I Love What I Write

I would like to profess that I keep an offline journal. I would call it a diary, save for the fact that diary sounds “girly”, and some of my guy friends might give me stick for that. As far as I know, I’m the only person I know who does it, though I believe I do know a few girls who might.

I do not believe any of my male friends even come close to recording their thoughts on paper, and most, if not all, would, as I’ve said, give me stick for doing it. So why am I admitting to something that might cause me embarrassment? Is it because I have no shame? Perhaps. But then again, if I didn’t admit it, I wouldn’t have been able to continue with this entry.

And like a professional webmaster, I’ll take the stick, if it means I can get to the carrot (I am vegetarian after all).

Writing in my Journal

I write in my journal on a weekly basis. What I write about range from the really personal (“I killed a man today, thank goodness it was only a dream”) to the for-public-release (the entry before this, To Strive and Appreciate, was adapted from one of my journal entries).

Reading my Journal

Craving something to read, yet not quite in the right frame of mind to do it (my mind was feeling a strange combination of sleepiness and impatience, which rendered most books unreadable; the only other book that might have satisfied me would have been a book of poems), I took out my journal and starting poring through previous entries.

Earliest Journal Entry

My earliest recorded entry was dated 11th November 2000. The first few pages have no paragraphs whatsoever, modelled after the journal the killer in the movie Seven wrote (which inspired me to keep a journal too, just in case I decided to follow in his footsteps and become one as well).

Strangely enough, it reads like some of my present day writings. I would have thought that my writings when I was 16 would be horribly immature, but besides the serial-killer-wannabe mindset that I had back then I haven’t changed really that much.

After reading the last paragraph I just wrote, I decided to re-read my first journal entry (the one in November); surely, I must have changed somewhat! How could I have remained static?

Thank god, some things have changed since then: I now use more interesting punctuation, including but not exclusive to colons, semi-colons, and parenthesis (which I read somewhere does not happen much if at all in the German language; the author of that work chided the other languages for using parenthesis, including English, Italian and French, as parenthesis are horribly indirect and beat-around-the bush, and lead thoughts to places other than the main text, causing a loss of concentration on the part of the reader. Why bother adding something that does not belong in the main text in the main text, right? If it has to be put in parenthesis, it isn’t necessary. If it isn’t necessary, don’t put it in. At least, that’s what he claims. I on the other hand, really love parenthesis. Not everything belongs in the main text. And though not absolutely necessary, words in parenthesis add feeling, creating an atmosphere or a train of thought that leads to something else, perhaps something else vital to the main text. I am quite sure that you have been led quite astray already, as this long text in parenthesis was actually partially meant to do, just to prove his point, which I quite agreed with, though I do not speak or write German. I also read somewhere about a book, called Absalom! Absalom!, by William Faulkner that had a few pages worth of parenthesised text and (horrors upon horrors!) parenthesised text within parentheses! Writing, with creative uses of punctuation, can create literary effects for literature similar to what creative cinematography can do for a movie: everything’s basically the same, but the framing of the words (or in cinema, the actors, props, stage, etc,.) help create feeling that traditional methods might not be able to emulate). My sentences are also longer, and I no longer ponder with words what other people are thinking about me, but what I’m thinking about other people thinking about me.

So, I have matured. But anyway, back to the main point.

I read through my entries, and realised that I love my writing. Is it just me, or is it something most writers feel as well? That one’s writings are some of the best writing one can read?

I’ve read through countless blogs, journals, forums and other places where people pour their thoughts out. But I still find my writing most agreeable.

If you’re a writer, I would like to hear your comments about this, that one prefers one’s own writing to others. If I had to hazard a reason why, I’d go with this: because one writes what one thinks, when reading one’s own writing it is like reading one’s own thoughts; which is like wiping one’s ass with silk: smooth, creamy, and really comfortable, though it doesn’t necessarily always get the job done.

To Strive and Appreciate

I figured that if anything, appreciating what you have is infinitely more important than seeking new ground, new things, new mental and physical territory. What good is living up to one’s potential if one is not satisfied with it?

Sure, the constant striving may expand one’s horizon, making one go beyond his or her pre-conceived limitations. But does being better in any way mean anything, if one is never satisfied with whatever one gets?

There’s always going to be someone, somewhere, better than one in some way. When is one ever good enough? When does one say, “okay, this is it, I’ve attained what I’ve sought”?

Why do we bother to sow the best seeds when the fruits of one’s labour constantly grows bigger and bigger, but never ripens?

Two Minutes to Go

It was a strange experience, this. I was on my way home, at Dhoby Ghout MRT station when a few people whizzed by from behind me.

“Don’t run!” the woman shouted to the three kids in front of her, herself running, trying hard to catch up with them.

Clack, clack sounds were heard. I turned around, and there was another woman running behind them.

I looked up and saw on the information screen that the next train was due in two minutes. “So,” thought I, “these people are running to catch the train. I wonder what’s their urgency.”

These people weren’t walking fast, they weren’t jogging either. These people were running.

And just as I thought the madness over when the woman guilty of the clacking ran past, she took off her shoes and started running. Took off her shoes!

Imagine the scene; at the front of the pack is a woman running after her kids, pleading with them to stop running. Not far behind her is a middle-aged man and a few students. And behind these is a woman wearing a dress, heels in hands, running barefoot down the escalator.

Jesus Christ, what’s the world coming to?

On Automatic Pilot

I just came back from a run in the rain. It has been ages since I last did that (running in the rain,) and back then it was out of necessity and bad planning.

Actually, come to think of it, all the times I ran in the rain were out of necessity and bad planning.

I decided to run in the rain today because my mood was bad, and I needed to do something out of the ordinary — something to break the pattern of thought — and this run was it; and it worked.

While running, I thought of several things. One of the major thoughts that ran through my mind were that of being “on automatic pilot”. How much of life is to be lived automatically, in a semi-conscious state of mind, and how much of it is to be lived with a carpe diem mentality?

I have read a lot of self-help and inspirational literature before. Many of them advocate “living in the moment”, being fully alive. According to them, the world’s too much on automatic pilot. Like automatons, we go around living our lives, but not participating in it. Carpe diem, seize the day they seem to say. Wake up!

But I’m awake. And it’s painful. It’s hurting me and I can’t do anything about it. I’m a sane man in an insane world.

I once read a book about running. Elite runners do not tune out of their run; they do not listen to music or distract themselves by dreamily looking around while they run, fantasizing about the run’s end.

Instead, they’re fully alive to the moment, listening to their body, observing their aches and pains. They need to tune in to their body’s nuances so they know if they should slow down or speed up, to run with a bias to the left or right, to open their stride or close up.

I tried this. In fact, I do this almost all the times I run. But I do not do this throughout my runs. And I believe elite runners don’t do this either. There’s a balance to be sought.

There’s a balance between being fully alive in the moment and being an automaton. You can’t run and think about the run all the time; otherwise, even if the running doesn’t kill you, the thinking would.

To me, when running, I only tune in to my body every once in a while, perhaps every 10 to 15 seconds. In between I allow myself to just run without thinking whatsoever, almost meditative. So it’d be,

“open up, going downhill…”
zone out
“ground flattening out, maintain pace”
zone out
“slight uphill, make steps slightly smaller, start quicker turnover”
zone out
“need more oxygen, slow down pace to two-breaths-in, three-breaths-out”
zone out

and not a constant bombardment of information,

“open up, going downhill. leg hurts. breathing too quickly. ground flattening out. leg hurts. why am I doing this?”

And as you can probably see in my fictional self-talk above, thinking too much will lead to questions of why. And we all know there is no ultimate why.

I’m just saying, we need be on automatic pilot more often than not. It is not that I’m condoning being an automaton, a non-thinking machine. It’s just that carpe diem is complementary and not a substitute for being on automatic pilot.

We can’t think about being alive all the time, it’d hurt too much. Instead, we need to balance our lives with times of spacing out, day dreaming if you will, and times of contemplation and doing things.

The Runner

Run, run, run my life away.
That’s what I think,
And that’s what people say.
They see me running;
Sometimes once, and
Sometimes twice a day;

“Why do you run so much?” they ask.
“Because I like it,” I reply.
“How can you like to run? It’s not natural,” they insist.
“Oh yes it is,” I resist; at which time I take out my Smith .38, cock it, point it at their head, and see them run.
Run. Run. Away.

On Letter Writing

John Steinbeck’s Letters

I have been recently reading A Life in Letters, an anthology of letters written by Nobel laureate John Steinbeck. Honestly, I had no idea who he was before I picked up his book, though his name was familiar. This was a man who hated to use the telephone, as I do too (you can’t think properly on the phone).

I never knew reading other people’s letters could be this enjoyable, but it has been. You know authors by the books they write, but through the letters you get to see another aspect of them that you would never get to see otherwise. I thought his letters regarding his divorces the best. In a letter he wrote to a friend called Pascal Covici, regarding his ex-wife, Gwyn, he wrote:

Gwyn once told me she could do anything and I would come crawling back. At the time I was very much in love with her but even then I told her not to depend on it. A woman holds dreadful power over a man who is in love with her but she should realize that the quality and force of his love is the index of his potential contempt and hatred. And nearly no women or men realize that.

Reading his letters reminded me of how I love writing letters. It reminded me of how I can bombard my poor friends with philosophies they don’t understand but which they pretend to; with stories nobody else wants to hear; with words nobody else wants to read.

I wish I had more people willing to write to me. I wish I had more people willing to be written to.

Pen-pals and Letter Writing

I’ve long aspired to be a frequent letter writer. In my younger days (I think I was about 13 or 14 at that time), I subscribed to a pen-pal organisation — quite famous at that time (or at least I thought it was) — which provided names and addresses of people from other parts of the world (you could go local, but where’s the fun in that?)

I received the name and address of one person, while another person received my name and address. All in all, I made two pen-pals through this organisation. The particulars of the person I received was a guy from Italy (Gianluigi Pino), and the person who received my particulars was a girl from Australia (Katrina Bahn).

I enjoyed writing to both, but more so Katrina, as Gianluigi’s english wasn’t quite that good (no offence, but I’m a whore for good language skills in writing!) Katrina, on the other hand wrote well (though her handwriting was bad), and she was, after all, a girl.

But these pen-pals did not last long. To me, the quick demise of these pen-pal relationships died was largely due to the internet. The moment they sent me their e-mail addresses, and I sent them an e-mail, the magic of having a pen-pal disintegrated into bits and bytes; no more touchingly personal but something quite trite.

Besides these two, and one more local pen-pal largely forgotten, I’ve never had another relationship based solely on letter-writing. It is unfortunate, for I really enjoy reading hand-written letters.

On Hating Writing (with a pen)

Now, allow me to digress here for a moment. You noticed that I wrote “I really enjoy reading hand-written letters”? Well, how about writing hand-written letters?

I don’t.

“You don’t??” I hear you scream.

“Shh…” I say, pointing to the cat sleeping beside me. (if this was a hand-written article, I’d have sketched a sleeping cat beside this sentence.)

I do actually like writing. But I deplore my handwriting. It is ugly, without character, and horribly inconsistent. I’ve been training myself to write better (aesthetically), but try as I might, good handwriting feels forced and coerced; it does actually feel quite perverse, as if I was trying to be someone I was not. Every time I try out my “good” handwriting, I imagine myself as Shakespeare or some other acclaimed writer, writing by the light of a candle, in some dark cottage in the woods, up in the mountains, in some obscure country; or Norway (where I’ve never been; why I imagine myself here has me stumped too).

Besides being ugly, there’s another problem with writing, and that is its speed. Writing feels too slow. Comparing writing to typing is like comparing swimming to running. Swimming allows you to be more creative: upside down, sideways, on your hands, but getting to the otherside is a horrible chore, especially when you’re used to the speed running allows you.

When writing, I think of all the things I want to say, but by the time I pen it down, I’m thinking way ahead of my busy little fingers, who are by this time aching and screaming (“shh…” I say), telling me to pause for a while. (But “No!” my brain tells them, “we have got to write on!”)

But my fingers, like workers on strike, decide to stop, whether my brain agrees or not (“ten to one, the union wins!”) So my brain decides to see what has been written already (“okay”, says my brain, “we have to do something, have to keep moving, strike or no strike”. I have no choice but to agree. It is my brain.)

My brain upon seeing the work that has been done, realises that paragraph 4 and 5 really belong before paragraph 3. “Cut and paste, cut and paste!” I tell myself, “I wish there was cut and paste!” My brain then tells me, “told you we should have drafted out the letter first”.

I tell it to shut up, and my heart decides to chip in to, and tells my brain, “spontaineity, Brain, spontaenieity. How can there be spontaineity where there is hindsight? Write from the heart, not the brain! And give those poor fingers a rest. Poor fools.”

And that is why I hate writing.

Hand-written Letters

I enjoy reading hand-written letters much more than e-mails because of the personal touch, as well as the deliberation and care it takes to write. You have seen why I hate writing with pen-in-hand. You realise how much effort it takes, how much more one has to deliberate over what one writes.

When someone sends you a hand-written letter, it normally isn’t as spontaneous as it is in e-mails, which really aren’t as spontaneous as they are sloppy (few if any actually proof-read personal e-mails). But they are written more carefully, that is, with care. And who writes to anyone with care but to someone they love, someone they appreciate?

And letter-writers sometimes go even further, by adding a drop of perfume or using scented paper. Numerous pens can be chosen for this task of crafting the perfect letter; glitter might be added, as might decorations like lace or magazine cut-outs. The possibilities are endless.

Tactile tactile tactile. Touching a letter is like touching the hands that touched the letter.

Feel the smoothness, the roughness,
the curves and the straights.
Feel the joy when it’s early,
the apprehension when it’s late.

When as the last time you saw a creative-looking e-mail? Or one that was deliberated over and carefully written (with love)? Never? Me too.

Discussing Religion

It was close to lunch on a hot day when this man started talking about religion. He was an interesting man, and I was curious to know his views his religion, Islam, and religion in general.

With me was a friend of mine, a Hindu. I would at this point mention my own religion if it wasn’t so vague, as is probably evident in some of my earlier entries on religion. I am a born Catholic, but have since explored and dabbled in many other religions and spiritual beliefs.

The man looked at my friend and said, “your friendship bands are very colourful.” The tone was sarcastic, and was probably an attempt to lead my friend to talk about his religion. My friend had two bands on his right hand — one black, one yellow — and one on his left, a multi-coloured one.

“These are not friendship bands, they’re prayer bands,” my friend replied. “This band,” he continued, pointing to his black band, “is for protection from evil spirits.”

Next he pulled up his yellow band and added, “this one is for studies. For good grades.”

My friend then pulled the band on his left, and said, “this is a special one. It’s from a Buddhist temple. We Hindus do also visit Buddhist temples. Buddha is from India.”

The man then asked, “how many Gods do you have?”

“We have many deities,” my friend said.

“Deities? So you have many Gods?”

“We have many deities.”

“And what’s the difference between deities and Gods?”

“There’s no difference,” replied my friend, after a pause.

“So you have many Gods?”

“We have many deities.”

Listening to this exchange was quite exasperating. My friend seemed reluctant to say he had “many Gods,” and the man seemed intent on making him say it. The problem here, I found, was that words come loaded with meaning.

In modern usage, people are generally more willing to accept multiple “Deities” than “Gods”. Perhaps this is due to the influence monotheistic religions (most notably Christianity and Islam, perhaps even Buddhism) have had on language, where God is often used in the singular?

“I believe,” the man said, “that in a religion, there should be one almighty being. One who is in charge, who is all-powerful. He shouldn’t need anything. I believe a God cannot need anything. If he does, He shouldn’t be a God. Why should there be a need for many Gods? Do the Gods need each other? Why can’t they survive by themselves?”

My friend was stumped for a while, not quite knowing how to reply. He just nodded. I was by the side, just listening, not agreeing, but not openly disagreeing.

The man then added, “I found that in Islam you find answers to many questions. Religion should answer your questions. If a religion cannot answer your question, it is not a real religion. I onced asked a Christian who was trying to preach to me Christianity. I listened to his story, and found it very interesting. But I wanted to test him. So I asked him, why is there a need for the Holy Trinity? Why not just have one? Why do they have to split themselves into three? He couldn’t answer, and just turned and walked away.”

I did not agree with what this man had said. Religion has been in my experience something personal. If you have 1,000 Catholics in a Church, there will be 1,000 interpretations of Catholicism in that Church. Every single person has in his mind a different shade of Catholicism. Even if the colour is generally the same, it will not, and cannot, be exactly the same.

Ask three people to write ten words associated with the word “God”, and chances are you will get almost 30 different words. The word “God” may be the same, but the way different people perceive it can be very different. (You should try this experiment)

Not everyone will know every single thing about his religion. But does that mean that that religion is so-called false or wrong? Should that person therefore only believe in what he knows everything about?

He went on to say that the “big bang” never happened, that it was a theory.

“Would you believe a cripple? The Big Bang is so convincing simply because it is so complicated. People don’t understand. Down the road, people will realise it is rubbish, and that it never happened.”

So when he said that he believed that there should only be one God, and almost dismissed my friend’s “multiple deities” religion as an error of logic, it disturbed me. His “cripple” statement, which probably referred to the quadriplegic author of the book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking, who actually did not come out with the theory in the first place, but merely popularized it, also rubbed me the wrong way.

The dilemma for me then was: do I intervene and speak my mind on religion? Do I tell him I did not agree?

I decided not to. Firstly, discussing religion is a slippery slope. This man, being a rather devout Muslim, would be a stubborn defender of his religion, and if losing, would probably use arguments that are either irrational (except to himself) or undisputable (“what came before the Big Bang?” Of course, I could use “what came before God?” But that’s another story)

Secondly, this man is my boss. Any attack on his religion and religious beliefs may constitute a personal attack, since religion is so closely tied to one’s self. A personal attack on one’s boss, when one still has months to go on one’s contract, does not seem quite that rational.

Thirdly, what can one gain by winning an argument like this? I, having no religion, or being more liberal about my religion, am better able to let go and allow my beliefs to be attacked. For him, it would be a different matter.

Lastly, and most importantly, it was time for lunch.