closer to who I want to be, always being true to myself… flashback…that makes me think of my first ever solo EP ‘Who I Am’. I was still searching back then, but I feel a whole lot closer these years later, even now I have to keep up with my other ten lives!

Losing makes you stronger

My dad said to me last night that he had been enlightened.  He realised he could apply Bruce Lee’s 3 principles of Kung Fu to Computer Architecture (his work) with life changing results. I watched beaming as he told me the story and all about his enlightenment and practical implementation. He finished by saying what Bruce Lee said -that to truly succeed you need to learn ‘the art of dying’. What he meant was that to defeat the enemy you have to learn from your previous defeats. We have all heard that you should learn from your mistakes, and that to succeed first you have to fail (sometimes many times to learn and perfect!). I know what he meant to tell me as I smiled nodding in agreement,  and it left me proud and excited to think how I might apply it. Yet at the same time as I later reflected, the thought of death was what was left hanging in the air.

I have always been a person who have never been good with birth or death. I never want to hold people’s newborns or swoon over them, it’s just not my thing. So I avoid people, even people I like when they have a newborn. (What is wrong with me!) Also I avoid people who have suffered a loss, a death of someone close be it a friend or family. So sure I would say something stupid, I’d rather say nothing at all.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and that is due to the fact I’ve been lost for words, because I lost someone,  just a few months ago,  and it was the saddest thing I have personally ever experienced.

It all started October last year, I had just started doing some acoustic stuff with a guitarist at open mic nights, and we thought it would be cool to build a band. So I advertised on Gumtree (how I found the guitarist) and a bass player got in touch.

His name was Dan, he was quite enthusiastic via email, shy in person, at least at the beginning. Our first rehearsal went really well, we clicked musically straight away. I always told him what a great musician he was; we vibed well,  him interpreting my bass lines wonderfully for live. He couldn’t praise me and my music enough, and I always felt like he was my little angel, sat on my shoulder telling me only good things: giving me the confidence I never had.

The more time we spent together the more we realised how much we had in common. We had similar views  on environmental issues, and life in general. We both loved the sky and everything in it, and listening to music, live or not. We went out in Bristol, drinking cider (his choice) and sitting in parks or by the river (my choice) or at his flat if it was impromptu after rehearsal/gig chats.

I’ve never made friends with someone so quickly, so deeply. When I have friends I love them, and I really loved Dan to pieces. We’d text in the day about our jobs and funny things at work, he made me really happy. In person he would bring up deep topics of conversation and we’d debate often in strong agreement…it was awesome for us but I’m sure boring to anyone that could hear us blabbering on. I loved that we liked such different music, we played songs to each other and often didn’t even talk for whole songs, just happy to sit in each others company.

7 months later, and I really wasn’t ready for what was about to happen. On an afternoon in May I received a text that really scared me. I went straight to Dans flat, and his flatmate and mum were already there, looking as panicked as me. The next few hours were hell and the text was the last words I was ever to receive from Dan.

I don’t think I left the sofa for days. My family, especially my sister were wonderful. For hours my sister just sat and stroked my hair or held my hand while I cried for hours. This is what loss feels like, I realised, and like I guessed before, there really isn’t anything you can say. The band and closest friends were also a great support visiting just to force me to eat, go for a walk, or have a chat about random stuff. Everyone at work even put up with me being a complete mess, and my first day back my boss let me cry all over her top. I remember warning her with the words “I’m a woman of extremes: you know how happy I usually am – I think that’s how sad I’m gonna be.”

I spoke to his family often, our stages of grief seemed to be similar, though of course I know they felt the pain deeper than me. I learned that to cope you need a task, either for the person or in their name. For others it was sorting the funeral, making a video channel of Dan memories, putting on fundraising events, or going out to help the homeless just like Dan used to.

I  immersed myself in music. I wrote a new song (which will be on my new album) and finished the images with Unearthed and edited my Bristol Beat music video. I realised that many of the photos my friend had already taken of me were places where me and Dan had hung out, and I decided (with his family’s permission) to dedicate the video to him.

Every day I think of him, and every day I miss him. Most of the time now I think of him and the wonderful memories I have and smile. Other times I feel just like I did that first month, my heart sinks through my feet, my body feels empty and I cry a river. But I try to remember the person that he was, and what he would say if he could see me now.

Dan was an empathetic man, who always saw the best in people, yet he never saw the best in himself. You only had to be at his funeral to see how many people were touched by his presence, whether it had been one chance meeting at a party or a whole phase of his life. He was a gaming champion, a talented musician,  a showman in front of the camera, a comedian, a  loved brother, a perfect son, and a best friend to everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. I always called him ‘the keeper’ the one I thought would be there for ever, that I never wanted to leave or lose, in the band and in life. But lose him we all did, and you could say our lives are so much more emptier without him – yet I prefer to say we are all the richer for knowing him. I know he made me a better person, and continues to do so, even though he is not here, at least not in the way we all knew him to be here. He now lives in all that knew him, all that benefitted from his wit, his charm, his charisma.

This is just a few of the ways he made me a better person when he was here:

– He made me question things

– He made me take risks

– I finally took the leap to vegetarian, something I always wanted to do, and seeing his commitment to veganism encouraged me to take that step.

And this is some of the ways he makes me a better person everyday that I remember him and all he was:

– Believing in myself. I valued his opinion on everything, so when he said such wonderful things about me I have to believe there was some truth to it. I see him on my shoulder, a little angel, encouraging me all the way.

– I took the step to veganism, it’s been difficult and not without hurdles, but I am so much happier with my choices and the impact it has for the planet.

– I have started learning to play the bass. His brother so kindly left Dan’s bass to me. (It was actually his brother’s but he says “Dan got more use in 6 months out of that bass than I did the years I had it.”) I said I couldn’t bare to see it hung on a wall never to be played, so I’ve been learning. It really hurt my shoulder the first time I hung it over me to play, but I couldn’t be a wuss now! I also started playing my piano again, after so long either just producing in the studio, and singing live with the band.

– I value every moment, even more so than I ever did before. I realise how special every moment was with my dear friend, and he must have felt so too from the things he said to me in the last few days and the day he went away and the things his brother and best friend said to me after. So whatever that guy saw in me, I want to be that person to those around me. I know I’m not perfect, and nobody can be, but I hope I can be that person he saw in me, as a relative, a friend, a musician, a human being.

Sometimes I feel guilty, that now most of the time, I am the happy person that everyone knew me as before it happened. But I know he hated attention (being on him), and I remind myself his last wishes to me:

– That I continue and progress my music

– That I forgive

– That I find happiness

I never knew those three things would be so hard for me, they were always the things that came easy to me before. That just goes to show how one thing can literally turn your world upside down and inside out, so that that everything that was once round is now square, and everything that was so easy becomes so hard. The little things in the first days after his death were so hard, eating, sleeping, smiling, talking, getting dressed. The first rehearsal after was so painful. Then it was the bigger things that were a strain, an effort, like exercise, socialising, performing. Now in the long term it’s those things he asked of, and I say them to myself everyday: make music, forgive, find happiness.

When it all happened I honestly couldn’t think how it would get better, you don’t get less sad about what happens you just get used to feeling the sadness when it comes, and then you just have to channel it somewhere. I’ve put it in a song, a video, and now what I am writing in this blog, and I’m sure every musical step I take from here on. I hope that anyone who understands this pain has found a way to turn the pain inside out and upside down. Your world will never be the same again, but you have to find your way to carry on. I know I made Dan happy and he made me happy, for those few short months that I knew him. I carry that thought with me every step I take, every song I make, every time I step on stage, every time I make a new friend. I feel him when I twang the bass strings, so I shouldn’t be sad, ’cause he is here really – he made everyone’s world brighter, and that will never fade.

Dan smiley

Go out and get your dreams!

I’ve been on a bit of a journey this last year after reading a number of books, consuming myself in the world of self-help. I’ve tried out different ways of being efficient, productive and organised: work flows, daily routines, and de-cluttering (lessons from The Power of Less by Leo Babauta). I’ve taken on to new philosophies, with sayings that have helped me start a late music career: “Create your own luck” “It’s never too late” and “Find your tribe” (lessons from The Element by Ken Robinson). Although I must admit, I haven’t yet managed to follow the simple ‘1-minute rule’ (from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin); if it takes less than a minute do it now… not as easy as it sounds!

It all escalated when my old university friend was coming stay with me for a week, after migrating to New Zealand. So having a staycation, I decided to fill up on books at my local library for the few days while she stayed with family before seeing me. I managed to find some pretty pointless books, one of which led me to doing 40-question-long quizzes with my family only to find that yes my dad loves money, my mum loves family, my husband doesn’t like quizzes and I love just about everything. So I almost never read “9 ways to feel fantastic” by John Whiteman, but thank heavens I had a few more hrs holiday to fill…it was (actually) fantastic!

I cheated though, as you’re meant to read a chapter a day, but being my usual impatient self I just read it right through. The writer talks about doing things to feel fantastic, each day (ideally): having balance from things like exercise, enough sleep, ‘personal space’, nutrition, and having momentum to move you forward such as achieving and learning.
The man got me crying with happiness. I was sat on the floor outside, having my ‘personal space’, aware of everything around me (and doing my best not to think about anything, past or present). I focussed only on my senses. It was really hard! You have to focus on feeling the sun’s heat, the breeze, watch the clouds, hear the birds…honestly 5 minutes of this is enough to make you smile all day long! I’ve been trying to get in nature more every day since.
It reminded me that I had once read about some research published ( in the Environmental Science & Technology journal) that said walking in nature for just 5 minutes improves your mood for the day, near water being the most mood boosting. Cue my latest obsession with lakes and rivers. Even a puddle would probably get me excited, as long as it was near a tree (also a bit in love with trees at the moment: they just sway there all happy and green, making noises in the wind, growing all the time).

But there was one lesson from John Whiteman that had me stumped for weeks – the dream list. You were supposed to write down about 10 dreams, and every day do one little thing towards achieving one of them.
My first attempt went something like this:
Travel, save, start pension, debt free, learn piano (properly), learn languages, put in French doors, have a built in wardrobe in the bedroom.
A week later (and a week later again), I realised I was not being honest, the second and third attempts went something like this:
Learn Chinese, learn to skate (outdoors), learn Parkour (running around doing gymnastic type things on buildings), do kung fu, travel more… and then some various task towards my singer/songwriter career (make another album, do more shows etc).
I finally sat down the other night, knowing that niggling feeling that something wasn’t quite right and wrote what had always been my dreams; before I had a house, or a family, or a career, or targets and tasks jotted down on a to do list and it went like this:
Be a Singer/songwriter (currently working towards, tick)
Be a Writer (am writing now, tick)
Be a Mermaid (I think a weekly visit to the pool, learning to dive, and maybe getting in the sea might be as close as I get to that)
Be able to fly (numerous attempts as a child jumping off walls, might take some more thought…)
Be a Martial Arts master (I have my dad to thank for this one, after all the kung fu films we watched when I was growing up. I’ve recently finished teaching Karate and will now be learning Kung Fu)
Be an artist (ok so painting my cousin’s little girl a hello kitty picture and making her a birthday card might be as good as it gets for me here, bar the odd bit of sketching on holiday).
Be a ‘proper’ Chinese person (born in England and being only half Chinese, I might have managed to hold on to lion dances at Chinese New Year, lanterns, dim sum, and my maiden name Cheung as singer Makala Cheung, but I want to learn the language. Ok, found a free website, now just got to do it!)

The point is, I don’t think your dreams really ever change much. Science might say we love being near water, but for me thinking about my dreams made me realise I love being in water (even the rain, minus hurricane winds). And that goes back to what The Element said to me about finding that thing, that thing that’s yours, that you just flow in and let go in and are your best and yourself in. And I know I haven’t quite got there yet, but I’m looking forward to a future of singing, writing, swimming, talking like my dad, and flying, or at least doing flying kicks!