A fancy flight

I was aboard my first fancy flight ever. It’s one of the biggest airline carriers in the world, some of my closest colleagues and friends recommended them. Expecting all things nice and welcoming, I trudged along the aisle of what seemed like a highway of airplane seats, to find my own small corner.

It awaited me with a small pillow for back support, a set of headphones to help drain the noisy kids around, and an open window shade to deliver awe throughout the next four hours. I gaped at the mild lighting and fell into the arms of my seat with thankful abandon.

I had stayed up all night walking through immigration and customs, and then sat through a couple of hours at the lounge cranky and headachy just so I could grab that soft violet pillow and snuggle away. As the hands of my clock inched towards the 4 am mark, the captain’s voice boomed overhead, excited and welcoming.

It did seem a little ironic for him to be so cheerful when almost all of his passengers were sleep-deprived and as dull as doormats. He remained unperturbed, and wished fus all a pleasant journey, promising that his crew would serve us to our satisfaction.

After the customary warning messages and announcements, which no one heeded as per custom, the captain set the wheels in motion and we were away. After cruising on the runway for a few minutes, I ascended above, along with three hundred other passengers. Dubai had called and I had obliged. Now all that separated us were time, space, and a long plane journey.

I’m not a first time flier, but every time I step on a plane, I feel the same excitement and the same anticipation as any first timer. And I enjoy the feeling. That’s what made me twist around in my seat, admiring the massiveness that surrounded me. Unlike domestic carriers, international ones accommodate more people — I realised the obvious a little later than usual.

Over my head, the airline hood mimicked the sky outside. Star-like glowy things flickered down at me from a blanket of blackness. In front of me just above the tray table, a complete entertainment system sat waiting to entertain me. Live footage from the various cameras fitted outside of the plane would’ve displayed all that lay below us among the clouds—if only it had been a day flight. Nevertheless, the entertainment system was more than enough to keep passengers occupied. The moment we settled down, my neighbour — a ten-twelve year old by the looks of her — switched on her televised screen and navigated to Ballerina the movie. She ripped open the plastic bag that contained a set of headphones and immersed herself for the rest of the journey. Next to her, her mother settled with an air pillow dozing right off. Frequent fliers, I observed.

Well, I wasn’t a frequent flier and so wanted to get the most I could from the 4-hour flight. Almost hugging on to the window pane, I anticipated the sun rise. Perhaps it was because we flew back in time, but the sunrise didn’t happen for about one hour before we landed in Dubai. In any case, I was awake when it did. It was more of a sunset because I’ve never seen the sun rise over my head — a juxtaposition by itself. Even then, it was a magnificent sight.

By the time the sun had risen in the world below us, on the plane, our air hostesses had begun handing out breakfast. That’s when I realised the rumbling I’d been hearing for a while was my stomach and not the air craft’s engine.

Masking my greediness, I accepted the tray with grateful hands. People complain about airplane food being cold and unpleasant, but I liked mine. Minced lamb omelette, mashed potatoes, and a green pea patty made a decent breakfast. Plus, fruit slices, bread, and a muffin completed a fine meal for a sleep-deprived soul. It was my first time trying such airplane food and I did enjoy it more than others said I would.

By the time I finished, the drooping sensation that had shrouded my eyes cleared up and I felt more awake than ever.

Little did I know that it was the premise for jet lag — a devil by itself.

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Excuses

travel

Lacking in word flow

lagging blogger, traveller,

blames all on jet lag.

Essaying

essay writing

Over the last week, I prepared for an English exam. That’s when I realised how pathetic of a test taker I am. I had to take an academic-grade exam for work, and having been away from the official learning arena for over four years, I had no idea what to expect. I returned to the classroom environment and its fierce competition, with a little apprehension and more than a little nervousness. I could only think of all the things that could go wrong.

I was reading through sample essays when I noticed how much I had changed since my years at school. The recommended essays looked nothing like the ones I now write. When I write a piece for my personal blog or for a work blog, I try to focus on my voice and my opinion, and then form logical structures. The essays for the test, however, seemed childish to an extent. They tried too hard to be unbiased and cover as many points as possible, resulting in too much generality. It was at that point that I also realised—with much dread—that I too had to write in the same way if I were to acquire a proper score.

Gulping much air and all my doubts, I read essay after essay. Every one of them had the same structure: introduction, merits, demerits, and a conclusion. That should be easy, I thought before sitting down to write my own. I read the first essay prompt and felt all sanity evaporate from my mind. I blanked out. I couldn’t, for a moment, understand what to write or how to write.

I had a meagre amount of time to go from an outline to a final draft—a feat I’d never attempt elsewhere. Yet I had no other choice. I could’ve written a scrappy blog post in that time, but to construct a proper academic essay was harder than I assumed.

The samples looked easy enough, and they read like an immature person’s way of presenting their ideas. And yet only when I had to balance two sides of an argument in one essay—with a time crunch of 20 minutes and word limit of 300—did I understand how hard it must be for students. With so many things to consider, it’s no wonder academic essays lack quality writing, overflowing, instead, with stuffed and half-baked arguments.

Accepting that shamefaced reality, on the day of the exam, I wrote an essay so contrary to my nature, and walked out of the room. I had done what I had to do. I didn’t know how I did, but I know now for sure that I’d never enjoy writing academic essays.

Morning’s here

My alarm goes off as it always does, and I wake up to my well-crafted routine: yet another week of working all day and reading through the night.

I’m awake tireless as the fresh morning oxygen spreads through the room, seeping through me, soaking me from within, waking the rest of the deep-sleeping cells in my brain.

Though it’s only five AM when I look through my mosquito-proofed window, I see that the navy sky has already lost most of its depth, while lighter hues of blue appear in batches like patches on rough skin. Day breaks early, the long-lingering aftermath of a dry and scorching summer; a May that followed months of rainless skies.

Somewhere far away, a lone young cuckoo calls, jerking the others in the family awake. They all call to each other greeting the rising day, as I turn away—it’s time for my workout.

A few burps, some burpees and lunges later, I put a pot on the stove and cast my window’s curtains aside. Turquoise has replaced the navy and white streaks meld with the blue as the morning prepares to wake the sleeping sun. Grabbing my tea, I sit facing my window, looking through the checkered mosquito-net, looking beyond at the now cloud-filled sky.

I look closer, harder, squinting my eye at the unblemished white blanket that hangs over my roof, trying to catch a glimpse, a peek, at the waning crescent of a moon while she waits in stillness for the gliding clouds to gobble her remains. As she goes by, a gentle breeze wafts through the bars of my window, bringing with it, scent of warming wet sand and photosynthesising begonias from the neighbour’s balcony. It tricles my ears, whispering morning hope as I close my eye lids to embrace it. It kisses my eyelashes, teasing me to fall back, to grab a pillow pressing my face against its cool surface.

Breathing in deep, I open my eyes. For to fall back asleep would be to waste away the glory of day rise I had experienced. I drown my tea and reach for my towel. Turning away from the window where the sun steps out from under his covers, I head for a shower, a rhythm in my head.

Ah, June, how I adore thee.

Nicely saying

Nicely Said

When you’re a copywriter at a corporate, some things you pick up overtime. But even after being on the job for four years, there are still some things that you’d pick up only from far more experienced teachers. This I realised halfway through reading Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee.

It’s unlike me to read a book titled as such, because I’ve always nurtured a distrust in “how-to” books. This one, however, was a present. It was a present from a few writer friends I hold in high regard. So I decided to keep my mind open and delve into what Nicole and Kate have to say.

“Whether you’re new to web writing or you’re a professional writer looking to deepen your skills, this book is for you.”

That was the blurb of the book, a simple, typical one-line description for so many guide books that often fall short of their expectations. It seemed far-fetched, as if anyone could tell anyone else how best to write copy for the web when no one—including the web readers—knows what works and what doesn’t.

There’s no one way to write. There’s no right way, perfect way, or a way that makes the most impact. Writing is a variable in every sense. The audience varies, the style does, and so does the purpose. How then, could anyone pinpoint one perfect method?

Many books assert that they’ve figured out the one greatest way of writing. This book doesn’t.

The book doesn’t say what to write, but it says how to go abut thinking about what to write. And that’s where this book stands apart from the rest of the sheep. The authors illustrate the process of writing for the web, using an example throughout the book so that’s easier to follow.

They ask some important questions. Who would write for the web? Possible answers include, bloggers trying to hone their writing, freelancers selling their services, and copywriters employed in business. Though they all have different targets of varying complexity, all categories have one thing in common: the medium they choose to write in. When writing for the web, clarity matters, because no matter who the audience is, they’re always on the verge of closing a tab, impatient to move on to the next tab.
In such a situation, Nicole and Kate say how a writer should focus on delivering their message.

As a copywriter in business, I’ve always followed a similar principle: tell readers who we are, what we do, and how we could help them. Then add a section explaining why they (as buyers) should choose us over our competition. That’s the template—a fool-proof guide to writing About pages and sometimes even landing pages.

But this book made me think further: we tell readers who we are, but we also need to tell them who we are not. That doesn’t come from words, but from tone. For example, we’re professional, but we’re not against good puns. We are consistent, but we don’t spam your inbox with ten emails a day. We’re serious, but we don’t hate contractions. All these come from the way we write our copy, not from what we write in our copy.

Those are the kind of lessons that Nicely Said outlines. The book doesn’t come right out of the dark to illuminate magical truths and best practices, but it narrates the minute things that we often miss when writing for the web. The little things that matter, the finer aspects of helping the reader understand our message a couple of seconds faster, of respecting the reader’s time, of being a good host to website visitors—these are a few of the things that make a good copywriter. And the advice this book contains suits anyone, even those who only write Facebook statuses.

Give this book a shot. Chances are, you’ll cherish it as much as you’d a dictionary. I do.