Sunday, December 16, 2012

America's Cliff Hanger

As the end of 2012 approaches, politicians, economists, and the greater American public in general wait with abated breath at the oncoming fiscal cliff that is about to sweep across the United States. This surely qualifies as an economic phenomenon that is bound to affect the greater part of the world. Or is it? Perhaps America’s Cliff Hanger knows a thing or two. I’ll get to that.
Could it be even possible that this so-called fiscal cliff is nothing more than a figment of one person’s genetically risk averse mind? But also a mind that is creative, with a nationalistic inner motivation? Whatever his drive and determination was, the US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke effectively captured the attention of lawmakers and the broader public when he used the term “fiscal cliff” earlier this year to describe the country’s impending economic progression into recession at the end of this year. It was a very bipartisan move from Bernanke at that time and sounded like a really good idea too.
Why not use a very real and sizable public threat to rally bickering politicians into compromising and collaboration? Except that the threat didn’t work. The purpose of threatening American politicians and lawmakers of a fiscal cliff was to force a cooperative outcome in an increasingly uncooperative undertaking. But this backfired in the absence of a credible enforcer and an insufficient amount of mutual assurances. In the end, the parties involved felt that they had more to gain from the uncooperative behaviour. The perception that came from sheer public pressure caused politicians on both sides of the US Congress political divide to view any compromise as a sign of weakness.
So what is this “fiscal cliff” that has stirred up an entire nation so much? It is basically the very combination of tax increases and spending cuts that is scheduled to begin at the end of this year after the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts. It is not surprising that the term “fiscal cliff” was abused by the media to whip up a financial hysteria among the populace. The media, after all, thrive on dramatic headlines. Its dramatization of the impending financial and economic outlook in the US is akin to the Y2K sensation more than a decade ago.
To coin such an outlook to that of a “cliff” is to say that if you stepped off an edge, you would fall very fast without any control at all to your relative speed, and fall very hard, and then not get up for a very, very long time. This is Bernanke’s dramatic version.
But we all know that in reality, the scheduled financial changes resemble more of a fluid problem – a kind of fiscal “slope” if you will. Income withholding takes a long time to adjust so the full effect of tax increases will not be felt immediately. The government also has discretion regarding the implementation of spending cuts, which will be in phases and within the government’s control. This is the non-dramatic version.
America and the world could really use a little less drama from the media. The usage of words here to describe the country’s financial situation matters greatly because it sends people into panic – people in places of high power, reach and influence. That is why there are even talks of people who want to make big cuts in Social Security and Medicare – the country’s two main entitlement programs. This creates a mentality of self-preservation and survival within the government; if we are about to head off a cliff, extreme measures need to be taken. Cutting pensions, unemployment benefits and health care certainly qualifies as completely inappropriate and unnecessary.
In a less extreme scenario, the very people who refuse to consider raising taxes – Republicans in the US Congress’ House of Representatives – will then suddenly find themselves with a very weak hand indeed, if faced with a fiscal slope instead. Be that as it may, the House Republicans will persistently refuse to vote for any increases in tax rates during the current lame-duck congressional session.
So, it’s very unlikely that congressional Democrats and Republicans will come to an agreement in extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, while allowing them to expire for the rich. They will keep on bickering with each other legislatively until the last week of the year, then step onto the brink of the supposed “cliff” and see who blinks at the last moment.
But it won’t be either the Democrats or the Republicans who blink. On the contrary, and transcending the line-up of the Congress – enters America’s very own Cliff Hanger star – Obama, who will step off the “cliff” and take the fall, but not in the way our minds traditionally associate a fall with. The President has the power to make an executive decision and veto any extension of the Bush-era tax cuts that will expire by the end of this year.
How does the single act of an individual will uphold the fiscal legislative democracy of this country? When the tax rates have been restored to its previous level, Obama could present his own tax-cut plans that will provide a greater benefit to lower-income Americans, as was promised during his presidential re-election campaign.
How will Obama’s new tax-cut package be different from the one before? It is a simple process of linear mathematical efficiency – of identifying the constant and the variable to form a replicating model. Benjamin Franklin once shared that “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. And we know that nothing is more volatile than the economy. So tax cuts will be linked to the state of the economy. As employment recovers, tax cuts will wind down. Conversely, a larger tax cut could be proposed should the economy outlook in 2013 is anticipated to be weaker. Either way, this approach gives America’s long-term fiscal prospects a more viable solution.
What will then happen to the congressional gridlock in Washington? A smart leader is a person who gets you to do what he wants, by making you think it was your own choice. So, the House Republicans will now be presented with a choice – do they vote against Obama’s tax cuts week after week that would actually help millions of Americans while letting the economy decline? Or do they vote for a deal that cut taxes relative to where they would be otherwise? The latter choice gives the House Republicans leverage over the tax cut rates, while consigning them to Obama’s tax-cut package. With this, the House Republicans not only endorse a deal that supports the economy, but also restores revenue to the level preceding that of the disastrous Bushonomics experiment. And restoring revenues to the country was the centrepiece of Romney’s Republican presidential campaign. This is a win-win scenario for the US Congress as a whole.
If and when the US vetoes the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and enact the Obama tax cuts, I’d be curious to see how Obama’s plan to tax the upper 2% income earners can help fix the economy. Because that figure will bring in $80 billion a year – the government currently spends approximately $10 billion a day, where $4 billion is borrowed. In short, taxing the super-rich will run the government for 8 days!
So how does this add up? While tax cuts are increased for the super-rich and decreased for the middle class, spending cuts will even the scale a little on the other end of the fiscal spectrum. But Obama has also been known to put in place spending cuts on the table that are greater than what would normally please his electoral base.
In the end, as America heads steadily down the fiscal slope in early 2013, the big question remains whether they can strengthen revenue in an appropriate manner that is consistent with its renewed economic growth. Because this very fiscal slope will give Obama the edge to turn the historical partisan political gridlock in Washington around and even possibly bend history in the process, culminating in a potential economic decline, rather than an economic recession.
On a somber note, my thoughts go out to the tragedy of the Connecticut school shooting for the 28 lives lost, including 20 children.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


I woke up this morning fresh from the memory of the conversation I had with an old friend from overseas last night. We caught up on each other’s life events, talked about our plans and briefly skirted on the idea of our own future possibilities.
When I woke this morning, I had this sense of illusory weight and drag on my being and psyche. My mind could only zero in on this singular thought that became to form – how much of our life is spent lost in waiting?
Too much.
We wait for our friends. We can’t wait to be out of the traffic jam. We wait in lines. We can’t wait for our dreams to come true. We wait for the perfect person to come along. We can’t wait to have a better life. We wait for the day we achieve our goals and make them a reality.
And we keep waiting on. Thinking that the good life we’ve always wanted is coming, and soon enough we’ll be there.
But what if we stopped waiting for things to happen? What if we stopped trying to make our dreams come true? What if we stopped wishing and hoping and expecting? And what if, that good life you’ve always wanted is already here? And the only thing you got to do is stop looking ahead and just realize, just notice what you already have.
Just look at where you are right now physically in this very moment, and in your life. Instead of searching for good things to happen or striving so hard to make something good come true, just take a pause. Is it already good? Is it great? If yes, then you are already in that very “future". So why bother looking towards that future then? Unless you don’t think what you have is already great. Then maybe you’re not noticing the right things in the right details.
When you are stuck in traffic, most of us will catch ourselves thinking “I can’t wait to get there!” But think again. Aren’t you already there? Where is there? There is where in the middle of a jam-packed highway, you see clouds and trees and you can appreciate its natural beauty with your own tired eyes. There is when you feel your legs are tired from the long driving hours, but you realize it’s an opportunity to feel your legs. And there is what you do with your eyes and legs after the jam is over; awesome stuff where many of us take for granted – where we often think it sucks.
We all don’t realize this but we participate in the miracle of life, daily. We often succumb to the belief that all these things are routine, dull, predictable and mundane. If your legs are tired, pull over, rest at a stop and stretch. Stare up blankly into the sky and soak in its beauty. Realize the very eyes and legs that were tired and aching, are also the very eyes and legs that gave you this possibility to do what you just did. Then recognize that they actually don’t suck at all, they are awesome.
We like to set goals in our life. And that’s just how the most of us are brought up. We imagine what these little dreams of our future will be like and focus on them every day. We keep working on them and eventually yes, we do get closer and closer to that great future. But when you’re finally there, then what? You set your next goal? And then the next? And the next?
It just never ends. The very so-called forward-looking attitude you’ve fostered to drive you over the years doesn’t end when you get to that goal. It only ends when you have no longer any life left, and then there’s no future to look forward to.
The only way it can end is for you to stop looking towards that goal now, and look at where you are instead. We often confuse our dreams and goals with what is real. The goal may sound great: make a million dollars, buy a fancy house, complete a big project, work out and get a nice body, etc. But the truth is that all these are fantasies. And when it finally comes true, it won’t happen as how you’ve always imagined it. It will somewhat still feel like a normal life – the same life you had before achieving these goals. Life won’t be better, and never will be until you change your mindset from desiring a better life, to realizing that life is already incredible.
What would you do if you don’t have anything you want? Some of us continue to wait for the perfect person to come along. That person may or may not show up. But the tragedy isn’t in not finding that dream lover. It is that you’re waiting for happiness. Just remember that they aren’t better than what you already have, which is a ridiculously unlikely event called life.
So live your life and not be caught up in the expectations of living instead.
When you achieve this, you realize a certain kind of living form. Perhaps something like a feeling of waitless-ness. It is like the feeling of blood rushing to your head, because your heart doesn’t have anything to pump against. And it’s awesome.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Project Peeks: Noah (Where's My Ark?)

What is the first thing in your mind when the words Bible and movie appear together in the same sentence? I hope you didn’t think it was Armageddon. Although I wouldn’t put it past Michael Bay to transform anything or anyone, even their religion and girlfriends.
But when was the last time you remember being treated to a biblical movie? Maybe most of you will vaguely recall the widely-popular and highly-controversial movie The Passion of the Christ back in 2004 by Mel “Mad Max” Gibson. Mad Max? You will see my point as you read down. And if you haven’t seen this movie, then you haven’t missed much. Except probably not watch one of the most graphical, violent and edifying piece of artistic interpretation of arguably one of the most well-known chapters in the Bible – the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
Given the nature of The Passion, the elements of this movie were much confined to its drama genre, but thankfully it was anything but boring. This is expected of course, given the chronicle-filled nature of the Bible. It is no wonder that most biblical movies (with the very few notable exception of some like The Passion, Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments), have never been globally successful in a done-to-death genre.
Most successful films’ formula in recent times spells only one word – epic. It is an easy formula because the epic genre is mainly a derivative of fantasy, and money. Lots and lots of money. But how do you apply that into a biblical chronicle? And make lots and lots of money?
You pray, you go to church and you do charities in the name of God. Ok, I was kidding.
That is why when Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s next film was announced this year, I thought that the Black Swan director was making a traditional version of the familiar tale. The only thing that is going to be traditional about Noah is Aronofsky’s penchant for controversial movies that are often associated with violent, bleak and depressing subject matter. He even loses the word “Ark” from the traditional title.
So no, Noah is not going to be a retelling of the biblical figure as much as the most of us would like to think it is going to be. A close adaptation of the chronicle of Noah’s Ark; now wouldn’t that have been boring and predictable, with no money? Just like how The Passion was biblically inaccurate but artistically resonant, graphically encapsulating, and faithful to the New Testament, Noah will accomplish the same for the Old Testament.
Before I go on, I wish to point out that Aronofsky is a genius for making this movie. The pieces all fall into place. Aside from his childhood fascination with Noah’s story from the Bible, here is what I’ve spotted: what Mel Gibson did for The Passion, Noah will do the same for Mad Max (the character, not the film; although both are the same). Confused yet?
And that is how Noah will turn out. This is Aronofsky’s Noah. He is going to be a Mad Max-style warrior placed in a pseudo-apocalyptic world where he has to face and survive six-armed giants. Intrigued already?
He isn’t the patriarchal prophet you remember from the Bible. This is a warrior out of the depths of ancient time; a world where pity has no place. A place marked by violence and barbarism. A fighter and also a healer who is subjected to imminent visions of the end of the world consumed by an endless wave of deluge. Absorbed yet?
For a movie this religiously epic, you need an equally epic cast with a balanced mix. So let me roll down the red carpet and present Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly and Ema Watson. And no, I’m sorry to disappoint but even Hopkins is way too old to be playing Noah. That honour rolls nicely to Russell Crowe of Luxley (please excuse his last on-screen disaster of Robin Hood). And yes, for the first time in more than a decade, Crowe and Connelly will be reunited on-screen to work that magic thing they got going so well for them in A Beautiful Mind. Impressed yet?
You can have a peek at the look and feel of this upcoming religious epic movie at the end of this article by checking out the video showcasing the graphic novel written by Aronofsky. It is published in French and drawn by Marvel and DC comics veteran artist Henrichon; created to help promote the film to Paramount Pictures. Unless you read French, just appreciate the gravity of the graphics and its dark undertone here – the score also tells you a bit about the mood and bleakness of this movie.
Noah is scheduled for release on the 28th of March, 2014.
Click below for the graphic novel showcase:

A Windowed Cry

Most people wonder what it really means to grow up. But what most people fail to realize, when asking this, is that the real question should be what does growing up really means? There is a very distinct and fundamental difference here in asking this question, using the very same words but phrased in a totally different order.
What does it really means to grow up? Your typical answers for this would be varied: experiences, failures, responsibilities, achievements, self-redefinition and so on. All are easy answers to an otherwise literal question.
What does growing up really means then? Now, the answer to this would be something! And something totally unexpected too. Because it depends on what you believe in.
And what I truly believe in? Is that we never really grow up. It is something I’ve seen it with my own eyes. In friends, with the people you work with, people you tolerate, families and even strangers.
What I really see is that we all just learn how to act better as we age. And that is what growing up really means, I think – we become better at acting out our feelings to the people we care about, and the people we tolerate. Yes, we all yearn to have at least that someone in life whom we can share everything and anything with, and we do it, almost completely. But here is the truth: we never really reveal ourselves fully even to our loved ones.
And that’s ok. It’s not selfish. It’s not strange. It’s not even hypocritical. It’s just the way we are; it’s in our nature to sometimes keep even the smallest of mystery to ourselves. We are not hiding. We are….searching.
That is why a child’s words are the purest in form and definition. That is why many of us often find the simplest and truest of wisdom in a child’s utterances. It is not that they are innocent words; they are just unscripted words – unbiased by the mental filters we grown-ups have been accustomed to put on over the years.
It is why the strongest bond with our children is made during their early years, not later. It is in those years where they reveal the most to us. They laugh the hardest and cry the loudest. And these two physical emotions are the best measure to a person’s true self.
A laugh may tell us who someone is when they are around others, but a cry is what really reveals them. That is why we do our crying in private.
Everyone wears a mask and every so often, each of us stand in front of a mirror and look at ourselves. We stare at us. Some look past themselves. Others look into themselves. And then there are those who look at their own superficial bodies and faces for beauty to them are skin-deep. But true beauty goes deeper. Only tears reveal a person’s true self. That is why our eyes are the only window into our souls. That is why we never cry in front of mirrors.
Each of us believe that we share our innermost-self to the people closest to us, when we cry privately in their presence, but little do most of us see it – we still pretend at a subconsciously emotional level because we still try to keep something for ourselves during this most intimate moment.
We try to open up when we shed a tear
Hoping others will see our age without fear
But what the mirrors fail to try
Is to reveal this act that is called a windowed cry

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fight of the Bumblebee


Every week, the BBC publishes a 60 second idea of a global thinker from the world of philosophy, science or arts. These thinkers are given a minute to put forward a radical, inspiring or controversial idea – no matter how improbable – that they believe will change the world. I’m definitely no global thinker. But I was very drawn by the concept of this think-tank initiative from the BBC.

If I had a chance to write to the BBC, here’s what I’ll propose. They are not new ideas but a collection of concepts, studies and researches that I went through in search of some insight. Driven by pure curiosity, interest and a deep-seeded personal concern for this world and its future, I’ve put together some of the more notable ideas to form a plausible solution based on my opinions.

I always believe that the best kind of approach in providing resolution to global issues is not to create new ideas, but to blend together a practical solution based on components of existing ideas.

Let me start off by asking you this: have you ever wondered how much do you really contribute to the society? To the world? Because the solution I’m proposing will enable us to measure our “real” contributions to the world. This will redefine our society and how we dispense reward in accordance to our now quantifiable contributions. But for this to happen, it requires our thinking to be uplifted. This, in itself, is the real challenge for the world.

So to define what this “real” contribution is, we need to ask ourselves how much of what we do is really benefitting humanity? In our current day, the answer is based on how we humans perceive ourselves in the eyes of the society and the world.

If the world thinks that being a philanthropist is noble, the society accepts that it is altruistic. If the world perceives that being a celebrity is prominent, the society accepts that it is a high income profession. And the world will allot the publicly perceived reward in accordance to its real (false) value. In these two extreme scenarios, it is clear which effort benefits humanity more. But because of our deep-rooted perception on the intrinsic values of jobs, the philanthropist role becomes unsustainable and unappealing. What we have today is a historical culture of materialistic society built upon centuries of socioeconomic indoctrination, whose own civilization planning outlook is only limited to the next ten to twenty years.

How do we then redefine our contributions to the world that will usher in a change? For it to be even remotely world-changing and sensible, we have to be guided by two very important tenets. The change has to be environmentally sustainable and culturally regenerative. In saying that, the endeavor needs to be directed towards the considerations of ecology and its derivative economics. We have to shift our human culture away from traditional socioeconomics beliefs to a more tenable ecology economics thinking (eco-economics).

What is eco-economics? It is in essence the consideration of economics within our ecology instead of technology. Its disciplines address the relationships of coevolution between human economies and natural ecosystems. And it is defined by justice, time and space. The four key enablers that are critical here is the ecologic efficiency, carrying capacity, legitimacy mechanisms, coexistence and counteradaptation, which I will not go into detail.

Then what is this “contribution” in the context of eco-economics? Think of human output in terms of energy transfer here. By burning our bodies in a microbomb calorimeter, you will find that a human being contains about six or seven kilocalories per gram of weight. To sustain it at that level, we have to consume a lot of calories throughout our lifetime. The contribution we are talking about here is more of how many calories we create by our efforts, or send forth to our future generations.

How does the concept of passing on our calories work? As a species, we humans do it very indirectly, obviously. And because this transfer is so intangible, it involves a lot of speculative judgment. To ensure any of this makes probable sense, we need to assign values to a number of non-physical things we inherently do in our culture. If not, then by pure definition, electricians, mechanics, reactor builders and other infrastructural workers would always rate as the most productive members of society. Then you will have your artists, singers, writers, and the likes seen as contributing nothing at all.

Will the reward then be proportionately awarded with respect to the contribution? It has to, but not in the way of how we understand it today. Our current socioeconomic conditions consist of powerful people from the current power structure arbitrarily assigning numerical values to non-numerical things and pretending they haven’t just made those numbers up, which they have. And if they did, then similarly here by pure definition, actuaries, stock brokers, bankers and other financial service providers would always rate among the most highly paid professions in the world. And you will have your farmers, law enforcements, geobotanists, teachers and the likes seen as not being paid well enough.

So how productive do you think you really are just by existing on this planet? Think in terms of efficiency. The basic equation to calculate human efficiency is simple: the calories you produce, divided by the calories you consume, and multiply that by one hundred to get it in percentage. But there is one fundamental problem here: humans are not in the case of a classic efficiency model.

What is a classic efficiency model? It is basically about passing along calories to one’s predator within a food chain. Ten percent of energy passed on from one consumer level (trophic level) to the next is the classic average in every food chain. This is because the amount of energy transferred between trophic levels decreases as energy is lost from the system due to movement, excretion, reproduction etc. And this is also why organisms at a higher trophic level need to eat more organisms from the lower level to gain sufficient energy. This in essence makes most predators inefficient creatures, including humans.

And why it can’t be applied to humans? Let’s look at lions for instance, which are at the top of their food chain. They typically have ranges of hundreds of square miles and do not have any natural predators, not because they are tough and strong, but because nature has deemed it not worth the effort. Therefore the model can’t really be applied to humans because similarly, we do not have any natural predators. In our case, it’s not a matter of predators feeding on us. As I’ve previously mentioned, it is a matter of how much we transfer energy to our future generations.

How do we then relate this efficiency back into eco-economics? By assigning a certain calorie-equivalent numerical value to all kinds of human jobs, we can determine the efficiency of a certain profession. This will encourage people to make their living based on a calculation of their real contribution to human ecology. Then it is only a matter of manipulating one’s efforts to reduce how many calories they use to increase their ecological efficiency.

A classic case representing this relationship is the argument of energy consumption between the developing Southern nations versus the industrialized Northern nations. The ecologic basis for that argument was that no matter how much the industrial nations produced, they could never be as efficient as the South because the South simply consumes lesser energy. Do recall that all predators’ efficiency is low. That is why lions need to consume more animals. That is why the more advanced Northern nations consume more energy. In hindsight, people should really be rewarded in proportion to their overall contribution to the system, not just separately based on their consumption or production which can be distorting.

But aren’t we already doing that? One may argue that this is no different from the current economics that already exists – where people are rewarded based on merit. As I’ve mentioned before, we are considering eco-economics, not socioeconomics.

Have you ever wondered whether the job you are doing is a real job or not? What is a real job? The meritocracy system that currently exists in our modern day economics are loosely built upon the creation of phantom work. This simply means many of the jobs in our society today are assigned unreal values.

For example, the entire multinational corporate executive working class does nothing a computer couldn’t already do given our advancements in present day technology. Thus, we should stop considering economics within the confines of our technology. What we need to do is to approach this within the framework of our ecology. Because there are also whole categories of parasitical jobs that add nothing to the system in terms of ecological accounting i.e. advertising, marketing, sales, hedge fund trading etc. These jobs are merely an apparatus for making money from the manipulation of money. It is not only wasteful, but corrupting.

How do you then determine if a job is relevant in an eco-economic culture? Because all these phantom and parasitical jobs are speculative judgments, a specific caloric value needs to be assigned to such a variety of activities. To do that, we only need to look back into ecology and calculate what they contribute back to the system in terms of well-being measured as a physical thing i.e. what does the activity equals to in terms of food, water, shelter, medical aid, education and so forth.

This will radically change our current world’s outlook because what we are practicing today is by rewarding someone based on what they contribute back to the current system in terms of financial exclusivity measured as an approximate monetary value in the forms of assets, resources, wealth, policies, growth, capital and so on.

When we structure our new society based on the core tenets of an eco-economically driven culture, we will have uplifted our way of life and become a civilization whose frame of reference in whatever we do are morally justified, has a longer time-planning horizon, and is proficiently minimalistic in space occupancy. We become the world’s moral agents.

So is this all so farfetched then, as to become irrational and improbable? How we carry ourselves, advance our civilization, and uplift our way of thinking into the next age of mankind will determine how much longer our existence remains unchecked.

Arthur C. Clarke, my favourite muse and arguably one of the most prolific sci-fi storytellers once penned:

“In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined that, less than two decades after this book (Earthlight) was written, I would receive a beautiful three-dimensional map of the Mare Imbrium, showing the track of the Lunar Rover skirting a crater labeled ‘Earthlight’ – and bearing the inscription ‘To Arthur Clarke with best personal regards from the crew of Apollo 15 and many thanks for your visions in space.’ – – (Signed) Dave Scott, Al Worden and Jim Irwin.

If Arthur can dream, so should we.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Peanut Butter & Jelly


The night was young. It was a Thursday night. A good friend told me this, almost a lifetime ago, “Thursday is the new Friday.”
I let the curiosity of the aphorism lingered a little while in my mind. And then it overtook me. As always, I picked one night in every 1-2 weeks to get out of my apartment and escape to a café along Chapel Street just around the corner. My fortnightly fix was due and I was in need of some fresh thoughts. The memory of what my friend told me so long ago helped to provoke me. So off I went out.
And there I was, sitting at my favourite spot in any cafés. Always at a corner, with my back against the wall, or the bar, or the counter with the window or the glass wall always on either of my side. I ordered my coffee. I took out my laptop. I turned it on and started to type out some ideas. My coffee arrived and I sipped it. I looked at the list of sentences I have just written. And I thought and pondered and reflected, with coffee in between.
And then she came in.
Unknowingly and surely, she stepped in and paused, just momentarily. As with all new visitors that enters a small enclosed area, heads turned and I was among them. Aged and confidence was my first impression. It was a rather empty place that night so there was no need for her to be waited. She easily made her choice and picked the table next to me. I turned back to my work with the warm assurance of a good caffeine fix in my left hand, while she settled in and made herself comfortable.
After about 10 minutes, we caught each other’s glances and exchanged a brief smile before she started a conversation with me. In that brief introductory chat, she found out that I was writing. I learned that she has a sister who often comes out to places like this and write, like me too. I shared with her that I was new here and gave her a low-down on what has happened to me in the last year, including my past relationship. Now when I think back, I supposed I gave her the wrong first impression of my feelings for this place and my life.
Because the following is the part of the conversation where I would like to remember for a long time to come, simply because this is where she told me, “Beautiful, you make it sound like this is such a hopeless place.”
She leaned in a little bit and smiled. With both her hands held tightly onto her lap she said, “You’ve got eighteen year olds getting married,” then she paused just for a brief second as if she were assessing which age category I fell into and continued, “before truly understanding the value of marriage.”
I must have raised my eyebrows a little and nodded some. My feigned wise comprehension could only manage to produce a “True true” respond to indicate for her to continue.
She sensed my innocent indifference and explained herself gently, “You’ve got idiotic, self-absorbed celebrities getting divorced and ruining the sanctity of marriage. And then you have those pure-hearted, devoted, loving, charismatic, trustworthy, and ambitious people who are searching for love and yearning for a lifetime companion to share their hopes and dreams with.”
It suddenly hit me at that point that right in front of me was a person who could very well give me some much needed dressed-down answers to my thoughts on relationships. Sensing that I’ve gotten myself really interested in what she had to say, I quickly replied, “That’s true. Sometimes people are just ungrateful and take things for granted.”
“And sometimes, it’s just not fair.” She subtly tapped the edge of the table with her index finger while attempting to correct me.
“Well, life is never fair,” I muttered.
I can recall why some of the things people have advised me in the past months all seemed to not make any sense before now. It was because of the capacity in which was required of me to forgive that delayed my grasp on life. Then I added, almost with an afterthought, “Even for those who has found their soul mates.”
“Finding your soul mate can indeed be a long, arduous process,” she exclaimed.
“You don’t say.”
She laughed out loud suddenly but her gentle mannerism kicked in and she quickly composed herself, as if she was on camera and the world was watching. And then with her serious voice and satirical undertone she said, “As cliché and weird as this might sound, you may or may not kiss a few frogs before finding your princess.” She pursed her lips, narrowed her eyes at me and paused for a reaction.
And this time, it was me who laughed out the loudest by far, shifting my chair even by a few centimetres. “I must have missed the memo from the Grimm Brothers,” I added sarcastically.
Without responding to my remarks, she went on as though she was reciting from a well-rehearsed advice script she has used countless times, “Some of us have a fairytale love story, some of us have stories that are still being written, and some of us haven’t even begun to write the chapter of love.” She eyed my laptop for a split second and then looked back at me, and smiled intently and knowingly.
“Well, I certainly do try from time to time,” I said and this time, I was subtly tapping my laptop with my index finger.
I tried to smile as broadly as I could and remembered looking at the empty page that was on the screen and imagined the face of a laughing frog instead. Somehow I felt like I was already warmed up to her and I do tend to open up to people easily.
So I decided to share what was on my mind and revealed, “Now, you’re starting to make me imagine laughing frogs with lipsticks in my Word document”.
She quickly sunk her head and hunched her back a little while clasping both her hands close to her lips. Wide-eyed, she mouthed the words “I’m sorry” and saluted once, barring her toothy smile.
“If you’re one of the people still anxiously waiting for Miss Right, it’s okay, don’t beat yourself up,” she leaned across and tapped my left shoulder twice. “I could probably write a paragraph or two about hypothetically finding the one or the one finding you, however you choose to look at it, but it’s only until you go through an experience that you believe in the theory, right?”
I smiled and nodded. In my mind I was thinking that of all the things I have reflected upon previously, of all the things I have written about in this experience, I have never once mentioned or thought about the idea of finding someone. Instead, it was all about forgetting someone.
I let out an obvious sigh and said to her, “Yes, agree that it’s all about the experience that you actually learn from it. I mean, really, without experience we are just a shell without connections to our conscience, right?” I was starting to seek her approval for my own affirmation.
She gave me the look that she knew that I knew it was a rhetorical question. Having gotten what I wanted, I smiled to myself and asked her, “And so this theory of yours is?”
“My theory?” she snapped.
And I remembered this part very clearly because she took her time, picked up her cup of coffee, sipped it a couple of times and put it back onto the table before answering me.
Then she said, “You have to endure the process to reap the benefits.”
“Just like planting flowers,” I said after a moment of pondering.
“Just like that.”
“I reckon I can do that.”
“Hang in there, beautiful. You are someone’s dream beloved.”
I swore I got a few goose bumps when I heard that. I tried to be cheekily snide and said, “It’s all about finding that someone, ain’t that right?”
“Uh huh. They want you and you want them. You need them and they need you. One day, it will come together like peanut butter and jelly,” she detailed with hand gestures and all on making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then miming an imaginary bite.
She continued on, “They will sweep you off your feet, probably metaphorically, Mr. Writer, and whisk you away onto cloud nine.”
“Cloud nine? Oh shoot yourself, please!” I exclaimed.
“There! You will spend your happy ever after.” And she spent a good five seconds laughing at herself after that.
“Which fairytale are we talking about again?”
She smiled and shook her head several times before calming down once again and told me something very meaningful and fundamentally strong. She said, “Be patient, for God’s timing is flawless. Most importantly, be open-minded.”
Those words about God and his timing struck me like a Colt Winchester finding its aim on a buffalo from the Wild West in the 1800s. Because that was exactly how I felt. Like I was this mindless buffalo running for ages aimlessly, not stopping long enough to enjoy the beautiful sierras nor realising that I was being hunted down. Only that when I did, shooting me down was the only way for me to realise.
She must have gathered that she struck a deep chord in my soul somewhere then, because just when I thought I was humbled, she said the most beautiful and profound thing I have heard in a long time that relates back to what we briefly talked about in the very beginning.
She said, “Some of us find love in magical places. Others find love in hopeless places."
Thank you, Rhona.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not A Preview: Lincoln


With less than a month away to one of the year’s most highly substance movie, I wait with abated breath for the red curtain to roll aside and give the world Lincoln. Did anyone notice that the world premiere of this movie happens to fall on the day where this year’s US Presidential Election will take place? Coincidence much?
US presidents aside, I’m looking forward to this movie because of Daniel Day-Lewis who will be portraying Abraham Lincoln as is never seen before on the screen – period.
What the studios and producers decide to put in their movie posters – especially the first official image to the public – always fascinates me the most. You can tell so much from the first poster and if you’ve seen your fair share of posters, you can tell if a movie is going to be great or not.
From the poster above, I know this movie isn’t going to be boring and won’t be about his entire life. This looks like a weathered and beaten-down man – a man who is hunched over his back because the fate of a nation is on his shoulders.
I think it is going to depict the last few months of his life before his assassination. It is going to be about a nation’s leader that works tirelessly, who must make tough choices and get things done in the face of overwhelming opposition that will forever change the history of a nation.
I also know that from the black and white colour used in the poster, this movie is going to be centrally revolved around his attempt to abolish slavery once and for all. The colour choice here is great because it sends a message of the biggest theme in the film.
And finally, this poster excellently hammers home the fact that Day-Lewis will star in another role where he absolutely loses himself in the character. So I know this movie is going to be moving and enlightening. I know the script will be awesome.
But what I know even more is that the acting is going to still your body, hearts and minds in the cinema when you see all the stellar cast bring the historical biopic of Abraham Lincoln to life. How I know? Because I had goose bumps when I saw the trailer.
For a YouTube trailer that has 6.2 million views so far, it sure says a lot. Even if you do not believe this movie is going to be Oscar-sensational or Oscar-bait incarnate, I can bet you the acting will blow you away because Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones are all Oscar winners in their own right. Did I mention Spielberg too?
Do not forget that this is still a historical movie. And we all remember how well did Spielberg’s other historical movies turned out – Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
One of Lincoln’s famous quote is “How do I get a nation to see beyond the colour of someone’s skin?” Lincoln wanted us to be colour-blind, so does this poster.
Lincoln is scheduled for release on the 9th of Nov, 2012.
Click below for the official trailer:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Around in the Dark


Have you ever wondered how would it feel like not to know something you didn’t know? I doubt you or anyone does. I for one don’t. But if it is about not knowing something you want to know, then I have something to share.
These days, almost everything we want to know is literally at our fingertips. With a few strokes and taps on a screen, our intellectual thirst to know something is quenched. This kind of existence is gratifying to the most of us.
What’s the weather like today? Tap on the weather app. Who the heck is Julian Assange? Check Wikipedia. Who is that pretty and promising lead girl actress in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom? Search IMDB. Is the latest Hollywood’s box office Looper worth watching? Look up Rotten Tomatoes. Google it, Facebook up, Twitter that, the list just goes on. Anything you want to know, you can know it, right now.
But when you think back, just a little less than 20 years ago, all of the above was unthinkable. I can’t speak for the most of you but I’m pretty sure it won’t be that different from my childhood. If I wanted to see something, I’d switch on the TV and hope to get lucky. If I wanted to listen to my favourite music, I’d turn on the radio and hope to get lucky. If I wanted to know the meaning of a word, I’d open my dictionary and hope to get lucky. If I wanted to know about something more in detail, I’d flip my encyclopedias open and hope to get lucky.
However, because these methods often took time, effort, and commitment and is also more physically demanding, most of the time I had to settle on not knowing. And life went on just fine then.
I’m starting to cultivate a habit of being away from my computer, phone and tablet for a prolonged period of time, several times a day and extending that time periodically longer as each day and week passes by.
One thing I realised from this so far is that whenever I think of a question I want answered, my first instinct is to access my gadgets and search. But then I pause and examine that urge. I ask myself if it is a true need, to know right now? Or can it wait for 30 minutes, a few hours or even a day? Of course it can. It is not like a matter of life or death anyway.
So I stop myself and make a note to look it up later. I then notice something else entirely new, and utterly interesting – not knowing something has now become a strange and exciting phenomena to me. Sure, there are like a billion other things in this world I know nothing about. But those are the things I’m unaware that I don’t know about. On the other hand, I’m talking about not knowing something I want to know, for an hour or sometimes even longer. The difference here is the conscious choice.
And amidst all these, I come to this awareness – that this new habit of mine – is a strange freedom. Not knowing something means I am free to walk around seemingly “blind” and unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that I must live with it and work with it in a certain timeframe. It is interesting. It is mysterious. And it is exhilarating. It is just a different way of living.
It isn't bad. It's just different. And there's something minimalist and efficient about it. It creates more space for other things that matter more, that have often been missed or postponed. So I'm learning to let go of the urge to know, bit by bit every second of the day, and let my mind wander around in the dark for a while.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Watermark

This is about how You drew me a watermark of my capacity to contain the forgiveness that was never mine.
Acceptance is the is-ness that you have given me from the start, to keep me afloat, to guide me, to drown me and to make me more pragmatic. And so it was that you made it real for me in an untold beginning – a time of unconscious believing in your unknowing promises. It is from here where I remember vividly how you drowned me with overwhelming uncertainties – where every breath I took was a reminder of my fallibility – only to drag me out from beneath the waves of evanescence and tell me that this is happening.
And so I accept what is it that you have caused me, given me and taken from me.
When you caused it upon me, it was a matter of choice. When you thought to give, it felt right to take. And when you took from me, somehow I could still receive and even accept.
It is this indiscernibility that made me see it is not truly why, but truthfully how.
It is from this belief why you whispered how I did not want the ending to be explained, but to be revealed.
Belonging is the ought-ness that you left for me when things were forsaken, to steer me on, to inspire me, to bend me and to make me more progressive. You granted me closure in an innocent voyage – a crossing into an intense disguise of your intuitive conviction. It is from here where I recall deeply when you showered me with a rain of renewed restitute – where every raindrop I felt was a symbol of my imperfection – only to cast me into the tempest of my resolve to grasp that which ought to be mine.
And so I long for that which ought to be your peace, your pledge and your purpose.
When you showed me peace, I found my cause. When you unveiled your pledge, it led to the freedom of purpose. And freed from want and need, I knew then that my yearning had been around far too long.
It is this imperceptibility that made me see it ought to be about when irrespectively, and not who respectively.
It is from this certainty that I ought to know when it is not about who waits for me at the end, but who walks there with me.
Finally, it is not about the where but the what. It is where intangibilities are scarcely given and as hard as you try to strip me off my anguish, what you can only take away are the tangibles.
Because in the last couple of days, when sadness was the sea, what You taught me was how to swim.