Monday, 31 December 2012

I was somewhat shocked when I was reminded yesterday that we are going to a New Year’s Eve party tonight, with the implication that tomorrow is the start of a new year.

If I say I don’t want this year to end, I don’t mean that I want to hold on to what is over and done with. What I want is to get up tomorrow morning – the first day of 2013 – and seamlessly continue with everything I’ve been doing this year.

I don’t want to stop and then start again. I want to continue.

* * *

Today is as good a day as any other to tap value from the advice of Mary Schmich: “Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.”

That being said, you are still to a large extent responsible for the huge amount of success and happiness that is coming your way in 2013. And since this is how it is, make sure you do what you can to make it so.


Text from the Mary Schmich article, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young” was used by Baz Luhrmann in his 1999 song, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”. The original article is in turn similar to the 1927 poem by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945), entitled “Desiderata”. A short excerpt: “With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”


Christmas is a bit like life


Christmas Day is a bit like life.Christmas Day 2012, Johannesburg. Thanks for the picture, Mandi.

If a whole table full of food is prepared on the 25th day of the twelfth month of the year, a special tree is dragged into the living room and festooned with lights and small disco balls and dolls and stars, toys are bought and wrapped in colourful paper for the children, a few songs are sung, and all gathered together eat themselves into a new weight division, and laugh and joke around and chat, then it’s “Christmas”.

If you don’t do these things, it’s only the 25th day of what is coincidentally the twelfth month of the year.

So it is with life.


An identity that makes money


Because I try my best to avoid failure and disappointment, I wonder long and hard whether or not a particular way to make money is a good fit for me. I want to be sure before I spend time, and money, on a project.

A few comments:

1. There is no guarantee that you will make money with anything – even if other people earn their bread and butter with it, year in and year out.

2. There is a parallel to identity: who I am versus who I want to be. Decide whether or not you want to make money with something, whether it is something that suits your lifestyle, whether it is something with which you can identify, and whether it’s something that will be sustainable for at least the next ten years. If you decide it is indeed something with which you can and want to make money, then do what you need to do and learn what you need to learn to turn possibility into reality. Commit yourself to becoming successful with this activity.

What more do I want? Confirmation in a pile of tea leaves? Should someone throw a handful of animal bones to confirm something is right for me?

Decide something is right for you, and then make it right for you.


(I have most probably already noted this idea.)

My efforts to make money since 2006 have to a large extent been a search for identity – in a new “environment”.

For years I reckoned how you make money is not who you are; it is just what you do to meet your own needs, and perhaps the needs of a family. You are therefore not a lawyer – it’s just what you do for money.

Projects I have undertaken with the sole purpose of making a profit include affiliate marketing, sports betting, short report writing, and the selling of websites and domain names. I was perfectly competent and intelligent enough to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to eventually make money with these activities, and in some cases I was somewhat successful.

However, none of the ways in which I made money, or could have made money in theory in most cases, was something I wanted to see as part of my identity. What I learned was that if you do not see a certain way you can make money as part of your identity, it is not a complete mystery why you’re not a raging success.


To think of myself as a “publisher” is to a large extent a missing piece of the puzzle.

Since the early nineties, I’ve been holding on to the image of the “writer” – independent; elevated above the ordinary; on his own. The specific vision was of myself in an old stone fort, somewhere in a mountainous wilderness, or perhaps on the plains, at least a few days from the nearest civilisation.

That this romantic figure needs money – or worse, that he needs to make money – has always been a huge stumbling block.

This is why the idea of the publisher is so powerful. The publisher’s business, to some extent more than the writer’s, is books. Whereas the writer puts ideas and opinions and stories in words, the publisher focuses on publishing. The publisher is the one who places the writer’s creative work in the hands of the reader.

The writer is in the wilderness – or on the plains. He writes, and does not allow himself to be distracted by such common everyday concerns as money.

The publisher is in the city. He does the marketing. He advertises. He produces books in different formats. He talks business.

The publisher is the one who makes money. He is the one who makes sure the writer survives.


Thank goodness children are not like (some) adults


As a child, you don’t automatically know how to play chess. You don’t know how to ride a bike, or how to do ballet or play football. You don’t know how to use a computer. You don’t even know how to read or write until you’re taught how.

As a child, you almost never wavered when it came to something new you had to master. You just did what you were told. You kept trying, and after a few months or a few years you could play chess, ride a bike, play football, or do ballet. You learned to read and write, and eventually you learned how to use a computer.

Why then, as adults, do so many people doubt their ability to learn something new?

“I don’t know how,” the man or woman will mutter.

“I’m too old to learn something new,” the 30 or 40 or 50-year old man or woman will say.

“No, good grief! There’s no chance that I’ll be able to do that!” one person will opine, safe in the knowledge that at least a handful of other adults in the area will support them in their belief that they are unable to do something.

Can you imagine if children suffered from the same malady?

“Oh no, Daddy, that bicycle is so big. I’m going to fall off and hurt my toe,” little Johnny might say, and then he’ll walk away and go sit under a tree.

“Those dances look so difficult, Mommy! I can’t do them!” little Joanna might say, and then refuse to get out of the car at the ballet class.

“Chess seems so complicated …”

“I don’t know how to draw those curls and lines like the other boys and girls in class …”

“You know I’m afraid of mice, and the computer always makes such funny noises …”

The end of civilisation as we know it. The beginning of Zombieland.

“If you think you can do something, or if you think you cannot do something, you’re right,” Henry Ford advised.

What I want to know is what kind of example do people think they set for the next generation if, at the age of 25 or 40 or 50, they stop believing they can master anything new.


At one stage other plans


In 1998 I had a few plans that didn’t quite work out. I wanted my own place of residence, even if it were only a small apartment. I wanted to earn a regular income, even if it weren’t a fortune. I wanted a car, even if it were a piece of junk. I did not want to pack my bags and go abroad again. I did not want to return to English teaching. And I did not have a burning desire to come to Taiwan.

Taiwan ultimately worked out much better than I could ever have imagined – partly the result of my own decisions, and actions I have taken; partly luck. However, it is important that you sometimes remind yourself that at some stage you did have other plans, even if those plans would probably have led to a dead end.

At the office, November 1998
Residence, last few months of 1998