Saturday, 31 December 2011

The last day of the year is like the last waking hour of the day: Some people suffer from mild shock and disappointment that it’s over, that what you couldn’t get done today would have to wait for tomorrow.

In a few hours’ time 2011 will be over.

This was a good year – a special year. The relationship between N. and I was of such a nature at the beginning of the year that we didn’t need a document to know we belong together, but last month, after almost seven years together, we officially and legally swore allegiance to each other. On the working front, I focused mainly on two commercial projects. And in February, I once again started spending the best hours of my days on my literary projects – something that has since become an almost daily reality. Lastly, I spent some serious time with a dentist named Harmony over the last 12 months, with my ability to properly eat again the happy result.

From the position in which I find myself at this moment, because of what I have done between Saturday, January 1st and today, Saturday, December 31st, 2012 appears as if it might just be another good year.

As for the next 365 days, a note from Tuesday, January 4th 2011 is appropriate: “A year in one’s life is like a child. You can plan, you can prepare, and you can have high expectations. But at the end, the child must be allowed to go its own way, to develop its own character. You can, and should, provide guidance, but at the end you have to make your peace: Do your absolute best, and trust for the rest.”

May 2012 be a good year for myself, for my beloved, and for all our friends and family. And may it be a good year for all the good people on this planet who hope and strive for a better day, every day of their lives.


Is a giraffe really orange, like the fruit?


This morning around five o’clock I woke up for about five seconds, had a thought about a handful of crayons, a child and a picture, and the meaning that can be extracted from that on the limitation of language when it comes to religion and “absolute truth”, and then I fell asleep again.

The point was this: you give anyone a palette with 10 or 15 colours. Then you pull open the curtains on a beautiful, colourful scene – let’s say a plain in Africa just after good rains, with dozens of species of animals standing, walking, or lying around. After the person has taken in the scene, you tell him to paint or sketch what he has seen. And he has to do it with the 10 or 15 colours you have made available to him.

Perhaps this person is really talented and his image is rich in detail and full of colour.

Question is, is this image a 100% accurate representation of the actual scene – of the grass and the trees and the animals and the sky and the clouds and the birds and all the minute details that fill reality?

How can it be? He only had a dozen or so colours to work with! And then there is his personality, even his state of mind when he painted the picture. Did he, to pick one example, deliberately not include the impending storm in his version? How much detail did he leave out simply because he lacked the necessary talent?

Let’s now take the analogy further. The person who had painted the landscape is later seen as an authority figure in some religious tradition. Besides the landscape representation he also produced hundreds of other pictures and sketches and pieces of text, all of which become increasingly precious commodities after his death. All these documents and art works later become prescriptions about how people should behave, and they dictate how things ought to be described. Within a few generations the landscape representation, for example, then provides guidance to the community about how one ought to talk about animals as found on an African grassland after good rains.

Initially it would have been acceptable if someone said, “This is clearly a giraffe, although a giraffe isn’t really orange like the fruit, it’s more of a dark mustard colour.”

A few generations later this image’s value, like the value of the hundreds of other sketches and pictures and pieces of text produced by this authority figure, will have been elevated to the status of sacred artefacts. It follows that it would at this time be orthodox to refer to a giraffe as orange like the fruit, even that it had never been anything but orange. Why? The picture indicates it as such – clearly, to all who have eyes to see. “How can anyone deny it?” it will be asked. “Even a child can see it. Indeed, you have to believe like a child.” To confirm this understanding, volumes of material are written that explain the correct and only acceptable way the artefact should be interpreted.

Let’s say in the course of a few centuries this religious community becomes the dominant group in society. Now you can get in serious trouble with the authorities of the day if you even think of claiming a giraffe is anything other than Orange, Like the Fruit. Individuals who dare mumble something that sounds like “mustard” in reference to the giraffe may summarily be summoned before a court, thrown into the dungeon, tortured, and in cases where it is suspected that such a person might have contaminated other innocent minds with the heretical mustard colour business, be sent to the stake.

“You are wrong,” people would say centuries later in more civilized times. “A giraffe is orange, a lion is brown, grass is bright green, sky is blue, goats are brown and their eyes are yellow. This is how it is; it must be so; it cannot be otherwise, because the Holy Picture says so.”

And anyone who wants to get smart about an ancient palette that only had 10 or 15 colours, and who wants to utter something about the original image just being a sincere and honest attempt at producing a representation of a reality much richer in colour, taste, sound and feeling for any human being with limited resources and capabilities to ever reproduce 100% accurately is simply too smart for their own good.


Learn from the youth (despite vanity and obsessions)


My whole adult life I’ve been thinking of myself as a young man – after all, I don’t really know what it’s like to be old.

But a man reaches a point when he realizes there are other young men who are 20 years younger than he is.

“Twenty years!” he cries out. “Twenty years?!”

And to top it all of he has to remind himself that he can learn something from these youngsters any day of the week – that a guy of 20 or 25 can also sit on a rock for an hour or so to rise with a piece of wisdom or a damn good tip ready to share with the nearest bystander.

At the end of the day it’s just vanity, and obsession with how you appear to the world that borders on pathological insecurity about your own value that makes you want to hold on to time, that makes you panic when you think of how time slips from your fingers day after day – just like it does from everyone else’s.


Argument about a bicycle


The RT Mart is now selling a “UK Design” bicycle for NT$ 2,074.

I’ve been saying for months that I will wait until my bicycle has completely disintegrated before I’d buy a new one.

A few remarks on this topic:

1. If that is my position, I should have started looking around for a new bike three months ago. The one inner tube was flat. Both front and back tires were worn out. The brakes had stopped working properly. And the bike creaked and moaned as only a piece of metal can that should have come to rest in a junkyard 10 years ago. What I did, of course, was to fix everything.

2. A bicycle rarely stops working like a computer or a computer monitor. A computer can still work one day, then the next it’s nothing but ones and zeroes and lights flashing and screens freezing. Then you take it to the computer store, and then the technician informs you that you might just as well buy a new computer. Same with a computer monitor: first some flickering, then poof. A bicycle, on the other hand, breaks. Then you identify the problem (usually fairly obvious), and you either fix it yourself or you pay someone NT$100 to do so. Then it’s good for the road for another few weeks or months. If you wait until a bicycle has completely exhausted its natural life, you may have to wait a long time. (For the record I should mention that my previous bike had indeed achieved that status; it was duly replaced with the current bike which is about 20 years older than the first one.)

3. At the RT Mart there are also bicycles for NT$3,500 and as high as NT$5,000 – and then you’d have to leave the supermarket bicycle section and go to a proper bike shop where you can expect to pay between five and ten times as much for bikes that are between 10 and 20 times better quality. Nevertheless, why not just go for the NT$4,000 bike rather than the NT$2,074 “UK Design”? Because, as I see it, all the supermarket bikes are equally fragile. A cable will inevitably snap within a few months anyways. The seat will probably fall off within six months. The frame will probably buckle, the brakes will stop working, and the gears will slide graciously from slow to fast and back again for only about two weeks before it gets stuck in tenth gear. So, whether it’s NT$2,074 or NT$4,250, it’s not NT$25,000 or NT$49,500.

4. It would be better to retire my current granny-style bicycle now. Then I’ll know that I’d be able to air up the tires any time in the future, when circumstances require, get on it and again ride like the wind (if the wind is blowing strong enough that day).

That’s it, then. I’m buying a new bike before the end of the month.

And at NT$2,074 I can even afford to reward the old Black Peril for good service with a new seat, before kicking out her stand and giving her some space in the back room.


Note: It actually took me another nine months before I forked out NT$2000 for an exact copy of my old bike, but at least brand new.


Three reasons why I had to make mistakes


The last time I was in South Africa, my mother told me my father was afraid that I was making the same mistakes as him.

I found it very interesting. I knew in what way my parents had intended the remark to be understood. I agreed with my mother, but because I had my own understanding of this particular point.

If literature is the path I should take, the way of life that I have to follow, then it can be said that I had lost my way during the last five years (and a few months). It can then be said that I have indeed made the same mistake as my father, by doing what I thought was “right” according to the standards of other people – or maybe my own standards were somewhat compromised, but that’s a story for another piece.

Does that mean that the pursuit of profit over the past half-decade in more ways than I care to count has been a waste of time? I think not. Here are the reasons:

1. I have learned how to publish my own work. This includes everything from domain registration to HTML and setting up WordPress sites to print-on-demand services like CreateSpace, CafePress and Lulu. There have also been lessons in marketing, experience on sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and dozens of lesser-known platforms that give you the opportunity to introduce yourself and exhibit your work to an audience anywhere in the world.

In short, I knew nothing, or next to nothing about these things before I started learning about them as part of the process of making money on the Internet.

2. A few years ago I wrote about how out of place I felt in the so-called World of Money. I looked at people who had money, and I envied them for the apparent ease with which they moved around in this mysterious world. It was very clear that they had mastered the right vocabulary, they knew the right actions to take to make money, and they obviously knew enough other people who possess similar talents.

In this World of Money, I felt like the somewhat frightened, definitely overwhelmed small town child without shoes who visits his street smart cousins in the Big City.

Now, more than five years after starting my pursuit of profit and financial well-being, after reading (or at least downloading and sorting) hundreds of eBooks on marketing and ways to make money, watching dozens of video tutorials, even serious investigations into the possibilities of online Poker and Forex trading, I can say with a substantial degree of confidence that I no longer feel uncomfortable, frightened or overwhelmed in the World of Money. More than that, I can see that what many of the people who had previously so impressed me with their supposed knowledge and expertise in the World of Money actually do every day is to just throw the dice, shut their eyes and hope for the best.

3. By the end of 2005, my inspiration for producing new material had begun to dry up. There was not much more I could or wanted to say about the many issues I had touched upon in my Personal Agenda project, as well as the six months of writing that had followed its completion. Of course there were other topics I could have written about, but not any that had inspired me sufficiently, or about which I had had enough confidence to write about.

The many failures of the past five years and the few (but significant) successes, as well as the wide range of subjects on which I have read, and even people whom I have met through online forums and about whom I read, in retrospect, were exactly what I needed as a producer of literature.

Should I therefore have looked the other way in January 2006 when my eye caught a glimpse of that first of many ads that had wanted to sell me some instant wealth product? I sometimes wish I did. I sometimes wish I didn’t waste so much time on so much research and so many projects that ultimately rendered no dividend – except for a cryptic side note that simply said, “This doesn’t work – or I can’t make it work.”

Prior to January 2006, I used to be confident about my choices; I regretted very few things that I did or did not do.

It is now clear that the last five years were a good education. And in the end, by making mistakes similar to mistakes my father had made perhaps thirty or forty years ago, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons.

I’m even tempted to say I’m a better person because of it.