Monday, March 20, 2006

Jobs I’ve had

Before we begin, a special message to Wandernut. Two things, babe:
  • Thanks. For saving me. I wanted to post something but I didn’t know what to write about. Your tag saved me from having to be original.
  • Sorry. I’m sure you at least expected me to be interesting. I tried. I’m sorry.

Accounts Clerk / Data Entry Clerk / Filing Monkey

My first job.
400 bucks felt so big.
Having my own money felt so big.
I felt mature and responsible (a feeling which would never be recaptured in any other job since).
I had an EPF number (social security to you guys outside Malaysia).
I made friends with people I didn’t go to school with.
I discovered how hard it was to earn a decent wage.
I spent everything.
I admired my folks.
I learnt about politics and how I was crap at it.
I felt useful.

‘Good English’-speaking Asian
This was at my Uni.
It was a short-lived, but well-meaning attempt to help ‘International’ (read ‘Asian’) students improve their spoken English for presentations. You got paid 10 bucks, and you spent a full day with these students and helped them with their oral skills (leave it). It was shitty pay for a reason – you weren’t supposed to profit from it. You were supposed to help people.
I took two Koreans, an Indonesian and a Hong Kong girl to a comic store named The Minotaur. I bought a comic and we went to a coffee place. I made them act out the scenes like a sketch. They were so good. I spent 15 bucks all in.
They still got laughed at in presentations but they remembered my name.
For one of the very few times in my life, I felt like a good person.
I also knew I was a crap teacher.

Intern, then part-time Marketing Exec in a software firm
I got a free course in programming from a company that was hardcore about the Internet when it was young. They wrote ‘serious’ software. I’m not talking puny consumer version Windows. I’m talking AS/400 apps. I felt so hardcore.
I met Lou Gerstner, then CEO of IBM. He introduced himself as “Lou Gerstner, CEO, IBM.” I replied “(my name). Brilliant marketing student.” He laughed and shook my hand. I felt something break.
I was asked my opinion. Really asked.
I ogled my first colleague, an older woman.
I got a good grade for my internship. I told my lecturer there was some mistake and forced her to show me the test score breakdowns.
I was offered a full-time job. “Stay here. Stay with us. We’ll sort out the work permit stuff.”
I turned it down. Partially cos exciting things were happening in Malaysia. But also because everything I loved was there – my family, my brother, and a girl who would stay with me another 6 years.
I felt like I could do anything.

Internet kitchen sink
I got my first name card. It said ‘content development.’ It started as a mix of writing and basic programming for the website. It quickly ballooned into project management (you had to or you died) and sometimes salesman (you had to our nothing got sold).
I learnt Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXpress.
The dot com bubble burst and we were one of those hit.
I told myself I’d try everything I wanted before age 30, with the theory something would eventually stick.
I felt I’d left with more than when I arrived. More of what, I don’t know.

Tabloid journalist / senior busybody
I wrote for a men’s magazine I liked as a reader. Actually, I worked for very watered-down local edition it. But hey, it was all new to me, and therefore fun.
I got a lot of free stuff. Free drinks, advance screenings to movies, and a new expensive car to test-drive every two weeks.
I got to meet interesting people – a lady who trained the tigers on Gladiator, I interviewed a medical examiner and spent some time in a morgue, and Malaysia’s only F1 driver. And I interviewed Shaggy.
I developed ambition, and I got bored quickly.
Towards the end I had savage disagreements with my editor – a moron with a work permit. I learnt that management’s job in general is to run the company, not attend to the needs of individual employees. It’s the right way to think. It’s imperfect, but more efficient in the long-run. It’s also hard to see that when you’re an employee.
I felt like I’d sold myself short on this one. And without arrogance, I say this: they didn’t deserve me.

After months of writing marketing plans, contracts, number-crunching and soul-searching I started a local edition of a leading movie magazine from the UK. I began the venture with a colleague at my old magazine job.
With a loan, I rented a small office, bought some tables, a coupla computers, and hired a friend to work for me.
I went out and saw advertisers and things were looking positive.
And then my partner asked for a larger slice of the company or he’d withhold the money he was supposed to bring in. I told him the law prohibited me giving over more shares without more capital. In any case, it was a larger slice of nothing at this point.
He went crazy and it went spectacularly to hell. I burned every cent I had and then some to buy him out. There was no other choice. I needed to control the situation and I didn’t want him a part of it.
In the next few months, I let two employees go, including my good friend who initially refused to take my money, mailing me back my cheque with a note saying “I believe in you. Make it work.”
But I couldn’t.
And I did try. I used the last of my lease to make sales calls. I re-wrote my business plan to allow another publisher to take control of my business in return for a job and marketing input. In the end, I just ran out of money.
I sold what I could, closed the office and decided to get a job.
I felt like a failure.
Actually, it was worse than that. I felt like a fuck-up.
After that I made a list every day. At the top, I wrote “I am still standing.”
It’s 4 years later and I’m writing this from the Mac I bought for the business.
And I’m doing ok.

Sitcom scriptwriter
I got asked by a friend. I had no idea how but I really wanted to try it.
The pay wasn’t very good, but I learnt to think of jobs in terms of energy spent, not just money earned. And for the energy spent, it was actually ok.
I sold two scripts, none of which I saw after they’d been filmed.
I learnt how to write dialogue.
I discovered I could be funny on paper, if not in person.
I felt like writing had become a good friend. It fed my tummy, and made me feel good about myself. And up until now, I hadn’t given it the simple respect that it deserved.
I am now grateful I’m a writer.

Copywriter, three different places now
I kinda fell into this. Stumbled, more like.
In the same week:
  • A friend told me to try copywriting. I thought it was about patent law.
  • I bumped into a Creative Director of an ad agency about 10 mins from my current office. It was his last day so he couldn’t give me a job. But he did give me the name of the guy replacing him. I called up and asked for an interview.
  • I got a call to come into the agency. I chucked in my job. I went home to put together a very, very amateurish portfolio during the night.
  • I went for the interview. I got the job.
I realised the value of taking a chance on what you want.
And how important it is for someone to take a chance on you.
Copywriting was where I stopped having just a job and started my career.
I’ve also swung wildly between feeling I have a gift and feeling I’m a total imposter.
The last two years, I’ve kind of come to terms with my profession, which is to sell things with words, not always truthful.
I’ve also come to terms with my craft. Which is actually a kind of magic.
More importantly, I know the difference between the two.
The best piece of advice I ever got was “Don’t try and be a writer. Just write.”
I feel I’m still learning.
I don’t want to be in advertising long-term. My personality doesn’t match it (I’m a loner by nature) and I don’t feel compelled to be as ‘good’ (whatever that is) as you need to be to ‘make it’ (whatever that is).

But writing. That I can do forever.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The anti-Lent

Well, thank Cuh-rist I'm not religious so I don't gotta give nothing up.
Some of my habits have not only lived with me for years, they’ve spawned children:
  • Licking the edge of the cup when there's spillage. Like foam from my latte. Several friends have called it disgusting, but I've noticed guys more so than girls.
  • Untangling co-workers' telephone cords. Which as my friend rightly put, "would actually be a much appreciated gesture if it didn't come with that fucking judgmental look on your face."
  • Pulling elevator pranks. One of my favourites:
Me: What floor?
Victim: 9 please.
Me: (presses said floor) Sorry, that floor is already taken.
  • Saying 'Coooodie!' for no good reason. It's actually a permutation of my dog's name, Cuddles. How did it get from Cuddles to Coooodie? Fuck if I know.
  • Making people say 'the' client. In my line of work, as in many others, the customer is all-powerful. But I've yet to work in a trade that raises them to such God-like status by dropping the 'The.' Colleagues write job briefs using sentences like ‘Client would like an alternative headline.’ It's even more grating in conversation: "But Client only has 80,000 to spend…" I've gotten (I admit, unreasonably) stubborn on this point and sometimes won't entertain revision requests unless they say 'the' client. And stop using an upper case 'C.'
  • Some light self-mutilation. It's like how some people can't leave loose thread on jackets alone. I see a strip of skin, barely a millimeter wide and I'll tug it until it comes off, leaving a red gash. I do this for cuticles n my fingers and dry lips. Then I suck the blood.
  • Looking at the spot where my big dog went to sleep for the last time. If I came home one day and find him there, I'd just hug him. I wouldn't even ask if he was real or how he came back. Ray, we miss you so much.
  • Worrying if my car's locked. I always end up walking back and jiggling the handle.
  • Worrying if I've flushed.
  • Speaking in point form. Like so:
I can't meet you this evening cos:
a) I have a dentist's appointment
b) You're the reason I HAVE a dentist's appointment
c) Bloody hell, if I knew sucker-punching people with the base of a nightstand lamp was your idea of 'hot' I wouldna slept with you in the first place. I mean dayum girl.
  • Saying ‘yes’ to Mom’s coffee. In fact, lotsa times I come home from coffee with a friend or colleague and my mom goes ‘Would you like some coffee?’ It’s bad for me. It’s gonna make me piss like a racehorse. I’ve had 4 cups today already. And coffee stains teeth. Yes, Mom.
  • Stockpiling name cards. I’m not one of those ‘let’s do lunch’ people. Well, to be specific, I’m not one of those say-let’s-do-lunch-but-I-know-I’ll-never-call-you people. If I say I’ll call you, you’ll get a call practically within the week. Also, any of my good friends will tell you – I’m horrible with social situations and about as warm and charming as a week-old sushi – so it’s not as if I call people up just to keep up the acquaintance. At the same time, I don’t even have the good habit of bringing my own cards out. I always change jobs with 2 full boxes of fresh cards that end up as bookmarks and reminder notes.
  • Calling people 'babe.' This is regardless of gender. I have no idea what the guys think. This week, one of my friends wrote me an email to say ‘Is it ok if you stop calling me babe?’ I wrote back saying ‘Babe, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know it bothered you. I won’t do it again. Listen babe, I gotta go. I’ll write you later k?’ Sigh.

To those of you giving up stuff for Lent, I’ve weaved some magic into this post so reading this automatically sends good vibes your way. Good on you, babe.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

3 technologies: Replication

It took just 80 hours for the first Wu-Drexler Replicator to replicate 60 tonnes of food.
Though slow by today’s standards, it was in 80-hour shifts stretched over 5 years that famine in Africa was eradicated. Not just controlled, but extinguished.

Poverty soon followed as replicators generated clothing, housing, water, medicines - all the basic necessities needed to repair broken countries. India, the world’s sixth richest nation and third largest producer of replicator machines, solved the social problems that have been until now, a plague with no cure. China and Eastern Europe have all but banished hard-core poverty.

Construction and manufacturing became largely unmanned operations. Workers in all sorts of industries – automotive, textile, electronics, anything with humans on the assembly line – were retrenched en masse. Many joked bitterly how the only thing replicators couldn’t create were new jobs. Money markets were turned inside out since no country, no economy could charge premiums for resources that could be replicated on demand. After the shakeout, the only resource with any sustainable value was information.
As consumer versions of replicators hit the market, customers became their own manufacturers. Starbucks, Lego, K-Mart all became information brokers and customers paid a monthly subscription to download new blueprints/designs/recipes for everything from your soy latte to lingerie. Larger items like cars had to be picked up but waiting periods became a thing of the past. There wasn’t a waiting list, just a line. Postal Services expanded their businesses to include replication of goods with large warehouses to replicate orders. Just show your receipt, and your post office would replicate you your new SUV.
Farming became more a matter of how well your crops were designed. Since there was no growing involved, farmers' core business became licensing their crop designs to supermarkets and local grocery stores.

What no one predicted was that infinite supply created its own infinite demand. Since luxury accessories (diamonds, fashion) had no more value, travel became the ultimate prestige symbol. Travel corporations and even some tourism boards replicated their own ‘copies’ of Paris, Toyko and other tourist destinations. In many cases, the replication projects caused changes in geography which in turn created weather anomalies (floods, snow, hurricanes). Many governments now closely regulate real-estate replication with updated zoning laws. Still, satellite surveys show global land mass has grown 11% over the past three decades proving that enforcement has been lax.
Though good housing is no longer an issue, land is. In 2163, the United Nations launched the Earth 2 initiative, a feasibility study to replicate a smaller version of our planet to anticipate the problems of accelerated urban sprawl.

Despite its growing pains, the planet for the most part considered replicator technology to be a good thing. Manufacturing costs fell and everyone had a car and a house. Economies became self-sufficient and though exports dwindled, the social benefits far outweighed the loss in GDP.

Some resources remain scarce. By coincidence, replicator physics also proved the scientific existence of the soul, which is why livestock and fishing remain the only industries to survive ‘replicator economics.’ Early attempts at using replication to resurrect dead life forms, including people, quickly met with failure (much to the relief of the funeral industry). To this day, cats – having no souls – remain the only exception.