Fraction 2: Take a long pointless walk

n. a part of a whole, not 100%

Fraction 1.


When I moved to London I started spending every Saturday on long, pointless walks.

At first it was just a cheap way to see my new home. I’d set a vague destination, maybe an art gallery or cafe, and I’d meander my way there along whatever route my legs took me.

After awhile it became a regular thing. Even when I got a smartphone I’d still deliberately not look up a route, or at least not an optimal one. You see, I had come to realise it was the journey and not the destination that was impor… (sound of a blunt object making contact with my head).

There is something almost revolutionary about taking a long walk with no planned route and maybe no fixed destination, if it’s not too much to call wild inefficiency a revolution. I mean, it almost certainly is but here we are.

When are we ever not going somewhere?

With all the tools at our disposal, walking without knowing where you’re going is like baking without a recipe or showing up at a cinema and just watching whatever movie’s showing next. Stupid. A frownable offence, followed by a tsk.

It’s the kind of stupid digital tools have all but weeded out (unlike the ones they actively weaponise), and the kind of stupid that, applied correctly, is good, because sometimes stupids are smarts and there’s no talking me out of this.

Because we spent so much money to get there, most of my recent trip to Japan was heavily planned. Go here, see this, experience that, each day a Tetrised schedule of pre-bought tickets. We saw a lot of stuff we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

When we returned to Tokyo to fly back, I spent part of an afternoon just walking. I had a nominal destination and a general sense of direction. And it was perfect.

The best stories from all my trips always involve getting a little lost, being a little unsure. (My favourite Japan story of all time, even more favourite than Japanese Ian McKellen, involves going into the wrong station in Tokyo and then having to go back out, a ridiculously common occurrence. We explained to the man at the counter that we’d made a mistake, and he said, “Hmmm, hmmm. Me steak.” And then, as each person handed him their card, the pause and nod. “Me steak. Me steak.”)

Anyway, take a long pointless walk.

Writing prompt - Untitled Wes Anderson movie

This prompt will only work if you’ve watched at least one Wes Anderson movie, and preferably a few more than that. Although if you’ve only heard of or read about his movies, you might generate something hilarious, so why not?


Step 1: Listen to the playlist

This is the soundtrack to an untitled Wes Anderson movie about a woman building an art gallery in the desert. Listen to the playlist with that in mind.

Each song represents a scene in the movie, but not the entire movie (as there are only 12 songs). The songs, and scenes, are in the order they’d appear in the movie, but they are not necessarily sequential, meaning they don’t come right after each other. So these 12 songs could represent scenes 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 24, and 31.

However, the first song is the first scene, and the last song is the last scene before the credits.

Step 2: Lay out the movie

Describe the scene represented by each song, and say what scene it is. You can be as brief (“Scene 5 - Susan learns about quantum physics”) or as verbose as you want. You can include snippets of dialogue or character descriptions. Consider the space between scenes. For example, in scene 12 (Ed Harcourt - Shanghai) you might have the main character flying to China, and in scene 17 (Guillemots - Trains to Brazil) she’s in Borneo and missing a hand. And we’re left to wonder what happened in scenes 13 to 16.

Just remember - it’s about a woman building an art gallery in the desert.

Step 3: Put it all together

Whatever the final product, present your work in this format. Oh, and give the movie a name.

A Conspiracy of Sand
a movie by Wes Anderson

Good Morning - Best Supporting Actor
(Scene 1)

Susan Pomfries, 37, steps out of a Range Rover in the middle of a sandstorm. Her eyes are shielded by mountaineering sunglasses. Around her mouth is a silk scarf with a crest. Zooming in we see the crest has the words “Freedom, never free” written in its banner.

Etc.


Email your work to mr.thomwong@gmail.com. With your permission, I’ll assemble them into a website featuring each submission along with my own, and possibly some visual representations TBD. Thank you for your interest.

14. The price is being right

Or, QED as the kids say

Any time I travel I’ll see a couple or five having the same argument.

It’s often in a language I don’t understand, but I know it’s the same. Countless tourists have the argument in London every day, meaning I can play this game at home.

The argument goes like this:

A. something wasn’t done that should have been done, or

B. something happened and it would have been better that it didn’t, and

C. person 1 totally told person 2 the thing needed to be done or was going to happen.

All sorts of things can be A or B: making reservations for a restaurant; arriving after a place has closed; leaving tickets in your other jacket. Person 1 reacts in one of two ways. They’ll bitterly but passive aggressively remind person 2 what happened for the next hour (and possibly the entire trip). Or, they yell.

Person 2 also reacts in one of two ways. They’ll deny everything person 1 is saying. Or, they yell back.

In these situations person 1 is almost always right, in the sense that they were correct about the thing, and person 2 is almost always wrong, and I’m guessing most people would rather be person 1, the right person. The person in the right. The person who knew.

And that would certainly be the case if person 1 wasn’t always, uniformly, being a complete and utter dick.


There’s nothing wrong with being right, if the only alternative is being wrong. But being right is as different to insisting someone acknowledge you’re right as being strong is to ripping a door off its hinges.

I love being right. Love it. For awhile wanting to be right made up my one personality trait, before I discovered listening and baking cookies. I wanted to be right because being right meant being safe, and there was nothing I wanted more than to be safe. Untouchable.

Except it doesn’t, does it? Being right about something almost never accomplishes anything on its own, and insisting on your past rightness is about as useful as telling a recently single friend, I never thought they were good for you. Those train tickets aren’t magically in your pocket, that restaurant still has no space. The situation is the same as before, only now everyone is unhappy.

And I think, I think, if you’ve warned someone about something and then for whatever reason they don’t act on your warning and the thing does or does not happen, the best way forward in the sense of best for you and best for the situation is to go, ok how do we make this better. Because I think that act of kindness, and it will be an act of kindness, will fix your rightness in the other person’s mind far more firmly than another hour of deep sighing. (That I think this but don’t always do it is the running theme of this newsletter.)

I have one simple rule when travelling: if a problem can be solved with money, and you have the money, spend the money. Always spend the money. I stand by this rule 100%.

You know when this rule is hardest to follow? When you were right about something and someone, I’m not saying who, was maybe not listening to you and then it’s 4:45pm on a Wednesday and the gallery you want to go to closes at 6pm and the only way to get there on time to remotely make it worthwhile is to catch a taxi that costs 10x more than the bus you should have taken an hour ago.

This fucking sucks. It does! Oh man it sucks. There’s no way it doesn’t suck. And yet, and yet. A bit of money that is yours to spend and it’s basically fixed. You’re a magician! The situation is essentially what it would have been, someone now knows you can handle yourself in (totally fucking avoidable) situations, and life goes on.

And all it cost you was being right.


This week’s header image courtesy of the amazingly talented Marija Tiurina.

13. Doing it the hard way

Or, What to give someone who already has something

There’s a tagline that dominated advertising for a bit and it went like this: “What to get the man who has everything.” I think it was for a cologne but maybe it was a watch (which seems weird because men who have everything also have watches ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), but the point is the advertised item is the kind of thing of which even someone who has literally every single thing would still want one more.

There was a similar line for women, and I think children, and then the dog who has everything got involved and by then advertising executives realised everyone had the thing everyone didn’t have and hit reset on the whole exercise. Which is why we don’t have any advertising any more - it was so successful we now have all the things.

And I remember looking at those ads and thinking about the intended audience, the audience who is shopping for the man who has everything, and about this man, or presumably a lot of very difficult to shop for men to warrant an entire ad campaign about them.

And I thought, fuck those men.


Gifts, by their very nature, should be easy to give, and they should be easily received. A hard person to shop for is maybe just an asshole. Be an easy gift receiver.

If you’re in the gift-giving frame of mind I hope it’s for a person who has only a few things or maybe many things, but not all the things. This makes your job a lot easier. For the person who has yet to acquire Every Thing, anything can be a gift.

But if while perusing the eleventy billionth list of quick and easy gift ideas you thought, why is it always quick and easy? Why is it never extremely time-consuming and really, really hard?

You're in luck.

A free person’s guide to really time-consuming, labour-intensive gifts

1. Rally the Troops

This gift is good for someone who is considering a career change, or who otherwise needs encouragement towards a goal. Here’s what you do:

  • make a list of people who could provide useful advice or words of encouragement related to the goal

  • email these people

  • in the email explain that you have a friend or loved one who is trying to do X, and ask if they have anything to tell said person about doing X

  • set up an email account so their responses are all in one place, with a literal address like HelpClairePublishThatBook@mail.com

  • wait while the messages come in and, here’s the super cool thing, they will come in

  • people are good and like to help

  • some people will offer to send books (or whatever is a relevant thing to the thing you’re asking) because, again, PEOPLE ARE GOOD

  • when you have all the responses send the person an email with the login details for their account of encouragement

2. Every Day A Story

This gift is best for someone you spend a lot of time around. The key is you need to do a significant amount of stuff together. Here’s what you do:

  • buy a beautiful diary, probably one from Korea or Japan

  • every time you do something with this person, record thoughts about it in the diary the day you did it

  • these can be straight recountings, flow charts, illustrations, single words, Venn diagrams - anything that captures the day

  • the hardest part about this gift is convincing yourself someone will actually want it

  • they will

  • (or they won’t, so you’ll need to exercise personal judgment on this)

  • the first four months are the hardest but also likely the ones you’ll catalogue the most - it’s hard to remember to do something for an entire year that no one, literally no one, is asking you to do

  • (which is what makes this such a good gift - no one will remotely suspect you’re doing it)

  • you don’t have to, but I recommend following a calendar year

  • there’s something extra special about having a record for a distinct period of time

3. The Friendtionary

This gift is best for a close friend or partner, but can be scaled to be appropriate for anyone really. Here’s what you do:

  • choose paper you like or even a notebook

  • notebooks are tricky because they usually have a lot of pages and this gift can get super out of hand (or worse, tedious) with too many pages

  • how many pages is too many depends a lot on how many terms you’re going to define

  • a way for it to be even more time-consuming is to make the notebook yourself

  • there are all kinds of guides online for doing this

  • if you buy a book I recommend the Rhodia Classic Stapled Notebook, which has 24 pages and can easily fit in a trouser pocket

  • 24 pages will ensure you don’t lose your mind while making it

  • what you’re putting into this notebook is a glossary of words you use a lot with another person

  • spend enough time around someone and you’ll inevitably start to use words in a way that’s very particular to the two of you

  • (you can also make one for your family)

  • (families have the craziest internal vocabularies)

  • the content can be whatever you want, but if you’re stuck for a format go with the trusty dictionary standard - word, definition, example sentence

  • Example: gadzooks, n. expression of surprise and confusion, what you said when you first tried an In-N-Out burger. “Gadzooks, what’s in this thing?”

And if you try any of these ideas, drop me a line to let me how it went.

12. Emotional socialism

Or, Saying thank you is an act of rebellion

This is about being nice to people and a lot of it is obvious and it’s a bit worthy but I tried. (Also the next two physical letters were sent, bringing the total to 4.)


There’s a place called Ricebrother in Spitalfields Market, an old covered market in London now fully weaponised to separate young urban professionals from their money. It, by which I mean Spitalfields, is terrible and amazing in equal measure, and its presence near where I work is one of those things that makes work a lot more bearable.

Ricebrother basically makes one thing and makes it very well. It’s sticky rice wrapped around a mixture of meat, pickles, deep-fried Chinese donut (youtiao), and assorted bits and bobs. They were a staple of my diet in Vancouver, and something I never thought I’d have in London.

Last week I placed my order and waited for my number to be called. Spitalfields is fairly chaotic during lunch, so I wasn’t too concerned as person after person was served ahead of me . After awhile the young man at the counter started catching my eye with each number he read out, until he just asked me what my number was. They’d lost the order. Apologies were made, the roll was promptly assembled, and I was soon on my way.

I was probably delayed about 3 minutes. Maybe 5? The whole time the young man kept apologising, and I kept smiling and saying it was fine. When I got my roll I said thank you.

And that was that. That’s the whole story.


They call it The Waiter Rule which is absolutely fine, but reveals a lot about how we think about the whole thing. I prefer a version I read pre-internet, which means it doesn’t exist anymore. It went something like this:

If you want to know what someone is really like, don’t look at how they act around their friends or family or coworkers; see how they act around people when there’s no expectation they’ll treat those people well.

So waiters yes, and bus drivers and security guards and bank tellers. The service industry is an obvious testing ground. But also strangers in a line, strangers at a concert, strangers standing outside a pub. Strangers anywhere. Or, as they’re also known, people.

Because I think the service thing is a giant red herring, like we’re saying the point is we could treat service people like trash but look at us, being all benevolent. And that’s not the point at all (or at least god help us that shouldn’t be the point).

The point is, when you don’t have to be nice to people, when you won’t ever see someone again or need them in any way, how do you treat them?


When you’re in a restaurant the worst thing that can happen to you, within reason, is you won’t get your food. Not great, but that’s the absolute worst. The worst thing that can happen to the person bringing you the food is they could be out of a job. The scale of consequences is totally imbalanced. So the threshold for complaining, insisting, raising an issue should be much higher for us.

Again, this is all really obvious. But on an average night in London I’ll see this play out the other way about half a dozen times.

And I think, if you’re good in your life, and things are stable and you have some surplus, the balance is always in your favour. This is what makes the behaviour of people in power, and people with vast amounts of wealth, so galling to me. The scales are tipped all the way to their side and they’re still petulant demanders, immature refusers. They are closed off to humanity in a way that should be unacceptable for anyone who holds that much sway.


A few years ago the scales of my life tipped a bit away from me. I needed a lot more from other people than I could give to them. S and C, a couple of friends who are also a couple, must have sensed this, and made a noticeable effort to reach out to me more. I bumped into them once around Broadway Market and they spent the rest of the evening listening to me ramble on about god knows what. For a few nights I stayed in their home.

My life is very full right now. For the people who need it, I try and tilt the scales back their way. That might mean more of my effort, or time, or patience. It might mean doing less at them. I practice something I call (please forgive me, I’m sorry) low impact friendship. It’s based on the idea of low impact camping (oh god why), where you aim to leave a site exactly as you found it.

In my (aaarrrgggghhh) version I try to make every interaction with me require the least amount of effort. You don’t have to entertain me or plan something for me to do. You don’t have to travel to some preferred location, or engage in some activity of the moment. If travelling is hard for you, I’ll come to you. And while plans are fine, no plans rule the day. So quick texts when I’m in the area, or have a moment, or it just occurs to me to reach out. And the same for you.

Because I’ve been careful with my brain and heart lately, I have a lot in the storehouse. So I’ve been giving stuff away. My brain to people to bounce ideas off of or just unload. My heart to say I love you. I have the reserves and they’re not accruing interest, so the only sensible thing to do is give them away.

Whatever you have a surplus of, give it away.

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