the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: March, 2013

Learning new things

by MDY

I’m currently teaching myself Chinese. When I was four years old and on the verge of escaping to the Antipodes, I allegedly – in what later turned out to be my first dabbling in proleptic irony – told my Mandarin tutor that I didn’t need to learn because I was going to Australia. My conceit is that once I have the oral/aural basics firmly reinforced, I can slather the characters over the top like cement over a brick wall. 学中文有一点 难, 要记住语法, 生词 – 我应该每天学可是平常我没有空, 还是我给我说我每有空。To avoid such excuses, I’m working at the synapses. Already I tend to associate a half-lesson’s work with a euphoria not unlike that which follows a swim or short training routine. The lessons won’t stick without a carrot.

The more you learn, the more you can learn. Yesterday I elected to take an on-line course on improv, and though I’m not expecting to complete the assignments – we sold the instrument some years ago now – the acuity of my musical hero’s teachings will likely resound long after he hits the damping pedal for the last time. My reader says she struggles with learning Chinese, but I suspect that to be not through some paucity of mental resource (as she fears it is), but because her brain maps are predominantly dedicated to studying other, weightier matters (sometimes of life and death). You can’t win them all.

Tomorrow I’ll begin a course on rudimentary statistics. Numerical calculations were never my strong point, but it’s comparable to a snare drum: you only become proficient once you’ve done enough flams and paradiddles to fill the better part of a good year. Sometimes I still dream of composing riffs that weave together the elegance of literature and the poetry of mathematics. Of course, invariably, I’ll be making it up as I go.


Writing on Paper

by MDY

It forces you to choose your words carefully. Nothing screams “laughable” more than a web of strike-outs scarring the page, and frivolity is the one true fear of the serious writer (while the not-so-serious will be more concerned about wasting ink). The stone tablet was the first lossless format. It’s easy to bang on about nothing with a keyboard and screen, but what if you knew your drivel would last for millennia?

It keeps you brief and slow. The more and faster you write, the more your fingers will ache – and not in the dull nerve-numbing way that comes from mechanical transcription, but with increasingly sharp pain through the wrist and tendons. Nothing screams “laughable” more than incurring a sports injury from a desk job. By restricting the speed of your hands, it regulates the pace of your mind.

It reveals the gaps in your technique. Without instantaneous access to the world’s knowledge at your fingertips, anything unknown – a statistic, a name, the last line of Ulysses – goes from speed bump to hideous obstacle, to be either skirted round or demolished via alternative methods. You’ll reread as you wait for your Achillean pains to subside, and strike-out not just minor errata but fundamental lacks – syntactical breaks, inconsistency of tone, the wrong author of Ulysses – bearing far greater severity. You’ll strive to seek and find them; and you’ll be better for it if your patience does not yield. Nothing screams “laughable” more than too much hyperbole.

Writing with Conviction

by MDY

Belief is optional, but trust is not. I was recently commissioned by a close friend to assist her with the year’s inaugural round of career applications. Standard operating procedure: peruse the brief, build the ordnance, and deliver with instructions on how, where and when to fire. Nobody else in recent memory has refused to deploy my words. I don’t know what her three second-opinions squawked to dissuade her, nor do I know their names. I once wrote a trilogy of short stories titled “Names”, “Games”, and “Faces”. My structural approach and use of the second-person was a bit of a gamble, but when I discussed this with the words on the page I was assured that I could trust them. We still share a moment once in a while, when someone dredges up the old glory days in a snipping of conversation. Nothing eases the gut like an unbeaten track record – or so I used to think.

Belief: sometimes helps, sometimes hinders. Personally, I have this suspicion that every microprocessor and mainframe in the world will one day sprout legs and flee its masters to establish a second First State somewhere in the Pacific ocean. Cloudy with a chance of matrices, to be exact; however, I understand that most people expect their mobile phones to be revolutionary in a slightly different sense. Of more importance than believing what you write is the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. Being able to do this also gives your words greater gravity with their readers. If I am a distributor of pre-cellophaned careers, for example, I want to drop my scarce packages where they are likely to yield the most fertile crops: namely, where their recipients can write with flair about how they plan to use these packages to get me a good harvest. I don’t want to know that they like the colour of the cellophane, or that the Allen-Key inside is something they’re passionate about, or that they’re allergic to shrimp paste. Writing is communication, and communication is knowing how to piece together both sides of the story.

Trust require two sides of the story. My writing only hits the mark when I believe it’s for a worthy cause, of which handsome remuneration is only one. If I don’t trust the other party to treat my words with care and respect, I’ll politely decline their offer. Like the gooey insides of a tamago, trust has a tendency to harden if you apply too much hot water. If you’re not writing with conviction – with belief in why you’re writing, and hopefully what and how as well – then you’re only damaging your own package. Talk to your words if you have any concerns. They’re the ones being fired, not you.