The Tao of To-Do Lists

Take three thoughts, add lashings of scintillating humour, and a sprinkling of intelligence. Discover how writing lists of whimsical musings can make you see the funny of life.

By | March 23, 2021

Everybody has an untold story inside them, here’s a little glimpse into mine. I hope that this peek into a slice of my life can somehow help inspire someone else, even in the smallest way. So here goes …

Let me begin by telling you that I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination.  I also have bad stamina and questionable hand-eye coordination but that’s another story. Anyway, I have spent the a good chunk of my life writing for an audience of one because, like so many, I am plagued with enough self-doubt and perfectionism and didn’t need to know how other people felt I should be doing something so I never thought of pursuing anything “creative”.

What I discovered over the course of four decades is that I am creative, just not in the traditional sense of the word. See, I have always found ways to creatively amuse myself and laugh (I don’t mean paradoxical laughter because that kind of thing gets you institutionalised!)

Image: @poppadomandchopsticks

I was a happy child, teenager and at the core, I am a happy adult. The only time I remember being so down that I stopped laughing was after my younger brother passed away. His passing was sudden and it didn’t help that I was studying abroad when it happened.  What followed was a whole lot of grief. It felt like I was in a club that no one wanted to be part of and I didn’t or rather couldn’t laugh for a very long time. But, in order to be strong for my family and move on, I needed to find a distraction, so I started writing again—just little notes of quirky lines, quotes, musings, rants and words that I found funny saying out loud like “kumquat” or lozenges”. The healing power of laughter helped me cope and I slowly allowed myself to laugh again—at myself, with others, and at others.

Image: @poppadomandchopsticks

Which brings me to my To Do Lists! Now, I’ve been making them since Bruce Willis had hair and George Michael was straight but I only started sharing these lists that no one asked for but didn’t know they wanted around five years ago on my personal IG page. They were mainly snarky, rooted in humour, and looked at life from different lenses—basically just me observing and thinking out loud. I think it’s easy because crazy and random is everywhere, and so is inspiration. I remember the very first one I did just had three random points, which, if you come to think about it, doesn’t even make sense: 1) Start pyramid scheme in psychiatric wards 2) Dust till gold appears 3) Wrestle my demons in a shocking pink tutu #ilovelists

Then on an ordinary day in November 2020, when I was re-watching Shawshank Redemption, I heard that line by Andy Dufrene “Get busy living or get busy dying”. It clicked in my mind as: “Make something happen for yourself, you’re always making these lists, you have so much fun with them, you love making people laugh to the point of bladder failure so figure out a way to create something…anything”. So that’s what I did. I started @poppadomandchopsticks.

Image: @poppadomandchopsticks

Now, don’t get me wrong. I learned very quickly that this was about shifting my mindset and not over thinking because there was still that voice in my head saying “ No, don’t do it, no one will like it” but I figured that even if I inevitably suck, I was going to make peace with it and enjoy the learning curve because I refuse to be a shittier version of someone else. My aim was and still is to be weirder than everybody else and hope that no one stops me.

Image: @poppadomandchopsticks

Once I started, the process gave me such a sense of joy. Creating the lists, picking out the colours and expanding it to also include “Food For Thought”, “This Is What I’d Look Like As A Chair, Today” and “Stay Away From People Who Say”. Working on it has strengthened my relationship with adversity and in a tiny way increased my appreciation of life.

Image: @poppadomandchopsticks

Dear reader if you were so inclined to give this a shot and by that I mean taking the light and utter randomness of it all and braving the everyday, here are just three simple things you could try and find the funny yourself:

Channel your inner superstar

Start today! Some of the most amazing chapters in our lives won’t have a title till much later (Bob Goff said it, not me). Go ahead and do that thing that you’re passionate about or what makes you smile. Write the book, buy the shoes, eat the cake, wear that dress you are saving for “a special occasion”. Don’t get ready, stay ready. Your superstar meter will skyrocket and your excitement for life will thank you.

Image: @poppadomandchopsticks

Surround yourself with people who spark joy

Do you know that we are an average of the five people we spend the most time with. Your “tribe” if you will. Do you want to be like the five people you spend the most time with? Do they lift your spirits? If not maybe you should think of KonMari-ing that area of your life. Just saying.

Image: @poppadomandchopstick

Laugh more often

I know it really is a cliché but it’s true. Now I’m not talking about just a little chuckle, but guffaw, hard-to-breath laughter. It’s free and has no side effects (except maybe peeing your pants if you laugh a little too hard, I know you know what I mean).  The funny really is everywhere and if you just stop taking everything so seriously you’ll find that the joy that it provides is like having an emotional colonic and purifies the soul. I’d just like to state that people who try, those who believe in the power of laughter and those who are not easily offended are my kind of people.

Image: @poppadomandchopsticks

I was asked recently, “Why Poppadomandchopsticks”?

The woman who asked the question is an animal communicator—which I am not—and yet I somehow felt I needed to give her a practical answer.

I’ll tell you what I told her. When I was about to turn 30, one of my best friends threw me a fabulous themed birthday party and called it Poppadom & Chopsticks, because I’m Chindian. I loved the way it sounded. Ten years later, I threw myself a soiree and called it, *drumroll* Poppadom & Chopsticks. I suspect the next milestone birthday celebration will be the same.

Until then, if you see me trying to wrestle my demons in a shocking pink tutu, please, do call someone.

Trina Tan

Trina Tan

Trina works in the media industry. She has an insatiable love of travel, a penchant for spicy food and when she is not working she’s most likely supporting the fashion retail industry or feeding her unhealthy Pinterest obsession.