Friday, December 07, 2012

Blank Pages

Day 7: What will you take with you?

I will take my bright red Moleskine journal with me into 2013. I bought it back in 2008 as a welcome-to-Singapore gift for myself; more than four years later, it's still not full and it's starting to get frustrating... and embarrassing. There's a lot that needs to be written, more stories waiting to be told in the new year.

Thursday, December 06, 2012


Day 6: What did you learn?

Random lessons learned this year...
  • how to make fresh pasta
  • loving a new CRM system at work
  • too much collaboration can be a bad thing
  • talking to my seatmates on the plane
  • procrastination can eat away pieces of you
  • I should have joined SCBWI much sooner

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Palawan Paradise

Day 5: What was your dream destination?

One of the places I had on my Travel Wish List is Palawan - and specifically to see the limestone cliffs of Coron that I kept seeing on postcards and Facebook posts. So I love that I got to take my own touristy shot of beautiful Kayangan Lake.

What I love more is the fact that I saw a lot more than what I was expecting. The entire length of Coron island is practically made up of limestone cliffs and a good half-hour of the 2-hour boat ride to Culion was sailing past the rocky facade. It was amazing!

As if that wasn't enough, I woke up every day of my week on Culion to the sunrise. My corner room had an awesome view: Coron island was standing guard over the horizon.

Pure bliss.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Reverberate and Celebrate

Day 4: How will you celebrate YOU?

I've often been accused of not thinking about myself enough... and now I need to celebrate myself? Hmmm. Before I can bring out the bubbly, I feel the need to resuscitate the writer in me first - and taking part in #reverb12 is a great way to start. I will definitely celebrate once I have 31 posts this December! (4 out of 4... Woohoo!)

Monday, December 03, 2012

My Heart's Desires

Day 3: What do you really wish for?

In 2008, I wrote an unedited wish list for my life as part of my silent retreat after reflecting on Psalm 37: 4. I was surprised that I only had 12 major life goals, ranging from living on my own, to traveling, to retiring on royalties. Some have big happy check marks next to them, some are still a work-in-progress, while some still feel quite out of reach. But as I re-read them (and this prompt led me to dig up my list), I am reminded of what I value most and what shapes who I am: deep relationships and meaningful experiences.

Four years later, the items on the list are still my heart's deepest desires. I will continue to allow my dreams and prayers (and hard work, of course) to pave the way to more check marks on my list. Five down, seven to go!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

When Spending is Gaining

Day 2: Your most significant spend?

When I first moved to Singapore more than four years ago, I tracked all of my expenses on an Excel spreadsheet. The days were on the rows and I had columns for different categories: rent, utilities, food, transportation, groceries, and a generic column for all other things like books, movies, tickets to plays and concerts, museum passes, trips to the spa, etc. It wasn't too long until I realized that the "others" column was the quickest to grow. I changed the label to "self-growth" to help justify the expenses. Soon, my friends and I were organizing regular Self-Growth Saturdays or Sundays, and it helped me feel much more settled in this home-away-from-home - while still keeping my expenses in check.

My Self-Growth column in 2012 is made up mostly of traveling expenses and the most significant (but not the most expensive!) was an eight-day Ignatian silent retreat to Isla Culion in Palawan, the westernmost part of the Philippines. It was a 3.5-hour flight from Singapore to Manila, a 45-minute domestic flight to Coron, a 30-minute drive to the ferry, a 2-hour scenic boat ride, and a 5-minute tricycle ride before I got to Culion's Hotel Maya. Perched on top of a hill and overlooking the ocean, the former dormitory now humble hostel is training ground to students of the Loyola College of Culion, the sister school of my Jesuit alma mater. The spartan accommodations combined with 5-star hospitality and the non-stop ocean breeze was all I needed to retreat and reflect.

The week I spent in silence, reflection, and prayer was the best way to prepare and celebrate Easter. I came with an open heart and a blank journal; I left with a happy heart and not enough pages or words to contain what happened there. It has been more than seven months since and I still can't seem to capture my experience on paper. I have hundreds of photos to help tell my stories, but I have not had time to organize all of my JPEGs. For now, here's a glimpse: a short post I shared with an Ignatian spirituality site called Picturing God.

Marami ang nagsabi sa akin: "Mabuti at napadaan kayo dito sa Culion." Ang aking sagot: "Napabuti ako sa pagdaan ko sa Culion." (Roughly translated from Filipino to: Many people there told me: "It's good you got to drop by Isla Culion." My response was: "I was made good, or a better person, because I did.") I believe God is in Isla Culion in the Philippines, a beautiful home-away-from-home where I spent an entire week on a silent retreat leading up to Easter. More than 100 years ago, Isla Culion was the world's largest leper colony. Today, it is a healed, historical, grace-filled island aspiring to be a top eco-tourism destination. It's a simple and laidback coastal town, with only 12 hours of electricity a day, but in close proximity to amazing coral reefs, dive spots, and white beaches, and blessed with the most amazing sunrises. I believe I caught but a glimpse of God in all of that--but most especially in the warm and gracious people who, with their bedimpled smiles, earnest eyes, and open hearts, welcomed me to their home and changed me for the better.

It may not have been my biggest expenditure in 2012 in terms of dollars spent, but it was a huge investment of time and spirit spent in one place - and I gained it all back a thousandfold. My Self-Growth column is full to the brim.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Starting with Goodbyes

Day 1: How are you starting?

I have three minutes left on this first day of December and I will try my best to complete #reverb12. So how am I starting?

I am starting with goodbyes. I had a farewell dinner with a dear friend who I have known since I first moved to this home-away-from-home. Though we only get to see each other twice or thrice a year, he is a dear friend and a fellow pilgrim, and we can spend hours talking about any and all things. Spending time with him always reminds me to hope and focus on the essential things in life. I'm sad to see him go back to Indonesia yet excited for this next chapter in his journey.

So with tonight's farewell, I also say goodbye to this year's feelings of BLAH. Goodbye to other people's expectations. Goodbye to thinking-too-much. Goodbye to procrastination. Goodbye to mindless online surfing. Goodbye to worrying what other people think. Goodbye to my sedentary lifestyle. Goodbye to what-if fears. Goodbye to writer's block. Goodbye to excuses.

All goodbyes lead to hellos. See you soon, 2013.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Of Spots and Marks

If I could play connect-the-dots with my life, what picture would I end up with? I guess it doesn't really matter now so long as I look out for and embrace the bright spots that come my way.

This week was no exception and I find myself humbled with gratitude for little nudges from the Universe to write, to share my small voice, and to put myself out there. Actually, I think they've been more than nudges... more like whacks in the head. :-)

This week's bright (purple) spots:
  • I submitted a 2-page proposal to present a personal project at a conference. My heart did a little somersault when I saw the call for papers in my inbox and a backflip when I realized I had less than a week before the deadline. But thanks to input and comments from amazing people, I managed to draft, revise, and submit something just in time. It could be the spark that I need to quit procrastinating and get back into my writing. More details coming soon... if my proposal is accepted!
  • Mama called me this afternoon to tell me she ran into my summer school teacher who still remembers me after more than 25 years! She taught me and Ate Kim speed reading and creative writing (yes, we were nerdy kids) which helped plant creative seeds and dreams in a 7- or 8-year-old Nikki. Papa said she probably remembered me as the class clown, haha! I'd like to send her a note of thanks.
  • Thanks to my parish, a friendly priest came to visit tonight who not only blessed my new apartment, but also prayed for my hopes and dreams. We had a nice chat about cartoons, work-life balance, and stories. I gave him a copy of my book and he said it reminded him of a wonderful storybook he read years ago: The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. I quickly Googled it and got a lump in my throat. It was exactly what I needed to hear: "Just make a mark and see where it takes you."
And the week's not over yet! :-) I could seriously feel myself shushing my inner critic and asking her to stand in the corner. It's about time I did!

What "dot" or mark will I make? Where will it take me? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Bright Blue Spot in Hong Kong

It was my first time in Hong Kong last week for a business trip and I extended my stay over the weekend so I could explore Asia's World City. Often compared to Singapore, my colleague shared that Hong Kong is much more "authentic". What did she mean?

A map helped me navigate through the streets around the Sheung Wan and Central area (well, most of the time! I still enjoyed getting lost...) and after a few hours, I think I sort of understand what she meant. The busy and uneven sidewalks; the narrow alleys packed with stalls of trinkets; the rundown buildings next to contemporary galleries, artsy cafés, and antique shops; the hole-in-the-wall noodle shops with long queues. It was gritty and rushed and bustling with crowds. The city had a unique pulse worth experiencing - but I didn't stay long enough to embrace it or to call it a home-away-from-home.

I definitely played tourist for the weekend yet took comfort in seeing a paperclip in a strange place. Unlike Singapore where I've seen mostly silver ones, my paperclip in Hong Kong was bright blue. That sure adds another point for Authenticity!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Two Weeks Late But Still Overwhelmed

I'm so glad I made it back for the 2-day Asian Writers' and Illustrators' Conference of the Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC). And yes, this post is two weeks late. No excuses but that crazy back-to-work period.

It was an overwhelming three days - overwhelming in a good way though! There are so many thoughts and ideas swimming in my head but for now, here are some photos and highlights:

Day 1: It was really awesome reconnecting with Isabel "Pepper" Roxas, my teacher for a Writing and Illustrating for Kids elective in Ateneo more than 10 years ago. I told her how she and that class really helped inspire me to get into this wonderful world of children's books. Seeing her now as a successful illustrator and artist based in Brooklyn continues to be an inspiration. I also got to meet the super-animated and friendly Candy Gourlay, award-winning Filipina writer based in London. I really enjoyed the stories she shared on her journey to be a best-selling author of Tall Story - and I can't wait to read her book!
With Award-Winning Author Candy Gourlay
The Amazing Noel Cabangon
With Festival Manager Kenneth
Awesome Skyline from The National Library's 16th Floor Pod

Day 2: Thanks to Pepper and Franny Ong of Tahanan Books, I got to meet Leonard Marcus, our keynote speaker, and THE children's book historian, critic and author who flew in from New York City just for the AFCC. I sat across him as we hung out by the Singapore River for drinks and we had a nice chat about Pittsburgh. So yes, I rediscovered my inner fangirl, and yes, I shared a copy of my book with him. [Sheepish smile.] I'm thrilled just thinking that The Yellow Paperclip is somewhere in NYC with him... though probably buried under a mountain of other books. :-)
With Teacher Pepper | With Leonard Marcus 
Noel performing in The Arts House
Hanging out with Franny and Pepper 

Day 3: I decided last-minute to sign up for a Masterclass on Editing Children's Books: Turning Your Manuscript into a Bestseller with Alvina Ling of Little, Brown and Sarah Odedina of Hot Key Books. And I'm so glad I did! They gave a lot of great practical advice and tips, and having several short writing exercises really pushed me beyond my comfortable world of writing copy for work. Of course, the approval-dependent writer in me (in all of us?) was thrilled to hear their positive comments on my pieces. Now comes the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: I have three months to prepare and send a manuscript to them. Oh, by the way... Sarah just happened to publish all of Harry Potter and she's on a first-name basis with "Jo" Rowling and Neil Gaiman. Wow! Eeeep! [Gushes.] 

Yes, it was overwhelming but in an awesome way. Though it has only been a few years since my last project, I had felt so displaced from the world of children's books. Being at the Conference felt like some sort of homecoming: reassuring in how familiar it was, but scary-exciting in the new and not knowing what to expect next. 

My little journal from the three days has all these random notes from the different talks I went to and I'll share some of them in a separate post. But for now, I'll leave you with one of my favorites (that struck right at the heart of this perfectionist!) from Australian illustrator James Foley
Your words or pictures don't have to be perfect but they should be truthful and playful.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Come and See the Festival

As I sit here at O'Hare waiting for my flight, I am really looking forward to the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2012... that starts 9 hours after I land at Changi Airport from my 5-week U.S. trip!
I've seen and read about the Festival for the last few years but have not been able to attend because of work commitments. This year, I really feel the need to be there. It would have been so easy to extend my stay in Pittsburgh (I was starting to get used to my routine!) but I knew I would feel bad if I missed the Festival yet again. I'm glad my managers and colleagues are supportive of my decision. This is a great example of work-life balance at play!

"Come and you will see," is and will be my theme for the rest of the year. Let's see what the Festival has in store!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Today is World Storytelling Day

In celebration of World Storytelling Day today, here's a song about Why We Tell the Story, from one of my favorite stories.

Life is why 
We tell the story 
Pain is why 
We tell the story 
Love is why 
We tell the story 
Grief is why 
We tell the story 
Hope is why 
We tell the story 
Faith is why 
We tell the story 
You are why 
We tell the story

Friday, March 16, 2012

Connecting the Bright Purple Spots

I recently wrote about Connecting the Dots and given how my life has been one happy conspiracy, it sometimes feels like I'm connecting a lot of Bright Purple Spots instead.

I'm glad I went to the critique group of the Singapore chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I was introduced to the group back in Manila where we had regular meet-ups to review books and stories. I never signed up as a member (I probably couldn't afford it back then!) and it gradually fell away and off my radar. Until I met Kenneth, the Festival Manager for the Asian Festival for Children's Content at the recent talk on the Wondrous World of Errol le Cain. It was great to meet fellow writers and storytellers, and I look forward to getting to know the group better, learning from them, and exchanging stories. If I can't take up my MFA in Creative Writing just yet, at least being in the company of creative writers is a really good start!

The bright spots continue: The Yellow Paperclip with Bright Purple Spots traveled to the Bologna Children's Book Fair today with Kenneth, who offered to bring my books with him as I recently signed up as a SCWBI member (finally!) and he will showcase members' works at the Fair. Wow! Of course it was unfortunate that I didn't have copies in Singapore of Khan: A Teacher of Everything and The Lucky Doctor from the Great Men and Women of Asia Children's Series. As I worked on my member profile on the SCWBI site, I felt giddy yet happy knowing I was in the company of so many amazing and accomplished writers and illustrators. Wow again!

Though I know my book is but one of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of books in that fair, just the thought of my book being out there, with the possibility of being read and rediscovered at THE children's book fair in the whole wide world (and space), is enough for me to feel happy and giddy again, and yes, oh-so-grateful. For a few moments tonight, soon after I said goodbye to Ken on the train, I had that wonderful, unmistakable feeling that things were falling into place, that the dots were connecting, and that I was exactly where I was meant to be. Of course until my inner critic brought me back to reality. (Why are we writers so hard on ourselves? Then again, I'd rather be hard on myself than full of myself. Hee-hee.)

Whatever happens, I think SCBWI definitely gets a bright purple spot in the story of my life... and hopefully it connects to yet another one someday.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Wondrous World Indeed

Click here to browse through the wondrous world of Errol le Cain. (Yes, at least 60,000 gorgeous images on Google!) It's a dreamy world I would happily get lost in.

I received an invitation from the Singapore Book Council for an afternoon talk at the National Library on The Wondrous Art World of Errol le Cain. Since I've been meaning to visit the library for many months (er, years!) and had nothing scheduled on a Saturday afternoon, I figured: I know nothing about Errol le Cain, but why not?

My friend Cam and I were amazed with his artwork. A wondrous world of color, swirls, and patterns. All that detail. An amazing take on classic fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty, King Arthur's Sword, and our all-time favorite, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. What a wondrous world indeed created by this prolific illustrator, but unfortunately, many people don't know him and his artwork, or that he was born in Singapore and established himself as an artist in the United Kingdom. Even more unfortunate for most of us is the fact that all of his books are out of print... though some are available online for a few thousand dollars! Visit for more about his life and works.

On another note, I think I got another major nudge from the Universe. I met the Festival Manager for the upcoming Asian Festival of Children's Content that will be hosted here in Singapore this May (which I am hoping to be able to attend!) and he also heads up the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. He invited me to their upcoming meet-up. Yaaay! Eeeeeep! (Yes, thrilled and anxious and everything in between.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Getting My Voice Back

A few weeks ago, I read this beautiful blog post on How I Got My Voice Back and it definitely hit a soft spot. I had asked myself: How can I get my voice back? How do I start writing again?

Last week, I ran into Jo who I met in a class I signed up for in 2009 called Finding God in Your Writing. I shared this blog with her and she sent me a message: Just visited your blog. Well done. A pity not to use your gift. (Thank you, Jo!)

Last night, I joined her and other writers for a couple of hours to write and rediscover how God works in our lives through the gift of writing and sharing. We had five prompts to respond to and we were given five minutes to write, preferably without any rude interruption from our inner editor or critic.

It was a joy to see my messy handwriting again and a few pages of my well-ignored Moleskine coming to life. I initially felt shy sharing what I wrote but their smiles and nods were encouraging (how approval dependent we writers are!). By the third round, I had to have a heart-to-heart talk with my inner critic: So what if I sound shallow or like I'm just rambling? I know I can't write poems but that's okay. Just write what comes naturally to you, you're not here to impress or seek approval. You have a story to tell so just write and stop thinking, stop over-analyzing. So what if others don't like it or get it. Just write for yourself. Write because you love it.

My inner critic shrugged it off then walked away. I continued to write.


Prompt: Nothing that you write is wasted because it all contributes to your growth as a writer.

And when a writer writes nothing, then a gift is wasted. It took me a while, and I sometimes still hesitate, to say that I'm a writer. I have been writing since I was a young child: love letters to my parents, projects for my creative writing summer class, mini novels with my best friend in grade school. Newsletters. Yearbook write-ups. Ten-page essays. My journals. Children's stories. This blog and other blogs I started and abandoned. Research reports. Copy for marketing collateral. A chapter on leadership. So much has been written, so much has been said, a few have even been published.

And when I stopped writing for myself as I did last year, I felt like a part of me stopped. I stopped sharing. I stopped giving. I stopped growing.

Writers write for themselves but writers also write to share, to give, to grow.

Writers write.

And tonight, I write.


It's not much and there's a long way to go, but I think it was a good first step to getting my voice back.

Thank You for the gift of words.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Connecting the Dots

I have not written much in the last year, and I think it made a huge difference. I tried to start a 365-word-a-day blog project. I said I'd find a publisher for a new piece of work. I said I would write in my journal more. But I procrastinated. I stalled. I thought I could catch up. I shelved it. I spent too much time at work. I ran away from it. I failed. Boo. Blah. Writers write, I told myself; and since I stopped, I really let myself down. 

And the days of blah-ness stretched to weeks... and months... and... no, I don't want to feel like this anymore. So I will start writing again. Even if it's just a few words here, and a few more words in my journal. A few lines today, an article tomorrow; who knows, maybe another picture book by the end of the year.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it. - Paulo Coelho

I believe that God allows the Universe to conspire with the dreamer. He provides signs that lead us (back) to our deepest desires, especially when we're teetering over the edge or veering away from where we need to go. He sends little nudges that remind us to dream again and to trust with a childlike heart, even if we can't quite make out the road in front of us. 

In the last two weeks...
  • I got an email asking if I would be agreeable to convert one of my books into an e-book
  • I found out that one of my books sold more than 2,000 copies in the last four years
  • I met a fellow TCK who chanced upon this blog some time ago and remarked, "But you stopped writing!"
  • I went to a dear friend's photo exhibit where I ran into a nice lady who used to host these writing sessions; she scheduled a meet-up on Monday so we could all start writing again
  • I was invited to be featured in a magazine for tweens as part of International Book Day in April
Wow. You think Someone is telling me something?

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. - Steve Jobs

My life has been one big happy conspiracy so far and I don't think the Universe will let up just yet. I just have to once again trust in the goodness of signs and have faith that my God always knows what's best for me even if, or especially when, I can't seem to connect the dots.