WEDNESDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2004
Business on which I don’t want to spend more than fifteen hours per week. I can spend 60 hours per week on commercial stuff, and I can make 60 times more money compared to what I can make spending one hour per week doing it. Every time I sit down to write a paragraph, I write a page. The more I write, the better I write; the better I write, the closer I am to who I truly want to be. Plus, the more I write, the more ideas I get. So, the less time I have to spend on business, the better.
I am tired of always lining up creativity and personal beliefs on the one side, and on the other side the extreme need of an income. I am fed up with playing these two sides against each other as if it is some 18th century battle with me standing on a hill in my frilly outfit with a cup of tea in my hand, and on dropping my white handkerchief seeing how the two sides go at each other’s throats.
Here is the reality: I am the one who loses, every time.
This so-called commercial dictatorship is necessary, though, but it does now seem to be a classic manifestation of the conflict that I inflame between creativity – especially writing – and making money.
What it boils down to, and what will continue to be the situation for the following 97 days of my life is when I sit down behind my computer, I won’t click on the Writing 2004 folder but on a business-related document. Calls will have to be made, and action shall be taken that will culminate in the result of money in my pocket and in my bank account.
What is the problem then? Or maybe my question should be more specific: What exactly is the purpose of this so-called commercial dictatorship? The primary aim is to raise at least 100,000 New Taiwan dollars so that I can return to and continue my life in South Africa.
I move as slow as a continent-sized ice pack on the way to the North Pole. There are things that inspire me – otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here, typing, but there’s no fire. I’m like a communist government fifty years after the revolution.
I’m just interested in getting through every day as tensionless as possible, and I would have stayed in my apartment for weeks on end if it were not for the following reasons: 1) I run out of cigarettes; 2) I never buy the kind of groceries that will allow me to cook for myself, so I have to go out for dinner every day; 3) I must go out at least once every day except Wednesdays and Sundays to teach; 4) sometimes I get in the mood for coffee in town, in which case I will convince someone to keep me company while I drink myself into a different weight class with one creamy coffee after another; 5) my boxes of cereal turn up empty every ten days or so, which means I have to do a cereal run to the Carrefour; 6) I go to the movies at least once every two weeks.
What do I do when I am in my apartment? What does my average day look like? I start with breakfast (the main reason I get up in the morning), have some coffee (the second reason why I get up), and smoke my first cigarette of the day (the third reason). Depending on what I was working on before I went to bed, I’ll either turn on the computer while the water is boiling or I’ll wait until after breakfast. When I do eventually make myself comfortable behind the computer, my routine is equally predictable. First, I will select a CD. Then I’ll put the disc in my Aiwa Discman. I’ll press the Dynamic Super Linear Bass button once (not twice), and after the CD’s been read, I’ll press the Play button. Then I will click on the FreeCell icon and play one or two games before I click on the Writing 2004 folder. Moments later I will be THE WRITER, with Abba or Juluka or ZZ Top blaring in my ears. After about 45 minutes, I will get up and make myself some tea, which is a prerequisite for my second cigarette of the day. (I’m mindful of my health; I always drink something, usually tea or water, during my smoke breaks.)
My day will continue in this fashion until I get hungry. I will then walk to the Seven Eleven for a box of dumplings or something with rice and chicken, or to the supermarket where the woman grills chicken in the evenings, and get myself some instant noodles and a can of tuna. After enjoying my meal, I will continue working on my project until I get hungry again, or until I have to take a shower to get ready for an appearance as an English teacher during the early evening hours.
After my return from the evening classes – usually at about eight – I will again have a cup of tea and smoke a cigarette, this time in the kitchen. (Although this may seem to imply that it will only be my third cigarette of the day, I will, in fact, have run through almost half a pack by this time. I just thought it might be boring to describe when, where and how I smoke every single cigarette.)
If I have been out of the apartment for a few hours, I would probably have turned off my computer, which means after having tea and a cigarette in the kitchen I will turn it on again. I will plug my earphones into the Discman, choose another CD from my collection, again press the Dynamic Super Linear Bass button once, and Play after the disc has been read. Then I will again click on the FreeCell icon, perhaps then the F4 key to see how many games I’ve won consecutively, and then F2 for New Game.
After two or three rounds I will open the Writing 2004 folder, and double click on the document I had been working before I had to go out. After an hour or so I will get up and take another smoke break.
Now, my smoke breaks may appear to the ordinary reader as an unnecessary waste of time and health. Allow me then to take you through a typical almost quarter of an hour which I so lovingly refer to as a “smoke break”.
During the daytime I usually smoke at the antique cabinet standing against the wall of my living room opposite the windows. From this location I would have been able to look out the windows if not for the fact that I close the curtains during the day (I always open them when I go to sleep). I can also see from where I stand the calendar hanging behind the front door. (On the calendar, a few days are currently marked; among them, February 23rd, the first day of the Commercial Dictatorship, and Friday, June 4th, the day I’m planning to leave Taiwan with bags full of Monopoly money I will steal from the nearest supermarket the day before.)
After briefly casting a gaze over all the familiar ornaments and wall hangings in the dusky room, I will take a cigarette from the packet, and despite the fact that there is a whole container full of lighters standing right in front of me, I will look around for my lighter. There, I will then stand, drinking my tea and inhaling and exhaling smoke from the cigarette for about ten to fifteen minutes. (I smoke expensive brown cigarettes that burn longer than commercial white tubes.)
As I stand there with my tea and my cigarette, I will think about my life. Among other things, I will think about the meaning of my existence, and whether or not I was called to serve some or other purpose, or I will consider ways to make enough money to go “home”. Naturally the ideas differ with each smoke break, so to keep track, my notebook always lies open on the antique cabinet.
Also on the cabinet is a container filled with pens, of which at least one or two can actually write. However, these pens are mostly of ornamental value. The pen with which I take my daily notes is the only one that has value at a particular point in my life. (Last Monday I discovered during a class that a pupil was playing with the blue pen I had bought in South Africa during my vacation last July. The pen had no ink left, so I donated it two weeks ago to the penholder in the classroom. When I saw the pupil mangling the pen, I was immediately upset, and although I wouldn’t have gone so far as to physically attack the child, I felt genuinely sorry for the pen. I was aware of the fact that this was not normal, but it felt as if I had betrayed the pen. I considered taking the pen home again but instead chucked it in the dustbin.)
It should thus be clear that drinking tea and smoking cigarettes are crucial factors in the development of ideas, and to focus for short periods on certain problems in my life without the distraction of a keyboard under my fingers.
Well, the Abba CD is finished, my posterior is aching for a break, and I am thirsty, and ready for another cigarette. I’m happy with what I accomplished during the last 60 minutes: I succeeded magnificently in hijacking a report by the Commercial Dictator for a few thoughts of my own. If I keep this up, the future can only be bright.
I must, however, cut out the table with plans and ideas that will make me rich in South Africa when I edit this piece for a literary project …