have you ever seen a grown man?

Salar De Uyuni In The Rainy Season

04 Feb 2010, Bolivia  — Image by © Kazuyoshi Nomachi/Corbis

I’m taking a break from all the travelogues to finally write a thought piece. It’s been a while, and I’ve forgotten how much I enjoyed writing in this space. This has served both as a dumping ground for all kinds of thoughts and yet, paradoxically also a curation of who I am. Leaving this space to rot will give very little for future-me to reflect on.

I’ve been in a naturally reflective state recently, given the stage of life I’m transitioning through. I’m graduating out of college, and while I’ve always believed I came in here at a different stage from my class (given my experience with the military and running a company), I still find myself grateful for the maturity these 3 years have granted me. I find myself thankful for the friends I’ve made – I’ve never wanted to stay in touch with people more than with these souls who I’ve had the privilege to encounter. I pause at moments to breathe and appreciate the range of opportunities I’ve been granted – from governing over a council of fraternities to producing a musical to signing a big name artist for a festival to running a research project at one of the world’s best museums. I struggle with the difficult lessons I’ve learned and I contemplate daily how to apply myself to advance social justice, community building, and leadership development both in my daily life and the various contexts I’ve become embedded in. The worlds I have to straddle become discrete yet overlap and I feel challenged yet empowered to care about all of them. I think frequently about Singapore, my home, but I also care about Evanston, the US, the world I belong to and to which my friends around the globe live in.

It makes me wonder how college is supposed to serve the individual. Yes, the primary purpose is the education. My Computer Science degree will serve me will in the future, both as a bolster for any career choices I make and a foundation to understand the world as it evolves.  But this environment has been rich in its experiences. I came to the US with an objective of transplanting myself away from Singapore – not because I disliked my home but because I loved it so and needed space to understand it from afar. Contrast and juxtaposition increase awareness of what makes us unique. Northwestern has provided me that platform to explore my passions and goals in a setting that is relatively free of expectations. I don’t have to fit a preconceived notion of a college student in the US – I can be whoever I want. Success belongs to those who find excellence in whatever form. It’s starkly different from Singapore, where as a country we struggle to appreciate the humanity of our society. We think in numbers, laws, and achievements – not in values that connect us. Because where the former keeps us safe and moving, the latter keeps us alive and excited for life. The joy of life is in our ability to choose our own struggles to earn the rewards that matter – not in inheriting struggles imposed by social hierarchy, hyper-legalism, and history and finding ways to accommodate our existence.  Our children must find meaning in their day, they must see themselves molding society. That shining sense of opportunity has to surpass the ‘needs of the economy’. The economy grows because of our ambition. Our ambitions should never be limited by the decisions of society.

College built my hope in change. I’m notoriously known for my optimism and it’s exacerbated by my youth. When I was running The Hidden Good, I remember the countless number of not only older people but also my peers feeling the need to provide a ceiling to my goals or a signpost back to their idea of reality. I’ve always been fearful that perhaps I do live in my own head too much – that perhaps my hope for society can only manifest itself in the smallest of doses. But college has given me the platform to shape my own future, not because it’s a magic bubble, but because if you look deeper it has similar levels of unfairness, inequality, and injustice. Yes, the progressive slant of Northwestern is enabling, but reality is encountered quickly when you push for anything more than a statement or declaration. Action requires getting down in the mud, and I’ve focussed my time away from the surface level politics and in the work of understanding and empowering change. The successes have given me momentum but the failures have only riled me up more to recalibrate and go again.

There’s so much more I could probably write about. From the thoughts on traveling as a student to the consistent effort to diversify my circles, but I think I’ve run out of mind-fuel. This post will continue to serve as my reminder of my optimism, just as my posts from the last 10 years have been equally charged with positive energy and the journey to improve the communities I’m a part of. I’m excited because I’ll be graduating college excited about possibility.

The world is a jungle and I’m excited to explore it.

hooah.

 

 

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and then I said no.

I’m marking today as a milestone in my life. I’ve begun my first steps of saying no ; of choosing what is important over what is necessarily visible. Strangely, I’m feeling displaced , as if a rock has been placed in my gut and I don’t know what to do about it. All I can do is think about it, appreciate my new place and somehow get used to this discomfort. It’s refreshing – being displaced. Today, I made the decision to not run for leadership in my chapter.

Giving some context, I joined Lambda Chi under a contract to myself to commit to improving the state of affairs in the chapter. What is a great brotherhood, lacked the momentum to inspire initiative and project its true self on a community that was obsessed with image. As the Vice-President, over the past year, I overhauled frameworks and planted seeds for a culture of self-motivated external involvement. But my proudest take-away from the position was when I was tired of doing well and wanted to empower others to do better. The game had become easy – it was as if I was an advanced character playing on beginner mode. That’s nothing to say of my own absolute ability – there’s so much I have to gain in experience – but I also came from two significant leadership experiences ; leading in the army and running my own private company. I realized quickly the challenge then was to captivate the chapter to adopt my vision and make it their own by finding meaning in it.  One year later, and I’m incredibly satisfied with the distance we have come as brothers and the vastly different perspective and energy we have for things. There were leaders within the chapter now – voices that mattered. I was no longer the shining tip  – I was part of a bigger foundation for the future.

Joining IFC was my way of playing on ‘very difficult’ level. The issues I’m faced to confront are so much more complex and dynamic ; and ever so scary. Mental health, inclusion, sexual assault, wellness are all topics that are so embedded into college environments and yet perpetuated in echoes throughout society. There’s so much I have to deal with just by tapping on the string that unravels into a mess of related issues and personal lives. But there also lies the opportunity to heal brokenness and potentially transform the future. I know I frequently talk in big ideals and visions, but here I see myself possibly dealing with my biggest challenge ever. And I’m excited.

We went on a retreat this past weekend to have a first touch on our leadership councils and see what we want to plan for in the year ahead. Amongst many other things, the displacement originated from a realization that the scope of my job was very real in its effects. If I did my job well, I could do the same I did for Lambda Chi – I could build a culture that perpetuates itself. I traveled back to my chapter, thinking about the election that was to happen that day. I had expressed intention in the months before of running for the first Vice-President role – a role I wanted to transform in a similar way to how I had transformed the second Vice-President role. The chapter seemed favorable to the idea and I simply had to run to prove myself. Regardless of whether I won, the decision to run itself started to become difficult for me.

I had to choose between two roles that demanded so much from me and it tore me that I cared so much about each community. The decision came finally in the comfort of my brothers, who above all else, reminded me that I had pioneered such a self-starter culture that there was a new brand of leaders emerging in the chapter. One of my mentors once told me ‘The best type of organizational leaders are the ones who empower others such that they are useless by the time they leave’ . I finally realized I was experiencing some semblance of that. I could finally say no, no because it was important that I let this culture perpetuate itself, but also because I needed to see to the bigger task at hand in my new role.

It’s here that I’m displaced. I grew up fighting for roles that allowed me to transform my environments and make them better. Yet, here I am , realizing the success comes in my saying no. In saying that I should not be involved this way – still involved, but in less prominent ways. And if this is the trend, then I’m truly growing up. I’m truly moving into my senior year and making something out of both my youth , and out of my college experience. I’m inspired, and I’m ecstatic, because the final lap is ahead, and oh boy, they’re always so sweet.

As I type these final words, the displacement is starting to sweep away. I’m starting to understand how powerful leadership can be, and how I’m still learning. The world has so much more to beat into me, the stubborn idiot that I am, but every lesson is a ballad in itself.

It’s good to be alive.

hooah.

 

The Thing about Decency

Disclaimer : This is a personal post, and in no way represents the views of Mayfest or the University.

Honour and pride is easily expected when you work in a public environment, but perhaps more likely forecasted are vitriol and criticism. I took some time today to detach myself emotionally from Mayfest, the group that organises Dillo Day and to critically evaluate whether anything done over the past few months was lacking or substandard. I’ve dedicated myself to be effective and that meant not letting bias cloud judgement. I love the people in Mayfest and all that it’s done for me, but I needed to be objective. My conclusion is that the hate is still undeserved for various reasons. This will be a lengthy post, but indulge me. Let me present what I believe to be facts.

Let’s start with the topic of hiring a proper production house to produce Mayfest. I understand this inclination completely. It could feel so much more reassuring to know that we had paid a premium of around $80-$150K to an organisation , and trust that they would have better protocol and judgement than a bunch of ‘incompetent students’. I have Two Counterpoints to this. 1) Mayfest is made of Northwestern Students. As much as so much of the festival leadup and the peripherals of the day of is dismissed as trivial compared to the actual concert, they are truthfully some of the biggest forces bringing students together on this campus. On a school criticised by its own students for not having more events that achieve these effects, the only people who could truly understand and be intimate with the students to develop a festival catered for students are the students themselves. No matter what, I would not trust a production house to produce a concert for Northwestern students. Perhaps a generic one, but then what’s the culture in that? Say what you want, but there’s something to be proud of when our own school can produce a concert. It’s unfair to only sing praises when the sun is shining. 2) Cost. More money goes to the production house, less money goes to the artists. Raise the student activity fee, and cause more students to doubt their ability to continue their education.It’s humbling to remember any raise in costs affects someone; there’s always someone at the margin.

Onto the topic of contingency. The most frequent slam on Mayfest is that the organisation is inadequate for planning ahead in case of inclement weather. The conversation is then steered to target the fact that Mayfest did not book any wet-weather area a year ahead , knowing that weather will be bad this season. Welsh-Ryan was booked for a high school graduation. Planning for Dillo begins once the Exec is formed, which is normally only after the previous year’s Dillo. Knowing the inner workings of Mayfest to a relative level, I can attest to the fact that members aren’t trivial in dealing with contingency. Think of yourself – do you see yourself forecasting problems with weather? Members in Mayfest have been in it for up to 4 years – weather is one of the most pertinent discussions. If you could believe that someone who goes to the same school as you and therefore is of the same intelligence range as you, has undergone 4 years of experience, and cares about Dillo despite  the unrewarded work gone into it, would not make all efforts to provide contingency for wet weather, then I suggest developing a stronger sense of empathy. There  was no location that could be booked in time, that made sense and fitted the recruitments of scale of production, and so Mayfest rolled with the cards they were dealt and went on to make the best of what they were given. Rain or Shine , the concert goes on. When did strong winds pop out on the weather forecast? Literally Friday evening. Wind was a whole ‘nother level of hazard that students or artists shouldn’t be put through – it could cause the structure to fall apart potentially based on their safety descriptions.  Just postpone it?  The weather was forecasted to get worse, which it  did, and artists were time-sensitive. The call had to be to cancel it, unfortunate , terribly unfortunate, but necessary. Were people in Mayfest nonchalantly excited to cancel the concert they had spent a majority of their year planning?  It doesn’t really matter. The Fire Department made the call. Mayfest stood behind it because it was the right thing to do, and it takes courage to do the right thing in light of unpopular response.

Wristband refunds.  I went through the ticket policies of Lolla, Tomorrowland, Coachella and a few others. All had explicitly stated they didn’t refund for tickets no matter what. Norris Box Office stated the same terms and conditions – standard protocols. Sure, discretion could be exercised to provide refunds if Mayfest was to blame for the cancellation. Yet, this was clearly out of the hands of Mayfest.  Near full costs had probably been excised , and there was no financial capacity to afford a refund – they were mostly returned to SAFC, and not into Mayfest’s budget.

Finally, probably the most trivial of all complaints. That Mayfest didn’t publicise the free show that occured the very night of Dillo Day. Firstly, it wasn’t a rational move to publicise a 21+  event that excluded a majority of students – that wasn’t what  Mayfest was meant for. Second, only around 8 out of the 75+ members in Mayfest went to the  concert, inciting criticism that this was therefore an exclusive Mayfest event. Yes Mayfest people went to the event, because they too are humans and therefore capable of  beings fans of the artists. There were around 40-50 other Northwestern students present at the event, who by being true fans  of Miguel and A$AP Ferg had followed their socials and went to catch the free show. Perhaps this is where I allow myself to be a bit more subjective and state that I find it difficult to comprehend how after a month of complaining about the line-up, people can get riled up that the same artists had produced a show out of the context of Dillo Day, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of Mayfest. Do it out of courtesy? Refer to point #1. We love this school, but we don’t want to encourage anything that could divide the school rather than bring it together.

I’m clearly affected by the past day and so. I spent 2 years in Singapore trying to fight negativity and encourage empathy, solidarity and an effort to understand before judgement. Sure, criticism is due where it’s necessary. But seek to find information before criticising. Ask appropriate questions, targeted at clarifying rather than accusing. These were principles a whole country decided was necessary for its progress, and it’s disappointing to be honest, to see that those are principles that need to be spread on this campus to. I read a speech referred to me called This is Water. It’s a fantastic speech but this quote got me good –

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.
It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Mayfest is sorry. People cried in the tent. Are they sorry because it’s their fault? I doubt it. They’re sorry because they too wanted to be part  of the experience that everyone describes as the best day of the year. They too were deprived of that opportunity, and although as shown above, they weren’t the reason behind the disappointment of cancellation, they (and now I shall start saying we) felt responsible. We too are Northwestern.

Members of Mayfest were spat on, members of Mayfest were heckled at and shouted at. Members were called ugly names and then their public details publicised online. I was told not to fight back , and I’m not going to. Instead I am going to encourage those who are reading this, who agree with me that civility and decency is something that we must truly hold on to, lest we regress, to be loud about the decision to fight negativity in this school. Fight untruths, fight discord. Because this world is a hateful place already, and if we as the future choose to carry that trait, then we decide the society we inherit. We can build a better society, regardless of it’s with regards to Mayfest or any other organisation in this campus  that aims to give back.

Do more good, do less evil.

I will always continue believing we can do better.

Once again, this is my opinion and mine alone.

geronimo.

dillo day;3000 friends;an epic turn of events

In my unusually involved life, I am rarely bored. But these past few weekends, and the weekend to come has and will be extravagantly exciting for me. Tomorrow is Dillo Day. The Day Northwestern becomes a State School; the Day where we become a community again; the Day where this school realises how fortunate they are . Joining Mayfest in the Fall was initially a dip into a pool I never expected to eventually delve so deep. There was so much to learn, so much to do, and such a great community of people to be around.

I am consistently excited by the level of skill and talent brought to Dillo Day by the people organising it, and even more thrilled by the fact that this festival is truly truly put together by the students. There’s very little work outsourced, and that makes Mayfest and the month of May such a joy. As is my philosophy, I put myself out there. I made friends, committed to tasks out of my purview to learn and indulge in the background of the festivities, and got dealt a dish so sweet I couldn’t stop digging in.

Today we had our pre-production, where as a crew we had to help set up everything. I was appointed the KeyMaster, a role extremely involved for a newcomer but so very intimate with the movements of the festival. I had earned the trust of the people around me, but more importantly I was able to do something meaningful for this event. I was able to be of value, and I was a wildcard – probably one of the few, if not only , international students on the board. Then again, I never allowed my background to disrupt who I am and what I am to offer , and I’m happy it was the case here again.

Tomorrow is going to be a rollercoaster. But as with every ride, you walk up wanting to get back again, and feel the ups and downs. I’m glad I made the friends I made here – some of my favorite people on campus are in Mayfest now, and I’m fortunate to meet the likes of them.

I hit 3000 friends on Facebook yesterday. I know only because Facebook sent me a notification, and I almost wanted to do a Facebook cleaning to remove the friends who were simply ‘fake’ friend requests. I went through my list and then realised I couldn’t find many people who I  didn’t actually know and have memories with. It’s an interesting moment then to realise you’ve truly reached a point in life, at such a young age, where you have a widespread network of friends and companions around the world, in almost every continent.

I value my friends and networks a lot. One could even say, it’s been one of my key strengths – relating to people. There’s just so much to add to one’s life by understanding someone else’s – no matter their background or ability. Their stories inspire your stories, and you share in the knowledge that life has a common message for everyone – You are breathing now, so live.

To the people that have made my days and nights spectacular – thank you.

After this quarter, I’m finally ready to start making moves on the Big Idea. I’ve decided to spend as much time in Summer upgrading myself again, and learning new skills and building new relations.  Something epic will come soon. I promise.

stay excited everyone.

geronimo.

rovik.

the story of icarus

“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”

―    Oscar Wilde

I knew this was coming at some point, but I was completely unprepared for it. I completely burned out this weekend. I went out with my friends for a birthday celebration at the club, and ended up losing my phone, getting completely sick and losing all momentum I had so preciously gained over the past few months.

Humility is a powerful hammer, smashing down fast and hard, such that the very notion of glory was but a memory. It’s an interesting past few months, maybe past few years. I’ve said this many times, I’m on a good trajectory and have always been happy with the way things were going.

But I’m an egotistical animal. Hubris slumbers in me and when it is fed it starts to growl louder to come out. I had thought I had learnt to tame it, letting myself humblebrag, or give presentations – all with the intent of using the ego to at least benefit something external without putting myself up for failure.

As someone driven to solve problems and make power-moves, ego is a natural composite of my character. Hubris was tamed, and I was learning to grow without letting my ego overwhelm me. In the past few weeks though, that went out  of control. I went too hard, too fast. I accelerated through many hurdles, knocked down milestones successfully and was making incredible gains in various aspects of my life. I felt nearly supernatural. Nearly.

It took one night of crossing the line, to remind myself I live within physical constraints. It reminded me that I have to keep myself in check, and to listen to my friends when they tell me to.

I read a quote about humility once.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

I liked that a lot. I was once and always a problem-solver. I wanted to solve problems and create beautiful things. I didn’t stray too far , but I definitely wasn’t going in the right direction for a while. I became so involved in indulging in this new setting, that I forgot to think more about the societies I cared about  so much.

I’m glad humility took me down a notch. Humility doesn’t make you subservient – it merely reminds you of your relation to the rest of the world. I had taken too many steps ahead of my pace.

I recovered quickly, tapping into reserves and recoveries the smarter younger me had prepared, and got back to the grind. I’m back with momentum, and fighting strong.

Icarus flew way too close to the sun, and lost his life.

There’s still way too much I want to do before I die.

Don’t even bother.

Life is a long lesson in humility.
– James Barrie

geronimo.

Rovik

death on campus

“I never realised how blue those sirens were” Tony said, looking at Jimmy.

“Yeah, I never thought I’d see the day when someone actually pressed one of those buttons. I mean I was actually curious but this kind of sucks.” Jimmy replied.

“Yeah, whoever did this is a sick bastard. I mean look at the way his body is placed. It’s almost like the headless horseman, you know with his head under his arms and all” Tony said, still slurping out of his Starbucks frappucino.

“I get it. You don’t have to be so damn descriptive, I’m seeing what you’re seeing.”  Jimmy remarked, and turned his head away from the body.

“Do we still need to call the police? The siren should have settled it right?” Tony asked.

“Ya, I think we’re good. I need to catch up on my Hearthstone anyway. ”

As the pair walked away, they saw out of the corner of their eyes police cars pulling up on the side of the residence hall.

“We should really get out of here. I don’t want to waste time being questioned”

The boys ran off , just as the police stepped out.

“God, a murder. That’s a first. ” one of the cops said, walking over to the body.

“And a gruesome one at that. He chopped off his damn head.” another pointed out.

“Thanks Captain Obvious. Lucky us , getting this on our shift. Think of the amount of paperwork we have to do now. Who is this fucking kid anyway?” the first cop said, squatting and turning digging into the boy’s wallet.

The second cop went over to turn off the siren. “This camera should be able to tell us who did it too. Let me get the footage for this . Our killer obviously didn’t think through this too much.”

“Fuck” the first cop shouted.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“This fucktard doesn’t go here. He’s a DePaul kid. ”

“Ah fuck us. This is going to make things so much more difficult for us.”

“Fuck.”

The cops stood up and stared at the body for a while longer.

“Alright, I’ll call the Evanston PD. You’ll get on the camera footage then?”

“Ya I’ll do that.” he said

The cops cordoned off the area and started making the necessary arrangements. The usual procedures occurred – the media swooped in, crowds started forming around the body, and people started sending Snapchats to their friends.

Campus the next day was rife with all kinds of gossip and smalltalk. Yik Yak had people exaggerating every detail. Perhaps the most interesting turn of events was at 2 in the afternoon , when a definitive Yak was posted.

Don’t get too comfortable Wildcats – it’s just the start . – True Wildcat.

It didn’t take too long for all kinds of responses to accumulate.

“This could be a poser” someone had replied.

“If you’re the killer, please know we can still help you. Just turn yourself in” another said.

The President sent an email out within the hour promising to find the killer and encouraging students to be safe. “Be careful, but keep going to classes” was the abridged version of the email.

Everyone was talking about what had just happened, except for Will. Will, built short and stubby with a hairstyle that was a bad attempt at Justin Bieber’s early days, had been sitting in his room the whole afternoon. He had brushed his teeth and eaten an apple before, but other than that , all Will had done was sit on his bed and twiddle his thumbs.

He had paused the twiddling of his thumbs every once in a while, to observe a very particular item. “It’ll still be there , why am I so scared?” he said calming himself down.

Finally, he walked over and picked the item up. “I’ll throw this into the lake” he said. “Away from Chicago, because the police are probably expecting something to be thrown.”

He looked at the butcher’s chopper in his hands.

“I’m sorry buddy.” he said, and kissed the chopper.

“I’m just glad Brian had to die.”

—-To be Continued—

geronimo.

 

 

feel the burn

When I was 14, my class tutor wrote in his comments of me in my report book:  “Wherever Rovik goes, people will definitely feel the wake of his crossing” . Looking back , at 14 , I hadn’t made as many big decisions as I was making right now. Yet, someone had seen something in me.

That phrase stuck in my head ever since. It didn’t bloat my ego as much as it made me think whether I was limiting myself by thinking small. I increased my appetite slowly over time and now I am here, hungry for so much more.

It starts as a slow burn , a determination that builds on itself. One day, it explodes and you’re a burning entity , bright and ferocious. I used to think that this was one of my strongest qualities, and it probably still is. But I’m starting to feel the side-effects.

The problem with burning is that the fire within is the strongest. The flames on the outside may be the brightest but it’s the core temperature right at the center of the flame that is at its peak. It has to be, because that is where most of the flame’s luster is derived from. In the same way, my soul has to be where most of my energy comes from. Yet, no human person is able to handle the slow burn of the flame core for too long. Like anything that burns, it slowly reduces till there’s nothing left.

Do I feel tired every night? Perhaps,  but I feel a lot more satisfied with my life. Exhausted? More than I’d like to be. But always , always in the full bliss of life.

I feel like a race-car , speeding through life. People say “Slow down and smell the roses” – I say “I’m smelling 10 roses a second”. A part of me worries that if I slow down, I have to face the burden of the journey I’ve made. Everything comes at a cost, and I’ve been paying off these costs by leveraging them for more returns. When I finally do stop though (or perhaps the bigger question is Will I ever stop) , I’ll have to face it.

I’ll have to face that people have let me down, and I’ve let others down. I’ll have to face that I’ve not been a completely good person and fell so many times. I’ll have to face that my journey may not achieve my life’s only ambition – to tell the best possible story.

But rather than worry about these problems, I simply try to be aware of them. I simply try to feed my soul, keeping it robust and healthy ; ready to keep on burning and rejuvenating the flame. I chose this life – I chose to drive the front seat of life rather sit in the passenger seat. I will not be knocked down , I will prevail.

because this life is all about the decisions you make and the choices you take. and i’m not going to let regret be on the list of things i achieve with my life

geronimo.

 

If something burns your soul with purpose and desire, it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it. Any other form of existence will be yet another dull book in the library of life.” – Charles Bukowski