"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."- Somerset Maugham
This topic crosses your mind as you look at the defaced wall at the East Side Gallery, Berlin. When the wall came down, an artist from France, Thierry Noir, came over and started decorating it with the now famous paintings, which you see on coffee mugs and t-shirts at the souvenir shops.
The topic is not his paintings or those of the rest who were drawn by the most important event of last century, an event that symbolised a new way of life for the residents of both East and West Berlin.
The Wall that separated families and friends, the Wall that stood between the dreams and aspirations of countless Berliners, the Wall that saw scores of lives sacrificed in an attempt to live freely, came down. Curiously, the same wall that stood for oppression and dictatorship when it was standing, came to be known as a strong, if broken, symbol of freedom and enterprise; of hope and and dreams; of possibilities and a new life.
Now you would think these thoughts might cross the minds of millions of camera-toting tourists from around the world who are more interested in taking a picture than appreciating the power of the concrete section at the East Side Gallery. Obviously it doesn't as you can see from the defaced wall which runs to about a kilometer and half. It makes you wonder, 'How do you stop people from vandalising a piece of history?' If you preserve it in a glass case, it defeats the purpose of the wall and all it stood for. If you don't, you let all and sundry with a camera and a spray can ruin it to such an extent that the original paintings will be buried under the mischievous scrawls of the morons (there are even a few from a couple of guys from Singapore, bylines and all).
Which brings you to freedom and responsibility. It must be taught at school levels, that seems to be the only way.
It's $11. I'm not kidding. Eleven Singapore dollars. At Starbucks. It's just ridiculous. It's the only time where a strong dollar means nothing. Sing dollar is stronger but means bugger all because even though one dollar is equal to four Danish kroners it makes no difference when you are spending eleven bucks for a coffee. Food? Don't even go there. In a related thread I didn't know where to go for vegetarian good as almost all the restaurants serve a meat heavy fare. I was like a man overloaded on potato chips on a desert trail who has suddenly found water when I stumbled onto a Thai restaurant that served vegetarian dishes, yes in plural. Dishes. Luckily we found more options for decent food up in the town centre later. Copenhagen is not tourist friendly in the sense the signposts are tucked away where you can't see them or they are just not there. People are quite friendly and helpful. The city is boring with nothing of great importance to see unlike berlin where we are now. Glad we cut short our stay in copenhagen where instead of six night planned originally we left after four days and spent two days in Hamburg (which is beautiful) on the way to Berlin.
I stumbled onto these brilliant commercials a couple of years ago. Conceived for Panda cheese,an Egyptian brand, the campaign revolves around a panda that gets seriously upset when the said cheese is not preferred by the unsuspecting audience, ranging from a convalescing man in a hospital to a child at her birthday. No situation is too sensitive for the panda to assert his brand. Brilliant. 'Never say no to panda' says the strapline which sums up the baddass attitude of the 'cute' creature. Which segues nicely into a rather stunning comment one of the fast food clients made on a TVC board we had thought of. As is the case with these brands, and their short 15 second TVCs, we had 5 seconds to weave a story into the script which dedicated the rest of the duration to juicy badness of their products. Since it was around Christmas, we decided to inject a bit of sharing, caring and the usual spirit of the season sprinklings. The idea was to have a family at the fast food store, and when they are about to order the kid looks out and sees a mall Santa eating by himself. Feeling bad, the kid tugs at the father's shirt, and we cut to the next scene where the family is sharing the food with the lonely Santa. When I was presenting it, the client shot a stunner from which I couldn't recover (and neither could the people I narrated this to): 'But Santa doesn't eat'. I was floored, I had no come back. Much like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer throws up on George's girlfriend from NBC, when Seinfeld says how there are no Hallmark cards covering this occasion, there are no possible comebacks at all. Hearing this, a friend retorted: 'Then why the f*** is he so fat?' Good one that. Here are the panda cheese commercials, enjoy.
I always felt that it is keen insight that distinguishes great comedians from the mediocre.
Here are a few from George Carlin:
"There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls."
"Weather forecast for tonight: dark. "
"Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town."
"Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist."
"I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose. "
"When someone is impatient and says, "I haven't got all day," I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day?"
And here are a couple from a guy called Murray Walker who was a sports commentator, some of the lines are very Yogi Berra-sque:
"And now, excuse me while I interrupt myself"
"Eight minutes past the hour here in Belgium - and presumably eight minutes past the hour everywhere in the world."
"He can't decide whether to leave his visor half open or half closed."
"I don't make mistakes. I make prophecies which immediately turn out to be wrong."
I was watching an Alan Watts video the other day that set me thinking. In the video Watts observes how, at cellular level, there is always almost violent conflict between healthy cells and the disease carrying microbes, every minute of our lives, and how this incessant fight is necessary for what we call a healthy body and mind. So essentially, cellular level conflict equals gross or body level harmony.
It set me wondering: what if the same thing were not true of the world at large or life as we know it? Maybe all the violence and disharmony we see at one level, which we are close to, is what keeps the wheel of harmony moving so at a bigger, probably, universal level, it all makes sense? And since we are not equipped to think either at micro or galactic levels, we only see what is available to us at sensory level, which is a sequence of seemingly random acts of violence interspersed with someone not kicking a puppy when presented with a chance.
Perhaps that's why evolved beings, like Robert Adams or Shakespeare, reiterated that 'all is well', and that there is nothing wrong with the world, it's in the way you look at things and interpret them. It's not that what's good for someone being bad for someone else. It's more a case of a well-laid out method to all we see and don't see. Think about that the next time you see a front page report in the morning newspaper. Perhaps it will put things in perspective.
A little boy went to his grandfather one day and said, ‘Tell me a story, grandpa’.
The grandfather said, ‘Sure, my boy. I’ll tell you a story, in fact it happens every day. There are these two wolves, see? And they are constantly fighting. One wolf is arrogant, cunning, deceitful, angry, jealous, resentful, unforgiving, condescending and proud. And the other is kind, gentle, loving, peaceful, compassionate, truthful and just’.
‘So which one wins, grandpa?’ asked the boy.
The grandfather took the boy’s hand and said, ‘The one you feed, my boy, the one you feed’.
There was a wealthy gentleman who wanted his portrait done by Picasso who was at the peak of his fame. Picasso agreed after discussing terms. He said he would charge a million dollars for the project and asked the gentleman to come to his studio on a certain date. On the appointed day, the gentleman comes to Picasso’s studio and after the initial pleasantries, he is asked to sit down on a chair. Picasso looks at the man for a few minutes, draws a few strokes with a couple of different brushes, adds a dash of colour, and says, ‘Done, there’s your portrait’. The man is aghast and angry. ‘I spend a million dollars for a portrait and you do that in five minutes? This is ridiculous.’ Picasso replies calmly, ‘Sir I may have taken only five minutes but I spent over 20 years learning how to do it in five minutes, the million dollars is not for the five minutes, but for the years I spent learning’.
I try telling this story to people who say I’m expensive (I am not). When you spend over 20 years in the industry you tend to do things faster, and the years would have blessed you with the necessary powers of discrimination so you can deliver quality work. Not that I’m comparing myself to the genius, mind, I’m just illustrating a point. I tell the people who bargain with me that speed and quality have their price and that by hiring a senior person, they are actually spending less. The logic is simple: a senior guy can get the job done in less time than it takes a middle-weight or junior person. A junior professional may be cheaper but in the longer run, because of his or her inexperience, will extend the length of a project by making mistakes which will end up costing you more. So by paying a senior person seemingly more, you are actually spending less. But the logic falls on deaf ears. Every time. It's hard to fight with an Excel sheet.
There’s something humble, selfless, magnanimous even, in graffiti messages, you know the good ones scrawled on bathroom stalls and big city walls? Because a lot of them border on the brilliant and some are just pure gold. Curiously, none of them (like the proverbs ) boast authorship. No bylines, no ‘these lines brought to you by’, nothing. They are anonymous, often accurate, and absolutely mind blowing.
There was a guy named Nigel Rees, if I remember right, who went around collecting graffiti messages and published them in a series of short books. I picked them up at the roadside bookstalls that used to flourish near the Fountain, Mumbai. Lost them, bit still some of the lines are etched in my mind. Like the ones below:
1."I used to be a schizophrenic, we are ok now"
2."The meek shall inherit the earth, if it's ok by you"
3."Amnesia rules, O... (in the series of ‘graffiti rules OK?’)
4."I'd give my right arm to be ambidexterous"
5."Misspellers of the world, untie"
6. "God is dead" - Nietzshe. "Nietzsche is dead" -God
7. "To do is to be" - Socrates. "To be is to do" -Sartre. "Do be do be do" - Sinatra.
8."I didn't believe in reincarnation the last time either"
9."Progress has gone too far"
10.Dyslexia lures, K.O
11."Is anal retentive hyphenated?"
12. "I am not obsessive, I am not obsessive, I am not obsessive ..."
There is a marked difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge goes to TED talks and other platforms to play to the gallery while wisdom retires to the caves, knowing there is not much point in trying to impress an audience whose attention can be distracted by the next celebrity wardrobe malfunction.
And few things encapsulate wisdom more powerfully than proverbs. Besides being timeless and pithy, they contain the experience of centuries gone by in those few short, succinct words. Wisdom and brevity, kind of go together it seems (which reminds me of what Hegarty, an adman, said about long copy. His point was if the French Revolution needed only three words, Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite, why do you need a thousand word copy to sell a detergent powder?).
The curious thing about proverbs is that there are no bylines, no authorship, nothing. They are anonymous, accurate, and absolutely mind blowing.
First some extremely colourful and rich proverbs I grew up listening to:
1."Like a house of ill repute that has witnesses the birth of a boy"
When the light bulb reached its expiry end and was duller than a backbench student, our folks would say that (not within earshot of kids of course). I am not sure if any other expression comes close to convey the low wattage more accurately.
(In case you are wondering: Because the birth of a boy is no cause for celebration, hence dull lights.)
2."Brothels when able-bodied, the Lord on deathbed"
That's the rough translation. It means in the heady days of youth, power and virility, you waste it all on wanton pursuits, and cry for the lord when the effects of your playboy behaviour start to show in the twilight of your life.
3."Just because it's made of gold you can't prick your eyes with a golden pin"
Preciousness has its limitations.
4."Like getting pregnant out of politeness"
This applies to people are too nice and cannot say no even if the consequences are disastrous.