Needlework [2]

Let me tell you a little story first. Are you familiar with the Thousand-Character Classic? That is what this story is going to be about.

The Thousand-Character Classic is a Chinese poem that was written circa the 6th century and has been used for teaching children essential Chinese characters since. It consists of exactly one thousand characters, each used only once, and those thousand characters form 250 lines of four characters. Each line makes sense on its own while the 250 together create a coherent work. Apparently they rhyme too. Nothing short of a work of genius.

There are several versions of its origin story. One I was told when I was small goes like this:

An extraordinary scholar has been sentenced to death (for some reason I can’t remember) and the execution is tomorrow. His talent is so exceptional that the emperor wants to find a way to spare his life. So he tells the scholar that he would be pardoned if before dawn he created a poem with pre-selected one thousand characters. The scholar manages to produce one such poem – as described earlier – but by the time dawn breaks his entire hair has turned complete white.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I am relating to the man so much at the moment. I am not likening myself to some legendary scholar, of course not, but it’s just that a 10K-word manuscript that I sent over for printing last night had felt like an impossible jigsaw puzzle at times.

Research writing is what I do, so I know some writing tasks come easy and some don’t. This was certainly one of the most difficult ones of which I’d had to untangle my way out. I kept thinking how Cayley (2018) was spot-on when she said: if you are struggling with your writing, you are in fact struggling with your thinking.

Anyway, in the end I have managed to pull together Cambridge Analytica, algorithms, alternative facts, hipster fascists, manosphere, the Chinese grass-mud horse, outsourced content moderators in South Asia, and the fundamental right to be let alone, together with a hundred other ‘buzzwords’ in the news, and weaved all of them into one single piece of tapestry. Tired but happy. Now I even feel a little as if I understand what’s going on in the world surrounding me a little better. … And I am convinced I have lost much hair in the process.

(Not quite related, but speaking of weaving, here is something I found fascinating
at the National Museum of Anthropology in Manila a few weeks ago
– stylised crocodile motifs from an olden time)

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