Tag: blogging

Snowflakes

How do you feel about Facebook? Is it a wonderful gift to improved human communication or a divisive force that’s driving us all into echo chambers and filter bubbles?

It’s certainly getting more hectic. At least, my feed is. I’ve never ‘unfriended’ anybody, you see, so get to read stuff from all sides of the political spectrum.

Most of the time I’m just a spectator, watching the clumsy wrangling and immature name-calling unfold like a slo-mo pie-fight – or else a desperate scrap in the dark that makes me feel somewhat nostalgic for my old school debating-society with its dignified dance of thrust and counter-thrust. A choreographed verbal joust conducted face-to-face and a friendly handshake at the end …

Maybe I’m looking back through rose-tinted spectacles. It’s tempting to paint our youth as a golden age when everything was hunky-dory, buffeted and bruised as we are by an ever-changing present. Something of this same injured innocence fuels the following Facebook post – received yesterday – although its increasingly bizarre and highly unlikely turn of events reveals the underlying message to be anything but innocent:

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Phew! Where on earth does one start? Well, we are expected to sympathise with the protagonist – a poor martyred victim of ‘political correctness gone mad’ – when the reality this implausible fable seeks to obscure is almost its opposite. In real life the social groups mentioned are victims of inequality, yet here they are implausibly caricatured as oppressors in a sinister conspiracy. If there’s anything truly sinister going on, however, it lurks between the lines of this hysterical little story.

That’s between you and me, of course. In the public arena of Facebook the mask must remain in place. Sometimes it seems that only two questions are permitted:

  • What’s the matter, can’t you take a joke?
  • What’s the matter, can’t you feel my pain?

Oddly, the passive-aggressive post above managed to combine them both. This stuff is fiendishly difficult to answer because it’s quite artfully done – it may be that art itself is the answer. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! Let the battle of the stories commence!

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Bearing this in mind, I responded with the following Facebook reply:

By a curious coincidence … made a group of snow figures holding hands to represent tolerance between people of different genders, races, faiths, nationalities, political viewpoints and sexual orientations. Just woke up after a well-deserved nap and looked out through broken windows to see they’d all been flattened. Left here wondering who I could have offended …

So far, I’ve got one Like. Not being dramatic – well, OK, being dramatic! – that’s somebody else who’s stumbled into the soundproof silo … sssh! … perhaps another snowflake. Nothing wrong with snowflakes. I hereby take the word as a badge of honour …

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My favourite riposte to the derogatory use of this word came from comedian John Cleese:

After one unamused follower used the term ‘snowflake’ as an insult, Cleese, 78, couldn’t resist tweeting a response. Adding his trademark humour, of course.

In his cutting reply, Cleese said: ‘Yes I’ve heard this word. I think sociopaths use it in an attempt to discredit the notion of empathy.’

Next post: How to Tell a Good Story!

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Vault Finding #6

 

 

Run dry of artistic ideas,
I looked at old drafts through my tears.
He swam into view
And before long I knew
That a work-ethic bypasses fears.

The power of positive thought
When the race against time is so fraught
And the girl gets to choose
If you win or you lose –
A lesson this blogger’s been taught!

So no more lamenting the lack
Of lightbulb moments! It’s back
To good old hard work
And a glance through the murk
At castles of sand down the track.

 

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Scraping the Barrel


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This is an actual photo taken inside my head two minutes ago. It shows my inner progress chaser, who has just noticed my previous post is over a week old, hustling my inner creative director for a new one.

Hmm, could be a while, by the looks of it! Time to pour myself a beer. Perhaps the words will start flowing, too.

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I mean, it’s not as if there’s nothing to write about. If anything, there’s too much. The world is awash with woes and wonders. Where do you start?

And when you’ve started, then what? This, that and the other. Mostly the other, knowing your luck, after which you’ll scrabble around for a way to end the damn thing. Not with a bang but a whimper, more than likely! Then it’s Preview and … Publish!

Or Move to trash.

Question is, does the blogosphere really need another lament about how hard it is to come up with anything half worth saying? Should I not keep this guilty little secret under wraps and free up the ‘airwaves’ for those who really do have plenty to say for themselves?

Nah, feel my pain, peeps!

 

See the source image

 

PS  Well, that was nice. Fresh and hoppy with a hint of citrus. Pleasantly analgesic, too …

A Change in the Weather

With a little help from online friends, I’ve figured out that the glitch in my blog-post production-line is down to disappointment with the world.

Not the natural world, of course, but the rowdy human element that threatens its stability. Crown of Creation, my arse! Oh, we know enough as a species to make things better but currently we seem hell-bent on making them worse. We resemble nothing so much as a bunch of toddlers throwing our toys out of the playpen.

I say we but too often it’s us and them as our much-vaunted global communication network splinters into weird cabals, soundproof silos and oddball obsessions. Knowledge itself is under attack, with truth obscured beneath a toxic cloud of clueless prejudice and wilful falsification. Once upon a time rules governed what was published. Nowadays, it seems, anything goes! I suspect today’s most widely-read author is named Anon.

As a matter of indisputable fact, I have just become ruler of the universe and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it …

Fake news, of course, because Donald Trump beat me to it. Probably.

As to genuine tidings, here’s an update. My loss of voice – notwithstanding this hysterical babble! – is really dismay that nothing I can possibly come up with will make a blind bit of difference. My mum’s withering comparison for something – or someone – utterly useless springs to mind:  like a fart in a colander!

Come to think of it, that’s a handy descriptor for a fair few things you read on social media. Wind and hot air. Let’s hope the warming doesn’t go global … whoops, too late!

Ha, now there’s an example of my problem. Everything, it seems, plays out on the big stage. And here am I, waiting in the wings for a walk-on part afraid of fluffing my only line and dropping my spear.

Those encouraging responses to my cry for help previous post come back to me … start from where you are … stick to what you know … keep it short and sweet … write what makes you happy … all of them solid-gold suggestions when the currency of public discourse is so debased. A world in uproar is a good place to set your own house in order. Home truths hit hardest, they say, and shine brightest … enlightenment is the only thing denialists truly fear.

This isn’t to limit what you can write about. Reading some short stories by Herman Hesse, I learn that his childhood ambition to be a magician stemmed from a dissatisfaction with what people conventionally called ‘reality’. Later in life, by magic he came to mean the transformation of reality – the creation of a wholly new reality – in his writing. Northrop Frye observed that ‘fantasy is the normal technique for fiction writers who do not believe in the permanence or continuity of the society they belong to.’ JRR Tolkien defined fantasy as ‘the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds’ and Hesse’s stories often display the ‘arresting strangeness’, the ‘freedom from the domination of observed fact’ that Tolkien called the essential qualities of fantasy.

All of that leaves plenty of wriggle-room, I reckon. Truth doesn’t have to be mundane. The other day I was puzzling over my very young grandson’s invariably scatological response to perfectly reasonable questions like Who did you play with at nursery today? and What would you like for your dinner? Instead of admonishing him, I decided to have a little fun myself. Adopting a cod French accent, I would launch into something along these lines:

Ah yes, your words, zey take me back to zose far-off times in gay Paree – in 1923 – ze Café Royale in Montmartre – oh, such music, such dancing! – and ze most beautiful dancer of zem all, ze leetle French ballerina Pupu – what was eet we call her for short? – ah yes, Pu – and Oui we cry as her lurvely leetle dance ends Oui Oui Encore Une Fois Pupu Oui Oui …

You get the idea. It wasn’t long before my peculiar little outbursts started to do the trick. Now he gives a straight answer, more often than not. Like most audiences, he may be aware something has gone on but he won’t know exactly what …

 

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Image: Amazon.ca

Forced Entry

Well, my fellow blogster, perhaps you know what it’s like to go several days longer than usual between posts and still find yourself with little to say and even less inclination to say it?

My urge is to say something … anything! Best to come clean, I reckon, and confess that my hunger for input has exceeded my desire to output.

If you have the time, here is a link to something I’ve been reading. It’s plenty long enough without any more from me but I’d really like to hear what you think. Are we really entering an era when there is no point saying anything?

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/03/denialism-what-drives-people-to-reject-the-truth

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Out in the Open

Confession time … oh, nothing you might read about in the newspapers, no shameful lapse into avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake nor zealotry.

That’s the A-Z of stuff-in-the-news from my previous post, by the way, published a week ago. All that ugly stuff out there – nothing to do with me!

Well, I might confess to a touch of hopelessness – a modicum of quiescence – a degree of woe. It’s all that other stuff, see? 3 letters of the alphabet, you might say, at the mercy of the other 23. The clue is in the phrase ‘published a week ago’. The truth is – and here’s the confession – I’m finding it hard to think up posts and even harder to complete them.

It’s not for want of trying. My back catalogue contains 129 drafts, each one more half-baked than the last. For all I know, this is #130.

So far, the signs aren’t good. Who the hell wants to read about somebody else’s reasons for not doing something? You’ve probably got enough feeble excuses of your own. Perhaps you tried some of them out on your teachers. The dog ate your homework. You’re wearing the wrong trousers. The doctor has diagnosed amnesia.

My crummy alibi is that I’m too nice. I gave that idea a dummy-run in the previous post. Weaned in the liberal 1960s, you see, I love everybody. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! Whenever I hear that track where Jimi Hendrix says It’s all freedom my fingers still make an involuntary peace sign.

I know, what a paradox! No way is freedom to wage war on my wish-list. Freedom from war, maybe. The conundrum is only solved by remembering that freedom is just one of the essential human rights. The other two, equality and solidarity, are no less important. How to get the balance between them is the $64,000 question – more like $64bn after inflation! And I’m no philosopher so it’s time to enlist the help of one.

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The other day I watched a remarkable film about intolerance. It was Rupert Everett’s tour-de-force about the final years of Oscar Wilde. Its title – The Happy Prince – comes from one of Wilde’s radiant, life-affirming fables. Somehow Everett manages the triple feat of writing, directing and starring – his passion shining through to make it a movie like few others I’ve seen. OK, no others.

Another confession – several times I was surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks. Wilde’s suffering becomes symbolic and the film achieves that rare thing in these days of CGI insincerity – catharsis. For once you can believe the reviews. I cannot recommend this film too highly.

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Two scenes stand out – two emotional poles which couldn’t provide a more powerful  contrast – one where he has to endure the abuse of a crowd, the other where he finally stands up to his tormenters. At risk of running on empty, I can only repeat what I wrote in my previous post:

There comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.

Tolerance can’t be infinite, as Karl Popper says, any more than freedom. But what made growing up in the 1960s such a gas was watching one after another side-lined social group achieve – or begin to achieve – parity. Once the Beatles had made it groovy to be young and northern and working class – and in the USA to be white and into blues and soul music – other glass ceilings beckoned. Race, gender and – with Oscar Wilde now a counter-cultural hero – sexual orientation. As a white heterosexual male whose mum taught him to look beneath superficial differences to the person beneath, I always knew that what mattered was character – not characteristics.

The movement was international in outlook and, for many of us, its substantial gains remain firm red lines against any retrenchment. Public displays of intolerance should always be challenged. A phrase variously attributed to Jefferson, Paine and Lincoln runs: The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Well, I don’t suppose I’m the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about that. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a whole lot better than being woken by a sudden knock on the door.

Hmm … if confessing stuff isn’t good for the soul, at least it helps write posts. May try it more often.

Digging Deeper

So, no more WordPress Daily Prompts!

Like any addict with supply problems, a week in and I’m still wrestling with a cold turkey – feathers everywhere – if you see what I mean. It’s been hell. Sweats, cramps, fevers, insomnia, the works …


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Actually, it’s not been that bad. In fact, I haven’t given it a moment’s thought. It feels like the school holidays have started and I’m climbing trees, having escaped that old bossy-boots of a teacher who kept giving me random things to write about.

Oh yes, the ball’s well and truly in my court! All I have to do is pull back my racquet and let fly … but where to place the shot?

Aarrrggh … decisions! I hear that ball thump into the wire behind me, the derisive laughter of my opponent … curiously familiar, wonder who it is … and now I’ll never know because I’ve just woken up to the sounds of birds and bees, the scents of garden flowers and an unsipped gin-and-tonic in the arm of my reclining chair.

Hmm, reckon I should stop stressing about style and just scramble the ball over the net any old how. As our bewildering world unravels ever faster, it’s too easy to convince yourself nothing you say will make any difference and – the curse of every passionate perfectionist and thwarted idealist – you don’t bother to say anything. Nothing’s your fault, anyway, though Philip Larkin is as perceptive as usual on the subject of luck:

Bad As A Mile

Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more

Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.

I think back three years to when the apple of blogging was still unbitten. Here are my first two posts:

My voyage of exploration begins. I want to recapture the spirit of childhood, when we would set out from home with the deliberate aim of getting hopelessly lost. No point in going over old ground, after all …

freerange

wall-kids-no-rites

I find it sad that children today don’t occupy the streets and open spaces like we did when I was young. There have always been risks in such freedom but we made a habit of going around with our friends, rarely if ever alone. We knew the dangers and were able to avoid them. So many kids were out and about, there was safety in numbers. With more adults around, too, we behaved ourselves most of the time because we didn’t want to get into trouble. In this way, we learned how to take responsibility for ourselves.

Sitting alone in your bedroom is not a healthy substitute, especially when you factor in the online risks and bad cyberspace influences that would shock many parents. It’s a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, I’m afraid. Let’s make the open air a place for children again, providing proper facilities and a sensible but not stifling adult presence. It would be quite a challenge but I can’t think of a better way to create the communities of the future …

Back to 2018, I’m struck by the campaigning tone and buoyant optimism above. Plug in to your inner child, I seem to be saying, and everything becomes possible.

Yet here I am, three years on, myself a pitiable victim of those same online risks and bad cyberspace influences … well, aren’t we all, after the surreal horrors of 2016 and their unfolding fake-news consequences? And as for guiding the young, fat chance when the adults appear to lack all direction!

Enough reality already! Or perhaps, less unreality masquerading as reality …

So the other day I was telling my little granddaughter this joke:

There was a vicar who used to visit his parishioners’ homes where they often asked him to stay for tea. They would sometimes serve him baked beans on toast, which he hated but was too polite to refuse. So anxious was he not to cause offence that he always pretended to enjoy them. People would tell each other how much he enjoyed baked beans with the result that he was rarely given anything else.

One day he was given a double helping, so he asked for a glass of water and when his host went into the kitchen he frantically spooned baked beans into the top pocket of his jacket. When the host brought the water, the vicar was licking his lips and polishing his plate with the toast.

On his way out he thanked his host from the bottom of his heart, patting his chest and spurting baked beans everywhere. He ran out in acute embarrassment but his host couldn’t wait to tell the next-door neighbour. ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘the vicar likes baked beans so much he keeps a big stash of them in his pocket wherever he goes!’

Squeaky clean and yet silly enough to please any four-year-old, I’d say!

It was one of three jokes my dad insisted on telling at every family gathering. I won’t trouble you with the other two. We’d heard it lots and would always groan, of course, but my granddaughter asked for it again … and again!

It suddenly occurred to me that I was telling it just like my dad did – same intonations, same actions, same everything. Our relationship was always a little uneasy – common, I think, between us post-war kids and our pre-war parents – but this  was one of those moments where the present links up to the past in a flash. Gratitude for my old man welled up in me for the first time in … well, ever, really.

Sad but true.

Tell me about when you were little, she says, a frequent request. This time I tell her about my dad and some of his funny ways. All of a sudden, he’s still here.

There’s an African saying, I believe, that it takes a village to bring up a child. And if there’s one thing that should bring us all together, it’s the welfare of children. There is a very real sense in which nothing else matters.

Here is a positive little film that makes the point better than I can. The apple is always unbitten.