Writing Even if Nobody Cares

Right from the title, this post is at severe risk of descending into a bona fide pity party. (Actually, the title itself may have already reached a point of no return on its own.) But I do want to reflect on why anyone would bother to write anything.

When I tell people I have a blog, they naturally ask if I have a travel blog. “Not exactly,” I reply, with consummate vagueness – It doesn’t always feel like it’s worth the trouble to try to express what this blog is “about”. The next question is often whether I use my blog to fund my travels. I laugh, because this blog is pretty much the least monetizable thing on Earth. It is written without an obvious audience, without any obvious regularity, and without any obvious purpose aside from… writing.

Even though I’m arguably a “creative” individual – putting aside any question of whether the things I create have any actual merit – I’m really much more fortunate to also have a set of bland technical skills, mostly unrelated to creative writing, that manage to keep me afloat financially while I fart my way around the globe. If I were forced to think of a way to monetize my writing, I might be reduced to churning One Weird Tricks, one weird trick at a time. Best-case scenario, I could write that pandering autistic travelogue-cum-memoir that I’ve been thinking about, which… hey, that’s actually a pretty good idea! (I don’t think I’d be very good at talk show appearances, though, so maybe not.)

But for now, I write without any obvious audience or purpose. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t want an audience – After all, I’d keep these posts as drafts (and also not occasionally spam links to my Facebook friends) if I genuinely had no interest in being read. But since I also make pretty much no concessions to any common notion of readability aside from kinda bothering to string together grammatically correct (run-on) sentences, I can’t want it very badly, can I?

As I reflect on the purpose and meaning of shouting into the void, I naturally contemplate the folly of wanting anyone to appreciate one’s creations, anyway. Whether one person reads your writing or a million people do, at the end of the day our creations will be dead, and so will we. In that case, the only possible benefit of writing is the brief pleasure it gives the writer – the pleasure of self-expression, of externally organizing one’s thoughts, of catharsis, and maybe – just maybe – of receiving appreciation and validation from the outside world. A totally-not-a-Buddhist Buddhist like me has to dismiss the final motivation as a petty and self-defeating one, even if I do devote about half of my waking actions to seeking out the most shallow forms of validation. And so, all that’s really left is the pleasure of putting one’s thoughts and feelings into a concrete form. And once they have been formed thusly, they have already served their purpose, and it would only be vanity and self-absorption to dwell on them further. Of course, I’ll still obnoxiously send post links to my friends every once in a while…

So why do it? Well, today, it’s really just because it’s an incredibly slow day for work. Anyone need a web developer/programmer/business analytics guy?

Welcome to Frank’s Socks

Frank’s socks smelled like Frank. It was a tough, orangeish smell, like the smell of crying orange. As he unrolled his socks in the morning, Frank thought about pain – the pain of mortgage payments, the pain of dental treatments, the pain of the endless cycle of death and rebirth and endless craving and dissatisfaction, but most of all, the pain of socks. He thought about how his body had begun to break down and decompose – gracefully, at first, then rapidly and all at once – almost as soon as it had reached the closest it would ever come to perfection. His socks were socks.

As he drove to the office, he felt the cold clam hands on his eyes. He had started a new job a week ago, and his socks clung anxiously to his toes, but not to the space between them. That’s the problem with the space between things – It’s not occupied by anything.

He arrived five minutes before the start of his shift, groggily pouring out some already-stale coffee. The caffeine didn’t even really affect him anymore – It was just habit, the feeling that this infusion of burnt seeds could inspire him to work, to excel, to contribute. But compared to an egg, he was just half an egg. Compared to half an egg, he was just a quarter of an egg. When it came to workers at the place – when it came to work – Frank was never going to be the best at work. After a week, he knew this already, but he clung to his false optimism, optimism that he’d one day find his place in the place, like a sock wrapped snugly around a thing, a thing with no toes and no space between them.

He laboured throughout the day, doing his stuff. But his mind wasn’t in it – He thought about the socks on his feet, one sock for each foot, two socks and two feet in total. He tried to count each one in turn, but he never got past two, because there were only two of each. If he stretched – in the same way that a sock stretches to cover a thing that is bigger than the sock – he could get to four, but that really felt like a cheat. Deep down inside, he knew the most it could be was two, and then another two, and that made him feel small – so small, like a small sock.

Finally, the work day came to its weary close. Frank didn’t even know how much stuff he had done – Because really, how can you tell the difference between stuff and something that isn’t even stuff at all? The only real certainty was the certainty of two socks that clung to two feet, a certainty that clung to him like two socks cling to two feet. As he drove home – still in socks, still lost in socks, always socks – it began to rain. And the sound of the rain, at least, managed to drown out the sound of his sobs.

When he got home, he took off his socks.

Notes for a Memoir – Part 1

People often tell me, “Bloggerbels [not my real name], your life is so full of adventure and intrigue! Why don’t you write a book about it?” I defiantly answer their rhetorical question by telling them that I’m way too lazy to sustain a literary structure for more than 4,000 words of self-indulgent verbal diarrhea.

And yet, the nagging thought persists – What if, instead of spending my life searching for the coconuttiest coconut rice on Earth, I actually found the time to sit down and compose a grand compendium of my many regrets? Well, I doubt that will ever happen, but you know what is feasible? Writing an outline for a book that will never be written! Here now, with possible revisions in the future, are my notes for an imagined memoir:

    • Chapter 1 : Can’t Remember Shit – Childhood and pre-adolescence. You know how, in almost every memoir or biography, the part about the subject’s childhood is boring as shit? Yeah, that’s gonna be the case here, too. Can only remember really bad or really stupid things, like being terrified of my alcoholic uncle, or pushing a kid onto the sidewalk so hard that he had to get stitches, or peeing on the floor of my cousins’ bathroom for some reason. Can’t write anything even remotely interesting about my parents, because they’ll probably read it, so memoir will appear to tell the story of little orphan boy overcoming adversity. (Although, seriously, my parents are pretty awesome.)
    • Chapter 2: Memoir Becomes More Interesting As Life Becomes More Terrible – Elementary school. Being smarter than everyone else is stupid. Fightin’! Fightin’ teachers, fightin’ friends – it’s a problem no one understands. Early experiences with the Canadian mental health system. Massive weight gain as a side-effect of psychiatric medication. Being fat. Hopeless schoolboy crushes. Being fat some more! Fat fat fat! (Fat.)
    • Chapter 3: The Clichéd Horrors of Early Adolescence – Getting acquainted with my new best friend, depression! Crisis of faith; desperately calling out to God for help in an empty church and deciding the lack of a response proved his non-existence. Also, why are these little bristly black things suddenly sprouting out of my balls? Also, more schoolboy crushes, now as part of a delirious hormonal fever dream.
    • Chapter 4: High School Lows – Going to school online because exposure to human beings is incredibly painful. Parents splitting. Getting diagnosed with autism, and being grateful that I now get to be disabled and not just creepy. More object lessons in the Canadian mental health system. Taking anti-depressants and deciding if I want to keep taking anti-depressants – the answer is mostly yes! The staff at a long-since-defunct music store are my primary source of human contact during the day. Buy hundreds of budget-priced compact discs to distract myself from the fact that life is totally, totally terrible. And also, fuck acne. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK ACNE.
    • Chapter 5: Memoir Becomes Boring As Life Becomes More Tolerable – Continuing my studies in online university because exposure to human beings still remains somewhat painful. Doing copious amounts of volunteer work because it’s like a real job but with absolutely no stakes – just the way I liked things then, and just the way I like them now. Picking up women in random places, going on dates with them, and remaining a virgin who’d never been kissed for years afterward because I was still terrified of sex. Waiting for actual life to start.

Coming up in Part 2: Things happen that are actually worth writing about!

I Left My Wallet in El Segundo

When I was 11 years old, television changed my life.

My father was attending a conference in beautiful Jasper National Park, and he decided to let me tag along. I, being 11 years old and stupid, had no interest in the majesty of the rocky mountains or the stunning beauty of crystal blue lakes; instead, I played my ugly bricklike 1st-generation Game Boy and reveled in the joy of having my very own hotel TV while my father attended conference sessions.

In the course of flipping channels, I stumbled upon the RapCity show on MuchMusic, Canada’s watered-down answer to MTV. I had been vaguely familiar with rap prior to that, at least – I vividly remember having hours of fun with my friend’s cassette of MC Hammer’s “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em”, shoving it into his face while shouting “Please Hammer… don’t hurt ’em!” But until that moment, rap was a novelty, and not something that had really commanded my attention. But that all changed that day with the video for… well, for a novelty rap song. (Hey, I was still 11 years old, so I wasn’t quite ready to get sucked in by deep lyricism.) The song was I Left My Wallet in El Segundo by A Tribe Called Quest.

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Egg All Your Hash

Egg all your hash
Or sniffle that groffle
Mandle those bandles
But don’t piffle those poffles

Tickle your scripples
But don’t kipple those griffles
These bayziks are basic
But snooks come in triples

Quadruple those stooples
Or pazopples by halves
Take quarters of splorters
Or six-sixteenths of splafs

All fractions of dakshins
But whole numbers for glumbers
These rules I share with you
To slug up your trumblers

Snork eggs by the snorkful
Eggs laid by the dorkful
Hash inside your splash
Makes all eggs kazorkful

So egg all your hash
Split, spacker and smash
All goods and services
To be purchased with cash

In Praise of Pimple-Popping

WARNING: Some people may find the topic of this post to be gross, obviously. You may prefer to not read it. I certainly wouldn’t blame you!

As I get older, my biggest regret – aside from all the missed opportunities of my youth, the slow breakdown of my body, and the grimly inevitable march toward death – is that I get fewer pimples. Or more precisely, that I get fewer rich, creamy whiteheads. Now, I may still get ugly red bumps on my neck from overzealous shaving, but that brings me no pleasure. On the other hand, those white gold-filled fun nuggets are becoming more and more rare, and I’m really starting to miss them.

When I started getting acne, as a teenager, it was nothing to enjoy. It covered my face and added greatly to the toxic cocktail of psychological issues that ground my teenage self-esteem down to a fine powder. I took Accutane, the horrifically strong anti-acne medication that can cause birth defects in pregnant women, and it bludgeoned my sebacious glands to within an inch of their life. I emerged from this, somehow, with fairly clear skin.

After that, acne became, well, fun. Whereas my face used to be covered with painful red lumps that would have to slowly heal on their own, my adult experience with acne was more like an exciting game of whitehead whack-a-mole. Whiteheads could be squished and squirted to death in seconds, and a dab of isopropyl alcohol would dry them up into a tiny red dot within a few hours.

With my face finally clear, I would mostly get acne on my neck – it’s taken me 20 years to learn how to shave properly, and I feel like I’m just about there. As a younger man with whiter heads, the aftereffects of a rough shave were far more enjoyable. When I popped the whiteheads on my neck, their proximity to my ears rewarded me with an extremely audible glorp! sound. I’m not sure how anyone could miss it, but some have assured me that they know nothing of the vivid auditory sensation of a popping pimple. I pity their lives of emptiness and drudgery.

And then there was that greatest of all portmanteaus, backne. The whiteheads on my back were always the most special. They were awfully painful to pop, but the pain somehow just increased my satisfaction – like I had overcome a fearsome obstacle and received a creamy white reward. The fact that they seemed to contain a larger volume of the white stuff didn’t hurt, either.

Sometimes I’d get them somewhere unusual and unexpected, like on my finger. Not much satisfaction in terms of volume, perhaps, and also quite painful, but still memorable in their own way, like receiving a three-legged dog for Christmas.

For as long as I’ve been popping acne, I’ve been warned that my hobby was a dangerous one. It can lead to scarring, they’d say. It can lead to infection, they’d say. Well, the only acne scarring I’ve ever gotten was around the corners of my mouth, and I don’t think I was popping many pimples there. I’ve received permanent scars from a cheese slicer and two scooter crashes in Southeast Asia, but not too many from acne.

I’ve also gotten an infection after staying overnight in a house with nine dogs, with the environment triggering such a ferocious allergic reaction that I scratched my foot raw. I had to take antibiotics for a week before it would close up again, but I’ve never had an infection from popping a pimple.

So, to hell with the pimple-popping party poopers! This life is filled with suffering and spectacular feats of cruelty, but there is one small consolation: our body can be a funhouse, in so many ways. Between the end of traumatic teenage acne and the middle-aged dessication of the sebacious glands there is a brief period in life when pimples can brighten your day and put a smile on your face. Embrace it, love it… and pop it!

Damn Heat

36-37 every day in the Yucatan Peninsula. Almost wrote penicillin; heat-related type. Good time for free writing exercise. Maybe jog those neurons and get them to fire in some interesting combinations.

Digital fartz. Can’t stop listening to BWV 118, Bach motet, best version seems to be Suzuki. Not on YouTube? Only Spotify. Grabsnabble. https://open.spotify.com/track/1srvdyzq57OOX3LP9PzXUW?si=TVTi-1ssS3yEfi-GSFpqJA life-changing fuck yeah corporate plug!

Snifflesnaff. Down to one of my last bags of Indonesian coffee. Every bag is pre-ground and a ticking time bomb. Each new French Press tastes just a little more off than the previous one. Drink it fast or it will eventually no longer be worth drinking at all. This could probably pass as a metaphor for something, but it’s too hot for me to know what.

It’s 6:44 PM and the temperature has cooled to a crisp 33 degrees. Surprised I can’t handle the tropical heat like I used to. Aging? Or just perception? Probably listening to 18th century funeral music isn’t helping me to stay cool.

Nozzlespluff. Poomadoompadongles. Perhaps I shouldn’t make coffee in a plastic French press. If the C-word (not the sexist one) should strike me down, will I blame pouring near-boiling liquids into a plastic receptacle? Shatterproof, though.

SHANTALOOLA! Free writing serves as an attempt to escape the mundanity of everyday life. My basic animal needs are too easy to meet, and it’s too easy to leave the remainder of my time an unstructured, sprawling mess. Fucking Whatsapp. SPLANT THAT ZANGLE!

A long time ago, there lived an elk. I can’t remember the rest of the story but it was a good one. Why is the human body programmed to self-destruct? Intesting snafapaloo you’ve got there, buddybondraggle!!!

Gotta finish that coffee, milk that lattice of snickering possum-eaters, sazalalazafapanzapanatantazangalandaglandalandaloon. As your grandpa used to always say! Maybe.

Cat and Car: A Study in Ethics

Last night, I went hunting for a late dinner in Mexico City. It was a Sunday night, so most of the food shops in my neighbourhood were closed. I decided to roam a bit more than usual, and had to cross a busy main road. While waiting at the light, a black-and-white cat ran recklessly into oncoming traffic. Before it could go past the midpoint of the road, it got knocked flat by a car.

A local man waiting at the light with me glanced at me with shock and horror. We watched the cat lay limply on the road as cars continued to zoom past it, their tires coming horribly close to its immobile body. The seconds I spent waiting for the light to change felt like hours.

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The Great and Terrible Lie of “Today’s Special”

Part 1

Right before I moved away from the Philippines, I made one of the most remarkable purchases of my life. I felt like it was time for a new phone, and upon visiting my neighbourhood mall I was bewildered by the number of kiosks selling a range of completely unrecognizable, totally no-name Android phones at dirt cheap prices. In the end, I settled on a model from Firefly Mobile, which boasted remarkable specs for a remarkably low price of approximately $100 US. The phone ended up serving me well, its 3GB of RAM allowing me to clutter up the memory space with idle apps, and the Sony camera lens took some pretty good pictures – Even if most of the pictures in my blog don’t exactly bear this claim out.

I began raving to my friends about my magical cheapie phone, though my ardour was somewhat dampened by the fact that I left the Philippines two weeks after buying this seemingly Philippine-only brand. I only encountered one other person who ever owned a Firefly phone, and I accepted that Firefly was doomed to be one more thing among many that only I, the great bearer of that terrible burden of solitary enlightenment, can truly love and appreciate.

A year later, I returned to the Philippines to catch up with old friends and, most importantly, to see the dogs that I had given up for adoption. I stayed in an Airbnb, a tiny studio unit in a condo complex attached to a mall. The mall had its own forlorn little Firefly kiosk, which I would pass by each day. The kiosk would either be staffed by an extremely bored-looking woman with no customers, or would be empty.

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Little Lifetimes: Kuala Lumpur

When I finally left the Philippines, never to live there again, I felt lost. No matter how much I had traveled before that, often for months at a time after moving out of my latest Manila condo, I always knew that I had a country to come back to in the end – a place to settle down for another year and live something like a sane life. (And no, my birth country of Canada doesn’t count, because my feelings toward that place are so weighed down with painful memories and bad associations that I feel hesitant applying a warm and fuzzy word like “home” to it.) When I left the Philippines, I felt relieved to be free – free to travel and move around, without having to worry about my furniture, appliances and dogs. But I also knew I didn’t have the energy to embark on a whirlwind around-the-world backpacking adventure. So I paced my travel plans, let myself stop to soak up the local atmosphere in different countries, and that’s how I began living little lifetimes – Those periods when I stayed in one place for a month or less, but where the experience was so intense, and my feeling of immersion was so deep, that I felt like a different person living a different life. These little lifetimes had their own dramatic arcs, beginning with initial enthusiasm, following into frustration, and ending in peaceful acceptance of the limitations of my new, temporary life. And each of these lives would feel disconnected from everything that came before and after.

My first little lifetime was in Taipei, where I spent a month in a craggy old apartment in a colourful, historic neighbourhood, literally across the alley from a night market. I met a pretty Taiwanese woman on the subway, and we had an intense, aching, laughter-filled, strangely chaste month-long romance with a built-in expiry date. But my overall experience of Taipei remains so raw that I am not yet ready to write about it. My second little lifetime was in Kuala Lumpur. Read More