The Conspiring Universe

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. When you want something; all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I used this quote in a recent Toastmasters speech but I might not have grasped it’s full meaning until after the speech. To be clear, the conspiring universe to me is God himself who is working all for good…for my own good. I have written here before how COVID-19 provided me an opportunity to revive this blog when the lockdown meant working from home, thus saving me 2 – 3 hours of commute time. I’ll someday also write about my past failed attempts to learn a certain musical instrument, but how this has become possible during this period.

I am aware of how fortunate and blessed I am since many people have had their lives turned upside down by COVID-19. I therefore do not take this opportunities for granted.

Back to the conspiring universe. I revived the blog and was raring to go. But as any writer, amateur or not, will tell, getting relevant content is hard work. True, I write on average 3,000 words a day – it helps that my day job involves a lot of report writing – but most of them will never show up here. They are scattered in many places, some of which I pray no one ever finds. I have however, found my muse in Toastmasters. As I carry out research for my Pathways projects, I find myself with content relevant for this blog. Talk of killing two birds with a single stone!

One other thing – I was elected President of the Interesting Toastmasters club for the year 2020/2021. I am President-elect until 1st July but hey, I’ll ignore the omission should you refer to me as Madam President in the comments section. Toastmasters is truly where leaders are made!

Here below is the longer version of the afore-mentioned speech.

MS Transnight

I’m not sure transnight is a proper English word, given the annoying red wavy lines dotting this article as I type. There’s transsexual, transgender, transatlantic, transcultural, but transnight? However, if we take the prefix trans – meaning “across” or “beyond”, then transnight claims its rightful place in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Plus, the word has been used so many times in my circles that it has acquired a meaning that needs no explanation. Yet, for the avoidance of doubt, it’s what some people, especially high school and college students, do when they spend an entire term or semester doing everything other than what they are supposed to do. Sooner rather than later, they realise exams are around the corner and that tomorrow is indeed today. To make up for lost time, they visit the library, or wherever the books and notes are to be found, even stealing from those who attended lectures and actually took notes. They collect whatever resources are available, and determine to read the entire night in preparation of the exam two days away. For the more daring ones, a basin of cold water comes in handy. With feet dipped in the cold water, in the wee hours of the night, not even the devil himself would make such a person doze off! It’s Strategy 101 – Trans-nighting: How to master last-minute study!

On my part, I was the model student – never had to transnight. For the most part, I attended my classes without fail, took notes, did assignments, revised throughout the semester and was ready when the exams were announced. Yes, I was Ms Goody Two-Shoes! Honestly though, I learn best by listening and hearing, remembering things the teacher said, how they said them, including what was emphasized. Class instruction makes up for a lot of what my memory retains. Apparently, there’s a name for such learners – auditory learners they are called! I wonder whether this has any correlation with the fact that I ended up as an auditor? Anyway, I was never an all-nighter or trans-nighter. My high school experience favored me and got me onto a path that appreciates the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Back at St Anne’s Secondary School, the nuns of the Precious Blood Sisters order who ran the institution, had a strict timeline for lights out. 9.45 pm it was for everyone – no exception even for the candidate class. The lights went out and the Matron made sure everyone was in their bunk bed. Until the following morning at 5.30 am – and not a minute earlier. At least seven hours of sleep, which in case you didn’t know, research shows helps you focus better; protects and strengthens your memory; and reduces interference from external events, thus better memory retention. I couldn’t have been in better hands during those teenage years for I sure loved my sleep. The number of times I got into tiffs with my mother during the holidays for oversleeping are just too many to count. Let’s just say I strongly believe being able to oversleep is undeniably a blessing!

In campus, the time organisation strategy continued and worked well most of the times. Away from the discipline and order of the Catholic nuns, I still managed to maintain many of the values they instilled –  perhaps the most important being respect for other people’s time and their work. Therefore, I attended lectures faithfully at a time when the pull for other non-academic related matters was at it’s strongest. I literally lived the Ecclesiastical Teacher’s mantra – To Everything There Is a Season. Including sleep…

With the exception of a short period in my life when certain medications made me an insomniac, and I had to take further medication to help me sleep, I have always been able to sleep like a baby. Until COVID-19 happened. My pre-Corona sleep routine was pretty solid. Sleep at 10 pm, wake up at 5 am on week-days. Sleep between 11 pm and midnight, wake up at 8 am on weekends, unless there was a function necessitating an earlier rise. But ever since this quarantine started, I have lost track of what a routine looks or feels like. I tried the first days. Woke up, did some stretches, breakfast, got ready to start a day at my home office. That must have worked for three days max!

The problem started with staying up late, watching a movie, reading a book or even writing a post on this very blog. After all, I do not have to wake up early. This meant sleeping in the next day, which culminated on the day I woke up at mid-day! You wake up feeling disoriented. There’s someone talking too loudly and despite the advantage of dark, heavy curtains, there’s still some light desperately trying to slip through! You are hungry and when you finally drag yourself out of bed, you are not sure whether you should have breakfast or lunch. The irregularity of it all has also messed up my brain – some days I cannot tell which day it is and worse still, sleep when it comes, is very fragmented.

Productivity is also impacted. Which is how I found myself working non-stop on a report that I should have completed days earlier a week ago. I had found time to do so many other peripheral things but work on that report. Now it was due and trans-nighting was the only way out! I sat at my desk from 8 pm and when I finally rose, it was 6 am! An experience that had me moving around zombie-style for the next couple of days! Sleep debt or sleep deficit is real – made worse by all the other quarantine effects that disrupt sleep.

Which makes me wonder about the disconnect between intentions and actions. We often have the deepest, best intentions, which is why many of us make New Year resolutions and other wonderful plans. You resolve to lose weight and get in shape only for the couch to gain greater appeal that is beyond irresistible. You plan to reduce your debt levels and save more money, but the trials and temptations on the internet with its targeted adverts is more than you can overcome. You plan on stressing less, then COVID-19 happens! Ok, that last one isn’t due to your actions but still…I do not make New Year resolutions but 2020 was going to be my cruise year. Google MS Symphony of the Seas and just agree with me that this pandemic is a real dream-killer! But I digress…the point I was trying to make is that we resort back to old behavior even when we still hold the best of intentions. Why is there a huge gap between our intentions and actions? Is it our human nature to want to hold off for later the work that needs to be completed now?

Somebody suggested the answer lies in a single word – tomorrow. Yet, the irony is that there’s really no tomorrow. In many cases, tomorrow is just a mental dumping ground for the things we would rather not deal with today. For the student, he/she would rather go out today with friends and transnight tomorrow. And as I have learnt, there are so many interesting things to do than get a report done. Instead of boarding MS Symphony of the Seas, I am boarding MS Transnight, which is why this post that I started yesterday is being published today past 2 am! I just hope I’ll disembark when COVID-19 and it’s quarantine cousins find another universe to inhabit. As Poet Kahlil Gibran once pointed out, “Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is but today’s dream”. I will remember my transnight days but dream of a world free of COVID-19!