Shout a Bit

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Of course Johnny appreciated the blistering array of starlit expanse and the possibilities it seemed to offer, but he declined to mention this to Kathryn. It would be too much of a hassle to tell her that she was in a part of Scotland where sharing dreams was a bit like sharing needles; it seemed like a good idea at the time but it only served to fuck you up. – Glue, Irvine Welsh

When you’re looking for some modern Scottish wisdom there’s are few better places to look than the denouement of an Irvine Welsh novel. He captures so much of what it means to be Scottish, to have an uneasiness with the world. As a people, we’re actually pretty closed off most of the time. To my friends this would probably seem impossible, I talk quite a lot given the smallest provocation, but the truth is that, as with I hope everyone, there’s a lot more ticking away behind the eyes.

I shout from time to time to get things heard.

This is why I was so pleased when my old family friend Becca wrote a post on here. I can remember her talking about writing when we were younger, she was thinking of journalism at that point, but life gets in the way. It has this horrible habit of providing different ideas and inspirations, but then also dropping some immediate rent pavement or credit card bill through the post. Just when you want to do something great, an election or a family issue happens. Sometimes it’s your responsibility to do something else. It’s always gratifying to see people press on regardless. To shout in a world or a culture which suggests silence more often than speaking.

Maybe it’s a hangover from that whole Victorian idea of kids being “seen but not heard”. For women, it might be because they are told they are chatty and some of them don’t want to be stereotypical. For me, I probably keep some things to myself because that’s what being a man is, as I was taught. Guys are more often taught to be angry than say they are sad. If you’re sad, then you’re Some Crybaby or something, but if you’re angry, but the right kind of angry, not the silly sort of whinging angry, then you are being assertive and reasonable. Think Tony Soprano struggling with his anxiety attacks and turning it into anger because misery isn’t the sort of thing you express if you’re a boss.

It’s the same with dreams. They aren’t considered the right things to talk about in some parts of Scotland. In certain culture there’s a silence about that whole part of a person. It doesn’t feel like we talk about our wants and desires nearly enough. And so my reaction to this is that we all need to shout a bit more.

We need to do something.

There’s something about seeing others doing stuff that is inspirational. It’s the feeling that you aren’t alone, that whatever question you’re asking is also troubling someone else. It’s not schadenfreud, a love of another’s misery, but more of a kind of understanding, a spiritual connection with people searching for meaning. That’s  why people read. People absolutely should read, as well as possibly creating work for people like me, it also gives you so much more than it takes. And if people should read, then it also follows that they should also write. People should shout a bit.

Fortunately, we live in an age of mass production as well as mass consumption. Mass distribution is at our fingertips. For sure there are some people who create a lot more than others and some people who consume a lot without feeding back in, but we’re essentially now all at the level where we can easily use loudspeakers that connect us to a hundred plus people. We can share what we like and build each other up. We can shout together. This is the good side of social media. It’s now easier than ever to get your message, your world view, out there. It’s thrilling. The rush of shouting for the plain fun of it.

There are some massive downsides to it, of course. Things said on the internet don’t often go away, unless the company hosting that information goes bust and nobody saved a copy. But really this is a bigger problem for those who are viciously mean online than for others. If you’re not some dick you should shout!

Use these lungs that the internet gifted you and cry out!

Of course it’s terrifying at first to put anything out there. The fear of criticism is real. Worry less about other people. The biggest problem is usually the fear itself.  And conquering that fear is the prize.

The writer of this piece likes writing things telling people to write things but tries to only do it once a month.

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A Bad Night’s Sleep

Vladimir: Suppose we repented?
Estragon: Repented what?
Vladimir: Oh … (he reflects) We wouldn’t have to go into details.

– Waiting for Godot, Beckett

There’s a guy in my building. He yells. It’s just past 12 and he stands in the staircase yelling. Maybe that’s why I’m awake when it’s gone 3. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been sleeping well. That doesn’t feel convincing.

So this guy, who I regretfully confess I hate because, though I feel sympathetic of whatever he’s dealing with, I cannot abide by him yelling up the place and tanning the post boxes in with his fists. It’s not very neighbourly of him. Sympathy is a fragile thing and can be crushed when a guy leads you to existential angst.

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Find attached for your amusement an eye selfie. To wax poetic, it is a blue eye, quite light, with touches of green and a little yellow around the pupil. A healthy pond eye. When it’s night and I try and visualise it, it turns murky. I feel like a stagnant pond lives in my head.

Being up a little later than normal brings on this kind of existential anguish. That place when you’re in bed and trying to relax but then you’re brain asks you to replay a bunch of scenes from your past and think about whether or not what you did was right.

They have a nasty habit of branching and twisting, turning into gnarly roots and thorns of doubt and self-hate. It makes me feel very small. But then they crash into each other and I see a path out, a light!, a way away from the torment and into sleep. I pursue it in my mind – darting between branches, sometimes up, sometimes down. In the end I just get more scratched up, bruised and stuck somewhere else. And it’s darker still.

Why? Why does my brain do these things? I’ve come up with a few pet theories and borrowed some from other places. Basically, I’d say I’m fairly mentally healthy. I’m happy with the people in my life and think I deserve them. It wasn’t always the case. As happy-go-lucky and carefree as the image I present, sometimes interactions get hard. Despite being a “perfection is a myth” kind of thinker, I set and hold myself to fairly high standards.

Okay, I’m almost good enough for this world and the people I know in it, but am I really good enough? Consciously, yes. They are all rational people who’d ditch me if I wasn’t bringing them value. But unconsciously, well, I know myself quite intimately.

And I don’t think I think I’m enough.

Full disclosure, I haven’t got any mental health issues as far as I know. My head maybe got knocked about a bit from a vehicular incident way back when, but they provided me with a possible laundry list of symptoms and I don’t have any of them to a significant, measurable or medicable, degree. I don’t really trust people who claim to know or understand the brain anyway, it seems far too complex. It’s a great way to sell stuff to say you know how to fix it.

Diagnosable mental health problems not being an immediate factor, and having a fairly high esteem of myself, I struggle to discover the problem. Carl Jung wrote about the “collective unconscious”, a concept that I think I understand without actually reading. Our brains have this kind of societal and cultural memory, a primordial database of experience. It’s a great idea and it does feel mollifying, a fantastic word for “makes feel better”, to know that these pains are understandable. It sucks that other people have to do this, too.

I wish there was some quick fix. If I could just whip myself, or pray, or confess to some virgin in a box, but I have the very real feeling that redemption is a myth. You can apologise for something. You can perform acts of atonement or reconciliation. Redemption, though? That’d take time travel. You can’t make things that’ve happened not’ve happened. It’s why if a rapist apologises it doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t magically heal up emotional scars when somebody owns up to what they did. They shouldn’t’ve done it  in the first place, but people can only try and get better. And they need to grow from their pain.

Another bit from the collective unconscious, I think I’m riddled with Presbyterian Calvinism despite not going to church. It’s like that guilt that Catholics say they have, but Calvinist guilt sticks. Maybe that’s the source of discomfort. I’m a Scottish guy living a life of moderate comfort in a world I’m not supposed to think exists for pleasure but to be saved by grace.

Fuck it.

Maybe I just hate that guy’s yelling.

The writer of this piece feels not exceptionally well right now.

How to work with people

Yesterday I had a wee chat with my friend Roisin who told me that she has worked with me more than anyone else. Here is a song to celebrate.

Thing is, just the other day my friend Teddy told me that he’d worked with me more than anyone else too.

Am I uniquely easy to work with? Not really, but there are definitely a few principles that make me a useful and easy person to work with which you can cultivate in your own life.

1) The work in itself

So a bit of critical theory here, I believe an infinite number of things can be created. Some of those things are better than others. Though objectivity in your own creations is extremely difficult, it is of absolute importance. You already know what the fuck ups are. It is already in everyone to solve them. Sometimes it needs a nudge.

What I mean by that is that in every creative endeavour it isn’t hard to see the fractures and flaws. Some of these are structural and necessary. Style is another name for mistakes. Other times problems should be ruthlessly cut out.

Working from this base is the foundation of collaboration.

Understanding that an objectively better piece of work is possible from whatever you’re reading is fundamental to providing decent, usable feedback.

2) Letting visions meet

Part of working with people is understanding that you have your own idea and they have their own idea about what should happen. It depends who is helping who.

If they are helping you; respect that they are giving you their time to make your work the strongest it can be. Also understand that you can make mistakes and their input is valuable to fix some of them.

(I’m not brilliant at this sometimes, one time I wrote that a horse had cloven hooves then refused to correct it because I liked the sound. Horses, famously, do not have cloven hooves.)

If you are helping them, it is important that you understand where they are coming from then be respectful in elbowing them in the right direction.

One time, I advised Roisin on taking the cannibalism out of the first scene as it’s kind of unrealistic when the guy ate only a few hours ago. She did and I believe the work benefitted.

If either of you are to make the best piece of work possible from the material, it takes respect and honesty.

3) Seperating people from perspectives

If you look in a mirror for a while you can sometimes notice the image reflected back does not concur with your own vision. There is a good reason for this involving bending light and the ocular nerves of the brain but I think it suffices to say that true reflections are sometimes more evasive than they appear.

Inscribed above the oracle of Delphi was the expression “Know thyself”, the first part to wisdom is to know where you are coming from. Sun Tsu said something similar, about battle being between knowledge of yourself and the enemy.

When it comes to working with people, you must be able to divorce their perspective from them as an individual. The fact is that our relation to every person on the world is different, there is a different energy to every connection. This can impact how you take on their feedback. It can also impair how you give it.

Most people don’t want to hurt or be hurt by those they hold close.

Accepting that there is a better standard of work just out there which they can help you secure, you must find a way to seek it uncoloured by predispositions.

And that is how you work with people. You form your vision, let your vision and theirs mingle, and then you decouple personality to truly let your minds merge. It is a magical process at the end and it’s always an honour to be involved so intimately in the process.

The writer of this piece could do with a tin and a cigarette

Superficial – Why to tell the truth more often

You have the love of humanity in your heart

I see it all the time. The Facebook pictures of nights out and the delicious food and the funny story, and people having great times all the time. It’s weird how social media encourages everyone to run around and say how great they are all the time.

It’s a truism, we live superficial lives. We are disconnected from everyone, communities are disintegrating, but in the midst of it all we all shout out “I’m fine” and don’t invite anyone else to care. This is a huge problem. Today I’m going to write about the problem, but also about some potential solutions.

The main problem with saying we live superficial lives is actually not that it’s true, but that as a statement it lacks all nuance. We must dive deeper – beneath the surface. We must dare to behold things as they are.

There are more methods of communication freely available to us than ever. Technology allows us to communicate with almost anyone via video call. Communities are easier to find and form than in previous ages. We have facilities our ancestors of 50 years ago couldn’t have dreamt of. The issue is not with possibility.

The superficial problem goes deeper, in that it is a crisis of consciousness. People don’t stop and think. Not with the good part of their brains, anyway. You can see this with the whole fake news and echo chambers thing. It works like so; you make people feel threatened, they retreat into their survival instinct lizard brain, reliant on thoughts they formed in their early years to survive, which goes back further into their collective imagination. From here it’s just a matter of writing addendums to their lizard thoughts. It’s dangerously enticing. It reaches across ideas, almost everything ever written has an agenda, but micro-targeting and algorithms have made these poisons so much more dangerous. Our ability to share quickly and easily spreads bad ideas quicker than good ones. Attractive lies are always easier to write. Our inability to think using our higher processors is making us worse than apes. It is the worst form of superficiality. The type of thin superficial philosophy encourages us to hate by charming our lizard minds.

What makes this more terrible is the fact that people are less receptive to new ideas, are quick to hate, block, and delete, and when they communicate they don’t do so wholeheartedly. We’re scared of being hurt. I was terrified p, I still am a bit, of someone coming up to me and tell me to drop the act. Now I’m pretty open and honest about who I am, so many of my stories end in some embarrassing situation for me, but the fear that somebody will discover the truth is frightening. Getting past these sorts of fears is essential to open communication.

I’m not perfect, but part of me is okay.

So the problem is twin. It is multiplicity and it is the closed off thinking that lies encourage. How do you combat lies? Honesty.

The Facebook posts that I really like but which can become too much are the ones where people admit they aren’t having a great time. Why’s that? It’s not that I hate my friends, far from it!, but because I get to see friendship in action. I go to see how they are but they already have 50 or 60 people seeing to them. That’s the power of being emotionally honest right there. It builds a network of people who really care.

From time to time I can seem pretty terrible. I think I’ve got a bit of a cynical streak about the way people are, but it’s because I envisage better. So please, get out of your lizard brain and stop spreading lies. Tell people you love them and care about them instead. The way it’s marketed can sometimes make love seem the most superficial thing in the world but anybody who actually feels it knows that it’s actually the most substantial.

The writer of this piece has stream of conscious’d most of this piece after a night involving some sauce and a couple of cheeseburgers. The burgers are the bigger problem.

via Daily Prompt: Superficial

What You Learn From Writing Daily

“I want people to feel like it’s ok to create. It’s ok to not be boxed in. I want people to feel like, awesome is possible.” – Kanye West

This month has been a bit of a whirlwind. I have been working every weekday, my friend Cat visited with her girlfriend, and I have been writing daily. Finding any time available, I have written as much as possible and tried to keep up the quality. It all started quite organically, I published for a couple days, then decided to do a week, then decided to do a month. At first it seemed a gigantic ask. But when you split it into little bits it all comes together quite nicely in the end. It seems almost too achievable to be considered a success, but I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.

It took effort. I had to keep myself from sleeping when I’m tired. I’ve had to consciously make the choice to write instead of doing something more distracting. I’ve had to fit this into my regular responsibilities, as a teacher to my students, who must plan and do all the extra paperwork, and as a fiance to my fiancée, who must make sure my end of the housework is upheld. A massive thank you to my fiancée as I almost definitely fell a little short of my end this month. I’ve had to keep my self-esteem up on days when my reading figures were low. I’ve shaken off the flops, I’ve powered through the doubtful ideas, I have pulled out bits of me I thought I never would, and I have blown my trumpet like the loudest troubadour.

So here are the five things I have learned writing every day:

1. There are no angry mobs who will burn down your house for saying what you feel

On the one hand, there definitely are Internet mobs. The level of abuse directed at people for small things is truly abhorrent. The amount of misogynistic and racist shit is ridiculous. I have received some questionable comments, but I’m fortunately shielded from the worst bits by WordPress’s filter.

That all being said, there is no reason to clam up and not let your feelings out just because you are worried about what other people might say. Even coming from a supportive family and with loving friends, I have still kept some things to myself over the years. This month I had to push myself to write everything. I had to relive humiliation and dwell in some past pain to write certain posts, such as my take on Friendship, my love letter to Cigarettes, and my sappy words to my Fiancée .

Nobody has criticised me for any of it. It’s often said that men are socialised to not express emotion, but what I’ve learnt here is that this blockage is in the mind rather than in people at large. Be open. If you can’t be open, be honest.

2. I am not that bad

I mean this as a writer and as a person. Sometimes I’ve had problems with not feeling like I could be loved. This may seem ridiculous given the aforementioned supportive people in my life, but I genuinely had this thing in my brain that said I was not especially lovable. I didn’t even think I was that likeable and was pretty sure I was a horrible person and a poor writer.

Eventually, I came to understand my self a bit better. I started loving myself a bit more and criticising myself a bit less. It’s a struggle, but coming to terms with yourself is a daily challenge. Everyone fucks up, but because we are closer to our own chaos we think it so much worse than everyone else’s.

Writing daily has been an amazing experience. I have come into contact with so much more of myself as I dissect my thoughts and feelings and splayed them all out for the world to see. Maybe one day I’ll look back on it and feel a bit uncomfortable, but that’s okay. I am finally convinced I am not nearly as bad a person as I thought.

Just a tad dramatic and with a touch of Calvinism.

3. Time in the market beats timing the market

That line is from Warren Buffett, and he’s right. To the writer just setting out, it seems a lot more rational to try and strike while the iron is hot, get your timely blows in, then move on to the next thinkpiece. My view is that there is more room for nuance and reason than you’d think.

You can pause. You can wait till the dust has settled before writing about something. In fact, that may often lead to a better result. How can you write accurately right after something has happened? When emotions and running high, the worst parts of your brain can lead you to making some pretty terrible decisions.

In addition, going for timely thinkpieces all the time is a strategy that will lead to creating a bunch of shit that doesn’t outlast the week. There is no expiration date on good writing. The most important thing is to shut up and do it instead of waiting and staying. Find the bright places where boom bands are playing.

4. Poetry doesn’t sell

Writing daily has given me time to stretch out creatively while pushing me to produce and produce and produce some more. In this time, I’ve had to grab things I love and write about them. This includes Dr. Seuss and The Libertines. Both those ideas did sell, people were interested, because they were easy to relate to. We all have favourite writers and favourite musicians.

But some other things you may be interested in are harder to shift. Not everyone likes historical parallels between statues in Prague and statues in Charlottesville. Not everyone digs into Limericks. This is totally fine.

While pro writers may say to kill your darlings, the benefit of a personal blog is that you’re writing mostly for your own pleasure. People can like the stuff or they can dislike it. Your poetry might not sell, but fuck it, it’s YOUR poetry.

Sometimes it’s just nice to get some of it out there.

5. Mums love me

Having paid keen attention to my Facebook likes and who shares my things, I have noticed this incontrovertible fact: mums love me. This includes my mum, my fiancée’s mum, my schoolmates’ mums, amongst others. These are far from the only people reading me but they are an interesting group of ladies who share only one thing in common and that is that they have children. No idea what I have done to earn their interest but I am very happy to bask in their adoration.

If you or anyone else you know has a mum who may like this blog, be sure to send it along to them!

This is what I have learnt by writing every day of August. You are not a bad person and you should feel free to express yourself. There are other things, but these ones will do. Moving forward, I will be looking to write a lot more than I did prior to this month, even if not daily. Let me just leave by saying a massive thank you to everyone who read me this month and I look forward to thrilling you further in the future.

The writer of this piece is looking forward to enjoying a holiday in Croatia and may be somewhat incommunicado for the first week of September

Maintaining Momentum

“Momentum” by Brian Chambers

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit, from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

Invictus, a tremendous poem to give your day a bit of pep. Today I’m talking to you about momentum; how to gain it and how to keep it. I will be flagrantly abusing scientific concepts because writing about it requires a degree in physics or vast simplification, and I haven’t got five years to spare right now. The point is, and I believe everyone will agree at some level, is that energy is created and used according to some pretty basic rules, but then as humans it is our job to damn all the rules and make our own existence happen.

Newton was a clever chap. He took getting a blow to the head from an apple and turned it into his three laws of mechanics. Most important for my purpose today is the first: an object will stay still or move at a constant speed unless another force changes its direction. So how do you get from being still to being in motion? You need a nudge, something to spur you onto greatness. A call to adventure.

Doing something takes work, and work takes willpower. It is a common problem across humanity that a lot of people do not want to put in any effort and just want the outcome. Many writers these days blame millenials and technology, but those guys are talking-out-their-arse hacks as it’s a repeated pattern throughout history, at least since the printing press made mass media possible. It’s a problem I’ve faced repeatedly. Left to my own devices I tend to atrophy and become a bit too inwardly focused. I always find an excuse not to do something.

As Nietzsche said, a paraphrase here, the greatest lies people tell are lies to themselves. I’d find all kinds of reason not to act and do and get up. I’d blame tiredness from studies or work, or simpy not having enough time, but this is bollocks. You can generally find time unless you are properly maxed out. Even then, it takes an honest appraisal of what’s going on to notice you can make time. Would you be more productive if you didn’t spend so much time on social media/mobile apps/emailing people/or TV? It’s quite possible to cut all these activities down by an hour in total and realise the potential you have for other pursuits.

I have cut several of these activities down heavily and found the time for writing. I think it’s fair to say this has led to some pretty great stuff.

So back to momentum. You gain momentum by starting from a high point, and you get to a high point from a supreme force of will which makes you work in the direction of getting yourself to a high point. In the meantime you have to focus very hard on your goal, while balancing your pursuit out with the need to look after yourself at some level. It’s painful. Here’s my story.

When I left my former job at the wigwams I was exhausted. I’d been putting in 60+ hour weeks as it was The Season, some of the days were especially active. After I left the wigwams, I had the twin shock of a number of friends having left Edinburgh and that rudderless feeling that follows leaving a job with no definite plan. I took a bit of time to myself, did a TEFL program, but then hesitated to find anything next.

Next steps are scary. They involve thrusting yourself into the unknown and seeing what happens. It’s very tempting to take more tentative timid tip toes to your next move. I tried to prepare myself to make a decision, but everything felt pretty pointless. I took a job as a temp waiter, had Winter days without sunlight, and was generally in a pretty bad mood. For me, it all changed by accident. I booked a flight to Prague for too long and it went exceptionally well.

I’ll probably be telling that story forever. It is the albatross around my neck.

It was just the kick up the chutney that I needed to get myself together, finding a job, a flat, and a serious relationship in short order. From this spark came momentum, but I knew this time what needed to happen, and here it is for you.

Keep running.

Don’t let the skateboard that you’ve pushed to the top of the hill go off without you! Ride that bad boy right down the hill and then keep pushing it up the next hill. Chase down the slumps and crest the next summit.

As the good Dr. Seuss said “Unslumping yourself is not easily done”, and sometimes people get caught in a rut they cannot unslump easily. The important thing here is to keep you chin up. Eat some food and remember to breathe. Energy comes from nutrients being broken down and it breaks down more cleanly if you breathe enough.

Building willpower takes effort, as with any skill or muscle, so try smaller tasks until you feel up to the bigger ones. by doing this, you’ll create the will to make the effort, to reach higher and race down the hills, to shoot up the next one.

If you need more tips to self-improvement, I’m hardly exhaustive, you could do no better than this article and “Fuck It” by John C. Parkin.

I will leave you with this. Managing momentum takes effort. It’s hard to build, harder to keep going, and some days you’ll just want to stop. Still, going back to Nietzsche a minute, life is suffering and survival is finding meaning in the suffering. Always love to end it on a happy note.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll;
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

The writer of this piece writes like he talks and talks like a cunt.

“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”

On Sunday I was in Dresden. It’s a city in Germany which was famously destroyed by allied bombing. It’s a good city to visit. There is a military museum there with a decent sized collection and a lot of interactive ‘discovery chambers’, essentially cabinets with small descriptions of particular items and themes, such as “the smell of war”. A lot of the collection seemed to be older than the World Wars but they did have a whole floor with both of the wars together. It grew exponentially more powerful when we went to the floor about the bombing of Dresden.


Levelling a settlement is already a pretty dickish thing to do. The Nazis did it to Rotterdam in The Netherlands, Potsdam in Poland, Guernica in Spain, Coventry in England, and Lidice in the Czech Republic, amongst others, but nobody’s standard for morality should be doing as the Nazis did but less often. In addition, Germany was already pretty soundly defeated by this point on multiple fronts so it just seems like revenge. An awful act, compounded by the fire storm that developed when the fire bombing got caught by the wind, kicking up a fiery hurricane of destruction. It’s a miracle anything survived.

Despite this awfulness, I found a city that was orderly, pretty and full of happy people, at a festival down by the waterside. Modern Dresden is like any other European city. It has grown past its awful history and really made a success of it. There are echoes of the past from time to time. As you can see in the photograph, the buildings do have what look like seams. It is as if they have been knitted together from the rare older parts that survived the chaos and reconstructed parts which were fitted to the old specifications. As a result of the city being old and new at the same time, there is a distinctly European energy to the town.


To be honest, nice as it was, I couldn’t help but imagine how awful it’d be to get trapped there when it was going on and what the aftermath would have been like. It must have felt like the world was caving in as they saw everything. They had known or cared about engulfed. Children woke up to find their mothers reduced to ash. Mothers woke up to find their children missing. The real human cost of war is utterly appalling. We never should have evolved from monkeys.

Though many people disagree, saying that nature is all good and can do no wrong, in actual fact monkeys have been known to genocide other tribes of monkeys. They can’t do much damage though because they can only arm themselves with rudimentary weaponry like sticks and stones. They do a lot more damage than breaking bones. Knowing that huge swathes of humans can be tricked into supporting such horrific things as indiscriminate bombing terrifies me.

Apologies for being morbid on what was supposed to be a fairly happy update on my travels, but now that it’s written it feels more valuable to keep it. I will dare to behold things as they are. And some things are sad.

All thanks must go to Cat who funded our trip, it may have been one of the most emotionally difficult trips I’ve taken.

I’d like to close with keen final reiteration. Killing Nazis is important, but a strict line of distinction should be made between ideological zealots, brainwashed idiots, and children. I hope in future that humanity does not kill civilians, but if we learn one thing from history it is that there are always new and more efficient ways to make war worse as history goes on. On that bombshell, goodnight.

The writer of this piece is not naturally morbid but is quite strongly affected by the thought of innocents just going about their business then being incinerated. Hopefully not a too radical thought for a broad consensus.

Tastes Like a Cigarette Should

 

I’ve picked up a lot in my storied life. Some knowledge of foreign languages, a taste for good wine, and a bit of a cigarette enthusiasm. Which is to say that I both believe I am horribly addicted and that it is within reasonable limits and under control. All at the same time knowing that no medical authority on this planet would recommend inhaling a burning plant. Of all the burning plants in the world though, tobacco is definitely my favourite. Simultaneously my most hated.

The origin story for this habit isn’t so complicated or difficult. I saw some people doing it and thought it was ridiculous. Some people offered me one and it tasted horrible. Later on I tried others and they got better. I was pretty sure I could control it, being a man of will. Turns out, it’s a nasty little thing and it kind of works its way into the deeper recesses of your brain if you aren’t careful.

Sometimes I feel a cigarette voice in my head. It pleads and bargains for more when I’ve tried to quit. Just one more. It also shouts down my desire to stop sometimes. You just bought a pack! It’s not very logical and sometimes isn’t very focused but what did you expect, Ritalin brain? I’ll get on with the origin story.

Eventually, friends got tired of just giving them to me whenever. I had started asking instead of just being offered. And then I was cut off.

It makes sense, cigarettes are expensive. As with so many other products, too, they are undergoing “shrinkflation”. What you’re getting gets smaller but the price stays the same. It’s the natural intersection of marketing and rising production costs. People have a limit to how much they’ll pay for something, so in order to reach that limit, products get worse. At any rate, the cigarette makers and shops have all the power here as you can’t exactly haggle for cigarettes. This left me in a delicate situation.

My choice was pretty stark. To smoke or not to smoke. See, the difference between 0 and 1 is infinite. This is true in mathematics and in smoking. The difference between 0 and 1 cigarettes is far larger than the difference between 2 and 20.

Still, I bought a packet. I figured I was different.

This is the crazy thing about people who smoke: we can find so many justifications and reasons not to be bothered about it. Enough people have grandparents who smoked for 90 years and then got hit by a bus to permanently raise the life expectancy a good bit. Truth be told, I think we’re all terror-fatigued. We’ve been taught about it at school, there are loads of adverts in all kinds of different settings, the prices have always gone up, there’re warning labels on packets, it’s banned indoors, and we’re consistently told it’s the worst thing and we’re horrible people for doing it. There’s a reason cool people in movies still smoke: it is the pinnacle of not caring. Maybe people need to reevaluate their choices, and policy makers need to rethink how to reach everyone. Selling the “cigarettes are super heroin” campaign doesn’t work when people who smoke are good at justifying and reasoning away all the issues. At any rate, current plans to cut down on people smoking have been moderately successful but are struggling to reach below 20%. Part of the reason is that those 20% think they are irredeemable.

Truth is, there are various thoughts on how real addiction is. The way I see it, it is totally fightable. It is not a disease, it is a personality flaw. Once you notice that you regain some agency. People who’ve done it all their lives find the strength to quit. I’ve found that I do care a bit too much to keep it up. I’m not like a cool guy in a movie. I’m not one of the different people who live to a hundred years old on rare steak and sniffing whiteboard pens. Chances are good that I’m just as fragile as 99% of the rest of this planet and therefore I made a deal.

The cigarette voice keeps it down and stops shouting and whimpering and I throw it the occasional. I always preferred it more as a social thing anyway. Sometimes you just need a good excuse to go outside and get a few minutes away from everything. Sometimes it’s good to get away from a 15-person conversation and break off to chat with a couple of people. The negotiation with the cigarette voice has been difficult and fraught with breaches. At least I know that I’ve beaten it down to about 1 or 2 a day on average. With the occasional ‘extinction burst’ where I get a whole pack and tan it in an evening.

I’ve tried to be honest here. Truth is, cigarette smoking is this crazy thing that I think everyone who does it hates, loves, and hates in equal measure. That’s definitely how I feel about it. On the one hand, it made me get out more and got me into loads of conversations I’d never have had otherwise, on the other I have sometimes spent a ridiculous amount of my monthly earnings on it with no lasting effect. It is the definition of consumptive. It’s good that it gives me something to do in my free time, everybody needs an occupation, but it’s bad because I could be doing almost anything more productive with the time. It’s nice that it provides milestones of the passing day: wake up, cigarette, breakfast, cigarette, going to work, cigarette, at work for four hours before coffee break, cigarette, back to work until lunch, cigarette, finish day, cigarette, pub with the colleagues, cigarette cigarette cigarette cigarette, home, cigarette, dinner, cigarette, sex, cigarette, Netflix, cigarette. On the other hand that’s an insane way to measure time, and that’s on a below average day. It’s terrible, it’s great, it’s terrible.

In conclusion, the writer of this piece cannot be held accountable for any desire to try tobacco. In fact I’d say it’s a pretty bad idea, hence why I’m cutting down and fairly happy with the result. Then again, can non-smokers try not being dicks about it because it’s really very unhelpful when you make out like having one of them ever will make you into some kind of degenerate. Nothing has that much power unless you give it that much power and claiming it has some insane amount of power makes it seem irresistible. It’s my dirty little occasional habit. It’s kind of gross yet kind of sexy but mostly awful.

Just to reiterate the message we all must stick to with my own flair: If you don’t smoke; don’t start. If you do it occasionally; probably best to keep it limited. If you smoke hundreds a day; hope you have fun with it but maybe eat some fruit from time to time.

Seriously, apparently eating carrots stops lung cancer. Maybe take it with a pinch of salt.

Feedback

Recently, people have had nice things to say about me. Some of these are cosmetic things, hair and clothes and the like. Some of them are about my writing, which fairly tickles me as I always assume I’m not that good as I just kind of sit down and throw out whatever comes to mind before massaging it into a better order. Some of the feedback I’ve been getting lately has been about how good a friend or partner I am. This last category means the most to me.

But I’m not just writing about the good today. Good feedback is nice, but it’s not always the most essential and formative stuff. Pressure makes diamonds. Negative responses are valuable as they let you know what other people don’t like, and will often lead you to fixing it. Generally this makes both sides happier.

And so I try to improve still, every now and then when a constructive comment comes in and it’s worth responding to. I figured a long time ago that I wasn’t perfect and that there was room for improvement in various areas. Some of it still stings though. Some people like to cut, then they like to throw a bit of salt at it.

Sometimes it feels like people don’t give feedback for genuine reasons of wanting to help out. Sometimes people are just negotiating hard and being destructive to bring down the price. Sometimes people have unrealistic standards. Sometimes they don’t realise that paying a small amount of money for something doesn’t entitle them to make a human person feel bad. People who work in retail or any other service I’m sure will relate. So what should be done about these people?

For a start, I propose that managers actually tell their staff when they think customers are unreasonable. I have been blessed with mostly good managers so this hasn’t been a huge problem for me, but I could definitely see feedback being used as an excuse to not pay someone enough. In addition, everyone could benefit from reading the book Fuck It by John C. Parkin. It’s a synthesis of Eastern and Western philosophy, which preaches the phrase ‘fuck it’ as the ultimate mantra for handling situations and dealing with stress. It’s a fantastic read for a philosophical underpinnings to the phrase.

Learning to say “fuck it” to life’s little irritants has made me a generally cooler person. I spend a lot less time fighting the stupid fights in my head. There are far more valuable things to think about without getting caught up on petty things.

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One final note on which to leave you. A former manager of mine was a very capable fellow. He had a brilliant way to slowing everything down, normally with the single word “Oh?”, followed by some non-verbal communication (hmms and ahhs), before finishing up with a “Right…”, and providing his solution. This is much more instructive when you watch it up close.

Anyway, I knew what was happening because I saw him do it multiple times a day. But to each individual who saw him he probably gave the impression of a uniquely focused and interested man. This semblance of caring very deeply and being very focused about a customer’s problem is probably the right one, provided you can come up with a solution at the end instead of just humming.

This manager had a brilliant expression on this topic: “Feedback is a gift;” and then when the begrieved parties  were out of earshot, “it can be accepted or rejected”.

 Constantly feeling like he’s bitten off more than he can chew, the writer wrote this piece on his day off and therefore naked.

Strange Parallels

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If there’s one major advantage to travelling it is that it exposes you to different cultures and different experiences. Were it not for the fact I accidentally travelled to the Czech Republic, I would have likely never seen the topic of day’s post. I have discovered an abnormal similarity between two films. The above happy children’s movie about a guy everyone thinks is The Special, who isn’t, and who overturns tyrannical rule with the help of a team, and the following:

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I promise you I’m going somewhere with this

A 1991 Czech film about an engineer who starts working at a factory and finds it full of corruption and nonsense. A “Musical of Totalitarianism”.

How? What scrambled thoughts could lead to this conclusion? Observe.

In this film clip, the main character, an engineer, a career about developing new ideas and putting them together, visits the factory bar. The DJ plays an epic song, a mainstay of Czech music, where the lyrics are “Je to fajn” – it is fine, it’s all good buddy. Relax, do your work and smoke your cigarette. While in this film clip, “Everything is Awesome” – everything is fine, it’s cool man. Relax, listen to your repetitive mind-numbing and very catchy pop music and drink your overpriced coffee.

These songs function as the central points of the films. The Lego Movie is about the lead character realising everything is NOT awesome while Kour (smoke), a lot darker in tone, makes it pretty clear throughout how messed up it all is.

Here I will have to freely confess my inability to properly dive into this topic. I have seen both films only once, Lego on Boxing Day last year and Kour at Zizkovsiska during film night. I must also admit that I have some difficulties finding anything in English about Czech films. Comparing its IMDb page to The Lego Movie’s further shows the difference in material to work with. Also, not speaking Czech, I have some issues understanding all the nuances. But here’s is what I have so far.

Both films are fundamentally about work and society. They are about doing your job while being bossed around by shadowy figures, and they are about the distraction that we all have, music. It’s interesting that in both films neither of the main characters save the day alone. In Kour the main character nearly becomes the victim of the corrupt factory managers until he is saved by the other factory workers shouting “It is worth it!” and storming the big meeting. In The Lego Movie the lead was never “the Special” and can only win with the help of everyone else.

It’s an enlightening process watching both films as they show so much about the types of life people live. They also show a way out through the collective action of saying no. Change is possible and you have to be the one to make it. The message of both the films is revolutionary.

When not watching Czech films or consuming media, the writer of this piece likes to write copiously and is trying to write posts of about 500 words a day every day of this month. Today’s entry is a little short, but since a picture is worth a thousand words and there are two of them this piece is far beyond that, without even accounting for the fact that videos are made of 25 pictures a second and each of the above videos was over a minute long. Today I have written a load of words about a tricky subject and I implore you to watch both those films. 20 days left!