In a couple of days, city life as I knew it would change, and the government would implement increased measures to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus. It was Saturday, April 4th, and I was out for my morning stroll at the Marina Bay.
I was listening to an episode of The Tim Ferriss podcast with Esther Perel as his guest. They were talking about how different people cope with adversity, and Esther had just finished explaining that when it comes to invisible dangers, like the current virus, some would’ve been vigilant from the start while others would be more in a state of denial. And on the spot, I recognized myself in the second group.
After the first cases appeared in Singapore, I told friends and family not to worry; we’d be sipping piña coladas in no time. I’m not sure why I picked piña coladas since the last time I had one was seven years ago in Mexico, but my best guess is that the image of everyone tippling iced coconut vibes seemed comforting. Nonetheless, I was wrong; none of us was going to be comfortable any time soon.
It was this particular Saturday that the reality of our new world had crept up on me (after all, I was listening to a podcast titled Tactics for Relationships in Quarantine), and I had become more aware of my vulnerabilities.
My biggest concern was that the unusual circumstances would bring up issues that I usually wouldn’t have to deal with because there wouldn’t be enough quietness in my life for them to arise.
Thus, in an attempt to regain control and protect my sanity, I resolved that I didn’t want to be in a state of waiting. Instead, I wanted to make this year count more than any other, and turn it into a period of growth.
I’m lucky not to have lost anybody to the virus. And as uncomfortable, heavy-spirited, and challenged as I’ve felt, I can already say that this period was one of tremendous personal maturity.
On my walks, I learned to study the trees and the flowers, and the impermanence of sunrise hues. I also began picking up litter left by others, and like that, I dissolved my self-inflicted indignity and grew closer to the community. I called my parents more often, and our relationship softened. I got to know my pitfalls, like my tendency to fight or flee, and I discovered that I don’t have to follow either. I gained more clarity on which direction to take with coding and writing. And I started The Knitting Club.
I was just crossing the Helix bridge when Esther was talking about the movie club she had begun with friends, and by the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, now standing on the F1 platform, I knew I wanted a club of my own. Within less than an hour, I had messaged a few friends, and by the end of the afternoon, Silvia, Devon, and I had become The Knitting Club.
Every week since, the three of us have been getting together via Zoom. For one hour, each Friday, we’ll discuss a predefined topic that is part of a larger three-week chapter. Sometimes we’ll invite a friend to join our meeting, but on the condition that they come prepared too.
For our first chapter, each of us selected a documentary; for the second, we shared and cooked family recipes; for the third, we followed three MasterClasses, and for the current and fourth chapter, we’re ticking off a shared habit list.
Being part of The Knitting Club is one of the most special things I’ve done with friends. Our meetups are like a homecoming to me. I get to breathe out and let go. I can be honest and vulnerable, knowing that Devon and Silvia will hold my truths, and even better yet, comfort me with theirs. And through it all, even in the presence of various views, I get to discover our shared humanity, which is my favorite rediscovery to make of all time.
Tomorrow, city life as I know it will change to the life as I knew it, and as it does and we pick up our old routines, maybe I’ll begin to neglect what I learned matters most to me, and perhaps there’ll also be no room for our club either soon.
Yet, I’m certain, that when I find myself lost in the noise, I’ll think back longingly of these months, and all the good they showed me, and Silvia’s and Devon’s goodbye smiles as I click end call for all.
Table of Contents
Last updated: September 18, 2020 // First publication: June 18, 2020
Chapter I: Documentaries
Our first chapter made for serious discussions and included the question, “Are you a racist?” Some kick-off.
🌍 The Salt of the Earth – Silvia
🚜 The Biggest Little Farm – Mirha
◼️ I Am Not Your Negro – Devon
Chapter II: Family Recipes
The idea behind Chapter II was to think of our favorite childhood dishes and ask our family for theirs, and like that, ignite a spirit of nostalgia and encourage the sharing of memories.
I also hoped that this chapter would allow us to uncover each other’s family anecdotes and get to know our different heritages, which it did.
We decided to share one recipe that we remembered fondly but had never made ourselves until now.
🌳 Related: Neo’s Tree – A recipe app I created with the idea to document my family’s kitchen
🍝 Ricotta Gnocchi – Silvia
For the gnocchi
- 250 g fresh ricotta
- 150 g “00” flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 egg
- pinch of salt
For the tomato sauce
- Cherry tomatoes
- Tomato paste
- Olive oil
For the butter and sage sauce
- Drain the ricotta: Put the cheese between two pieces of kitchen paper and squeeze out the excess liquid.
- Make your sauce*.
- Mix the ricotta, egg, Parmigiano, and salt in a bowl until well combined.
- Add flour (If the dough is too soft, add more flour).
- Form fingers of dough.
- Cut into pieces of 1 centimeter.
- Boil water in a pan with salt.
- Add your gnocchi and wait about one minute until they come floating up before taking them out.
- Pour your sauce of choice over the gnocchi and add more Parmigiano and lots of fresh grounded black pepper.
*You can make the gnocchi with a fresh tomato sauce or with butter and sage. For the tomato sauce: fry the tomatoes, tomato paste, and oregano in olive oil until the tomatoes break. For the butter and sage sauce: heat some butter in a pan and add a few sage leaves until the butter is slightly brown and the sage crisps.
Note: I made both a tomato and pesto sauce.
🍕 Cheeky fact: During the circuit breaker in Singapore, which is when I was making this recipe, I couldn’t find any “00” flour (nor even plain flour). Thus, at one point, I had the idea to ask a neighborhood pizzeria if they’d be willing to sell me some. Despite throwing all my kindness and negotiation techniques at the restaurant manager, he refused.
🧈 Uštipci – Mirha
- 200 g plain flour
- 6 g baking powder
- 100 ml lukewarm water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- More coconut oil for frying, about 500 ml
- In a large bowl, mix the flour and baking powder.
- Add oil and water.
- Knead the dough until soft and still somewhat sticky on the fingers.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a wet kitchen towel and let it rest in a warm spot for 20 minutes.
- Lightly flour the counter and then roll out the dough into a square or rectangle sheet of about half a centimeter thick.
- Cut the sheet of dough into squares or rectangles.
- Heat the oil.
- When the oil is super hot, slide the dough pieces into the pan (You may have to do this in batches).
- Fry each side until golden brown.
👨🏾🍳 More inspiration: Uštipci by Ivan
🌳 More recipes from Silvia on Neo’s Tree
🍚 Congee – Devon
- 320 g Thai white rice
- 2.9 l water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cooking oil
- 3 salted duck eggs, chopped
- 4 century eggs, chopped
- 150 g lean pork meat, cut into bite-sized portions
- salt to taste
Serve with: julienned ginger, chopped spring onion, fried shallots, white pepper, and toasted Youtiao
- Rinse the rice with running water until the water is clear (about two times). On the third time, add salt and oil, and let the rice steep in the water for about 30 minutes; this is to soften the grains.
- Strain the rice and add it to a pan with 2.4 liters of water.
- Bring to boil over high heat, and once it’s boiling, lower to medium heat and allow it to simmer, stirring occasionally.
- Once most of the liquid has reduced, stir more frequently to prevent the bottom grains from burning; this is also to break the grains and thicken the consistency, thus achieving Cantonese-style congee, which will take about an hour/hour and a half (A bigger pot would take longer).
- Add the pork and continue to cook until done.
- Add the chopped century eggs and salted eggs and cook for another 20–30 minutes.
- Add salt to taste.
- Serve with condiments.
Note: I made the congee with spicy garlic shrimps instead of with duck and century eggs and pork.
⭐️ Bonus points: Youtiao by Judy
🌳 More recipes from Devon on Neo’s Tree
Chapter III: MasterClass
🎙 Effective and Authentic Communication – Silvia
Make your mess your message. –Robin Roberts
🎓 An assignment I did from the workbook: Practice your speech. Record yourself delivering the speech to yourself in the mirror. Listen to the speech and make a note of every moment you make a verbal tic, like “um” or “like” or “you know.” Note how fast (or slow) you’re speaking, and adjust accordingly. Pay attention to words you fail to enunciate. Do you say “gonna” instead of “going to”? […] Repeat this process until you’ve all but eliminated any filler words, poorly enunciated words, and overly fast or slow segments.
I had just finished giving a coding workshop, and since I had recorded it, I decided to watch it while following the above assignment.
❤️ Shoutout to Marian for joining us this session
✏️ Storytelling and Humor – Mirha
You need to do the best that you can do, and then you need to take the best that you can do, and you need to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it. –David Sedaris
📖 Pair with: Calypso by David Sedaris
🗑 A challenge inspired by Sedaris: After reading a few of Sedaris’s essays, in which he talks about his hourslong trash-picking walks, I too began picking up trash on my morning walks (mostly plastic bottles and wrappings and sometimes cigarette buds). I don’t know why Sedaris does this, but one of my reasons is that picking up other’s trash in public makes me feel uncomfortable–and I believe that it shouldn’t.
📺 Advertising and Creativity – Devon
The worst thing you can do is to do the right thing and have no one notice that you did it. –Jeff Goodby
🎥 Pair with: One of my favorite ads created by Goodby and Silverstein: Logitech, “Kevin Bacon”
🎬 An action I took after following this MasterClass: I asked Jann, the chief marketing officer at my company, for her favorite resources on marketing. I was looking to learn how I could best share my writings and creative projects. Jann replied with homework instead, starting with the question: “What five values do your projects provide?”
⭐️ Workshop tip: Personal and Lifestyle Branding: Building Your Story by Kate Arends
❤️ Shoutout to Loz for joining us this session
Chapter IV: The Habit List
For chapter four, all three of us came up with our own list of habits we wished to practice. Then, from each list, we randomly picked one habit, leaving us with three habits in total.
We took up all three habits at once for three weeks.
We also put penalties in place for breaking a personal streak. For Devon, this meant having to do the no-complaint challenge for a day, while Silvia would need to spend twenty minutes learning a language, and I’d have to draw for an hour.
📚 Related reading on habit forming:
📱 Don’t check your phone within two hours of waking – Silvia
What helped me stick to this habit is to put my phone on airplane mode and turn off wifi before going to bed. I also didn’t bring my phone to the bedroom, though, that’s a habit I already had.
😴 Give the mind an overnight question – Mirha
I first learned about this practice in Tools of Titans, in which Ferriss writes that both Josh Waitzkin and Reid Hoffman practice a version of this habit. If you’re curious to learn more, listen to the interviews that Ferriss did with Waitzkin and Hoffman (or read the transcripts: Waitzkin and Hoffman); Ferriss based the chapters in Tools of Titans on these interviews.
🖌 Draw – Devon
The drawing practice was the one habit that I looked forward to least (that’s why my penalty is drawing for an hour), but it turned out to be a favorite.
🎨 Tools I used: I started with the Paper app and Andrew Allen’s tutorial “Learn to Draw Portraits” (available in the app). After this, I switched to Procreate and did the workshop Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Procreate by Jarom Vogel (I recommend checking out Jarom’s illustrations. His work is gorgeous).
👨🏿🎨 Related challenge: Kill Your Monsters
Chapter V: Wait But Why
For chapter five, all three of us picked a long-form article from Wait But Why. We read it, took notes, picked our favorite quotes, and discussed what we learned from it.
🐒 Why Procrastinators Procrastinate – Silvia
🔗 This is a three-part series:
The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread.
🧱 Good reminder: Whenever I think of taking up a big, meaningful project, I tend to believe that I need to stop doing everything else to focus on it. But that’s no way to live. Following Tim’s observation that “A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks looks like from far away,” I’m learning to pace myself and to lay a brick a day.
✏️ A decision the article helped me make: I was considering pausing my newsletter for a year, reasoning it would give me more time to write essays and stories. Tim’s article, though, convinced me that without any outside pressure and deadlines, which my newsletter commitment provides, I’d likely end up writing less instead of more, and so the letters stay.
🖇 Pair with: James Clear’s article: The Only Productivity Tip You’ll Ever Need, Aytekin Tank’s post Why successful people don’t use to-do lists (hat tip to my aunt) and Derek Sivers’s TED talk: Keep your goals to yourself.
🎥 Watch: Tim’s TED talk Inside the mind of a master procrastinator
🤯 Taming the Mammoth – Mirha
But in today’s large, complex world of varying cultures and personalities and opportunities and options, losing touch with your Authentic Voice is dangerous. When you don’t know who you are, the only decision-making mechanism you’re left with is the crude and outdated needs and emotions of your mammoth. When it comes to the most personal questions, instead of digging deep into the foggy center of what you really believe in to find clarity, you’ll look to others for the answers. Who you are becomes some blend of the strongest opinions around you.
🪐 Most important takeaway: I used to be pretty good at following my authentic voice. Lately, though, I was starting to feel tired about what felt like swimming upstream all the time. Inspired by this article, and reflecting upon my past choices, I’ve recommitted to listening to my authentic voice. It’s always worked out well, tiring or not.
⚡️ A helpful insight: The article made me understand that my mom’s nagging around topics like my career and marriage stems from her need for approval from others and has nothing to do with what’s best for me. Meaning, I can safely ignore her comments without feeling bad about it. (Cheeky related fact: A few years ago I set no-go topics for my mom, which included my career, marriage, the decision whether to have children, and G. It worked quite well. She almost doesn’t bring those subjects up anymore.
👩🏽🎤 A challenge I set inspired by the article: I’d like to go to a karaoke bar, sober, and just sing like myself.
🤓 New word I learned and liked: Schadenfreude
❤️ Shoutout to Hayley for joining us this session
👨🏿🚀 How to Pick a Career – Devon
A first-year medical student sees an experienced surgeon at work and thinks, “I can get there one day—just need to do about 20 years of hard work.” But when a young artist or entrepreneur or software engineer looks at the equivalent of the experienced surgeon in their field, they’re more likely to think, “Wow look how talented they are—I’m nowhere near that good,” and get all hopeless.
🙉 Advice I’m following: Don’t worry about the next step on your career path but focus on the one you’re currently on. (Taking into account that your current step is right for you. You’ll know better what this means after reading the article.)
🍃 Something I loved: Tim’s analysis of regret, which he frames as the choices we make that aren’t ours.
⭐️ A most important reminder: I read this post twice. The second time around, I also made time to analyse my career path using the prompts in the article and worksheets. By actively working through these questions, I got so many more valuable insights than just by reading the article. It never fails to stun me how much more I can get out of advice by trying it in one form or another. Reading is a great first step, but doing makes all the difference. Here are the original worksheets, and here’s a personal, gorgeous version of them designed by Devon.
❤️ Shoutout to Andrea for joining us this session
Chapter VI: The Artist’s Way
For the sixth chapter, I introduced Devon and Silvia to The Artist’s Way. The Artist’s Way is the 12-week program that saved my creative life when I was at a creative low a few years ago.
For three weeks, we wrote morning pages every day, and every week, we went on one artist date, which we picked from The Miracle of the Artist’s Date: 52 Ideas for Activities that will Nourish Your Creative Soul.
📜 List Fifty Things You Love – Silvia
List fifty things you love. Take yourself to a coffee shop or cafe. Settle in with your notepad and number from one to ﬁfty. Rapidly list ﬁfty things you love. For example: pinecones, raspberries, Nag Champa incense, furniture polish, liver and onions, ﬂute music . . . Your list will be personal and eclectic. Post this list where you will see it often. Referring to the list is a potent centering technique. Whenever you feel “off,” read your list. What you love represents the voice of your soul.
👵🏾 Write a Letter From You at Eighty – Mirha
Write a letter from you at eighty. Take yourself to your favorite coffee shop. Order a chocolate shake. Take pen to page and write yourself a loving letter full of praise and encouragement. Tell yourself you’re doing well. Applaud your many accomplishments. Your eighty-year-old self is proud of you. Drink up your shake.
❤️ Shoutout to Sherry for joining us this session
🔮 Collage Your Creative Dream – Devon
Collage your creative dream. This exercise is a potent form of prayer. Working with a dozen or so magazines, tear out images that speak of your dream. Paste these images on a sheet of poster board. Add a photo of yourself. Place the photo centrally, surrounded by images of your creative dream. This is a visual prayer. It is very powerful, as it bypasses our rational mind and its resistance. Seeing is believing.