Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry X'mas

In the last hour I have:
  • Received a book
  • Gotten my payslip
  • Written a letter telling CFOs I can prove to them, in numbers, that I can save them money
  • Gotten a bottle of honey
  • Filled in my time sheet
  • Written my first Twitter post

That last one is worth repeating here.

Realised that I've gotten away with so much this year. Have I used up all my blessings?

Merry X'mas everyone. I'll see you guys soon.

Friday, December 12, 2008

3 years to go. But who's counting?

It’s not new, this death-by-large-celestial-body thing.

The Mayans have known for years and didn’t bother with plans after 2012. Scientists have ‘postulated’ for yonks and done the math and the data says we’re totally fucked, plus or minus 2% error. And thanks to the wonderful Instant Expert technology that is the Internet, you’re not hearing this for the first time are you?

So why aren’t you scared? We’ve got 3 years and change! That’s nothing! That’s not even enough time to drop a bad habit. Why aren’t you and the other 6.7 billion poor saps out there having a good old-fashioned mass hysteria?

Couple of us at the office have kicked this around a bit (sure beats working).
Is it irresponsible to have children now?
Why bother with your career?
Should you just buy that new Golf GTi (on a five-year loan)
That apartment you like in Sentul West (paid up in 25 years!)
Should everyone should have one decent affair with someone they totally should not have an affair with?

But nobody’s afraid. Everyone’s living like there’s going to be a 2013. I mean, forget Global Warming. I guarantee you when the world becomes a big fireball you’ll see some climate change. They say if we don’t act now, in ten years we’ll all be dying slow, UV-irradiated, greenhouse-gassy deaths. By comparison, 2012’s just around the corner. And it’s practically instant.

And yet we continue to make 5-year plans. Paying the mortgage. Having babies.

I think it’s cos 2012 isn’t costing us money.

Look at GM. You’re bleeding cash and begging for a bailout. Suddenly, you’re ready to commit to new hybrid and electric cars? Bullshit. You’re committing to the continuation of your business. Not the preservation of the planet. Or you woulda kept the EV1.

At home, people are asking when the rear seatbelt ruling takes effect. Is it this year or in Januray? Why do you need a specific date to be sensible? Cos you’re more worried about your money flying out the window than your kid.

Remember the Millenium Bug? That scenario was pretty grim. Computers worldwide shutting down, traffic lights going buggy, power cutting out annoyingly while Dr Grey is performing open heart surgery. But it wasn’t a global blackout people feared. Companies spent a bunch of money cos they didn’t want Y2K to swallow their 401k. Their pensions. Their moolah. Not having a name didn’t matter if you didn’t have a penny to it.

Money it seems, is the most real thing in our world.
Never mind that most of it is digital, just one bank’s computer agreeing with another bank’s computer that yes, you have enough money to make this month’s Golf GTi payment.

Money is perhaps what distinguishes us from other forms of Earth life. No other species has trade. Chimpanzees don’t put a down payment of 10,000 bananas on a tree house. Ants – nature’s communists – don’t say ‘Fuck this. The other colony is willing to pay me twice the amount of aphids for this retaining wall! See ya!’ We created money to tell ourselves that we are worth something.

There is no way to calculate, and therefore to limit the financial impact of complete annihilation. So we don’t bother with it. Which is coincidentally how ‘hard’ science – like physics – works. If you can’t quantify it, it’s not real.

Any alien race that visits us first is always going to be technologically superior. So forget about launching an Independence Day style defense. No, our best bet is going to be if they understand commerce. If they come from a civilisation that sees profit as a thing of beauty.

Because that is mankind at its best.

The tripods thump up, a circular door irises open and the death ray comes out. The air goes electric with a slight whiff of ozone as the weapon charges.
And the solitary hope of all mankind walks up to the 2-story behemoth and says: “How much to NOT fire the death ray?”

Friday, December 05, 2008

Book List

‘Tis the season.

I’m making up a list in my head and I realise the list is shorter this year.

One I’m sorry to see go.
One quite the opposite.
One just isn’t here anymore.

I tend to give books.
A book comes wrapped and you know it’s one from the shape alone.
But you don’t know what book it is till you open it.
Few things seem to preserve their mystery so well after announcing themselves so plainly.

Books are also how I approach friendship. Certainly how I hope people feel being friends with me.
I know it’s you at a glance.
But I want to know what you are. What you're like.
And even if I know what you're about I won’t skip to the end.

Monday, November 24, 2008

First Draft

‘We’re having a meeting later tonight. I think we’ll have enough bodies for the cremation,’ says Wartika with a big smile.

I’m with the Wife (yes, upper caps W) and we’re having breakfast. Wartika works here, and from the way he instructs a few of the other waiters, I suspect he’s middle management. ‘I think we can get 30 bodies. It should be enough.’ Group cremations are how the Balinese send their dearly departed off into the afterlife. It’s not cheap, and some Balinese have been waiting for years to make this final journey.

The Chinese (don’t get all uppity, I’m one) don’t mind cremations. You can go into the ground or into the stove, but with all the offerings that get burnt to make you comfortable in the afterlife, our relationship with fire is well documented. More accurately, our relationship with suffering. Loss mustn’t just be felt, it should be displayed. Draw it out, make it public, and if you can, allow the whole funeral to deepen the hurt.

Just a week before flying to Bali, I was in Korea for the annual company trip (awful food, good company, and perhaps the first I’ve been on where people didn’t immediately want to fuck each other). I was in Group A. Sizeable companies tend to split employees into groups ensuring two things: that someone is left behind to carry on work; and the two groups almost never see each other, throwing a spanner into the esprit de corp machinery.

As I’m not part of upper management, a mid-air collision would only rob the company of one fairly dispensable writer. Upper management – CFOs, COOs, anything with a C in front – are also encouraged to take separate flights to ensure that the company does not go down with the Airbus A380 you’re on.
But when you travel with your family, you don’t make your wife and kids take a separate flight do you? And Wife and Kids trumps Chairman of the Board.
If we suddenly get into a we-have-lost-cabin-pressure type situation and we get sucked out of the window somewhere over the…wherever, there isn’t a succession plan.
Well, I don’t have one.
And I’ll venture most normal people don’t have one either.
We’re more prepared for what happens if 150 staff buy the farm than a family of four.

Wartika and his family, his fellow villagers have been waiting for this day. It’s something he slipped in between dressing for work and serving newlyweds banana pancakes and coffee.

On November 4, the first black man to become President of the United States won 297 seats when he only needed 270. And the first writer that made me want to become one died. Michael Crichton passed away at 66 of cancer. A week later, the husband of a former colleague crashed his car on the highway. He had a blood clot in his brain, they got it out, he went into a coma, and didn’t come out.

I still don’t have a game plan. At a point in my life where I have a lot more to live for. A friend tells me you tend to get down to it when you have kids.

So then. The first draft of my final will and testament, subject to revision:

  • If I get into something where a machine has to breathe for me, unplug it. It’s ok. Let me go down.
  • Call the Wife and (insert names of kids here). Call my folks, then my brother. Call my boss and tell him I won’t be showing up for work and apologise.
  • Please keep it quiet, keep it small. Don’t try and religion it up. I worshiped my parents, my wife, and money.
  • Find AT. He knows what song to play. And trust me – it’s a happy song. Listen to the bridge and the last verse.
  • Cremation. Buy a tin of whatever house blend Starbucks is serving that week. Mix me in. Don’t bother spreading my ashes over some river or from a cliff. Give it to the Wife. At any point, I would’ve been happiest with her.

And somewhere – on the coffee tin in marker pen, I don’t care – have it said:

‘He was an asshole mostly. But he was a good father and he loved his wife. And Jesus, he was awesome in bed.’

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Oh thank God

Two weeks ago, I went to church.

I’m not a lapsed Catholic (I’m not a lapsed anything, though my running record has been appalling this past month) so it wasn’t out of guilt, and I hadn’t had a close call, or any of these things. I went to a Catholic church because my dear friend is Catholic. In that sense, no different from being recommended a good Indian restaurant.

As is the format in churches (Catholic or otherwise) the priest gave a sermon by way of a parable:

One day, a boy was walking along a beach when he saw that it was covered in starfish. They had been washed in by the tide and were stranded on the beach. The boy was very sad for the starfish and felt compelled to save them. He began gathering them up in his arms but his arms were small and he dropped almost as many as he carried, and never got any of them far enough to reach the water.
A man passing by saw the boy and said to him ‘Young man, you cannot save the starfish. They are already dead or dying. There is only one of you, and so many of them.’
The boy replied ‘I can try.’
The man smiled sadly and said ‘Yes. But it won’t make a difference.’
The boy stooped and picked up the starfish nearest to him and said to the man:
‘You’re right. But it will make a difference to this one.’
And he flung the starfish, sending it back into the ocean.

It’s a nice story.

He followed up with another sermon, which was captured in his line ‘We were put on Earth to glorify God.’
I don’t agree with this.

I’m not religious. I have many friends who are devout in their faiths and I understand how it’s a positive force in their lives. I think the high point of any religion is to make you into the best version of yourself you can be. And to me, the best version of one’s self is to be able to be good to, and good for, another person.
And here’s the rub: I don’t think we need a God to do that.
I think we have enough power within ourselves to be good to each other.
So the idea of God basically saying ‘Dude, I’m a star. You’re just a fan club I made.’ doesn’t appeal to me.

I told my friend this a few days after and he said:

“This is how I took that sermon. God wants us to be good to each other. And we were created in His image. If we’re being good to each other, then we are glorifying him.”

And my friend has a way of putting these things into perspective.
I’m not any more religious than I was two Sundays ago, but something has changed. And it changed before I stepped into the church.

Like I said. I’m not religious. I’m not entirely convinced a God exists.
I don’t (right now) feel I need one.
I have found my higher power. And I married her.

Now here’s the thing.
Against this very secular (and frankly, not terribly original) sentiment, something has been planted within me, and seems to be growing.

I feel blessed.
Which is why I went to church. I wanted to be thankful to someone – anyone – for this other person whom I seem to have been given. Of course, I’m not completely sentimental. I can speak fluently (and have) to others on how it doesn’t need to be divine intervention, or kismet, or The One. It could very well be just math.

In fact, after that week, I also felt I didn’t need to go to church to be thankful (thank God I’m not Catholic, or that would’ve been an excuse right there).

But I’m thankful nonetheless. Certainly after July 5, I shall never be ungrateful for this life again. Someone picked me, threw me back into the ocean, and made a difference to me. And I’m not even a star.

Friday, June 20, 2008