9 March 2014

The Contemplation Conniption

Serenity and seclusion are difficult to find in Singapore. The Island is densely populated.

There are people everywhere.

Whilst sitting at my regular table at my favourite café this morning - sipping on my double shot vanilla latte - my endeavour to find tranquility and solitude was rudely interrupted by a raucous group of men and women. They were locals. The group of four sat at an adjacent table and as they set up their laptops they spoke loudly and in Singlish.

An obscene amount of ‘la’s’ and ‘cans’ were spoken.

For those amongst you who are not aware of Singlish I should explain that it is simply an unusual Singaporean adaptation of the English language. The nonsensical word ‘la’ is thrown in the middle or onto the end of sentences and the use of the words ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ are elaborate. Having lived on the Island for more than five years now I am quite fluent in Singlish and I use it a lot. It is addictive la and difficult to stop.

Fuck. I did it again.

Not long after their arrival, one of the group of four stood up and asked me if she could plug an extension cord into a power outlet that was immediately adjacent to my table. Her exact request was, “Plug the laptop into the power-point can la?” As this would have involved her traipsing the cord over my table I gave her a, “Plug the lap-top into the power-point cannot la”.

This is Singlish for “No”.

My denial resulted in a fairly long and most annoying staring by the Singaporean. Whilst this staring provoked an immediate and powerful desire to set the woman on fire - I resisted. Exercising my discipline in such matters has improved as I have aged la and I am quite capable of long stare offs.

“Cannot?” she eventually asked.

“Cannot,” I affirmed.

The young woman returned to her table and vast amounts of paper were shuffled about the place. The can-ing and la-ing continued in a frenzy.

Whilst I lit a cigarette and sipped on my coffee I caught the eye of one of the young blokes at the table and I gave him a courteous nod. The nod was returned and smiles were exchanged.

“What exactly are you guys doing?” I enquired.

“We are working la” the nodding dude replied.

“On a Sunday la?” I asked.

“We are workaholics” the young man beamed.

The young woman who had given me the, “plug the laptop into the power-point can la?” looked up and she also nodded enthusiastically. I noticed now that she was big of breast and bad of complexion. Her face was caked with thick foundation make-up that barely concealed spots and blemishes on her cheeks and forehead - and there were ugly dark shadows under her eyes. She was all tits and zits. She was also seemingly mad with fatigue or perhaps she was just mad.

It was difficult to tell.

“We are working on Sunday for our CEO” she declared triumphantly.

“We have been working all night as well la,” she added.

She was beaming idiotically.

The annoyance and ire that I had initially felt dissipated immediately. It was replaced by an overwhelming sense of pity.

Yes these were a group of workaholics. I have encountered them before. These people truly believe that what they do is who they are and they are infatuated by their jobs and the progression of their careers. They are as relentless and obsessed as they are shallow and empty. Their jobs are their sole sense of worth and little else matters to them.

Singapore and Asia are full of workaholics and the work ethic on the Island is particularly severe.

This is not just a Singaporean thing – many Westerners of both genders who live here are caught up in this conniption. I work with many and it is a tragedy to behold.

It is nasty.

Yes conniption. It means a tantrum or fit or frenzy.

I have a multitude of delusions of my own and I am most perfectly imperfect - but I suffer from no such disorder.

What I do for a living is not who I am. My job does not define me. It in fact often defiles me.

I believe that we are formed by what we desire and we are shaped by what we experience. Work has a place in all of our lives and it should provide us with the means to survive and ideally prosper - but it is not who we are.

That notion is tragic.

Life is short. Live it fast. Take a walk on the wild side mother fuckers. Tread the line. 

Cross it some time.

The concept of workaholism caused me to ponder and the yabbering of the Singaporeans faded into the background. I very much enjoy the state of pondering and I am quite fond of the word too.

A pond is a relatively small body of water that is larger than a puddle but is smaller than a lake. I think of a pond as a peaceful place where water lilies grow and there are shady trees and the odd duck. It has nothing to do with pondering - but the thought of pondering by a pond seems a pleasant one.

I shall make a point of doing it one day.

Pondering is a cerebral thing that I do at least once a week and usually during my Sunday evening massage. The massage itself is stonking – for my Javanese masseuse Mia has healing hands and the ability to completely relax me – to the point where my mind is released to a stage of uninhibited pondering.

Sometimes I ponder whilst I walk too. I do this with my IPod blaring music.

I ponder whilst I wander.

The workaholics that I know and have known are all unhappy – many of them desperately so. Their ambition can never be fulfilled and their drive to succeed and be recognised is insatiable. It is an insecurity that is often all consuming. There is a disturbing badge of pride that such people wear when they announce that they have been working twenty-hour days or they haven’t slept for a week.

Yes they brag and boast about it. Their gloating is often thinly disguised in overly loud and highly repetitive complaints about how much they hate their jobs or how they despise their workloads - but it is a gasconade nevertheless. They echo in the halls of my office. These sorrowful souls carry their work with them wherever they go. It is a heavy and tragic burden.

Workaholics will on occasion fuck people over in their pursuit of positions of superiority. They can be brutal. They can be heinous. They are morally unstable and they are also often socially inept. Deception comes easily to such people as too does despondency.

The workaholic’s approach to life is ruinous and pernicious.

It is wrackful.

The spell check function on my Mac does not recognise the word ‘wrackful’ and it is trying to change it to ‘wreckful’.

It is pissing me off.

It is a dangerous path that these poor workaholics tread too. When they fail to get the recognition that they so desperately seek they break down - often badly. If they lose their jobs - as many of them do – as all of us do at some point in our careers - their desperation and devastation is appalling. If they are thwarted in their ambition the blackness of their souls leak dark despair. Their lives are so baleful that they have nothing else.

It is doleful.

It really is.

One of my favourite authors Haruki Murakami wrote, “Living like an empty shell is not really living, no matter how many years it may go on. The heart and flesh of an empty shell give birth to nothing more than the life of an empty shell”.

He is a bit off the planet is Haruki sometimes which is why I like him. He lives fast. He crosses the line. An empty shell is an apt description of a workaholic.

Nice one Haruki-san.

My pondering at the café led me to contemplate the whole concept of work-life balance. Work-life balance is a tenet that has been adopted by many large firms and even though the large companies here in Singapore espouse this, workaholism abounds.

It is everywhere.

The Internet and hand held devices and the instantaity of everything is a significant contributing factor to the ruination of workaholic’s lives.

It feeds them.

The workaholic will sleep with their phones - if indeed they sleep at all - and they are likely to have a multitude of them. Phones that is.

It is bad. It is sad. It is mad.

It seems dreadfully wrong.

The health of such people also suffers and they are recognizable by their constant state of anxiety, their flabby midriffs, their pallid skin and a nervous disposition that on occasion dissolves into hysteria. They are often irrational and illogical and their discovery of self is stunted and warped. Their misery is compounded by their entrapment in a spiral of futile desperate aspiration.

They believe that not to be successful is a failure.

Fancy that.

This whole train of thought led me to ponder the concept of self and to question what life is all about. This is something that we all occasionally think on and I guess that it is one of life’s great mysteries. I personally believe that it has much to do with kindness and benevolence and solicitude - but I am exceptionally ignorant and am more often wrong than right - so I don’t really know.

I suspect that I do know what it is not though. It has nothing to do with gaining recognition or promotion at work or progressing our careers. That would simply be deplorable.

Whilst ambition itself is not a bad thing – the relentless pursuit of furtherance and an obsessive compulsion to succeed in one’s job is simply fallacious.

It is bogus.

Goodness may be the key to everything.

Bonitas non est pessimism meliorem – it is not goodness to be better than the worst.

I must have been totally absorbed in this line of pondering as I failed to notice the reappearance of one of the four workaholics at my table. It was tits with zits. She was clutching a power cord and her laptop and there was a look of desperation in her eyes.

I was quickly snapped back into the here and now.

“Computer battery dead - plug the laptop into the power-point can la? she enquired.

“Cannot la” I responded.

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