Spacey: A Blessing and a Curse

"Spacey. It's a word I use as more of a code really, to describe a deeper psychological phenomenon that has really affected me these past couple of years: dissociation."

It's Voyage Night and I start off my (more than) 3 minute presentation about Tanzania with a word that's starting to enter my daily vocabulary. 

spacey, spaced out, spacehead. ground control to major tom.

Dissociation is a key symptom of depersonalization and derealization disorder. Essentially people with these conditions feel out of touch with themselves and their surroundings. Their body does not feel like their own. The world around them feels dull, numb and hazy. In Tanzania, I sometimes spent hours, wide awake at night, staring at the light outside my bedroom window because I thought it was too bright, I couldn't believe that it was real. 

Being spacey isn't fun. It makes being in the moment really hard, even when I know the moment is amazing and awe-inspiring, I just can't enjoy it as much as I want to. Tanzania was essentially a struggle against by own brain, a fight against my instinct to live life with my guard up and detach myself from everything -- painful or otherwise. Trying to be present and experience joy is a lot like catching raindrops; most of the moments will slip through your fingers, but if you don't hold your hands out then you'll never catch anything, never feel anything at all. 

I wonder -- if nobody is listening to my voice, am I making any sound at all?

Transitioning from Tanzania to San Francisco happened in such a quick blur. Travelling long distances alone makes the spaciness worse, and after a week in I still wake up unsure of where I am. Being jetlagged and being plunged into the demands of Launch did nothing but make me dissociate even more. 

It's unnerving, how much being in the UnCollege space reminded me of being in school -- something that isn't an entirely pleasant memory for me. Even after "running away" from Singapore and the anxieties it wrung out of me, I'm still being haunted by the worst of my neuroses. I couldn't concentrate fully during workshops. I took notes mechanically only to read them and realize I have no idea what they really mean. 

What's holding me back? A fear of commitment that opens me up to the possibility of failure? Or is the spaciness a preemptive move to make sure I don't psych myself out and wind myself up to have yet another panic attack?

I've learned to slam on the brakes, before I even turn the key. Before I make the mistake. Before I lead with the worst of me.

Or -- and this is a frightening realization to have -- maybe I'm okay. Maybe being spacey can be as much as a blessing as it is a curse.

In my first coaching session with Jon, my UnCollege mentor, we delved into what happened to me in Singapore and how in order to "survive" I went into what I like call autopilot mode. Yes, I was very unhappy but I also had the foresight to realize that since there was very little I could've done about my situation (except leave Singapore, which I eventually did but that's another issue entirely) it would be detrimental for me to not do what was expected of me -- study hard and get good grades. So I got to work. Tuned out and pushed aside those negative feelings for long periods of time, long enough to get shit done and that surprisingly worked. Jon pointed out that this work ethic, this ability to power through is a very powerful tool to have. 

If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

While I am grateful that Singapore has taught me the value of hard work, a great work ethic and perseverance, I left because I knew that to get the most out of life you need more than a hammer. In a weird way, I gained that Get Shit Done mentality because I started being spacey. Detaching myself from my deep sense of unhappiness to be functional helped out in a lot of ways.

There's another case that happened this past week where I realized spaciness can be useful. One of the things I want to get into while I'm here in San Francisco for Launch is poetry, more specifically spoken word poetry. I was researching poetry nights when a friend of mine who lives in the same building shared this event he was hosting on Wednesday and it happened to be a poetry night. It was a last minute decision to go, because I had a long day of workshops and goal completing and I wasn't sure if I even had the energy to fully be there. But despite my residual jetlagged fatigue and spaciness, I went to the Poetry Night which was in this quaint little cafe called The Laundry.

I was very adamant at first that I was going to just sit back and soak in as much poetry as I could, but eventually the sign-up sheet fell into my hands and I said, Fuck it. I'm doing this. I signed my name and frantically searched my blog for an old poem to read (I ended up reading Elephant in the Room).

I wouldn't have said, Fuck it, if I wasn't spacey. Being spacey allowed me to ignore all the red flags that popped up in my head telling me, this is bad idea, you will crash and burn and fail miserably. While easily being able to say fuck it is not always the best approach to making decisions (see: leaving Singapore and dropping out of college), in this case it paid off. I went up to that mic, read my poem and got an amazing and encouraging response from the audience. The high I got from the adrenaline rush lasted well into the night. 

Launch has been a crazy experience so far. On one hand, I am excited to go for it, say Fuck it and learn as much as possible. On the other hand, I also feel like I need to relearn how to be alone and comfortable in the grind, especially since I have a lot of unprocessed feelings about Tanzania and just what's been going on in my life (and brain) in general.

If anything, I've come to embrace the spaciness. It's a curse when it prevents me from being in the moment and deriving joy from the things that should make me feel excited, but it can be a blessing too, a force that can Launch (haha get it) me further and higher. Space isn't that bad anyway. Sure it can make you feel insignificantly small. But that's where are all the stars. And honestly, it's the only place I want to be. 

'Till next time.

--Karin Novelia, launching herself into a new frontier.


Life update: I've decided to drop out of college. Technically I'm on college leave and am free to go back whenever I wish (which is a comforting safety net in a way. Would've saved me a lot of angst if I knew early on that this was a thing). But you and I both know that I'm not planning on going back there anytime soon. Definitely not voluntarily. Begrudgingly, perhaps.

Instead I've enrolled in this gap year program called UnCollege. There are 3 phases to the program: Voyage, where you pick a destination abroad to volunteer and explore outside of your comfort zone; Launch, which is basically a self-directed curriculum where you get to decide what you want to do and what skills you want to develop, coupled with general workshops in San Francisco; finally Internship, which is pretty much all on you to see where you can put your foot in the door. The great thing about UnCollege is the coaching and mentoring they offer their fellows.

Which is why I am currently in Tanzania (it's in East Africa in case you needed to Google it) for Voyage phase. I'm volunteering at this local daycare center, teaching kids and playing with them five days a week. And I know what you're thinking. Wow, you're in Africa? That's so cool, you must be having such a crazy experience.

In a way I am. Or at least was, for the first week or so. I have a gorgeous view of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest summit in Africa, right outside my bedroom window. I can even see the snow on top of its peak. I took a day trip to these hot springs about 90 mins out of town and it was beautiful, even more so since it's like an oasis in the middle of a dry and dusty desert. I've even been social enough to go out to bars and nightclubs and voluntarily make an ass out of myself by doing karaoke (basically sober).

But there's nothing new under the sun. Novelty doesn't last.

And here is where I get into my one of my neuroses: I call it being pathologically bored. Maybe it's because I've literally moved 4 times in the past 3 years. Those moves haven't just been to different cities, they've been to different countries and have been done at an increasingly alarming accelerated pace. The longest place I've lived in was the Philippines for 9 years and I was a baby for 3 of them. Indonesia for 6 years. Singapore for nearly 3. Boston for a year. Florida for a semester. And now here I am in Tanzania for a scheduled 10 weeks. San Francisco for 10 weeks too, no more. After that who knows?

And I travel a lot with my family. Just this past winter, we went to Korea for a week and a half then I met up with the CJ gang in Bali for another week. Two weeks later I left for Tanzania. I'm used to this, used to motion. Used to not staying in one place too long to realize I'm bored once I run out of distractions. But the constant acceleration I've found myself in has shortened that time frame. I'd be lucky if I didn't feel bored after a few days, let alone a week.

The strangest thing is that I am a creature of habit. Routine makes me feel secure and productive. But it also makes me feel... safe. It give me a false sense of security. Because I've navigated through all the novelty and carved out a space for myself in this foreign place, my next instinct is to blur out my surroundings entirely. Part of it is so I can function. Part of it is also, sadly, so I can convince myself that my surroundings have no bearing on how I'm feeling or how productive I'm going to be. I put myself in a bubble, essentially, and pray that it doesn't pop.

Life in Tanzania is also very slow. I'm very much used to being busy, having school keep me busy. Even if I was on school break, I would try to keep myself busy and be as productive as possible. I think I've developed this inability to really relax and take a break. So now, with so much free time on my hands and few options around to occupy me (other than shooting the breeze at the bar or something) I am inevitably the last thing I want to be -- bored.

Let's face it, reader -- life is nothing but a steaming pile of mediocrity. Not that there's anything wrong with mediocre, per se. It's just that for the most part we seem to avoid being honest about it at all costs. Nobody likes admitting that things are okay. Not bad, but not great either. Just okay. But okay doesn't fly in the world of forced positivity. So we play things up, tie everything with a pretty little bow and make things sound better than they are to our friends and family and distant relatives. Everything is... spin.

People like to say life isn't a competition, but it's hard not to feel like it is. It's hard not to feel like your life pales in comparison to everyone else's, especially when all you see are the selectively displayed moments on social media. And on the other hand, when it's your social media account, it becomes very easy to be selective, to tease out those picture perfect moments, slap a filter on them, write an apt caption and tell everyone who sees it, "Look at this cool thing I saw/did today. Isn't my life amazing?"

Even when you take social media out of the equation, having conversations with people about what's going on with their lives feels like a passive-aggressive one-upping show that makes you want to withdraw and leaves you with empty small talk when you can't -- and don't want to -- pretend that everything is better than it actual is. It's inauthentic. It's exhausting.

Disclaimer: this is probably just me. This is how I see things and it's probably a hyperbolic reading of it because I'm a bit low right now. Even when trying to 'get real' and honest, I can't help but put a spin on things. Perhaps that's the main skill a writer employs in their trade. We spin stories. Even when they're supposed to be grounded in reality, like when writing a memoir or a personal essay, the objective truth is marred by our creative liberties, our strokes of 'truthy-ness' and flawed memories.

Maybe I've also lost the inherent ability to feel things, to enjoy them. To look at something, even though it seems familiar and not 100% novel, and feel my heart burst with excitement and emotion. Odd thing is, when I write back on those experiences I do manage to make my experiences sound like something great and moving. It's similar to living vicariously (something I am a master of with my TV shows and comics and movies and Youtube). Except I'm living in retrospect, vicariously experiencing life through the lens of my past self. But never in the moment, no. It's so hard to be in the moment, especially when the moment feels like nothing but motion. 

It's the end of my third week here, surprisingly. Time here seems to pass by excruciatingly slow. I can't wait to get to Launch and start building something, something that I can call mine. Maybe even something to leave as my legacy, something to outlive me. Something solid and concrete and... permanent. Something that serves as the foundation of my identity through which I can operate on. Because right now, I'm drifting, I'm fleeting, I'm... lost.

And God knows I hate being bored.

--Karin Novelia, trying not to pull a Sherlock.

Buds: A Poem about Flowers

(I wrote this for a Writing the Environment class and I think it turned out better than expected)


It starts small, like most things,
A seed within the ground
That germinates and pushes through
Bursting with life silently, without a sound

The world was once without flowers
Nothing but shades of muted brown and green
Until they added a splash of deep, vibrant hues
Every budding painter's kaleidoscope dream

In Darwin's evolutionary game
Plants in their still brilliance, chose wisely

Choosing colors and sweet scents not meant for me
But I take pleasure in them anyway

In survival of the fittest, flowers
Survive in the quietest of ways
They ask for very little, but give freely
As much as a bee wants for the rest of its days

I, too, like a busy bee, flit from bud to bud
Drink in every curve of every whorl
Peering closely with a magnified lens
As they sway in the breeze or slowly unfurl

Flowers are the Earth's dancers
Revealing their grace slowly but surely

Dancing on stage with the curtains closed
Moving and twirling for no one's sake but their own

I try to pull the curtains back, take a peek
And each little species in its little way can teach me
The things I've been unknowingly missing
But can savor whenever I want to slow down and see

Flowers that hold a certain type of magic
Roots, stems and leaves dance and call rain
Even we wilted, we seldom call them tragic
Yet we wonder if they feel any pain

They do a great job of easing of mine, my troubled mind
In these unassuming buds, I can always find a friend


Hey there reader.

I know I haven't written on this blog for awhile, but with everything that's happened this past week (it's only been less than a week really) I am having trouble processing a lot of thoughts and emotions. I believe in talk therapy and how just talking about your feelings can really help. Though lately, not just in the past few days but perhaps even the past few years, I am struggling with that idea. Like I used to crave being able to talk about things, but now even though I have found people I feel like I can talk to about these struggles that I'm having, talking doesn't seem to help.

And that's mainly because, I can't really talk properly with all the feelings of sadness, anger, grief just making it even hard to breathe. The words are not coming out right and it just leaves me feeling drained, not relieved.

So in an effort to find some level of catharsis, I naturally gravitated to this blog and to writing because, even though I don't write as often as I would like, this blog used to be such a greatly therapeutic place for me to write and process my thoughts and feelings. Just writing this post, which is only a prelude to the enormous volume of things I have to say, I making me feel better.

Just to keep everything organized, here is a list of things that I will purposely take some time to write about, perhaps in separate posts, and in no particular order:

1. Bo Burnham's Make Happy. I saw this Friday night, the day before the weekend of the shootings happened and hit me. It's something I want to fangirl about, but I feel like it's not appropriate right now for me to do that. But I feel like having everything happen right after I watched Make Happy kind of added to all the complicated feelings and reactions I had, because it is a very wonderful comedy special, that is so deep and so meaningful that it really made me question a lot of things, including things that the shootings made me realize and feel and think about.

2. Christina Grimmie's shooting. Christina Grimmie was an amazing musician who posted videos of her singing and doing covers on Youtube where she gained a considerable amount of recognition for. Hearing this news was very personal, not just because I was a huge fan of Grimmie and felt her death was so senseless and unnecessary and even avoidable but also because of my connection to Youtube and the Youtube community and culture right now is so strong, it felt like a symbolic attack on something that I loved and just injected so much fear and sadness into the community. Not only did I have to grieve personally, I had to grieve with the community.

3. The Orlando shooting that happened just the day after the news of Christina's death. I was still very affected and raw from Grimmie's death and when I first heard about the news I threw my hands up in the air and was like, nope. I can't deal with this right now. At first I didn't not realize that it was a gay nightclub that was targeted and when I did read up about it and saw that, it broke my heart. Because not only did this attack happen to a group of people I again feel such a strong connection too, the LGBT+ community, the media and even politicians were reacting and framing it in a way that was far from the point, overlooked the whole idea that it was first and foremost, a hate crime. And that kind of erasure just made me not just sad, but so so mad.

4. Me grappling with the fact that I am so affected by all of these things, which happened all at the same time and sort of build on my feelings of each individual thing, and not understand why. Why am I so affected by this, why am I so sad, why am I crying so much? I fully realize that everyone is allowed to deal with things and grieve in your own way, but personally I feel like I'm perhaps being too sad and grieving too much without proper reason, or rather for reasons that are misguided. Also my whole 'wannabe American' complex which I was realizing and thinking about way before the shootings and just feeding off of those personal existential crises in a way that is just perpetuating this cycle of negative feelings. And also way to be a hypocrite and make something terrible that happened to other people somehow about me.

5. A lot of Youtubers and people I follow online have responded to the shootings and a lot of those responses are still trickling in, and how raw and full of hurt these reactions are. Tyler Oakley's video and Hannah Hart's videos are some that I want to focus on, especially since they come from an LGBT perspective. Also, there's not just sadness but also a lot of anger. An agreement that we should all be fed up with this. Mass shootings are not new to the US. I only realized this recently but they stretch back to the 1990s with the Columbine shooting. This has gone on far too long and the only reason that it is still going on is that we are allowing it to happen. And I am glad that people with a following like Tyler Oakley, Hannah Hart, and so many other creators are using their platform to not just spread awareness but to take concrete action. So glad.

6. I'm not sure if this is something I can coherently write about because it is abstract and has to do with the relationship between happiness and sadness and how those things are not mutually exclusive. Like even as these shooting are very recent, another thing that was going on in the world was E3, the gaming convention and although I did not feel the need to follow the updates of the convention closely, I did catch myself up on it and get excited about everything. And then just a few minutes later I see an update about the Orlando shooting investigation. And also me getting very excited about adorably designed pocket tees, which I figure is partly a coping mechanism. The dissonance was there and I was very aware about it and just didn't know how to feel or what to do about it.

Yeah. Honestly my mental health has taken a bit of a dip since all of this has happened, but I am very proud of myself for being able to not let the feelings consume me too much to the point that I don't take care of myself. I put myself as a priority and though everything still feels very painful and raw, I feel like I am working through it and not avoiding it, which is progress, I know it is. I certainly doesn't feel that way, but I know it is.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully by tomorrow, I'll get these thoughts out soon.

--Karin Novelia, working through some things


You know what? I've made a decision. Surprising, I know. 

The crux of the matter right now -- the matter being my existential crisis -- is that I feel very unsettled about where my life is heading. I am far too self-aware to delude myself into thinking that I have to be here. In college. Following the 'normal' path to success. I rebel against my current situation, but that's only self-destructive, to lay waste to the very ground you have no choice but to stand on. If I truly had the freedom to chose, I would not be here. I would build myself a sanctuary that truly allows me to explore my curious pursuits. 

I do not have that freedom. I realize now that, despite what I've been told, I never did. A person will always be limited by their past. Free will is an illusion.

With that in mind, perhaps the best thing for me is to give in. Give in to my lack of choice and make the best of what is given to me. But, and this is me being tremendously stubborn, I will give in yet at the same time I will not give up. I will do everything that I've been told, 'to get good grades' and 'to get a college degree' and I will prove that I can do it. But I will also go above and beyond what is expected with me. I will study and do well, but at the same time I will hustle on the side, do the things that truly make me feel alive. It will take a lot more effort, and although it might be easier to just forego one for the sake of the other, I will not compromise my dreams.

I will prove them wrong, the people who said that there's no way I can do both, that I can only be one thing or another.

I will stubbornly believe, until my dying day, that I can be everything I want to be.

--Karin Novelia, turning that anger into determination.


I spend a lot of time, trying to fill myself up with things I think will make me feel whole. The problem is, in my search of identity and belonging, I'm starting to feel like I am limiting myself. It is what I want, yet at the same time, I rebel against the idea. I don't want to be limited.

I'm starting to believe that my search for stability and identity is futile. I've lived in the chaos far too long to be comfortable with anything else. And in a way, I'm grateful. My live is messy, sure, and makes no sense. But it's eye-opening in it's uncertainty, and made me think about a lot of things I probably never would've considered if my life was a bit more... 'normal'.

When I see myself living the life I dream of, I see myself wandering and flitting from one place to another, opening myself up to the world and what it has to offer as I explore and deepen my understanding of it. But in order to do that, I need to be empty. I need to be neutral, an empty vessel, people can pour a piece of themselves into. I need to be an nonthreatening outsider who simply wants to observe and passively experience the lives of others, listen to their stories, be a part of their world without affecting it.

I want to be everything and nothing at once. 

Which makes sense, considering how empty I've become.

Here's to trying to fill myself up.

--Karin Novelia, idk.

Starting Over

Hello, reader.

It's been a while. Been too long really.

In case you're not up to date with my messy life, I recently moved to the United States (wut). And a lot of things have happened in the span of 2 and a half months. I don't even know where to begin.

Long story short, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about what has happened to me lately, and well what has happened in my life in general. And maybe it's time that I sort through them and hopefully at the end of it, emerge as a somewhat more well-adjusted and functional human being. 

'Cuz let's be honest adulting is hard. Being a person is hard.

And if I've learned anything this year, it's that I need to stop half-assing all attempts at life.

So here's hoping that this little post is a push in the right direction.

Thanks for reading.

--Karin Novelia, i have no idea what i'm doing but i'm doing it anyway