I can only write my way out

Work is never-ending.

There’s content to be created, curated, contented, vetted and other action verbs that ends with -ed.

There are strategies to be planned, strategised, criticised, revised and other thinking verbs that ends with -ed.

The work never ends.

So I wake up the copywriter in me and say, “We have to write. We have to write our way out of this and we have to write it 5 minutes ago.”

He agrees.

And so we write this blog post.

Now I have to write my way out of this work tsunami.

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Are we eating our memories alive?

We’re suffering from cultural alzheimer.

As more and more of our memories and lives gets uploaded to the virtual cloud, we’re starting to become more forgetful.

If it doesn’t exist online, it doesn’t exist at all.

It’s as if hundreds and thousands years of human history has been completely wiped out.

What exists is a very tiny silver of the present.

Which is ironic since the Internet is supposed to be a vast repository of human knowledge.

I see this cultural alzheimer in action every day at work (I’m in social media). Our ideas, if I can even call them ideas, are shaped and buffeted by the the nature of our work. What’s new? What’s trending? What’s cool this moment?

Nearly every month, Facebook is rolling out or tweaking a new content format. Every day we share new thing that a particular brand did on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube or Snapchat or other social media platforms that are constantly popping up.

But in the chase for the now and newness, our knowledge becomes increasingly limited. The wellspring only goes as deep as 2 to 3 years ago. At the max, probably 5 years.

The result is a stagnant puddle of sameness, of repetitiveness.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”—George Santayana

It’s in our nature to have a short memory span. But technology and social media is exacerbating our forgetfulness.

Take for example one mainstream social media trend, the flatlay. If you don’t know what a flatlay is, it’s basically an Instagram trend where you post a picture from an aerial view:

15801924_1867163130221692_6383834604733726720_n

Image taken from Instagram account @flatlays

The flatlay fits Instagram’s aesthetic. Clean, confined to square boundaries, it’s allows the user to take in the image in one glance before scrolling on to the next image. As a result, flatlays are immensely popular on Instagram. Multiple brands who have a presence on Instagram have done flatlays.

But the flatlay, in one iteration or another, has been around far longer. I used to think that flatlays originated from Instagram. But I forgot that the camera has been around for more than 200 years. More likely that not, some ur-hipster was already doing flatlays before Instagram was around.

In fact a typographer by the name of Dave Wakefield did a series of flatlays for Knorr chicken stock cubes back in the 1980’s:

knorr-just-the-cube-01

You can check out more of his work here

Apart from its non-square dimension, if I posted this on Instagram it’ll definitely within the flatlay aesthetics. Yet this image predated Instagram by more than 20 years.

Going back further, Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel can be considered as flatlays too. The only difference is that you need to crank your head upwards instead of downwards:

650px-CAPPELLA_SISTINA_Ceiling

Look at all these flatlays

The fact that I thought flatlays could only come from Instagram demonstrates a sort of arrogance. As if our past ancestors were incapable of coming up with such thoughts. This technological arrogance, combined with our short memory spans, blind us to the past.

Only the present and future matters.

Yet we don’t realise that our wellspring is drying up, that hundreds and thousands years of human history is turning into dust, literally and figuratively. And every day we’re constantly drawing upon a more and more limited source.

What happens when that source dries up?

Will technology save us?

A Frenchman, A Spanish Dude, and Two Singaporean Guys walk into a club…

After more than a week of trying to self medicate my cough, I decided to throw in the towel and see a doctor.

I was so close to the end of the tunnel though. I could see the light of health on the other side. Finally,  I can go back to being a gymhead and lift heavy things up and put them down. Finally, I can go back to subjecting myself to the mind-numbingly and torturous routine of dragonboating.

But it was not to be. My descent into the pit of sickness was not over.

A flu brought me down.

FLU

 

The doctor asked if I wanted some of my medication to be of the slightly drowsy kind.

I was like, hell yeah, I need those. I need my sleep after hacking out cough after cough through the night.

Okay I didn’t say hell yeah. But I gave her the affirmative that drowsy medication is the way to go.

Unfortunately IT’S NOT WORKING ON ME. I took those medication 2 hours ago and I’m still wide awake. WHAT THE FUCK, THIS IS FALSE ADVERTISING.

Talking about advertising, what happens when a Frenchman, a Spanish dude and two Singapore guys walk into a club?

Take a guess before you scroll down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you guess yet?

Keep scrolling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost there.

 

 

 

 

 

You got this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAR SCENE

 

Nothing happens.

Cause they’re all from the social media team busy with social media stuff.

As one of my colleagues love to say: “We’re from social media but yet we’re anti-social.”

Wiser words have never been spoken.

Now I’m gonna watch stupid shit on YouTube.

 

____________________________________________

I realised I haven’t been sharing music videos I’ve watched. So here’s a blast from the past. The Taiwanese singer/rapper is called Ah Liang. I can’t remember the girl’s name but she was a popular Taiwanese singer/actress. Don’t ask me what the song is about. I don’t understand Chinese. Seriously, did you not read the About Me section?

Enjoy the shitty compression.

I was a Freelance Editor at 13

photo-1434030216411-0b793f4b4173

(Taken from Unsplashed.com)

 

Yep, no shit.

I wasn’t paid though. I did it as a favour.

As to how I got the ‘job’, there’s a bit of a story behind it.

 

How I Got Tapped To Be Editor

When I young, I became something of a budding writer. This reputation mostly stemmed from the fact that I wrote lots of horrible poems (gotta give the teenage angst an outlet). But my classmates were duly impressed by my ‘talent’. Even my teachers were kind of impressed with my poems (although they must have had winced at my rather amateurish attempts) and subtly nudged me to develop my ‘poetry inclinations’.

I was 13 when I hit the peak of my writing productivity. I churned out horrible poems, made pitiful attempts at short stories, and even co-wrote a book with a friend. When I say “co-wrote”, what I really mean is that my friend came up with the idea and wrote the lion share of the novel. I jumped into the project late. So I mostly helped to proofread, made sure that the plot was coherent and contributed a chapter or two. But my most significant role was to… you’ve guessed it… write a poem or two for the book.

I don’t know why a very Tom Clancy-esque Cold War triller required poems but it was a creative decision we made. So we’ll have to live with that.

The book focused on a series of military subterfuges between the U.S. and Russia. And like all 13-year-old budding writers who wanted to make the book more exciting and cool, we added a twist at the end (spoiler alert: China got involved. And possibly North Korea).

Yep, we actually finished the book. We planned to write the sequel but didn’t go through with it as the 9/11 attacks had occurred. But that’s besides the point.

So my friend printed, bound, and laminated a bunch of copies before distributing them among our classmates. While he put my name down as co-writer on the cover, I have to say that he was the one who saw through this project. I was losing steam at the end. That’s why he’s now a neurosurgeon and I’m not.

The reception for the book was mostly polite enthusiasm. I don’t think our classmates were captivated by the story (it had a rather predictable plot and was full of stock characters), but they were definitely impressed that we wrote a book. So in their eyes, we were legit writers.

LEGIT.

And given my prior status as a ‘poet’, I was doubly legit.

DOUBLY LEGIT, I tell you.

And it was this very reputation that convinced a classmate to ‘hire’ me.

As an editor.

A legit one? I don’t know. But we’ll leave that judgement aside for now.

This classmate (whom we shall call ‘N’) approached me one morning during the homeroom period. He was working on a book and needed my reputable ‘skills’. Awesome, I said, another co-writer status.

But N shook his head. He didn’t want me to be the co-writer. He had finished the book (the first draft to be exact). What he wanted was my ‘skills’ to make it as awesome as possible.

Oh, so an editor then.

N was confused and asked what an editor was.

I told him it was someone who edits or make changes to a book.

Horror crept upon N’s face as he unconsciously inched away from me. No, no, no, he didn’t want any changes, he just wanted the book to be as awesome as possible.

Now it was my turn to be confused. I told N that it wasn’t possible to make the book awesome without some changes.

But he was adamant. No changes.

I told him that the book would need some changes if he wanted it to be awesome.

No, he said.

Yes, I said.

We traded ‘yes’ and ‘no’ until I finally offered a ‘compromise’. I would write my comments in the margins and suggest what changes he had to make. It was up to him to accept my suggestions. He had the final say.

Satisfied with the ‘compromise’, N said he would pass me the manuscript the next day.

Damn writers, I thought, as the classmate left my homeroom.

Then I remembered I was a writer too. Well, sort of.

And that was how I became an “editor”.

 

Editors all is Grammar Nazis… But Me Not

The next day, N handed me the manuscript. I thumbed through it and estimated that it was about the same length as the book I co-wrote with Mr. Future Brain Surgeon.

And we’re talking about 70 A4-size pages of single-spaced, 12pt, Times New Roman font. So each page would have about 400 – 600 words, bringing the total to about 28,000 – 42,000 words.

It wasn’t a lot, honestly, but it was still going to be a slog.

I told the classmate to give me a week.

(Current me: That was a fucking optimistic estimate. It probably took me two weeks).

He nodded. He was fine with that.

I added a parting remark. My command of grammar was not the best. So if I missed out any glaring grammatical errors, it wasn’t intentional. But I promised I would do my best to spot both his and my grammatical mistakes.

N gave me a puzzled look. But you’re a writer, he said.

Well… kind of… but that doesn’t mean my grammar is perfect.

N looked more confused. He said that I wrote a book.

Co-wrote a book, I corrected him.

Still, he pressed on, you’re a good writer so shouldn’t your grammar be perfect?

I finally managed to convince N that I had some semblance of grammar knowledge to be an editor and he left my homeroom with some trust (and hope) that his manuscript was in good hands.

I might have also pulled the “co-writer” and “poet” cards on him.

 

That Goddamn Sentence

A quick gist of the story.

It was about a 15-year-old protagonist from the hood who was hell-bent on acquiring cash, power and status and become the most powerful underworld figure. A very run-of-the-mill “get rich or die trying” plot.

It’s actually a fucking awesome story. Awesome but completely un-fucking-believable.

Somehow, our 15-year-old protagonist rose through the ranks to control the drugs and weapons trade along the U.S. East Coast and had numerous gangs, triads and mafias swear fealty to him.

And he accomplished that within 2 years.

That’s some hardcore dude.

At that time I did not know much about the gang culture in the States, and whatever knowledge I had about mafias and gangs came from watching American and Hong Kong gangster films. But I knew enough to go “whaaaattttt… how’s that possible?” when I read the story.

It was also at this moment when I came across the sentence that would cause me and N to argue for two days.

 

180 vs. 360

All rags-to-riches stories require a little psychological insight into the psyche of the protagonist.

It was very simple insight. Basically the protagonist was tired of being the underdog and wanted to be the top dog. Instead of being a low-level gangbanger, he realized he had to make the change soon, otherwise he was going to wind up dead or in jail.

This was when that sentence made its appearance:

So I decided to turn around my life 360 degrees and start on a new path.

Except, something was not right.

I thought for a minute. Yeah, something’s definitely not right.

I stared at the sentence for a couple more minutes, that annoying thought niggling at my brain before I finally got why the sentence wasn’t right.

And it wasn’t just the grammar.

If you still haven’t got it, I’ll illustrate below.

 

Line 1

So this is the life path of the protagonist. He’s on the highway to Hell. And he wants to escape it.

Does he make a 180 degrees turn or a 360 degrees turn? Let’s go with 180 degrees first.

180 degrees:

 

Line 2

So the red line represents the protagonist’s new path. He’s now heading away from the shitty life and onto greater riches. And see the two 90 degrees turns he has to make?

90 + 90 = 180 degrees.

Maths, motherfucker. Do you speak it?

So what happens if the protagonist makes a 360 degrees turn? Let’s find out.

360 degrees:

 

Line 3

90 + 90 + 90 + 90 = 360 degrees.

The protagonist is back on the highway to Hell. He literally made a full circle.

And that was what I explained to N. I even did the drawings, but differently at that time.

The sentence simply did not make any sense.

No, N said, it made sense. The protagonist is turning his life around.

Yes, I countered, but turning his life around doesn’t mean turning in a full circle. The sentence was supposed to be an analogy.

No, N argued, it doesn’t make sense to only turn half a circle. If you were driving and you had to make a U-Turn, you would go back to where you came from. So the protagonist had to make a full 360 degrees to turn his life around.

Yes, but, I mean, but, hang on…

I pointed out to N that the explanation didn’t make sense and worst of all, it didn’t apply to the road of life, which in all honesty, a very fucked up road branching off int0 numerous directions only to end at the same destination.

We had a standoff for two days over that sentence. I was bloody adamant on amending it. N was bloody adamant on not amending it.

In the end, I managed to end the standoff.

By pulling the “co-writer” and “poet” cards on N again.

 

How I Got Fired

I actually don’t remember the details. But the 180 vs. 360 argument sowed the seeds of discord and in the end we parted over creative differences. Whatever it was, I edited the manuscript to the best of my ability before my departure. Fortunately, there was no lasting animosity between us two. And to N’s credit, he did finish an entire manuscript all by himself at the age of 14 and I respected him for that.

After that project I swore I would never work for a client.

Then I became a copywriter.

 

 

Baby Drop

I know, I know, I’m a year late. Last year, I promised that I would write a post about an incident relating to a baby drop. Not the kind of baby drop where you leave a baby at the doorsteps of an orphanage and that kid grows up to become a hero/heroine (they always do). It’s more about the physical act of dropping a baby – or a toddler to be more exact. I actually wrote the post last year, but never got around to editing and posting it. So since this incident took place during last year’s Lunar New Year, and with the 2015 Lunar New Year a couple of days away, I’ve decided to post the entry (edited and recut).

So let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

It was a couple of days into the Lunar New Year when I attended a lunch outing with the extended family on my father’s side. I was the sole representative of my branch of the family tree as my immediate family was scattered across the four corners of the world. If I wasn’t alone, my dad would have probably went: “Zareth, put the baby down, now.”

Well, unfortunately I was alone.

Anyway, lunch was good and we celebrated it with yusheng or lo hei, also known as the ‘Prosperity Toss’. It’s one of the customary dish of Lunar New Year that is popular in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and some parts of China. Consisting of a number of raw ingredients, the aim of lo hei is to toss the ingredients as high as possible while screaming lo hei, lo hei, lo hei. The result is often a great big mess and a dish where the ingredients never really get mixed properly. Still, it’s quite fun.

Before the toss. Excuse the horrible drawing. It actually looks quite appetizing in real life.

 

After the toss. Three quarters of the ingredients usually end up on the table. And you end up apologizing to the waiters for the mess.

 

So what’s the point of tossing the ingredients apart from the sanctioned mess? Well, the height of your toss is proportional to the growth of your fortune. So if you want to get rich quick, you better fling that piece of raw salmon into the air and hope that it doesn’t land on your grandparents’ heads.

Lately I’ve also come to realized that most of the messes are due to the fact that each diner is trying to toss their way up to prosperity until the whole thing denigrates into a chopsticks battlefield. This is made worse when you consider the fact that each person is using a pair of extra-long chopsticks. Extra-long chopsticks = extra ammunition and rage.

The thing about lo hei is that if you attempt to sit and toss at the same time, you’re already cannon fodder.

 

So we lo hei-ed and hei lo-ed and ate and drank the whole afternoon long. After feeling sated, we decided to leave the restaurant (this decision was expedited by the restaurant closing for the afternoon). My relatives and I stumbled out of the air-conditioned interior and into the hot haze of afternoon drowsiness.

We ended up standing in the heat for about 15 minutes while everyone had a lengthy debate on whose house we should retire to for the afternoon siesta. The contenders had quickly come down to two of my aunts but the general consensus was still lo hei-ing back and forth without any conclusion. So while I waited for my relatives to settle on a decision, I surfed through Facebook.

“Is that a museum?” one of my uncles interrupted my mindless Facebook surfing.

“Eh?” I said.

“That building. It looks like a Chinese museum.”

I was a bit puzzled because we were in Clarke Quay, Singapore’s clubbing and pubbing nightspot. Granted, there might be a few museums in the general vicinity. But we were standing right in the heart of clubland and even with Singapore’s addiction to constant change, I don’t think a museum would have just drunkenly danced its way into Clarke Quay.

I turned to the general direction where my uncle was looking at and immediately said: “Oh, no, that’s a club.”

“Really?” He was incredulous.

I nodded with the accumulated wisdom of spending too much time in Clarke Quay during my younger days. “Yeah, it’s a club.”

“Oh,” he said and laughed, “it looks so much like a museum.”

Not a museum. (Taken from Linbery’s Panoramio account).

 

The impasse was finally broken and an agreement was reached. We were heading to one of my aunt’s house – a decision that was to be reversed barely 10 minutes later. Since my relatives had parked their cars at different areas of Clarke Quay, we decided to split into groups (that took another 5 minutes of deciding). I was tagging along with the uncle who asked if the club was a museum.

I was about to walk away when I saw my 18-months-old first cousin once removed (who’s also the grandson of abovementioned uncle) staring at a plastic container filled with dirty cutlery from a nearby restaurant. He was staring at the cutlery with rapt fascination. Apparently the cutlery represented an art form that spoke right to the heart of an 18-months-old toddler.

Nothing like an aquamarine background to complete the drawing.

 

So I walked up to him and said, “Hey M___, let’s go. Your parents are waiting for you.”

He kind of ignored me and continued to be fascinated with the plastic container. Maybe he was waiting for Finn and Jake from Adventure Time or Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick. Or whatever cartoons that toddlers watched nowadays. I took M___’s hand and sort of encouraged him to walk. It didn’t worked. He was still waiting for the wonders of the plastic container to reveal itself while my relatives had started walking away to their cars. So I decided to take advantage of my considerable strength and picked up M___.

M____ had no idea the fate that was going to befall on me. But mostly on him.

 

I had my left arm wrapped around M___’s chest while my right arm sort of hooked underneath his diaper-clad bottoms. In a way, M___ was sitting on my right arm with my left arm securing him to my chest. Everything was fine and dandy as I walked towards his parents.

About two seconds later, M___ realized that I was neither his mother nor his father. He glanced back and gave me a “who da hell are you?” look. Granted, neither his mother nor his father had facial hair so I guessed I failed the facial recognition test.

M___ decides that I shall not be his carrier

 

M___ was not happy. He wanted out of my arms. And he figured that the best way was to start wiggling around. I thought I had him secured in my arms but you know, toddlers. So somehow M____ was starting to break free of my bonds and was on the way sweet freedom.

I reacted by holding on to M___ tighter.

M___ continued to struggle.

I struggled to balance M____.

M____ continued to wiggle around.

It went back and forth and by then, I was losing both my balance and my grip on M___. I mean, try holding a toddler who does not want to be held while trying to maintain your balance. It’s apparently a much better core workout compared to standing on an exercise ball while lifting a pair of 20kg dumbbells.

So while I was focused on maintaining my balance, M___ broke free to freedom.

But M___ miscalculated. Instead of pitching himself forward so that he’ll land on his feet (but with a chance of landing on his face too), he decided to throw himself backwards. And across my body. With the full strength of an enraged 18-months-old. Up till today, I have no idea how the hell he executed that maneuver.

I think M___ actually flew over my shoulder and not across my body as depicted in the picture.

 

So the only thing I could do was to twist my body around and follow his trajectory while trying to break his fall as much as possible.

Of course I failed to do that. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about this.

baby-drop

 

The gif above kind of accurately depicts the fall – but remove the rugby player, the sportscaster, the football and the playing field.

There was split second of silence while both M___ and I stared at each other in shock.

The first thought that went through my head was:

“Oh fuck, I broke my cousin’s baby.”

Then an ear-splitting wail filled the entire empty quay. My relatives turned around and saw me half kneeling and squatting, trying to comfort M____ who was looking very, very distressed.

Apparently no one saw the entire incident since they were already walking away. So they only heard and saw the aftermath.

My cousin came up to me and asked what happened.

What else could I say? I couldn’t say, “M____ was practicing his flying triple kick but missed. He has potential though.”

So I said, “I, er, I dropped M____. It was an accident.”

Fortunately the facts of the case were established and my cousin told me there was nothing to worry about*. On the way to their house, my uncle and aunt told me not to feel bad and that kids had the tendency of falling off people arms. I also think my uncle made a passing remark that I fell out of people’s arms one too many times when I was a toddler.

Huh, so this is karma, I guess?

A couple of days later, over Skype, I told my father about the incident. There was a long pause as he contemplated on what to say. Then he gave me this advice:

“In future, you shouldn’t carry other people’s kids, wait till you have your own kids and then you can carry them.”

Thanks.

Oh, and M____ turned out to be fine. So all’s good. He still needs to work on that flying triple kick though.

 

*My cousin told me he trained M____ how to fall properly. Basically that consists of putting his arms out to break his fall. I guess that’s why M____ didn’t faceplant the ground when he tumbled from my arms.


I think the lyrics is quite apropos for this post.