Sunday, October 21, 2012

of making a path

"Travelers, there is no path. Paths are made by walking."
- Antonio Machado

Antonio Machado was a Spanish poet born in 1875 and was part of the Spanish literary movement "Generation of '98" (1898 obviously, not 1998). His quote actually comes from one of his poems in his series Proverbios y Cantares:

"Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking."

(Translated text obtained from Wikipedia, and the original Proverbios in Spanish can be viewed here.)

The Generation of '98 movement was marked with frustration with Spanish politics and society. This was against the backdrop of the revolution against the Spanish monarchy in 1868 to 1873, followed by the short-lived First Spanish Republic, and the Restoration of a constitutional monarchy in 1874 (which the Generation opposed). They advocated a return to old Spanish ideals and the development of intellectual thought outside of politics.

People are often pushed to blaze new trails by a cause, a message that they wish to send to everyone else. Most of us living in the Internet-age, in a first-world country, we want to do that. Everyone wants to make something of themselves, wants to push the boundaries, etc. Because we are now in positions with means and opportunities available to us. Yet most of us are also afraid to stray beyond our comfort zone - because after all, most of us were born in comfort. I think the biggest challenge for our generation is learning to take a risk and stray from the paths already marked out for us.

Monday, September 17, 2012

of planning

"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time."
- Winston Churchill

(First of all, what an awesome picture this is.)

Winston Churchill's full name, including his list of titles, is far too long to be written here. One of the most influential people in British history, he served as Prime Minister during WWII and led Britain as one of the first countries to oppose Nazi Germany. He was a great orator and his war speeches are still well-known today. Churchill was also a great artist, historian and writer. His works as the latter, including memoirs of British history and the war years, earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.

Churchill also served in the military in various postings, and was the First Lord of Admiralty during WWI and WWII. Maybe it is the combined effect of having seen action and having led a nation through tumultuous times, that made him adopt the philosophy of never planning too far ahead. But even in the calm of a typical afternoon in a 21st-century first-world country I can see the wisdom in his words. In any future event there are too many unknowns. These days I have trouble knowing whether it is a time to take control or a time to let events take shape. For now, I will try to focus more on the present.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

of starting afresh

"Everyday is another chance for you to decide who you want to be. A chance to challenge yourself. To be a different version of you, a braver version. A person who isn’t afraid to grab joy and take it for a spin."
- Marin Frist, Men in Trees

Men in Trees is the story of Marin, a successful relationship advice guru, who discovers that her fiance has been cheating on her - and decides to stay in a small town in Alaska, the most recent stop on her book tour. The ratio of men to women in the town is about ten to one, hence the title of the series. ...I had to copy this synopsis from IMDb, because I never actually knew the plot of the series. Neither did I follow it religiously. Channel 5 used to show  strange, unexpected shows like this at the odd hours after midnight and I would stay up to watch.

I remember liking the few episodes I watched, although I don't remember much of the characters or the story. But this quote happens to be one that strikes a chord with me every time I read it. Ever since I got back from London, I haven't been able to stop myself from staying up. What a calming contrast it is to the hustle and bustle of the day, the reasons for happiness but also disappointment. I almost feel myself Processing the deletion of Temporary Data, the wiping the slate clean, etc - in preparation for the new day.

Yes, if anything, I believe in the above. That if you're unsatisfied with yourself today you can try again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. And I do believe that you do change, in tiny little increments that will only be visible on a grand scale on the day you depart this earth. So -- take heart. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

of making a move on

"Life is too short to be unhappy."

(sorry, no accompanying picture of a famous person)

It was early 2008 and I was working my first job after graduating from junior college. After a long fruitless job search my mum introduced me to her friend's husband, who ran a small company which provided listing services for companies, kind of like a Yellow Pages. The office had probably 10 employees or less, all of whom were older and spoke predominantly Chinese instead of English, and I was a shy and awkward kid. Basically, I had a miserable time. But even objectively, it was a terrible job - I seldom had anything to do, and when I did, I was forced to create designs that met my boss' taste, or lack of it. Worse, I didn't understand why he was even creating the product that he was creating because it seemed completely useless and undesirable to me.

The building that I worked at had a friendly security guard, and I would often visit him at lunch times because I was so bored and lonely. Although I never talked about my job, one day he simply pointed out how sad I looked all the time (I tried to deny it) and he suggested that I quit my job. I was hesitant. Then when he said the words that I quoted above, I felt so liberated and I decided then and there to quit. I can't quite explain it, because they are simple words that I'm sure everyone has heard before, but it was a magic moment for me.

Sometimes you just need someone (anyone) to remind you of the things you already know. I will never forget that security guard and the much-needed push he gave me that day.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

of the mud and the heavens

"All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
- Oscar Wilde

This is one of my favourite quotes and Wilde has to be featured, sooner or later. Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, to a family of intellectuals; he himself moved on to be an outstanding student at Oxford. After university, Wilde moved to London where he met Constance Lloyd, whom he married, and a number of young men, whom he had affairs with. One of them proved fatal as it prompted Wilde to sue his lover's father for libel (for calling him a 'posing somdomite'), which backlashed tragically and ended with Wilde being convicted of gross indecency, imprisoned and bankrupt.

...But who remembers him for that? Wilde impresses me because he was a truly modern man of his times, and through his works and words I think he showed a remarkable insight into human nature. For example The Picture of Dorian Gray, which tells the story of the degradation of a young man who - basically - falls in love with a portrait of himself, is a haunting account of how vanity can consume us all. Maybe Wilde himself was a victim of his own vanity, but I think that only makes him human and one of us. But if that's the case, he was definitely looking at the stars.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

of one versus a hundred

"If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one."
- Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa was born in 26 August 1910 in what was known as the Ottoman Empire (now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia). From an early age she knew that she wanted to be a missionary, and at the age of 18 she joined a convent. It was through convent work that she was brought to Calcutta, where she became increasingly disturbed by the state of poverty around her. When she was 36, Mother Teresa left the convent and entered the slums to help the poor and needy, where she would spend 45 years of her life. Mother Teresa started the Missionaries of Charity in 1950, which now operates hundreds of missions around the world, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

It was actually pretty interesting how I came upon this quote. A friend had suggested that I join a certain group in school which is working towards lifting the prejudice on rape victims in society. I came for my first meeting with the group, was not entirely convinced by the cause, unsure if I should direct my time to something more worthwhile. Then I looked out the window and literally saw the words of the quote staring at me -- the school had decided to decorate this particular wall of this particular block with the words of Mother Teresa. It was the quote that largely persuaded me to stay on with the group.

(Almost 3 months later I am still unsure if this little group will ever come to anything, or if I will be able to help even one person, but I guess it's best to stay optimistic.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

of great and small

"The chief proof of man's real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness."
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a Scottish writer born in 1859. He was trained as a physician but turned to writing when his practice did not prove to be successful. Although Sir Arthur (or do I call him Sir Doyle?) is most well-known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, arguably the best detective of all time albeit in fiction, he did also write a number of other works such as historical novels, science fiction, plays and non-fiction. In fact it was because he wanted more attention on his other works that he famously 'killed off' Holmes at Reichenbach Falls (although Holmes was resurrected shortly after an uproar from the fans, no worries).

I came across this quote by Sir Doyle during a period when I was absolutely mad about Holmes (I still am a huge fan, although the obsession level has thankfully dropped a little). It is interesting I guess, because Holmes himself shows little to no sign of humility. But for the rest of us mortal beings with ordinary powers of perception, perhaps we can do with a little less flair and a little more modesty, and perceive ourselves as the small particles that we are in this great wide universe.