A Wild Character Appears!

I went for a short walk at noon, mind filled with advice from famed writers, most notably Ernest Hemingway:
‘As a writer you should not judge. You should understand. … You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice.’
The elevator stopped on the 17th floor, where a cauliflower-haired woman was waiting. She looked at the floor indicator by the ceiling, peered inside the lift, and made a few hand gestures before squirrelling in and inspecting the floor buttons. ‘Yes, that’s right…yes…pineapple,’ she said, and returned to tapping compulsively on her phone. The lift went down a few more floors. She continued her tapping, almost rhythmic but not quite, right index finger pressing into the screen. She sighed, paused, and turned to look at me. I was already looking at her, and she quickly turned back to her phone before checking which floor we were at. Nope, she couldn’t get out just yet. She shook her head and sighed again.
Then there was a man with droopy eyelids in an oversized white T-shirt, plodding across the plaza, head down, with uneven gait.
Then there was the boy at the supermarket- perhaps 5 or 6 – tenderly grasping a turtle soft toy by its neck as he waited in line with his sunglass-touting mother.
And then there was the amateur scrabbling for her notebook, awestruck at the wealth of characters around her that she had neglected for so many years. Such is the ignorance of youth.

4. Restlessness

It begins with a trill of the mind, of the finger,

Getting up, sitting down, getting up, walking out

Walking back, sitting down, getting up, trilling continues

Sitting down, shrill fast-forward, getting up, finger taps

On the keyboard, on the table, on the forehead, on the keyboard,

Forming a rhythm that I can’t get out out out of

Like a chipmunk going slower, bashing its head on an acorn

Quick succession of short blips, flips, trips, jitters –

I guess it’s what people call coffee.

Disclaimer: it’s not actually coffee.

I’ll revise this later

Even though I’ve been continuously bleeding thoughts into Evernote and my crinkly unlined journal, I’ve not shown anyone any of my writing. That means it’s often sloppy, and I don’t revise my work. Any thoughts of revision involve revising it later, which has not yet happened for any of my 1000+ digital diary entries, let alone the ones on paper. I’ve been editing this entry for almost an hour. The one piece I did publish (my testimony, which was only posted on Facebook and included in a booklet to a small group of friends) I revised every day for two weeks. It would’ve been longer, but that was all the time I was given. When formally writing for CoCoon HK and when writing marketing copy, I spend hours anxiously revising emails and interviews like a mad squirrel. Help!

My point? Revision is great, but it takes some getting used to. I bought a copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ for a friend this week, and took the opportunity to re-read a few pages. The differences between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ examples were shocking, and gives a taste of what careful revision can do.

Try to read Orwell’s deliberately drained translation of Ecclesiastes 9:11:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels this conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must inevitably be taken into account.

Compare that to the original (King James Version):

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.

(No words can describe this.) You don’t even have to add specificity or vividness to improve a message. By changing a few words,

Applicants can make a good impression by being neat and punctual.

is transformed into

Applicants will make a good impression if they are neat and punctual.

How beautiful is the gift of clear, living language! Here’s to writing and revising better every day.

Is this good enough to publish?

‘Will this create social good? If not, surely it’s not worth publishing?’

This worry is the main reason I stopped blogging. Not only that, if I thought my friends wouldn’t benefit from hearing about e.g. what I’d done over the weekend, I wouldn’t talk about it. Recently, I wrote a few articles for other blogs and fretted big time because I wasn’t sure they were valuable enough to be put online (more later).

I soon realised how horrible this obstacle was for me and for my friends. Thankfully, I also realised how much I enjoyed reading good writing, quirky stories, and indeed anything from the heart. And I never disliked writers for publishing pieces (hateful works excluded), regardless of quality. It was a classic case of applying one set of standards to most people, and applying another set to myself: Everyone could write and publish online, except for me, because my work wasn’t good enough. Though this way of thinking undermined my ability, it was oddly arrogant in treating myself different from others.

So while people are wary of others offering free content because it takes precious time to create, here I am sitting and worrying that my work is not good enough to occupy a shack on the practically infinite street that is the Internet. That’s not creating social good – it’s burdening me and preventing people (me) from exchanging ideas, sharing experience and gifting constructive criticism.

So with that, here’s to blogging again.

Where is the middle of nowhere?

Where is the middle of nowhere?

Maybe ‘The Middle of Nowhere’ is the name of a place, just as China in Chinese stands for Middle Country. Or ‘Nowhere’ is the name of a place (an incredible one at that, where everyone’s skin is blue and pink and green), and we have to find its centre: it might be where most people or features are, or even the centre of mass, though that might mean that the middle of nowhere is not actually in Nowhere. Which, if you take Nowhere to be its literal meaning ‘nowhere’, means that the middle of nowhere is truly somewhere. (Which is what we’ve been asserting all along.)

If we were in a crime novel and were trying to be even more obtuse, it might be the letter h. We might even try representing ‘nowhere’ numerically as 14-15-23-8-5-18-5. The middle, then, might be the arithmetic mean of the numbers: 12 4/7, which is L D / G, or perhaps more appropriately LD7, an area in Llandrindod Wells.

But what of these obscure ways of interpreting phrases? Sure, they bring pleasure to the lover of triviality and of obsessive attention to detail, who flips objects like one might a loose pancake, making them more contorted with each flip until they are beyond recognition. These are then served repackaged as a some exotic gourmet dish often exclusively delicious to connoisseurs, but confusing and perhaps distasteful to others. Perhaps it would be better if we turned from them, at least for a while.

So if we were being more reasonable, we might say the middle of nowhere was a place in the radial centre of a deserted area. But in naming this place, we’d have to come up with an arbitrary measure of desolateness, and coldheartedly brand places people call home as forsaken, empty, and devoid of civilised life. Although some may take these labels with gusto, most would not be flattered by the often despairing, or even condescending tone borne from ignorance targeting the places they grew to know and love. And upon judgmentally identifying these places, all too frequently we end up ransacking rainforests and pouring sediment into the sea, only to have the tide turn against us soon after, at which point we blame others for the deed.

Thus, by the same token, should we not treat these seemingly frivolous issues with less contempt? This silly playing with numbers, or twisting of words might be the seed of a creative spirit, a hobby fostered from childhood ready to bloom. Soon, one might even find that these trifles have some use – first for occupation, then for entertainment, then for solving problems in ways never previously imagined. Trying to eliminate trivialities based on perceived usefulness is no winner’s strategy – imagine if mathematicians had stopped working on number theory, which Hardy had declared so proudly to be useless. We wouldn’t have the encryption systems or swift digital calculation often taken for granted today.

Is this claim a stretch? Perhaps. But with the prevalence of investigating for the sake of investigation, and playing with data for the sake of play among the pioneers of intellectual advancement (no citations, sorry), it’s worth at least a second thought. Otherwise, we might soon find ourselves lost in our own ignorance – where we began, in the middle of nowhere.

A recent rant (of mine) that came out of Nowhere.


My blanket is an alpine range

Snow-covered silks with dancing suns

fresh from the sky just for the eve,

an omelette of tourists on cotton sleeve.

// Another day a bloodstained scene of war

with flowers the size of fortresses,

stalks streams flowing up the slope,

vessels of thought, of dreamless sleep.

// I poise my lens, a photographer

capturing a snapshot of the History of Man

before I hop on the late night train

to the place where no cameras reign.

I am adding // s to the start of each stanza (save the first) because the line spacing isn’t working.


The first tree

to lose all its leaves and stand exposed to the hustling of others’s leaves,

the rustle of warmth as it waves its branches in


wind strong enough to chill but

not to let those fingers touch and feel its own existence –

But it will perhaps hold first the golden chandelier when the spring comes.

(Final work imported from A.Symmetric Space, a side project I have now rescinded.)


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