Do what you are or cherish what you do

By Azrina Abdul Karim Bandar Seri Begawan

A few nights ago, I happened to stumble across a YouTube video of a NTT Docomo television commercial on the Touch Wood SH-08C, a bean-shaped mobile phone with a wooden encasement that is not available outside Japan.

The video opens with a wide view of mountains, then briefly, a shaft of light brightens a dimly lit forest, the sound of rushing water, young people setting up some contraption made of wood, like a long thin bridge but set at an incline ... then, a woman's hand puts a small wooden ball on a piece of wood; it rolls down and there's a ting, ting, ting ... and you realise that the contraption is actually a xylophone!

The ball continues to roll, pulled by gravity, hitting one wooden key, playing one note after the other, which then, becomes a familiar classical piece: Bach's Cantata 147, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring".

And finally, close to three minutes, it falls off the last key and plops next to an upright model of the phone shown with its smooth wooden back to the camera. Two phones are shown front and back with the ball all in a line. Then the words: Touch Wood SH-08C.

It's simple, it's stunning. No loud music, no dancers doing cartwheels or "shufflin" in the background, no trendy young people sitting at cafés showing off their sleek phones to one another. Just nature and a wooden ball.

To create something simple is not easy. Creative director Morihiro Harano, who is also a composer, said in an interview with FastCompany magazine that it did not take much time for him to come up with the idea but it was a "very hard project to realise".

The Touch Wood mobile phone cover is made from cypress timber harvested from Japan's forests. The huge xylophone, made by carpenters on site, is itself a testament to the "light hand of Japanese craftsmen". The installation had to be perfect; otherwise Harano said, the tempo of the music might become unstable.

Watching this video, I am struck by the attention to detail, by the sheer creative force behind the work. How amazing it must be to be part of a team that produces something so poignant, so profound.

Honestly, it makes me want to recycle (am not very good at this), to save the forests, to exercise, to walk more, to breath in unpolluted air, to live a more creative life!

It is not just about a little wooden ball and a limited edition mobile phone (only 15,000 units were produced). It's about reconnecting with nature. It's about feeling alive.

Am I a sucker for advertising? Not really. But for me, the project encapsulates in less than three minutes, the sublime power of the creative spirit. How the spark of an idea can be developed into a product that affects human lives and emotions.

We were all born creative, really. Observe your child at play; how he or she pretends that mum's cushions can be stacked up to become a castle or a fort, some scribbles are really a monumental story about the beginning of time when dinosaurs ruled the earth and how putting on a plastic crown can make you a princess.

Unfortunately, as we grow older, we lose the ability to create, to imagine. Or rather, we suppress this need because it is easier to work within a system and to just go with the flow.

We conform to a set of rules, and we forget that sometimes rules ARE meant to be broken. We don't want to think out of the box because it takes too much work.

To be creative means to get out of our comfort zones. To think a bit more, to make more effort, to look into the details.

It is not just artists, musicians and designers that need to be creative or to connect with their inner soul. Each one of us has something special to give to the world. Some of us are stuck in jobs that do not give us a sense of fulfilment, but it does pay the bills. We work like automatons, glad when the required eight hours are over so that we can go home and do whatever makes us happy.

The fact is, to do what makes us truly happy takes courage.

Having studied and taught design and architecture, I have seen a lot of very creative people lose their way because they did not have the courage of their convictions. They strive for perfection and give up when they think they cannot reach that goal; but they forget that the journey itself is part of the process which can reveal undiscovered parts of their talent.

Lang Lang, the Chinese concert pianist, almost abandoned a musical career because when he was nine years old, a piano tutor told him that he had no talent. His father had almost forced him to swallow some pills because returning to his hometown in shame would be worse than dying.

Rebelling, Lang Lang stopped playing the piano and only rediscovered his passion after a music teacher at his school urged him to play along to a record of Mozart. While he has his critics one even called him "the J.Lo of piano" at least Lang Lang is doing what he loves. Not many of us can say the same. But at the very least, once we've developed a skill in something, we shouldn't take it for granted.

In the film, Along Came A Spider, Morgan Freeman's character, Alex Cross, a detective, said to his Special Agent partner Jezzie Flannigan: "You do what you are." She replied: "You mean you are what you do."

He explained: "No, I mean, you do what you are. You're born with a gift. If not that, then you get good at something along the way. And what you're good at, you don't take for granted. You don't betray it."

Some people "would kill" for the opportunity that is given to us. We moan and groan, we wish for greener grass in another office block and at the end of the month, we spend our pay cheques on the latest gadgets or branded items to make ourselves feel better.

Yes, some of us are trapped by unexpected circumstances. But the fact is, for most of us, it is simply a choice to go or stay or to create our own opportunities.

We either have to look deep inside and bring forth that elusive creative spirit or work with what we have. If we don't stretch our skills, test our limitations, we might never know how good we can be.

And how fulfilled we can be.

The views are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Brunei Times.