366. Postscript: On Embarrassment and Growing

More than 500 days later, I still don’t instinctively know how many “r”s there are in “embarrassment”.

Some things never change.


Past-Me embarrasses me. And that’s a good thing.

As fluid and as dynamic a piece of writing can be, it always falls short of reality, doesn’t it? No matter how many words you crank out, how many sentences you throw at your reader, how many scenes you commit to scene or paper, it all ends with that final full stop.

And that’s it. That’s the end. Like the margins of a photo, all you’ve really done is take an elaborate snapshot of a moment, or multiple moments that joins up to make a unified, bigger moment.

The thing is this: life goes on. Snapshots don’t.

I despise people who argue that a cop-out ending is valid or even admirable because “that’s how it is in real life”. I just don’t buy it. Friend, I’m committing hours of my life to peer into your imagination – and you’re telling me that the stuff in your imagination is exactly the same as what I can get out of my life? Get out!

As much as the creative process might like to think that it convincingly recreates life, it doesn’t. (But don’t quote me on that. Who knows? One day in the future it might.) It never will. A creative ending should be explosive. Satisfactory. Neat.

Real life isn’t.

In the last 365 posts – about 300 if you remove the works of fiction – I’ve tried my best to make snapshots of my life. Starting with the first word for the left side of the frame, ending with the last full stop for the right side. There we go: Nice. Neat. Tidy.

But life, as they say, went on.

Life doesn’t give two shits about the amazing punchline you just delivered. It’s not going to smash to black and roll credits, leaving the audience laughing and waiting for the next exciting installment. In the end, you finish your drink, pay your tab, and head home.

This is my last post on this space. Like a giant snapshot of my life spanning 500 days, it began on the left with the very first post… and here it ends. Bookended nicely for you. But who knows what’s going to happen after this?

Let me give you my prediction of the future: I’m going to write more stuff that’s going to embarrass/mortify Future-Me. Some of that shit is actually going to make it to publication, demonstrating that none of us really know what the hell we’re doing. And in turn, Future-Me is going to inflict some harsh, cruel embarrassment on Future-Future-Me.

It’s the circle of life, baby.

I think… I’ve learned a great deal in the last 500 days. You know. Patience. Perseverance. Dealing with rejection. Getting motivated. Finding inspiration. The works. No doubt there’s going to be a lot more for me to learn. One day I’m going to wonder who the hell made me think it was ever a good idea to start a blog – which will likely outlive me – in the first place.

(here’s looking at you, Vivian – you wonderful woman)

But all of that’s off-screen. Out of frame.

This is where the snapshot ends.

And like one of those old Mickey Mouse cartoon stingers, here’s me waving goodbye at the end of the picture. I know not what lies beyond the right of the frame, but I can speculate, right? We’re allowed at least that much as human beings.

I think it’s gonna be good.

Yeah.

It’s gonna be good.

Advertisements

362. Monkeys and the Balance of Probabilities

The day finally came. Out of the monkey-typewriter room Arnold came, and tucked under his arm were two hundred typewritten pages. On the cover, printed in neat courier fonts, were the words KING LEAR BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

He dumped it on Dr. Cobble’s table and left early that Friday, spending the weekend daydreaming of the things he would say in press conferences after he wins his Nobel Prize.

The news came in early Tuesday morning. Arnold went into Dr. Cobble’s office.

“Sit,” Dr. Cobble gestured to the sturdy leather chair in front of his desk. Arnold sat, barely containing his excitement. Leaned back in his head, Dr. Cobble seemed to study him.

“I received your folder,” Dr. Cobble said at last. “Interesting.”

Arnold grinned. “You read it. No?”

Dr. Cobble nodded. “So I did,” he said, tapping his finger on the brown paper folder on his desk. Then with one hand he pushed it back towards Arnold. “But I’m afraid it’s no good.”

Arnold’s face fell. “What… What do you mean, it’s no good?” he could feel something rising within him. It wasn’t quite anger, and neither was it despair, but something in between the two. “We did it right, didn’t we? Put the monkeys in the typewriter room and put them to work, and there you go. There we have the working proof of balance of probabilities! What do you mean it’s no good?”

Dr. Cobble shook his head. “Have you read through it?”

“Yes, I did. Checked every word.”

“Evidently, you did not check hard enough. Look at Act II.”

Arnold tore open the folder and flipped through the loose sheets.

“Scene Two,” Dr. Cobble added. “The conversation between Oswald and Kent. Line 1087.”

Arnold stared hard at the page. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. “A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meat,” he read. “A base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound…”

Dr. Cobble stopped him. “Before that,” he said. “After the knave and rascal bit.”

“An eater of broken meat?”

Dr. Cobble nodded.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing a simple Google search wouldn’t tell you, Arnold. I expected better from you.”

Dr. Cobble turned his computer screen to face Arnold. There on an open source site, Arnold saw the words of Shakespeare in plain font. “A knave; a rascal; and eater of broken meats,” he read. He stopped and stared at Dr. Cobble, who was looking at him as though he should understand. He did not.

“So?” Arnold put his hands up.

“So?” Dr. Cobble returned an insulted look. “It’s all wrong, of course. Instead of “meats” that is in the Shakespearean text, your monkey wrote “meat” instead.”

“So it’s missing on “s”. Big deal.”

Dr. Cobble shook his head again. “You don’t understand, do you? This doesn’t work if even one letter is out of place – and now we see that at least one is.”

Now it was Arnold’s turn to look insulted. “And what about the other 99.99% that the monkey got right?” he said. “Doesn’t that count for something? Anything? So it made a typo – half the brilliant minds in this facility make a hundred times that number of typographical mistakes in a single day!”

“It’s no good,” Dr. Cobble insisted. “The scientific community–“

“The scientific community should be bloody amazed, that’s what they should be!” Arnold raised his voice. “The insignificance of one letter out of place–“

“Proves that the theory is still fallible,” Dr. Cobble interrupted. “It still does not prove that monkeys hitting keys on a typewriter at random is able to reproduce the works of Shakespeare.”

“But it’s damn close to it, isn’t it? The monkey even got the formatting right!”

“And yet it isn’t. The difference between the almost right version and the right version, Arnold…”

Arnold screamed something to the effect of “the almost right version cane go and —- itself”. “The wonder, dear doctor,” he said, “Is not that the monkey can type the works of Shakespeare, but that the monkey types legible words at all.”

Dr. Cobble returned an expression as hard as granite, saying nothing.

Arnold shoved the sheets back into the document and stood up. “I guess I’ll be taking my leave, doctor,” he said. “Goodbye.”

He left.

Only when the door was closed did Dr. Cobble allow himself to sigh in relief. He had expected Arnold to get much more worked up – to the point of violence, even. But it did not have to come to that, and he was thankful.

And then the door burst open, revealing a panicked research assistant.

“Dr. Cobble, you need to come quick,” she said. “Arnold is… loosing the test subjects.”

He could hear the sounds of shrieks echoing down the corridors. Not all of them were human shrieks. Linda grimaced, waiting for him to do something.

Dr. Cobble sighed.

“Call security,” he said. When Linda disappeared out of sight, he locked the door after her, then returned to his desk and buried his face in his hands.

358. I Have A Quota To Fill

There’s 7 days left on this 365 project. Which is good. But when I start counting, there are only 44 Fiction Friday posts, despite my diligence in posting a short story every Friday.

52 weeks. 44 stories. It just doesn’t add up.

And if you’re friends with me on Facebook (that’s like, 3 of you), you’ll know that I’ve been celebrating everything I score another ten stories. The last one I did was not too long ago – about 4 weeks ago, when I hit 40 short stories published on this space.

So.

Because a 365 project isn’t a 365 project if you don’t stop at 365, I’m still going to stick to that. But at the same time, it would also be good to have a nice 50 short stories published here – because even numbers are nice to have. Especially those divisible by 10.

(although I think that somewhere along the lines, we got it all wrong, and the universe should really be interpreted in base 12 instead)

I am going to write a short story every day for the next 6 days, bringing the total number of short stories written here to a full 50, and then for post number 365, I will say my final goodbyes. It sounds good at the moment. And don’t look at me like that.

I have a quota to fill, dammit.

Since this is technically the second last post, perhaps a wrap-up is in place. You know, like the final shot of the superheroes after they have saved New York City (again). Before the denouement kicks in and we’re back to our normal lives. Or if you’re in a Michael Bay movie, the part before Optimus Prime delivers his at-the-end-of-the-day/happily-ever-after speech.

But screw that. It’s past midnight and I have been awake since 7A.M. God knows there are more important things than fulfilling a daily 500-word quota. Sleep, for instance. If there’s something I learned over the last 365 days, one of it is that sleep is important. Even if you can’t get the mandatory 6 hours of sleep, take what you can get.

(salvage sleep like how you salvage money through tax exemptions, basically)

While we’re on that subject: there’s a picture floating about the internet about how “no one remembers the nights they had enough sleep”. And while I appreciate the spirit of adventure, I think I’d rather choose boring and alive over adrenaline-charged but dead any day. Unlike Icarus.

So off I go to my slumber. God also know that I’ll more than make up for the lost words when I begin to write my stories.

I’ll see you again next week.

357. Black Humor

I think dark comedy is the greatest of all comedies.

See, the power of comedy is in subversion. Comedic timing is about delivery, so we’ll put that aside – when it comes to the heart of comedy, we’re talking about subversion. Something that comes right out of left field and catches you in the most unexpected way. A little bit like horror: if you can see it coming, it’s not going to be half as good.

(but some are just so good that even half as good as they should be, they still blow most works out of the water. We won’t go into that either)

Years ago, I went for a boot camp of sorts. The hardest thing we had to do was to stay awake through the night. The second hardest thing was something that happened during the marching drills.

We were lined up, all 20 of us, in rows of 5. We must have been about 30 or 45 minutes into the exercise. It was 3 or 4 in the morning, everyone was tired, everyone was on edge, and there would be hell to pay if we did not get our marching right. Limbs operating on autopilot, brains torn between screaming for sleep, hating the camp, and processing the commander’s orders… It was a very serious moment.

Then we were standing at attention while the commander inspected us. And then, from the back, one of the younger recruits said something to the tune of “Sir, permission to sneeze, sir.”

Held breaths all around. The commander looked up, all serious.

“Go on.”

Silence.

“Sneeze not coming sir.”

I could feel eighteen faces going blue trying to control their laughter. The commander made a small chuckle, and then said, “You all may have five seconds to laugh.”

The whole place erupted into roaring, knee-slapping laughter as the commander counted the five seconds. And at the end of it, the laughter stopped as suddenly as it started, like someone put a cap on it.

For my part, I have never needed to laugh so badly.

Ever played one of those party games where everyone is supposed to look as solemn as they can, while one guy has to go around and try to make someone laugh? Knowing that we’re not supposed to be laughing only makes it harder not to. It’s like the comedic equivalent to the forbidden fruit.

In 2012, I participated in the 48 Hour Film Project in Kuala Lumpur. The genre my team got, by chance, was Dark Comedy. After some back-and-forth concerning the lines that separated dark comedy from plain old vanilla comedy, we decided that we could safely define dark comedy as “laughing at things you’re not supposed to be laughing at”.

And this is why dark comedy is the greatest of them all.

Silly things are silly, and witty things are witty. There’s a higher calling, however, in making people say “Oh my God” and making them laugh at the same time. There’s no laugh track to tell them when to laugh. There is nothing outright silly, no clever punchlines to give them the cue to laugh. Your audience are trying not to laugh – this is serious, dammit! They are decent people, and decent people don’t laugh at things like that! You’re practically wrestling their laughter out of them, and you have to be pretty damn good at it to succeed.

My team didn’t end up making much of a black comedy as we did some sort of fantasy drama. But I’d like to leave that in the past.

Earlier this evening, as I wandered over to Reddit to avoid agonizing over what to write for today’s entry, I stumbled upon what might be dark comedy gold. I’ll spare you the details. I will, however, give you a few keywords to work with: yo momma, pigs, bestiality. For a good 15 minutes, I was convinced that I was going to laugh myself to death, at the same time feeling a repulsion like no other. It was like looking at roadkill, only funnier. Which somehow made it more disgusting. Which somehow made it even funnier.

(I don’t actually know how I’m going to end this post in a satisfying way. I’ll hate myself for doing this cliche, but it has to be done, for the greater good)

And you? What are your favorite dark comedies?

350. Sunday

Holy hell, I’m less than 3 weeks away to the end of this project?

I’m writing this at 8.25A.M., in the little window available to me while the chicken that will be my breakfast/lunch sits in the oven. In a few minutes, I will get dressed, go downstairs, check if the chicken is cooked, and proceed accordingly with either more cooking or breakfast.

If I walk down the stairs and a nuclear war breaks out, that’d be a real shame. I was looking forward to that chicken.

These are dark days.

In the 50 days in between this post and “Saturday”, the world has changed – not by much, but it tilted on its axis. Everything shifted ever so slightly to the left. Gravity has displaced itself by a couple of centimeters. My room remains my room, but somewhere in the world, there are lives that will never be the same.

In the past 50 days, a Malaysian aircraft was shot out of the sky with a missile. 300 people died. The Russian government doesn’t seem to be taking any action, and it seems as though the Western governments are ready to take drastic actions against Russia the longer they wait. It’s almost like they’ve been waiting.

In the past 50 days, the longtime conflict between Israel and Palestine has blown way out of proportion. Missiles have hit central Israel. In retaliation, Israel has invaded Gaza with 40,000 foot soldiers. Both sides and their supporters are screaming for blood. Human blood. Like the old gods that we condemned and shelved away and buried, they are asking for a blood sacrifice to appease their wrath.

In the past 50 days, two teenagers lured a friend to their house – not a stranger, a friend – and stabbed her, because they were trying to get the attention of the fictional entity known as Slenderman, created out of a message board between users who were trying to out-scare each other. A boy, on account of “being a 22-year old virgin”, drove around in a BMW and started shooting people on sight.

If you asked me, the world is going to hell. There’s no tactful way to say it.

Sunday is church day. Sunday is God-devotion day. Sunday is our sabbath, where we will not put our hands to work. Sunday is the day I actually spend time meditating upon the words and values of God, and more often than not, I get a little insight on how I should be able to live my life a little bit better. How I can get along with others just a little bit better.

Sunday is the day of right set wrong. Sunday is the day to act as children of God, if you haven’t been doing that all week. Sunday is the day of cleansing of lips and hearts, of rededication to our maker. To understand that He is in control, even if we don’t understand it, even if the circumstances strongly suggests otherwise.

Sometimes Sunday is the day of hard messages. There are things said from the pulpit that I cannot bring myself to swallow.

But God is, well, God. And His ways are higher than ours. How can we hope to understand the ways of the Almighty with our limited minds that we have only just begun to figure out how to use?

This is Sunday. A day to converse with God.

So dear God, hear my prayer:

Let there be peace on earth, and among every human heart.

Amen.

338. Buying Time

Here’s an impossible idea for an invention: frozen time bunks.

You know capsule hotels? Like the ones they have in Japan? Just a bed, some lights, enough space to crawl, and you’re good to go. Minimal space, minimal cost. Now: we equip these capsule hotels with the technology to freeze time (this is the hard part) – so that people can slide in, sleep for as long as they need, and slide out a second later after they had slept for 8 hours or 80 years.

The best part is that because everyone, relatively speaking, only spends a second inside based on an outsider’s frame of reference, can you imagine how much money you can make out of it? And people will finally be able to get all the sleep they need, and do all the work they need to!

(then again, there’s also nothing stopping them from bringing their work inside to do…)

Let’s talk about buying time. If people could literally buy time, I imagine it’d be an incredibly profitable market. I mean, just the fantasy of it is incredibly profitable – just look at the mount of money time-travel related stories have generated! Adults will be buying it to get more work done, they will be getting it for their kids so they can spend more time studying (but we all know they’ll just spend all that time playing computer games), and old people… Well. I’m not sure if old people would like to have more time. I’ll update you when I grow old.

If time is money, we should be able to treat it as though it was money by simple substitution. Needless to say, we don’t buy time. We spend time. We trade time. We waste time. We invest time. We do all sorts of things with the time given to us the same way we do all sorts of things with the money in our pockets. What they have in common is that they both run out sooner than we think.

It’s important, I think, to be a clever investor – not just of money, but of time. Just as much as we’re capable of spending money, we’re plenty talented at spending time: traveling, watching TV, exercising, working, complaining, eating… Has anyone realized that just like how you can put it money today to get a return in your investment in the future, you can invest time today and get more in return?

Be real, now: you don’t HAVE to rewatch that Game of Thrones episode. You don’t HAVE to have that Sunday afternoon nap. When you get home after a long day of work, you don’t HAVE to sit staring at the TV through vacant eyes. Trust me, I know. You won’t explode.

(if you do explode, you get your money back – guaranteed!)

Pick up a book. Learn a new skill. Bring a mentor out for a meal. Reflect, do a reality check, and readjust your sails towards your future plans. If you don’t have them, make some future plans.

In the end, it’s not about buying time. It’s about investing it.

And I’m going to ruin the whole inspirational effect by saying: I’m just buying time by writing this post because I’m also waiting for the chicken to defrost.

I hope it’s done by now.

322. OH FOR GOD’S SAKE

WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE AHEAD

I spent some good minutes, sacrificing sleep and time I could have spent on writing my 5,000-word assignment (due Friday), on a long-overdue Fiction Friday entry. It was a sweet little story, and when I put the last full stop onto the screen, there was just pride swelling in me – like I had just become a father.

And then when I hit “Publish”, perhaps taking its cue from George Martin, WordPress decided to crash and wipe out the post and every draft of it that could have been saved. And after some seconds of panicked clicking, I found myself at the blank “Add New Post” page, the realization that the brand spanking new short story I wrote for this space is now gone forever.

Now, I try not to swear too much. Well, yeah, I say “damn” and “hell” and “shit” a while lot, but those are lesser swear words, y’knowhatImean? And due to the limitations of the English language, there just doesn’t seem to be an appropriate word to express my outrage. So I’m just going to say

OH BLOODY FUCK WORDPRESS YOU ABSOLUTE SHITSTICK

and leave it at that.