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Category Archives: Diary

Birthdays were never a big thing in my family.  Another year of the earth making it around the sun, or the moon making it around the earth: didn’t seem worth celebrating.

When my birthday came again this year, I wasn’t bothered. Nothing special. Not a public holiday (yet) and I don’t mind working on my birthday anyway. So much ado about nothing.

Against my hardened cynicism, I found myself grateful and happy on my birthday this year.

What I understood for the first time is that birthdays aren’t really about celebrating  the birthday. Birthdays are about the joy that comes from recognising the wonderful, diverse, talented, joyous people that have crossed your path. From remembering all the good moments, high, first times and old memories.

I was the fortunate recipient from an overwhelming outpouring of warm wishes. By facetime, phone, video message, email, sms, whatsapp and facebook wall / chats I got many many happy birthdays, kind congratulations, best wishes, hopes for a good day and kind wishes for a year ahead.

These wishes came not only from the people who I see every day, they came from people far far away. They came from old friends and newer. From family and friends who are like family.

Best of all were the close friends who came for a short sweet surprise dinner organised by my wife. Its a rare treat for me to see the diverse individuals I cherry pick to be my friends collected together in one group. Almost as if I don’t except such an odd social group to function. But they were all there and having a good time (I hope) and it meant the world to me that they came. For all this, of course, I owe all credit to the effort, talent and planning of my wife. It wouldn’t have happened without her (I believe it’d never work remember?).

Riding this high, I thought I would reach out again to all those people who had wished me well. I’ve made a real effort to reach back to every person that I could: I’ve replied to emails, responded to comments, called back and tried my utmost to reach out as best as I could. Maybe  that will  spark things, warm things, reignite things that have drifted apart. I hope so.

Celebrating a birthday is about recognising, reaching out, enjoying and spending time with someone you like. Celebrating your birthday is, hopefully, your friends doing the same in reverse. That means a lot.

That is immeasurably valuable.

That’s something worth celebrating.

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I have always seen duty as paramount. Duty prevailed over need, want, pleasure, choice, happiness or self-direction.

Whatever you did, and you could do anything, you had to first ensure that you did your duty to God and your fellow man.

Duty first.

This is a deeply held sense of duty. I moralised extensively. I gave it primacy over all moral virtue because it was the life objective: the primary obligation of the adult in society. Duty was the ultimate obligation.

No matter how unwilling you were. Or how onerous the duty. Or how irrational.

Duty first.

As you may guess from my recent post, I’m not so cocksure about my sense of duty. Or the importance of duty. Certainly not its total primacy.

Many of the things I’ve been thinking have recently been said – better than I could say them – by the ever interesting Steve Pavlina:

While you may have been convinced that these duties are important, the truth is that they’re of no particular importance to people with high self-esteem and a positive sense of self-worth. Such people do not care how much money you make, what kind of provider you are, or how long you’ve been married to the same person. They’re much more curious about something else: how you feel about yourself and the path you’re walking.

When, however, I connect with people who are responsibly doing their duty, but who haven’t yet cultivated a life of happiness, I can’t help but notice the sallow desperation in their eyes, the numbness with which they speak, and the damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don’t game of self-deception they play each day. They feel trapped and lost to the point where they label feelings like depression and frustration with words like “fine” and “okay.”

If you find yourself in such a situation, there is a way out, and it begins with finally acknowledging the truth to yourself and diving into the dark places where you think it may lead. Accept your situation as it is, and most importantly, accept how you feel about it. The reality is that the darkness you fear is really nothing to fear at all. Yes, you may face some challenges, but that is how you’ll grow.

Steve Pavlina describes meeting the dutiful person. If you read his blog though, it’s clear that Steve Pavlina is not one of those people. Maybe he was that person once, but he isn’t now.

I have met that person. I have walked in his shoes, thought his thoughts and weighed his heart. I am that person. I am a duty bound slave.

A person doing their duty should look bleak. A life lived for duty erodes you from the inside. It wears you down until you are ground down emotionally. It leaves behind the finest dust in your heart that stops all positive feelings

You can exercise no hope, no creativity, no wisdom and no strength except in the discharge of your duty.

But duty is never ending. There are always more duties.

Duty is unforgiving. What you do is too little.

Duty is ever present. You can never fail to do your duty.

Duty is harsh. If you’re going to do your duty do it right or don’t do it.

Duty is ungrateful. After all you are only doing your duty: what you should do.

Duty is expectation. Someone has decided what you must do. Your job is not to ask but to do. To obey or go away.

On the day that realisation hits you, or worse you become comfortable with that burden, it’s hard to imagine anyone seeing in your eyes anything but a life of quiet desperation.

The truth is that duty is a self-locking prison. Duty bound and an ardent believer in duty you will discharge the task no matter the cost. It’s about who you are after all: dutiful. And at that point it doesn’t matter how aware you are of the prison at that point because you can’t imagine a life without duty anymore.

I’m trying to be more aware now of what is duty and what is choice. I no longer see my life as duty first. For now that’s the most I can do. But it’s a valuable start.

I’m tired. Tired of God and tired of men. Tired of the spiritual life and tired of the mortal life. Just, in so many ways, tired.

I’m tired of God. We know a few things about God. He’s all powerful, all knowing, transcendent, immortal, unknowable and inscrutable. That’s a good place to be for Him. But it does make it hard to take him seriously. Why would this being, a being Karen Armstrong aptly called the remote Sky God (because he’s somewhere up there and doesn’t really do anything down here) care one jot about what’s going on down here? And the usual answer, trotted out, is that we’re not capable of understanding Him. That the idea, the true nature, of God is something so beyond the capacity of the mortal mind to comprehend that it would be folly for us to try. We can at best engage in approximations: analogies of what God is like – or what His attributes are like. But he is none of those things and all of these things, because even those words are limited by our limited appreciation of their true meaning. So that to call him Forgiving simply does not comprehend the nature and extent of his infinite mercy. To call him Just does not comprehend the nature and extend of his perfect justice. To which the immediate rebuttal is that why did he make us that way? It was his choice to limit our capacities, and if as a result he feels underappreciated, I don’t see how that should necessarily be attributed to me. As one of my friends says, if you have a problem with every model available, then you have a problem with the manufacturer not the product. And that should really be resolved by the manufacturer. In this case, He is the manufacturer, so seems to be a bit odd to blame the mortal.

It’s hard to be religious and tired of God.

I’m tired of men. I’m tired of hypocrisy and lies. Of evasion and falsehoods. Of fake smiles and sincere cruelty. I’m especially tired of seeing this in people who profess to be holy men, religious men, devout men, honest men, men of integrity, and men of character. Men who intend to be scared of their Lord or their professional regulator, but instead seem only worried about their mortal skins and material gains. At least, when those who are only scared of their professional regulator go out and lie, cheat, steal, bully, ignore, abuse, manipulate and coerce, they do so without relying on a moral authority that their very conduct undermines. Of course, I understand why it happens. People are being people, with all the insecurities, worries, work to avoid, easy paths to take, difficult choices, personal preferences and capricious whims that are heir to the mortal condition. And yes, I do know that people are more than this. That people can be, and often are, good. That they can be kind, and welcoming, and warm, and giving and generous. Except that I don’t want these things of them either. I would not be a recipient of their generosity, kindness, giving, welcoming or warmth. It rings false to me when they are capable of so much that accrues to the other, crueller,  side of the personality divide. And yes, I know that I do it too.

It’s hard to be sociable and tired of People.

I’m tired of the spiritual. If I were to answer in truth, I would say that my spiritual side was dying more every day. Part of that is everything that I’ve talked about already, above, but part of that is also about how little spiritual response I feel to things that are meant to move me spiritually. The things that people say lift them, change them, hold them, support them, give them the strength of faith and the comfort of certainty don’t hold for me anymore. Faith and certainty seem quaint outcomes of a limited perspective and a closed mind. The arguments of those who have a narrow vision of how people can live their lives, the choices they can make, and a paternalistic instinct in making sure people make the choices that they perceive to be right. Sometimes, so many times, those choices seem to align suspiciously with the motives in my previous paragraph. So I have doubt. Lots and lots of doubt. Lots of questions. Lots of uncertainty as to the smugness and self-assuredness of the faithful. People who behave in ways that are selfish and capricious, sure in the knowledge that they are the elect and the chosen (and it doesn’t matter what faith they belong to in this regard) and that every one else is misguided. And yes, I know that I do it too.

It’s hard to hope and be tired of the spiritual life.

I’m tired of the mortal. Is this really it? Is this what happens for the next 40 – 50 years of my life? I work, hard, forever, living life in 2 week or 3 week increments, stolen glimpses of freedom and space, time and opportunity, hope and freshness, and then to return back to the grind. What’s the point of all of this? Is it to die with the most toys? To die with more toys? Die with enough toys? Why would any rational sane individual make any of these choices? What kind of folly would it be to blithely continue down this path? And those are the easy questions. Harder ones are why I’m doing this, who benefits, who hopes to benefit and how come I benefit so little? Oh so many questions and not an answer in sight. Almost feels like there no point in asking these questions, since they lead only to counsels of despair. Especially so when I don’t particularly care for material outcomes. I don’t want fancy things. I don’t need designer clothes, or elaborately stitched hand crafted leather goods. I don’t care whether I own a house, or five. Once you’re over that level of comfort and subsistence, I don’t  see the mortal life being directed by the pursuit of economic gain. So my material life is aimed at the material gain of others predominantly, since I know now that these won’t particularly satisfy me? But material things are important and material things are a necessity. So yes, I know that I need these things too.

It’s hard to work and be tired of the mortal life.

I find myself at a crossroads. There is very little left to loose when you are tired of your religious life, your spiritual life, your social life and your work life. There is not much of a safety net below these questions and despair. These are gnawing questions, that pollute the soul and drag down the heart. These are dirty questions, that spread their toxic burdens into every other thought and every other source. They are water closing over a drowning man; a last chance to see water bedazzled by sunlight but too far away, almost certainly, to ever break to the surface again.

I could ask someone, I could seek guidance, seek answers, seek truth. But tell me – why should I trust you? You too are likely to be religious or atheist. You too are likely to be human. You too are likely to have a spiritual and a material life. And I am very apt to mistrust your answers, because after all your actions will seem smug and self-assured to me.

And so I am where I choose to be. Uncertainly carrying a heavy burden of doubt, unsure of where I am coming from or where I am going. Unsure of why I am journeying and why I would want to arrive. Uncertain that any other traveller on this road knows where to go any better, and convinced that many are lying when they offer maps, guidance and shortcuts. Is it any wonder I’m tired?

Hong Kong people work hard. Undoubtedly they do. It is not unknown here for people to start their day by 8am or 9am and for their working day to finish well past 8pm in the evening. That would be a normal day. One that clocks up over 12 hours on the job. And of course you check, and reply, to emails once you’ve gone home in the evening.

There’s nothing wrong with that attitude in this society. Its pretty much an always on 24/7 place. Restaurants don’t close till late. Shops don’t close till later. And fast food is always open. Especially since McDonalds upped the game by switching many of its outlets to operating 24/7.

In recent weeks I find myself moving towards that 24/7 approach to my own work life. I’m not so much worried by that but by the consequential result that I don’t find the rest of my life as interesting. That has me really worried.

Over the last three years I’ve been pushing myself to be more sociable. Despite this I’m still clinging on to my self image as an introvert. There’s only so much socialising I could endure. So it had to be limited. Attend a few events and then off. Interactions restrained within comfortable limits.

I was satisfied with this balance. I’ve a few close work friends. I’ve some good people to chat with sociably. A few more with whom I enjoy spending time. Enough to keep a simple introvert happy.

You see, introverts idealise isolation. They see it as the ultimate Zen state where the draining power of social interaction can’t hurt them.  Where all those different, changing, complex people can’t grind them down any more.

Then last September I changed jobs.

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Life is about how you see yourself. How you see yourself defines what you will do, what you might try and what you will never do. At the moment at least. How you see yourself can change. Its flexibility is its biggest freedom and biggest curse.

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I like having rules. These are some of my rules for using Facebook:

  1. Make a friend request only to friends or family. Friends means people I like and spend time with. Exceptionally, people who pass the first limb but not the second may be granted an exemption.
  2. Accept friendship requests from known people. This includes people who I’d make a friend request to, but, isn’t limited to them. Not all liking is reciprocal and not everyone uses Facebook the same way I do.
  3. When someone’s presence starts to irritate you don’t block them. Simply remove them from your news feed. It’s more satisfying to erase them then remove them and has the same effect.
  4. Read the news feed with a generous benefit of the doubt. It is all generated by a machine. People are used to having a context and the chance to provide an explanation. Facebook won’t give either.
  5. Be careful about your news feed. Things, once posted, cannot be undone. Especially not in a world where people will Google you and then search for your Facebook profile.
  6. On a similar note, try not to judge anyone by their Facebook profile. It’s the ultimate manifestation of judging books by their covers. This is impossible to achieve but is a worthy goal.
  7. When invited to an event, prevaricate. Nothing is gained by responding to an event early. Always wait until the last possible moment to decide what to do.
  8. Don’t invite people to an event. Anyone you want to invite is someone you already know. There’s probably a human way to get in touch with them.
  9. When reminded of a birthday by Facebook, always send your felicitations using Facebook. If you didn’t really remember the birthday don’t pretend you remembered by using another means of communication.
  10. Be generous with the like button – everyone likes a little interaction.
  11. Be sparing with comments. Things said are very hard to unsay. Especially after we’ve stopped meaning them.

885250_84796185 (WinCE) I hate adverbs.  They’re redundant garbage. I want to purge every adverb from the page in an ink fuelled genocide. A whole class of words put to death.

My anti-adverb sentiments are causing problems. A ridiculous problem in the scheme of things, but one that I can’t help focusing on because of its stupidity.

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I’m escaping. The silence has become unbearable.  I have lots of ideas why I’m escaping. I have many plausible theories that might be sufficient for a psychologist or the impartial Observer of all human affairs as to why.

I know what I’m doing. Know it but can’t control it. I know how to analyse escapism while seeming rationale and calm. It’s just (what an innocuous word ‘just’) that this time I don’t care to stay in control so much.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

A path is reassuring: others have come this way. A well worn path is safe, many have come this way. A well worn path drawn on a map is security; this is the ‘recognised’ way to the destination.

I see career paths through this lens. To work in a profession (engineers, lawyers, doctors and so forth) is to travel a time-honoured well worn path. It is to walk on tarred roads. You pay the tolls, work your hours, start at the beginning, and walk steadily to the rewards.

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