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josef koudelka

I’ve been on a persistent high the last few days. Sunday was when it started. I had a long conversation with my art teacher K – we didn’t do any art in class that day, but just sat and pored over the works of artists, Impressionism and post, while another student and I listened closely to K’s commentary on them. With Google Arts and Culture, it is possible to look at thousands of pieces of high definition masterpieces, zooming out and in, from Cezanne’s landscape and still life compositions to Van Gogh’s individual brush strokes.

We did exactly that. And while I was earnestly absorbing the visual buffet with my amateur eyes, we also discussed technical and philosophical questions of art. What constitutes good structure and composition? Why was Cezanne considered the father of modern art movements such as cubism and abstract art? And the one that has been occupying my mind a lot – what is the point of art? Is it too optimistic to imagine that, through finding the meaning of art, we might also find the meaning to life?

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Paul Cezanne – The Basket of Apples (circa 1893)

Classes are supposed to be only two hours, even though K never really enforces it. By the end of four hours, we had sat through a two-hour storm in the poolside pavilion where we usually have our class. The other student had left an hour ago, and I was nursing my lukewarm tea, with a million thoughts racing through my head, each one deserving and competing for my attention. The sudden expansion of information to digest took up all the brain space that I had, the pieces fusing into each other and I couldn’t remember where each piece started and ended. It was all very confusing – but satisfying.

K believes that art is a tool for self-expression, an innate need that humans have had since the age of the cavemen. To communicate something that is within ourselves, to create something from nothing. Within a technically adept painter may not necessarily live an artist. They may be excellent at portraits and landscapes, but remain at most draftsmen that are mostly good for commissions (I sense some quiet contempt there). The point of art is therefore not to please others. It is through art that we can understand more about the world and about ourselves, and through that achieve freedom.

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Paul Gauguin – Self portrait with portrait of Bernard, ‘Les Miserables’ (1888)

To K, art is freedom. It is the ability to make full use of our senses, and to then translate all of this into a piece of unique work. A true artist has philosophy behind her work, not only technique. She draws not only with her hands but also with her mind. Upon further research at home, I can see through some quotes from Paul Gauguin, an artist that K adores, the philosophy that he might hold. Here are some that I found endearing, encouraging or wise.

  • Art is either plagiarism or revolution.
  • There are two sorts of beauty; one is the result of instinct, the other of study. A combination of the two, with the resulting modifications, brings with it a very complicated richness, which the art critic ought to try to discover.
  • Out in the sun, some painters are lined up. The first is copying nature, the second is copying the first, the third is copying the second… You see the sequence.
  • A critic is someone who meddles with something that is none of his business.
  • I have come to an unalterable decision – to go and live forever in Polynesia. Then I can end my days in peace and freedom, without thoughts of tomorrow and this eternal struggle against idiots.
  • There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite.
  • Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?
  • Go on working, freely and furiously, and you will make progress.
  • With practice the craft will come almost of itself, in spite of you and all the more easily if you think of something besides technique.
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Vincent van Gogh – Bedroom in Arles (1889)

I am increasingly convinced that, art is but a tool to communicate one’s truths and emotions. The better we get at it, the more robust our ability is to express ourselves, accurately and exactly as we see it. Through writing my Japanese essays I have become painfully cognisant of the fact that I have at times had to embellish what I originally intended to say, only because my arsenal of Japanese vocabulary and grammar is insufficient to explain the nuances of what I had wanted to express. Far more rarely, but it does happen – is when I want to say something in English that would have been easily said in a phrase in Japanese, yet in English it comes out feels clunky and unnatural.

From the top of my head, an example: 来てくれたんだ roughly translates to “You have come for me (in this statement there is a slight nuance of appreciation – thanks for making the effort for coming to see me/attend this event because of me)” but I can’t think of an English equivalent that is as succinct as the Japanese phrase, that doesn’t fall flat on its face.

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Katsushika Hokusai – Two ladies with a telescope from the series “Seven habits of grace and disgrace” (1798 – 1811)

However, the real and bigger question does not lie in how well our craftmanship or mastery of language is, since that is something that can be acquired over time with lots of practice. No. The real and bigger question is that, do I have something worth expressing? I believe that this may be the key of how art links to life. Perhaps the most pressing mission that an artist has is to find that burning something that she has to shout out to the world, her emotions, her struggles, her worldview… and that comes from a life with meaning.

What then, is my life’s meaning?

Is art then, an invitation to open this door to self-exploration, of introspection, of listening closely to the murmurs of our souls? Am I up to the task of finding the authentic me, even if it might yield an answer of disappointing mediocrity, of a life not worth communicating?

The thinking continues.

Featured image by Josef Koudelka. K said that a good composition is when every element within the picture is essential, taking away something will render it ineffective. Incidentally, I watched Amadeus last week and that was what was said about Mozart’s composition – it is perfect, as is. Add or take away a note, and its beauty is diminished. 

“Smell it, smell it!” He urged, while thrusting the stick of crayon in my face. “Doesn’t it smell like childhood?”

I’ve been attending art classes for a month now. I highly appreciate my teacher, K, even if he has crayon-smelling quirks. And I have to admit, they do smell like childhood.

Before K I actually tested out the neighbourhood art class, which seemed to be more daycare than art centre. I was almost ready to sign up to something, anything, that would make me start drawing again, but decided to try K’s class out before I executed the decision. K’s class is literally on the other side of KL, and it takes me a little more than an hour with public transport to get there. I was dubious that I would actually make that sort of commitment weekly – I’m not such a huge fan of commuting and my idea of accessible is ten minutes’ walk. (Daycare Art Class was a five minutes’ walk from my home. I was ready to sign on the dotted line.)

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon that I reluctantly dragged my ass out to Ampang. I arrived with very low expectations as Daycare Art Class with its shrill kids and tiny chairs did not have me aiming high. K was alone – his other students arrived late – and I had him to myself for twenty minutes.

“Everything starts with drawing. Even if you paint, if you don’t know the basics of drawing, you cannot paint properly. Learning art is like learning a language. Lines are the alphabet. You need to first master the lines, so that others will be able to understand what you are seeing.” He began, in the way of an introduction. I love languages. I was sold.

Here’s my first drawing – K had asked me to draw something, anything that I wanted. Because I have no imagination I chose to draw the table that was next to ours. He said that it was courageous to take on the first thing that I saw. I said nothing about my imagination. This was a good start.

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First drawing at art class, March 4, 2018. Previously all photos of my sketches had a blue tint to them, but then Andrew waved a magic wand and restored them so they now look tons better 😀 Thanks Andrew!

And so I started by practising lines. Then circles and ellipses. Then proportions. I realised that I am not half bad at proportions. It took a while to make bolder lines, but I realised that I more often than not found them visually (“hunt the lines down!” said K), even if my hands weren’t skilful enough at translating them to confident lines on the paper. But everything is about practice. K was always spot on in pointing out exactly where the problems were, so I could quickly improve it on the next piece of paper.

I sketched these two teapots in class. The first one is the first attempt, much more careful than the second one. But K liked the second one better because of the lines that are quicker and more confident. It takes all of my resolve to swallow my control freakiness and trust every stroke that goes down, even if they end up to be misplaced and I have to correct them later. The result may be less accurate, but with more character. A life lesson right there.

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Teapot, pointing to the left.

 

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Teapot, pointing to the right. Some strokes that don’t belong to the sketch were added when K was explaining how the line strokes should look and feel like. He also did the spout which kind of stands out if you look at it.

 

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Chair with bag hung on it, March 18 2018.

The two-hour lessons fly by like nothing. I started practising at home.

Here’s my cat series. I think sleeping Suki and Spot look fine but Uno looks like a devil-cat. This was before we learnt values and shadows so there’s not much going on in shading and contrasts except for the minimum.

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Sleeping Suki

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Sleeping Spot

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Uno, wide awake, probably on drugs with those eyes (Sorry little one!)

And here are some colour pieces that I did last week, in anticipation of this week’s foray into colour.

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Attempt at “Fulfilment by Gustav Klimt”. With colour markers.

I chose this because it is basically a colouring project, once the lines are down. Here’s the original. Google Arts and Culture is a treasure trove of masterpieces of the ages, if you want to dive in and imitate any master. You get to zoom in and see all the details up to the brush strokes.

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Tribute to Naomi Watanabe, also named Fuck You to Those Who Have Wronged Me. With colour markers.

Naomi has got such good energy, I couldn’t resist drawing this one. Besides the energy bit, I chose it because it was so colourful and is basically, again, a colouring project, since I don’t know how to mix colours yet.

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Original picture of Naomi Watanabe

This is a sketch that I did to try out the one point perspective technique.

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Inside the ambulance

There is a vanishing point, and a horizon, and all those architectural lines. I had no idea what I was doing at all – check out the dwarfy little paramedic on the bottom. K said that it is because of the values (shading) that he looks so weird. And the story of how I chose this one is that I was constantly thinking about perspective after reading a book on sketching, and when I was watching this Japanese drama with this ambulance scene, it struck me immediately that here’s a perspective! So I made a screenshot and sketched it. Here’s the screenshot.

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Ambulance scene in Japanese Drama “Final Cut”

And this is what I did today.

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Still Life – That’s a Cricket Ball, Not An Apple. With wax crayons.

This is the first time that I’ve done still life with colour, I think. I must say that it was rather enjoyable, even though I’ve never been confident in using colour. But, as with many things in life, a good teacher is essential in pointing out the right way. I’ve realised that once I understand the concepts and ideas, it becomes much easier. Never use black or grey (they kill the painting) but instead mix different colours to end up with a black with life. Use a limited palette – mix the colours chosen to arrive at secondary colours so that the piece doesn’t look chaotic, but harmonious instead. I’m still trying to “feel” the colours – so that I can interpret what’s in front of me, into what will go onto the paper.

And what I like about K is that he gives memorable quotes from artists that he admires – he’s so in love with art and the masters that it is infectious. Said Vincent van Gogh, brush strokes should be executed like how an experienced lion strikes, placed at the exact position so that the prey is killed with one stroke. And said someone else important, art does not have to imitate reality, but the intensity should be the same. (I looked it up, this seems to be the actual quote, by Alberto Giacometti: “The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.”)

Suddenly, with K’s guidance, I have started to see. See, like never before. First it was the lines – I’m constantly molesting things with the imaginary pen that is my eyes, trying to measure one line against another. Then came the values – where is the light? Where are the shadows? Do they come from many sides? After that, perspectives. Where’s the vanishing point? Where are the invisible lines? (I cannot tell yet.) Then now, the colours. The blues in the greens, the contrasting colours in the shadows, the tones, the blends.

What’s the purpose of art? I haven’t quite found the answer – but – looking around – isn’t the world we live in truly wonderful?

So, as I was saying. There was a sudden windfall of time and a suffocating obligation to use it wisely. There was an urge to be creative yet coherent, but the deluge of ideas and possibilities were paralysing. At the same time I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole of existential doubt, which shook the foundations of my free-spirited learning approach, which if you remember, was never about productivity or efficiency. In fact, now that I think about it, it is really mostly about self-indulgence.

The question is, if something is done purely for fun, is there meaning in it? If it doesn’t lead anywhere?

I had a skarty (Skype Party) with dear Robert yesterday and we discussed it. As usual, he knocked some sense into me in the gentlest, Robertest way ever. He gave me a Dutch proverb. “It doesn’t go forward, it doesn’t go backwards, it just goes.” And then he backed it up by saying, “I’ve picked up tennis lately. Do you think that there’s any meaning in hitting a ball to and fro repeatedly except that it’s fun?”

The conversation really was pretty full of Roberty wisdom but, as how skarties go, an hour and a half in I had had enough of wine to not remember very much of what we discussed. Except that I was nodding my head, thinking, “This makes so much sense, I have to remember it!” I should start taking notes of drunken conversations discussing the purpose of life. Who knows how many revelations I’ve had and forgotten.

Anyway, going back to before Robert’s intervention, I was in the midst of going through the ten thousand things that I was doing and reading to see if I could derive any inspiration for writing. As it turns out, Elizabeth Gilbert with her book Big Magic may have given me the breakthrough that I needed.

So Gilbert’s book addresses many points and is one of the best pep talks in book form you’ll ever get as a creative person – so hurry out and get yourself hooked up with it. But it is her central idea about “Big Magic” that gave me a way (or two) to think about my problem of having a finger in every pie. First, is the pretext, on ideas as “disembodied, energetic life-forms”.

I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us – albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.

Therefore, ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners. (I’m talking about all ideas here – artistic, scientific, industrial, commercial, ethical, religious, political.) When an idea thinks it has found somebody – say, you – who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re so consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration. You might miss the signal because you’re watching TV, or shopping, or brooding over how angry you are at somebody, or pondering your failures and mistakes, or generally really busy. The idea will try to wave you down (perhaps for a few moments; perhaps for a few months; perhaps even for a few years), but when it finally realises that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.

But sometimes – rarely, but magnificently – there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something. Your defenses may slacken and your anxieties may ease, and then magic can slip through. The idea, sensing your openness, will start to do its work on you. It will send the universal physical and emotional signals of inspiration (the chills up the arms, the hair standing up on the back of the neck, the nervous stomach, the buzzy thoughts, that feeling of falling into love or obsession). The idea will organise coincidences and portents to tumble across your path, to keep your interest keen. You will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you toward the idea. Everything you see and touch and do will remind you of the idea. The idea will wake you up in the middle of the night and distract you from your everyday routine. The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention.

And then, in a quiet moment, it will ask, “Do you want to work with me?”

Outlandish, but I love the thought of it. Ideas flitting around like elves, prodding people with their fairy-dusty little fingers, “Do you want to work with me? Do you? Do you?”

So, there are two ways to think about this. One is that my confusion is created by too many idea fairies buzzing around me,  jostling each other trying to get my attention, and it all becomes a big confusing mess of prodding fingers and squealing voices. I can’t separate the signal from the noise. I should be thankful that they looked me up and knocked on my door, but I also have to figure out how to find enough of chairs so that every fairy gets a seat. Or, given that my figurative house has only a finite number of seats (like 8), I have to figure out which ideas I should collaborate with and which I should let go respectfully, so that they can go find another better human collaborator.

Now the other possibility, based on the same assumption that ideas are fairies, is that there is one particular idea fairy that I’m waiting for, who hasn’t arrived yet. While all my interests and projects do not seem coherent or lead anywhere in particular, it is possible that I’m just creating the conditions for the Fairy to come, so that one day there will be something that only an academic mutt and hobby philanderer such as myself, with the exact mix of interests and knowledge that I’ve accumulated, can create. In the meantime I just have to be patient and trust that the little fella will find his way – and when he finally arrives, we will co-create something that the world has never seen before.

Which one is it? Does it matter, if both are based on imaginary fairies that happen to be idea-bearing little worker bees?

It’s raining outside, and I sense that I’ve come to an end to this two-part series. I’m again staring at my empty coffee cup (wistfully – it was a really good one), but this time I feel lighter. Sign of better times to come?

***

I’ll leave you with this piece of music which tune and lyrics gave me goosebumps. I had it in the background a lot when I was writing. Ignore the exaggerated closeups of the audience, focus on the music.

鳳凰於飛
舊夢依稀,往事迷離,春花秋月裡。
如霧裡看花,水中望月,飄來又浮去。
君來有聲,君去無語,翻雲覆雨裡。
雖兩情相惜,兩心相儀,得來復失去。

有詩待和,有歌待應,有心待相繫。
望長相思,望長相守,卻空留琴與笛。
以情相約,以心相許,以身相偎依。
願勿相忘,願勿相負,又奈何恨與欺。

得非所願,願非所得,看命運嘲弄, 造化遊戲。
真情諾諾,終於隨亂紅飛花去。

有詩待和,有歌待應,有心待相繫。
望長相思,望長相守,卻空留琴與笛。
以情相約,以心相許,以身相偎依。
願勿相忘,願勿相負,又奈何恨與欺。

期盼明月,期盼朝陽,期盼春風雨。
可逆風不解,挾雨伴雪,摧梅折枝去。
鳳凰于飛,翽翽其羽,遠去無痕跡。
聽梧桐細雨,瑟瑟其葉,隨風搖記憶。

得非所願,願非所得,看命運嘲弄, 造化遊戲。
真情諾諾,終於隨亂紅飛花去。

期盼明月,期盼朝陽,期盼春風雨。
可逆風不解,挾雨伴雪,摧梅折枝去。
鳳凰于飛,翽翽其羽,遠去無痕跡。
聽梧桐細雨,瑟瑟其葉,隨風搖記憶。

梧桐細雨,瑟瑟其葉,隨風搖記憶。

Another day. Another day of looking at an empty blog post screen. It has been many days, and there have been many half-written and half-baked paragraphs, all followed by a sigh, a shake of the head, and the inevitable [x] button. The urge to create is there, almost maddeningly so. But nothing worthwhile comes out.

“Why don’t you write about all the things you are doing and how they may seem random but are great parts of a puzzle?”

My muse, the lovely Eva, sent me this reply when I poured out my wretchedness to her on Whatsapp. I thought about it. I reread parts of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, on creating despite fear. I thought again. I opened my laptop, got ready to type, and realised that I had left my charger at home and there was insufficient battery to do much. I closed my laptop, stared at my empty coffee cup, and thought some more.

***

I’m now at home, flanked by cats (always helpful), the laptop is charging. Maybe whatever that’s in my head is ready to come out now. Here we go.

About ten years ago, I read this book What to do when you want to do everything by Barbara Sher, which shed light on generalist types that she called “Scanners”, people who have wide arrays of interests and can’t seem to hold on to one interest for long, as they flit from a professional field to another, a hobby to another, or an unfinished project to another. In the world that reveres specialists, or Divers as she called them, Scanners appear fickle-minded and unable to focus. Oftentimes, the Scanners even delve deep enough into their interest to produce a book, or a thriving business. But then they lose interest, and move on to the next big project, “throwing away” what they had accumulated so far.

Sher saw no problem with the Scanner model, to her it was simply a different wiring of the human brain that the Scanners have compared to Divers. Without a predisposed judgment against Scanner types, it then becomes a problem of time management, to fit everything that Scanners want to do into a realistic schedule with realistic resources.

This book remains to be one of my favourite books of all time. I remember thinking with wonder – so there’s nothing wrong with me after all. I am allowed to do things and walk away when they no longer interest me. And even if it does not interest me anymore at this point of time, it is possible that the same interest may cycle back, and I would just pick it up from where I left off.

That was ten years ago, and since then I had approached life and learning with a kind of laissez faire which basically amounted to going with the flow, wherever the flow brought me. 既來之,則安之. Academically and professionally, I hopped around in several fields, from information systems engineering, to public policy, to trust-building in social media, to sustainable development, to human rights. It has not been easy, but it has always been interesting.

In my spare time, I’ve dabbled with dozens of different things, so many that I’ve lost count – in sports (taichi, dragonboating, capoeira, yoga, etc.), DIY (knitting, electric circuits – for the purpose of building an AM radio, solar cooker, skincare products, cooking, etc.), art (crayoning, carving soap, sketching, zine-making, etc.), languages (Japanese and Spanish being my main target languages; and others that I have worked on sporadically or at some point picked up and let go: French, German, Thai, Turkish, Estonian, American Sign Language, etc.) and other uncategorised stuff (Rubik’s Cube, Go, ukulele, gardening, etc.).

Most of the time they never amount to anything. I attack the fad of the moment with the enthusiasm of a puppy playing fetch, sometimes naively believing that this is the one – which it rarely actually is. But with the heat of the moment, how could I believe otherwise? For a year I woke up at 5:30am a few times a week to practise taichi, that was the commitment that I gave to it – and I have not done any taichi for the last five years. But it’s okay. I accept that I don’t have the time and energy for everything in the world, and I made the decision to enjoy learning and detach when I don’t enjoy it/have time for it anymore.

So, as I was saying, laissez faire and mostly unconcern when it comes to learning and doing things, that’s how I’ve lived mostly for the past ten years. If I’m inspired to learn it, I’ll learn it. If I’m paid to learn it, I’ll learn it. Nothing is too far out. But this year, I found myself hit by a sense of unease which did not dissipate for weeks.

Let’s examine the situation a bit.

I had just left a job, one that took up a lot of my time and energy, and that for various reasons left me feeling drained constantly for most of last year. That I was suddenly in possession of my time again, unadulterated time for me, until my next job, felt liberating and downright scary at the same time. On one hand I could do anything I wanted. On the other hand, I could do anything I wanted. The responsibility felt like a million tonnes of lead on my shoulders (side note: it also felt like a million tonnes of cotton candy on my shoulders). I felt like I should do everything. Immediately. Right this second. Yet I could not choose from ten equally interesting possibilities of how to spend my time, and I was experiencing what Barbara Sher had described as a kid starving in a candy shop because she couldn’t choose one to eat. Sudden shock and analysis paralysis.

At the same time, I had decided that I spent too much time consuming content and not creating content. In other words, I was demanding output from myself. I recognised that I had not written non-work stuff for years now, and I missed writing just for the sake of writing. All those books that I had read – and I had devoured seven books in the space of the first two months of 2018 (plus a few others that I’m halfway through) – those had to amount to some original thoughts right? Or, if I couldn’t write, I should still produce something. A drawing? A zine? A diagram? Something that I could employ my new markers for?

I took ten days off from this state of frenzy to work on a research proposal, which I finished and submitted. Then I threw myself back at it with renewed fervour. Enrolled myself into a ukulele class. Bought some bars of soap to carve. Contemplated taking up programming again. Went to the neighbourhood art school (catered mostly for kids) to check out their syllabus for adults. Dreamt up mini research projects. Read. Read some more.

While all of this was happening, there was always an open blog post ready to capture any ideas that may pop up. Nothing popped up. And while all of my endeavours to fulfil myself creatively were exciting and welcome, they also served to propel myself further and further into a state of existential doubt – what is the purpose of all of this, if not just syok sendiri (self indulgence)? If there were no outputs to my inputs, then what were the inputs for? What is the red thread that runs through everything that I am trying to do? Indeed, what is the red thread that runs through everything that I’ve done so far? What is the purpose of life? Why are we here anyway? (It seems that many questions boil down to these last two eventually.)

To be continued.

 

Every Wednesday, I permit myself to have a day/half a day off to do anything that I want, as long as it’s creative. This policy came from more than a year ago when I was my own boss, and I realised that I hated my boss. The exploitative bitch would not let me rest during weekends, yelled at me all the time, and didn’t even pay me well.

The bitch and I had a conversation, and I told her that I would quit if she kept at it. I would find another boss, and she could get another minion. She gave me a long, steely stare. I stared back. Then, with a sigh, she asked me how she could improve my working conditions.

Wildcard Wednesday was then born. I could work my ass off every other day of the week, even weekends if I really had no choice, but Wednesdays were dedicated to gleeful creation and play. No work was allowed on Wednesdays, even though sometimes I sneaked an hour or two in (but never more than that). In the place of work, I made new dishes from scratch, played with my Snap Circuit renewable energy circuit board, and tinkered with random projects. I read books for leisure, doodled, and daydreamed.

It was really quite pleasant. My productivity went up during other days of the week. I gained some self-respect and balance. The inner bitch and I were friends again.

(As an aside, Wildcard Wednesdays drew inspiration from Awesome Mondays, devised by Eva and I when I was doing my PhD in Singapore. I always worked weekends, but on Mondays we would get a bottle of wine, some cheese and crackers, and whisk ourselves to a beach on Sentosa Island. We would set up our picnic on our matching sarongs, swim and laze around, get progressively tipsy, and then beat up coconut trees with beach towels. With all the vengeance directed at disappointing lovers, rejected publications, and a persisting fear of never amounting to anything important in life. Ah, Awesome Mondays.)

Wildcard Wednesday was shelved when I moved back into employment last year. Fast forward to this January, I left my job and am now my own boss again (at least until someone else pays for my time). I’m looking for research work, writing proposals for possible funding, and reading as much as I can. This time around, I’m not as crabby as before, since a year’s detour into coordination and communication work served to confirm that I am really, ultimately, a researcher at heart, and that’s where I want to work and play. The inner bitch is much less bitchy, and the reluctant employee, much less reluctant.

And, Wildcard Wednesday is back. The last few Wednesdays I had spent drawing mind maps of chapters in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Today I spent some of it reading up literature on resilience and systems thinking (ok this is kinda work), but I am also taking some time to write and to think. I’m looking forward to trying out a new recipe tonight, I haven’t decided on what. When I close this post, I’ll start browsing recipes.

It’s a day like any other, but I have a glint in my eye, a smirk on my face. I’m inviting inspiration fairies to come plant ideas of mischief. The evening is still young. What shall we do, if we can do anything?

It has been a gradual and creeping process but I believe that I have become too used to reading, but not writing content.

Yesterday a high school mate told us, laughingly, that he had spent some time writing 300 words on the topic of nose hair. It started off as a plan to review the year past. Somehow, along the way, he lost the plot and started contemplating the more pressing issue of the overgrowth of his nose hair and the point of growing hair out of one’s nose. Then he spent more time tightening his prose and choosing precise words to convey the dismay that he felt when he extracted a half-white one. To be exact, it was black on one end, brown in the middle, and white on the other end.

I don’t believe anyone has read his piece yet. But it appears that his nose hair has inspired another running train of thought that is happily, pointlessly chugging along.

Is High School Mate’s nose hair trying to reach out to the sun? Is that why it has been growing as quickly as it can, even as it is relentlessly plucked, so that it can see the light of the day? Would we finally achieve world peace when the arms race of efficient growing versus efficient plucking stops?

Anyway, I digress. The point is, there is no point. What is the point of art? What is the point of play? What is the point of living? Here I perform some word juggling. What is the point of art, if there is no play? What is the point of play, if there is no living? What is the point of living, if there is no art?

Anyway. Again.

I want to write more in the new year. Some plans are under way, a new domain name, a new website structure, some content ideas. A consolidation of my online identity and content production onto one platform.

As practice, I have been writing about things that have excited me these days, including my progress in solving the Rubik’s Cube without a manual (I am about 5/6 through), the first time that I had properly cooked in months, and certain ideas on the governance of artificial intelligence, which I had been reading about. None of the writings have made it to being published, and my graveyard of dead drafts is now populated with half-baked remains again.

But that’s ok. I wrote. I can’t expect to produce shiny articles or contain my control freak perfectionism within a few weeks, after lacking practice and being in creative prison for so many months. If I continue writing ten drafts, out of which one will be posted, or if I continue fine-tuning my inner critic to stop yelling and giving false alarms (This is a drill that people will hate what I write and judge me until the end of time! I repeat, THIS IS A DRILL! ), maybe this year will be a year of writing and thinking through writing.

The important thing is to start. I believe I have, and I believe I have finally written a post that I can press publish on. Thanks, High School Mate’s nose hair. Never stop growing.

My last post was in February 2016. And scrolling through the graveyard of dead drafts I see that in 2016 I made a few attempts to write something. The last draft drafted was on the 31st of December, 2016. It didn’t make it. In 2017 I hadn’t even tried. Well, up till tonight.

Tonight there’s something racing in my head, a little Tasmanian devil spinning around and around trying to get out of my head, onto the keyboard, splat onto the screen. Tonight I feel as if I have had an overdose of caffeine, even though I haven’t had coffee at all. Tonight I feel a bit of vitality seeping through the cracks of my hardened soul, and if I knock on the right places, maybe we might just break the dam and get me out of this multi-year writer’s block.

I haven’t written in such a while! This business of self-expression has long eluded me. When I started my first blog (in 2005), I wrote for myself, and for the people who I fancied were interested in reading about my life. Looking back, I can’t imagine why they would be – I had a pretty boring life back then. Life has since become multifold more interesting, but at the same time I developed an expanding self-censoring mechanism, a result of growing consciousness of the dangers of exposing oneself in this digital wilderness. A concoction of fears – of unintended consequences due to unintended audiences, from the revelations of my hero Edward Snowden, and of leaving indelible digital footprints for ever and evermore – rendered the impotence complete.

But tonight I’m feeling brave. Exhilarated. I need to tell someone. Hear me, everyone and no one.

I actually don’t know why this has come about. We can find this out together. Writing usually makes things clearer for me. So, while I write this and while you read this, we are on the same page (literally and figuratively), just separated by space and time.

Maybe it has something to do with this overwhelming high that came out of a recent Youtube channel find – Acapella Science – which tickles so many of my fancies simultaneously that I’m experiencing this extreme joy. The below video is my favourite from his collection.

I must have listened to it at least twenty times by now, but I still experience this frisson from how perfect the vocal arrangement is, and how the lyrics snap into place in beautiful precision. That I am dancing to celebrate art and science, together. There’s something spiritual about this. I want to never stop listening to it, but yet I am afraid to exhaust the magical energy that I’m harvesting. At least there are about 10 science songs from his channel that I’m rotating.

And the more that I think about it, the more I feel that the draw to me is not only the marriage between art and science, but how unapologetically nerdy this musical scientist Tim Blais is. The rendition is impeccable, but what shines through is Blais’ strong conviction in his art and science, no matter how obscure and arcane the subject matter might be, or how niche the audience might be. More than beauty, I draw courage from this steadfastness to be true to oneself and to execute that self-expression into perfection.

The result is distilled joy. I am going to bed with a smile on my face tonight.

Maybe, just maybe, I can write again.