Things money can’t buy

Note: This was a post that I wrote for a local student magazine a few months back which I think would be useful to share here too. Enjoy!

Thomas Bayrle

Whenever I step into a classroom, the first question that I get asked is this: which profession in the design world makes more money: animators, graphic designers, or illustrators? Or how about multimedia artists or videographers? My reply was that there’s plenty of ways to make money – lots and lots of money perhaps. Not all of them are in the design industry. But all of it comes with a price. Heck, sometimes jobs that make the most money aren’t even legal, and you can bet that they’re dangerous. So again. There are plenty of ways to make money – not all of them are good. So herewith the question beckons: why all this talk about money first?

I can understand – I was once a student myself.

I was once so poor that I had to split a plate of economy rice with my friend. For those who don’t know what economy rice is, it’s a shop where they have 20-30 different kinds of side dishes that go with rice, ranging from meat dishes to vegetables, to other condiments. It’s popular with students because it’s fast and cheap – just grab a plate of rice and scoop up whatever you want and go to the counter to pay for what you’ve scooped. Back to the story: we had RM2.00 between us left for food. We went up to the lady in the restaurant and showed her the coins we had left and asked her what we could have from her array of dishes. I wasn’t sure if it was pity, or understanding – but she scooped what ever was left over from a few dishes and gave us each an egg to top it all off. We were thankful for the meal and conveyed our thanks to the lovely shopkeeper – whom we fondly patronised for as long as we studied there.

We weren’t flush with cash. We didn’t have shopping malls. And we didn’t even have McDonalds around each corner (this was in the year 2000). Money was tight – purchasing art supplies, books and endless trips to the printing house made sure of that. Whatever was left we scrimped on food. Bread was a staple at the time too – when we’re running out of time and cash, nothing fills you up faster than a roll of chocolate bun with a sticky black pseudo-chocolate filling with a side of lukewarm water.

It’s all very different now, of course. You have malls, left, right and centre. Fast food kiosks as far as the eye can see. Gourmet restaurants abound; and you’re spoilt for choice. Temptation in its many forms that clue you in on what money represents. And that’s just food. Let’s not even wander into the fashion industry, or the giant virtual malls that reside within the internet – one that offers a gateway to everything and anything your heart desires; open and available 24/7 with a mere click of a button and a working credit card.

I don’t blame you at all for thinking that cash is king. Money buys you lots of things. It buys you good food. Rad clothing. Fun toys. The best equipment and art supplies. And all these things make you happy. It’s a rather straight forward equation. Or is it?

The thing about money though, is that it doesn’t buy you freedom. When you’re doing things purely for money, you’re a slave to it. And it becomes your master. You’ll find yourself slaving away for him, in exchange for something that won’t be able to buy the things that truly matter. Things like love, friendship and time.

We’re living in a time where we constantly consume. We don’t create as much as we should, and this is a shame; because if we’re not creating, we are most likely consuming instead. Our eyes are fixated on screens while our wallets are empty. Our hearts grow heavy with greed; an endless, bottomless pit that desires more, more, more. The indescribable emptiness that spreads across our chest even as we move from one novelty to the next. One day we’ll find ourselves wondering what happened along the way that made us lose more of ourselves, little by little, piece by piece.

We’re all essentially broken – in fragments and bits, scattered around us in the people we love, the places we live in and the experiences we’ve yet to discover. Gathering those pieces and putting them together is what makes us human, and it’s what makes us special. We’re made up of everything, and yet we’re nothing. Money is merely an enabler and not the destination.

Do the things you’re good at, and the things that you love. Pick up the fragments and pieces of yourself through the work you do, so that you may put yourself back together. Figuring out how to do it is the best part about growing wiser. In the beginning you will be poor. You might have to share a plate of economy rice with a friend to get by (I hope not). But you’ll do better. The trick is to get better at the things you love, and to be nourished by the things you learn and the experiences you pick up along the way. Always endeavour to leave a mark. So much so that other people start to notice and respect you for what you do, and why you do it.

And you’ll realise along the way that the “why” isn’t always about the money.

It rarely ever is.

[Illustration: Thomas Bayrle]

Paper, white: The ballad of a creative block

MICHEL FRANÇOIS, Froissé

It sneaks up on you,
the blankness of it all.
That piece of paper you have.
Still white. Clean. Unmarked.

Blank.

Your hand waits at the ready,
For when inspiration befalls.
And when you’re ready to leave a mark.
Any mark at all.

And so you start. One stroke. Two.
A dot here and a dash there.
You pause. Furrowed brows.
It’s all wrong.

Crumple.

Again.
Beads of sweat
across your head.
Muscles tense
in your hand.

Ready.

A dance forms between your sheets.
Pen and paper mingle and intertwine,
leaving traces of themselves
over each other.

Again and again.

A rhythm ensues, a careful one.
Soon, soon.
Don’t hurry
But soon.

A sound from afar breaks your flow.
You stop, alight and awake.
A short walk,
a break for now.

That’s ugly.
What was I thinking?
Ugh.
No.

No.

With hands up in the air,
A fistful of hair,
Forehead on knee.
You surrender inevitably.

Sleep, sweet surrender.
Twas not to be.
Eyes wide awake,
Heavy breaths, restless heart.

The brain churns,
The body turns,
Like rusty wheels set in motion
The haze lifts, slowly.

Surely.

Crawl.

Scratches in the shadows,
A hunched back,
The dance continues
By the light of the lamp

Shhh don’t scare it away
Quiet, quiet.
Squint your eyes
Erase all thoughts

Make space
For that glimmer of hope
The lighting strikes
All but once

Tap, dig, move,
Make way for inspiration
When it comes.
Grasp, grasp.

Reach.

Paw, wrestle, claw.
Kiss it, embrace it,
Put it all down.
Before you go blank
forevermore.

[Art: Froissé by Michel Fracois, plaster]

When your strengths make you weak

Jean Jullien

It’s 2 a.m.

I was tossing on the bed, yawning till my eyes watered and yet, there I was. No closer to sleep. I opened my palms, laid straight and imagined myself relaxing one muscle at a time. The corpse position. That usually worked, and I’d wake up in the morning. It was not to be – ten minutes later, my eyes were still brighter than an owl’s.

Darn it.

Before lights out, I was doing a search on my phone for harnesses. Specifically, dog harnesses that would help Bessie (my 12-year old dog) retrain and regain the use of her back legs. Nerve damage, the vet said. Arthritis was another. She couldn’t control her left leg last Wednesday, and her right leg is stiff, so getting up was a challenge. She’s not in danger of any sort (except for wounding her backside from all the dragging around she’s doing), so that’s my consolation.

My mind spins all the time. It goes into overdrive when I need to do something. Anything. Especially when it has to do with family. And Bessie is family. Sure, she’s not dying, or in pain. But the crux of being (too) creative for my own good and taking no for an answer is at the back of my mind, there’s always a voice that says “what else can I do?”.

So my Google search history is rife with keywords like “dog”, “harness”, “back legs”, “DIY”, “nerve damage”, “how to heal” and “physiotherapy”; in multiple combinations. My mind makes a mental tally of the materials I have on hand that could be fashioned into a sling that would support her back legs while she walked. Tough cotton calico, some bag straps, or how about that unused tote bag that I could tear the sides of, so that it could support her weight and save my back at the same time? I made quite a number of iterations on the design – all of it in my head. Velcro, knots, and sewing. It felt like I watching Project Runway for canine accessories.

I was reminded of the time when Cookie was ill. I had educated myself on canine cancer so well that I could understand the vet when she voiced out medical jargon, I knew exactly what she meant, and I spoke the same lingo effortlessly.

When I woke up the next day, lethargic and dazed after not sleeping well (for the past week), I realised I have a problem.

“I might be suffering from anxiety”, I told Mr. T.

And it’s caused entirely by myself. I like things to be organised, and to me it’s because I like to have some semblance of control over what I do. The loss of it has the ability to freak me out on a subconscious level. And when I say control, I meant over myself (not other people!)

Waiting, to me is painful. Because I can’t just sit there and fidget. I need to do something. Anything, that can help the situation. Don’t even get me started on my optimism, which I’ve heard from some people can be too infectious for my own good. And so I look at things from every conceivable angle – down to the downright silly. I formulate a Plan A, B, and C. I come up with plans and explanations for myself as a coping mechanism when things go wrong. And always, always a backup plan. There’s no such thing as not trying in my vocabulary.

This skill that I’m good at – thinking and creating solutions to problems – has been the bedrock of what I do. I love to analyze, think and contemplate. I love to measure and experiment. It’s made me sharper; as teacher and student. I can parse information and data to arrive at a hypothesis. I can see (and prove) if they’re true, through many different ways.

But when it comes to matters of the heart, this skill of mine, has turned me into a ball of mess inside. I feel like throwing up randomly. When I stop what I’m doing. While lying in bed. It manifested in me getting massive motion sickness at a movie. Bessie isn’t data nor information. She’s furry, black and brown. She doesn’t like hugs. She’s my first dog. She’s seen me as a university student, struggling to finish my final project – and stayed up with me. She’s the first to greet our family in the morning and when we come home from work. And I’ve short-circuited myself by thinking too much. The equation that I’m seeking can never be found; it can never add up to an equal or finite amount, because it’s not tangible.

So my new plan is to just do everything I can, and hope for the best. It’s also time to exercise more as well, as it usually helps disperse my worry-wart tendencies and calms me down. It’s easier for me to focus on other things instead of myself (I bet it’s the same for a lot of you out there), so I need to remind myself every now and then that it’s okay to slow down and take a breath. Optimism is totally fine, except when it’s bordering on denial.

I’ve learned that my ability to rein myself in emotionally is merely an illusion, especially when it comes to furry folk, family and friends. And maybe that’s okay. For everything else though, it’s game on.

SHARE WITH ME:

What about you? Do you have a strength that can also be your weakness? What’s your paradox? Share with me your stories (so I won’t feel so alone!)

[Illustration: Dog by Jean Jullien]
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