Ancient idea – spirit of ideas

MONDAY, 15 MARCH 2004

A rediscovery of an ancient idea: Plato’s philosophy of “ideas” that are universal and timeless, the “original reality” and the “empirical reality” as manifestation of the original “form” or idea. “I, now” is thus a manifestation of the original reality/form/pattern/concept namely, “human”.

* * *

At the beginning we are only ideas in each other’s heads. Only later do we become more concrete manifestations of who we really are.

SATURDAY, 20 MARCH 2004

The spirit of ideas

To grapple with someone’s ideas is to engage with the spirit of that person.

Can it be said that to exist without proof is still to exist?

To have existed, without proof in the present for past existence, is still to have existed.

“Proof of existence”, in the sense of something that had been created by the one that existed, is an object in itself yet related to the creator of the proof – proving the past existence of something or someone, but also having an existence of its own.

It can therefore be said that Plato’s works are proof of his past existence, but the “Works of Plato” are also objects that exist independently of its creator … in practice if not in theory. I can read “Plato’s” ideas without ever being aware of “Plato-as-creator of ideas” or without ever having known the person that was called “Plato”.

Nevertheless, to engage with someone’s ideas is to communicate with the “spirit” of that person.

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59 words – snakes – civilization and barbarians

THURSDAY, 11 MARCH 2004

59 words

A big house and a big car? Not my style. A three-bedroom house in a quiet suburb or a large town, and a life devoted to family, charity, study and creative works (specifically the Written Word). This is who and what I am; where and how I want to live; and what I want to do with my life.

(59 words – a decade to sort it out among all the possibilities)

SATURDAY, 13 MARCH 2004

Snakes shed their skin

To develop – to evolve – is to some extent similar to a snake shedding its skin (already said, I know).

What this means in practice is that opinions change, as do aspects of identity, hairstyle, and clothing style.

Sometimes it also happens that dysfunctional relationships are left behind, relationships that no longer are what they were at first and that no longer have the value they had at an earlier stage of your life. Sometimes it is a necessary consequence of personal development, and must be accepted as such by the person who is serious about not inhibiting his or her development as a human being, and who wants to enter into and maintain relationships in an honest way.

MONDAY, 15 MARCH 2004

On civilization and barbarians

(20:51)

Some argue that one should do whatever you need to do to make your life worth living. In practice, this amounts to a conflict of interest, destructive rivalries, and sometimes mutually destructive eye-for-eye action and reaction. Constructive ways in which thousands, even millions of individuals in one geographic area manage the highest principle – to make one’s own life worthwhile – is called “civilization”.

[The world, or worlds that qualify as “civilization” in a common understanding of history and society were built and are still being built on “agreements”. In many cases these agreements mean that one person exploits another to the former’s advantage, an exploitation that sometimes leads to the destruction – directly or indirectly – of the life of the exploited person. Judgment may also be expressed in no uncertain terms against groups, communities, businesses, and political and religious institutions that exploit people for the sake of the survival of a more powerful minority.]

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On personal files

TUESDAY, 2 MARCH 2004

We all have “files” on each other. My file on “Yolanda Y” might say she is this or that, that she likes this or that, behaves this way in this or another situation. “She has these strengths and weaknesses. Keep an eye on this or that …”

We all expect the people we know and call our friends (and on whom we therefore have “files”) to be the persons we think they are in order to facilitate our confidence and trust in them.

Sometimes our “file” versions of people do however tend toward simplistic caricatures, with certain aspects of personality emphasised for the simple reason that they fit us better than is the case with other aspects of their personality.

Beware of this – no one likes to be reduced to a caricature.

It is however true that we sometimes unconsciously encourage this process of simplification of ourselves. If a person is uncertain about his or her identity it is usually comforting when people say, “You always say (X, Y or Z),” or “You always get angry when someone does something like that,” or even “I knew you’d say that (because you always do).”

It always annoys me when people sketch me in their own minds as a simple caricature. I know I do it myself sometimes (possibly to make who I am more tolerable to people I am with?), so I cannot always blame people if they play along. The truth is that I reserve the right to feel different than I did yesterday, to act differently than I did last Sunday, and to have other interests, or to focus on different activities than what the “files” others have on me dictate.

Of course there must be a degree of resemblance between who you are today, what you say, what you do and how you act, and what the case was the day before. But these things are liquid, and change over time.

A more ideal situation would be one where our “files” on each other remain open, with broad margins for new information and mental pictures that keep pace with changes. The alternative is that we will be “friends” with caricatures who are mainly our own handiwork, and who we may find in the course of time will become “unreliable” because they “suddenly” no longer look like they used to, or say this or that or behave or react in a certain manner in some or other situation.

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COM-DIC Document 001

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 …

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The 99 Days of the Commercial Dictator

MONDAY, 23 FEBRUARY 2004

The Republic rose from his bed this morning with the knowledge that this is not just an ordinary Monday. This – and the string quartet hits a few quick notes – is the First Day of the 99 Days of the Commercial Dictator!

Even though the morning was glorious and the day pregnant with possibility, it did not take long for a bit of turbulence to hit the Council Chambers. The COM-DIC wanted to start his administration with a little “house cleaning,” and asked the Writer to please lend a hand. The Writer indignantly flashed the COM-DIC a glance and said everyone knows he never touches a broom, to which the COM-DIC retaliated with, “No wonder the place looks the way it does!”

The New Leader then took it upon himself to touch a few spots in the Council Chambers with a broom and duster, while the Writer listlessly paged through a photo album. (This then almost resulted in a second altercation, because the People wanted to know whether time can be spent on photo albums during the New Time. The Secretary considered this matter for a moment. Then he declared that it had been permissible during the Time of the Writer, and because the New Time is based on the Dedication of the Writer, it should also not be a problem under the current regime.)

During the press conference that followed shortly after the cleaning session, the question arose as to who is technically responsible for writing the text that you, the reader, are currently reading.

The Secretary grabbed the microphone, and firmly announced that such questions, especially after the unpleasantness with the broom, will not be tolerated. He glanced sideways at his tea that was getting cold, and muttered to himself, “The last thing the Republic needs right now is a New Identity Crisis.” He snatched the microphone from its stand and roared, “This New Time will be remembered as a time of unity! Strife has no place in times like these! After all, does the Honoured Writer not stand for such noble principles?!” The Secretary realized the question forced a pensive mood on all present, then added, “And everyone ought to know better than to sling a broom in the Writer’s direction …

“Anyway,” he continued, “during the next 99 days the focus will be on one thing and one thing only: a shameless, unprecedented, feverish pursuit of profit. The reasons have long been laid out; the motivations are honourable. Certain matters must be made possible, and the Board unanimously decided in favour of this strategy during the last Big Session on Thursday, 12 February 2004.

“To the People, the Primary Characters as well as the Secondary Characters we wish luck and plenty of inspiration.” A glimmer of optimism was evident in the Secretary’s eyes. “Wisdom, skill, and good fortune are also our wishes for our Temporary New Leader, the Commercial Dictator!” No applause followed the use of the New Leader’s official title, but all the characters tried their best to look busy for the moment.

“Finally,” and with these words the Secretary’s face became solemn and the microphone was pushed back in its clip, “to the Writer we wish a pleasant furlough. At the end of this 99-day period work will resume on literary projects, hopefully with packed suitcases, and bags full of money. Long live … everything that is good.”

The Juluka song “Akanaki Nokunaka” had been chosen as anthem for the New Time, but none of the characters could pronounce the lyrics properly. Everyone knew the lyrics to the old Boer folk song “Sarie Marais,” though, and everyone agreed that it captured the mood most profoundly. The Musician was called in to accompany on his guitar, but he started trembling and mumbled something about a “terrible headache” – understandable since it was the first time in many years he was called from his obscure hiding place.

After the last mournful notes had drifted from the windows of the Council Chambers, all raised a single finger into the air and cried like One Man, “Let the New Time Begin!”

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