The antidote to perfectionism


Her timed work is timeless

I came across Alexa Meade’s work recently. Her works have the surprising effects and I’m sure I’ve already seen some of them on my social media feed somewhere.

Alexa Meade challenges our perception of art by turning the relation between life and painting to the opposite direction. Art usually means “coming from life”; life informing art. But she managed to show us there’s the possibility to something opposite, something new: art can come to life, literally.

Life imitating art.

Meanwhile, every piece of her work is not just three-dimensional, but four. There’s a time element that’s crucial in her work process. The painting is done on models who are there, on site. They will be there as an existence that is only there for a period of time. And that time is the main part of her artistic work. What remains afterwards – the photos, the memories of the viewer who were there, the making-of videos like this one – is, again, only the description of her work. Her work is timed in that way.

But her work is also timeless. In a society where everything, especially ourselves and experience can be commodified or materialised, Meade’s work challenges our perception of our own existence. Can we live in a painting that’s more beautiful like a dream than our own life?

Meade creates the “canvas” in the three-dimensional space, and puts her objects on that canvas and paints over them to make them fit into that seemingly two-dimensional space.

Alexa Meade’s work reminds me of the work of Johannes Stoetter.

Both artists use painting on human body to create illusions. Both artists wow their viewers by challenge their perception of “what they see = what is” to “what they see = what it can be”. Their works are memorable and timeless.

How we can try to challenge ourselves and our viewers with our work?

What we can we challenge to understand and appreciate?

What can we break to preserve?

Genre vs. Idiosyncrasy

Genre is like an index. You are put there so people can find you. We always need to think about how others can find us. How they can hear us, can see us.

When they do, it’s what only we have that keeps the right people around.

Genre is a labeled box.

Genre is a platform.

Genre is a stage.

Genre is index.

Genre is an opportunity given by the stability of an ecosystem.

But in the core, genre is the part of what you do that shares with a bunch of other people’s work. It’s the general theme that connects different paths.

Idiosyncrasy is the reason for people to stare, linger, and stay.

Idiosyncrasy is the texture, the smell, the waves on the surface of a still lake.

Idiosyncrasy can be a disruption, too, when it’s strong enough. When it’s so disruptive that others might follow your lead, so that they will need to make another genre for you.

But idiosyncrasy is also going to be the reason why you are remembered for being who you are.

I think the way I’m putting it makes everything daunting to me. My first reaction was like “I will never be able to ‘disrupt’ anything”, “oh gosh I don’t want to put that much pressure on myself!”

But the way to do it should be simple, right?

I’m learning to sound like myself. I’m learning to listen to how I sound like when I’m being myself. But the answer always appears where I’m not looking. Not to sound too “Asian mysterious”, but “sounding like yourself” is something that you can only find when you are not actively looking for.

So I’m just reading, and writing.

I’m figuring out what I like, what I don’t like. I’m writing by imitating the things I like, avoiding the things that turn me off, believing one day I will be able to say: “This is me. This is how I sound like. This is what makes me remarkable.”


“Life was so simple before,” I thought. “Why do I have to get myself so much attachment in life?”

Such thoughts appear whenever something my husband or baby does that irritates me.

Sure, life would have been easier and simpler. Lighter and freer. I could go anywhere I want and do whatever I want; eat whatever I want and drink as much as I want. The world would be opened up to me and there would be uncountable possibilities…

Too bad we can only see the small portion of the whole picture of our own lives.

But we imagine the could-be life down another road as the shining, bright side of that whole picture.

It’s impossible for me to stop myself from thinking about “what would have been…” That’s my sincere reaction to every relationship I have had. I wanted to stay alone and independent. So there is no commitment, no responsibility. So that I can push the “stop” button whenever I can.

But life is just much too meaningful to live like the only star in the sky.

If I am brave enough, my pain triples and happiness times a thousand.

That’s only possible with strings attached.

I’m a mother but not a fan of kids

I noticed something interesting today.

I still get annoyed by other people’s babies and children!

It’s proof that becoming a mother didn’t change who I am. Ha!

What about my own baby?

Well, she’s not “a baby” to me. She’s a person. An individual to-be.

I thought I’d become a “baby person” — a loving woman to children of the world. Well, that didn’t happen… I’m surprised.

It’s proof that pregnancy and motherhood change us, but not change who we are.

How burnout feels like

Burnout. Terrifying?

The danger of burnout is that you are likely not aware that you have it.

That’s when burnout gets you.

I felt down. Physically and emotionally. Every second of every day. Losing sleep, losing interest in other things, feeling like a walking corpse.

There was only one thing on my mind: you’ve gotta keep going. There’s no other way.

Burnout feels like a layer on your skin. It’s almost inside of your cells but your body knows it’s strange.

Or is it a curse? Something possible to get rid of, but you can’t if you are enchanted by it and don’t know that you have it, until it’s too late.

I needed someone else to tell me that what I was feeling — feeling exhausted from what I was doing and thinking about all day and never felt well again — was the result of having burnout for a long time.

I can’t believe I didn’t know. Because for such a long time, food and drinks didn’t have taste, my body didn’t feel like moving, and I was emotionally on the edge of losing it every day.

Should have known earlier. Life is short.

The day I lost my creativity

It was so easy for me to be the best at something.

…When I was in elementary school.

I wonder why.

I was bolder than I am now. That’s for sure.

I was confident so I could be bold. What made me so confident?

The answer is that I was a believer, in almost everything in my life. My school, teachers, friends, my families. I was never disappointed or discouraged.

That might have been a blind confidence. But it was useful. And frankly, quite effective. I was in fact very good at almost all the things I did. I was very resourceful and creative.

And I was proud.

Then puberty hit. Well, well, well… the time I suddenly noticed other voices, other eyes, other people’s facial expressions…

And then I was challenged in the things I had faith in. “So what I thought was true… wasn’t.” Another chance for me to say “New things to try? No, thanks. I don’t want to believe in anything ever again. And I’d rather stay in my shell and never come back!”

That was also the time when I started to read Horoscopes. Thank you, description of the Cancer sign! You made me believe that I had a shell where I was entitled to retrieve back into so I could hide away from everybody else!

How messy was that? …

Now I just want to believe in myself again. It’s my entitled right to start trying again.

To find my courage to be creative again.

Do you dare to live art?

Live your life as life is art. It’s not everyone’s game. This is how:

  • Refuses to be defined.
    She doesn’t look for “her voice”. She doesn’t think about “her voice” as complicated as most of us do. For her, of course she sings with her voice. What she does is to explore different sides of her voice. This exploring – the finding – process is fun, is more important.
  • Heart over head
    She likes to say: “If there’s any voice in your head you need to get it out. Because anything you do should come out of your heart, not your head.” She doesn’t overthink. She’s trying to be present. Shut up her mind. She does it because it feels right.
  • Happiness and career.
    She’s happy, which is her point of being alive; and a successful career will follow a person who’s simply doing something that makes her happy.
  • She stays true to what her gut tell her to do by performing for the one person who’d like her work.
    She knows that she’s good enough for at least one person in the audience. That’s not just confidence. That’s belief in human connection. For at least one person, we give all we have in this period of time, give effort in the work – this is true artistic generosity.

A person who’s true to and ok with her art is a true artist.

Living, singing, learning, changing, trying new things, sharing, being happy. Not overthinking, not branding herself, not limiting by defining herself, not being anxious about whether she’s good enough or about whether most people will like her or not…

Do you dare to live art?

What anxious mothers say

“Oh my god! My baby hits the 20-week mark this week but she still can’t roll over! What should I do?”

Anxious mothers can be a handful. And anxious mothers were anxious girls before they became anxious mothers.

There’s something “off” about their life, always. And now they think the same about their children. The poor things!

“It’s xxx (some kind of a deadline) and I haven’t xxx (some kind of achievement)… what should I do???”

Some things are not supposed to be rushed. Because the deadline is made-up and the achievement point comes at its own pace. Simple as that.

Unblock the dried up well?

Elizabeth Gilbert has been very open about her process of writing while not knowing what would become clunkers and what would work. She said in multiple occasions, that she had a long period of time receiving nothing but rejection letters. The only thing she could do was to go back to her work even if they were not picked by the publishers. This is the same as what Seth said about shooting: you can’t hit without having misses. And to be realistic, you will have more misses than hits. And after you hit the target, what you do? Well, you can put down your hands and say “I did it” and call it a day; or most likely you will keep shooting, keep missing, until you hit again.

I gave up believing in the myth of a Writer’s block after listening to the episode of Akimbo podcast (episode 4) where Seth debunked it. To me, the reason that I used to think I had a block in my creative process is kinda universal: perfectionism. Perfectionism comes from an ego that’s bigger than it’s healthy to be: “I have to come up with something good to say, something brilliant to draw, to put in front of others. Because I am good. And everybody should know that from whatever I produce now.” Because we were lured to believe that all artists should be egocentric who create the work of their lives that must inspire generations? Maybe. But again, they are the hits and not the misses.

It’s interesting to me that there’s no term equivalent to “writer’s block” in Chinese. “Block” indicates that one can “unblock” it. In Chinese, the words to describe a writer who cannot write is like: the thoughts/idea of well has been drained (like a dry well in the desert, it’s dead); and an artist who cannot create anymore: “talent being used up, drained up. One becomes empty and career in art comes to the end.” If you can’t create anymore, it’s final. Gosh are the Chinese super harsh with their creative minds…
One of the most intellectuals in modern Chinese history, Liang Shiqiu, wrote about “writer’s block”:  lack of imagination, slow association, unclear analysis, and lack of vocabulary&expression are the four main reasons of getting a block in your creative practice. The way to unblock? Read well and read more. To ensure one’s never blocked again, and doing better work with time: Read, analyse, write, edit. Repeat.

Are you a dried up well? Or can you keep reading, analysing, writing, and editing, to unblock your creative stream?