DARKNESS

The dark is a scary thing.

The dark is the thing that shrouds all of the nasty things as they go about their nefarious business. The dark is what makes it easier for bad people to do bad things. The dark stops us being able to see what’s in front of us and will actively spread fear wherever it goes.

That’s why people are scared of the dark.

But that’s the dark that’s on the outside.

What about the dark that lives in the heads and hearts of each and every one of us?

You see, external darkness is an absence of light. It’s that thing that remains when you take the light away and it’s that thing that becomes threatening due to it’s consistency of absence. It prevents us being able to see all of the details and can hide all manner of possibilities that could be coming to get you. It appears on walls as shadows and they can, in turn, appear to be climbing out to greet you. Despite it being a non-thing, an absence, the dark is a scary thing indeed.

So imagining that something as hideous as the dark could have found its way into us, past all of our defences to breach the walls of our minds, is truly the stuff of nightmares.

Now it’s not the absence of light I’m talking about but rather the shadows which swell in our minds eye. Those that can have such a powerful effect on how we see the world around us without seeming to even be trying. The darkness is what creates the contrast to the light. We have all the good things but without the bad, how do we recognise them?

Our own internal darkness is arguably the worst kind of monster we can all face. That darkness seeps out at the worst possible moments and can cast an extremely long shadow over everything with just the tiniest effort, over-running your mind.

I’m thinking about the characters I’m working with in the various books and short stories and how to explore the different shapes of darkness they all hide. I don’t just want all the people in the stories I write to be really happy all of the time, bounding into the fray with a cavalier smile and righteous fervour to keep them going. I want them to have an internal struggle of some kind, worries that won’t go away and disagreements with others. The external conflict is great but by making them have to fight themselves in some way, to doubt and to question, it’s yet another way that I can make the tale more engaging. We know the pain ourselves of being trapped by the darkness inside us so seeing it happen to the characters can create another bridge.

We all fight our darkness. Day in, day out we do all we can to keep the monster at bay as it does it’s best to overwhelm us. Some days we shine out brightly and there’s nothing the darkness can do but on others, despite everything we try, the hulking shadow smashes us down and we’re powerless to resist, destroyed by that part of ourselves.

My characters have their own darkness to fight and they fight every day.

And so do I.

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OPEN THE GATES

Ready for a shock?

Up until last night, I’d never seen the Disney film Aladdin.

Don’t panic, I have now but as I was watching it, I realised how often in stories, the power that’s out there which could be wielded by the protagonists so often has to be asked for.

Aladdin is encouraged to take on the quest for the Cave or Wonders with the chance of great reward and then has to rub the lamp to receive the three wishes and then stick to the rules that the genie imposes. Such enormous potential power but it as to be asked for and when the villain grasps for the ultimate power of the genie, it’s then that the major drawback is unleashed.

My favourite horror film, Hellraiser, has the same set up. The Cenobites are only interested in the one who opened the puzzle box. If you don’t go looking for the power, you don’t have the risk.

There is a massive risk/reward balance when it comes to magical artefacts and ancient powers in all kinds of story telling and that is so true for all of us in the real world as well. The risk, not the magic. When placing bets on the horses, putting money on the 1000 to 1 outsider is an enormous risk as the odds are given on the ability that the horse has to win but the reward should it work out in your favour is equally massive.

Risk is a thing that we all have to face up to in all kinds of ways. Choosing to cross the road away from a designated crossing and any and all other ways we put our life on the line on a daily basis quickly leap to mind but we risk when we tell someone a secret, when we go for a wildly different hairstyle, when we choose a film to watch we haven’t heard of before.

For all of us, risk is a very normal part of our lives and it’s something that has a mighty role to play in both who we are and in who we become. We can’t remove all risk, nor should we try to. The risks of things going wrong following every single choice we make are there to act as a guide. We learn from our mistakes to amend our actions in future to not make them again, therefore improving.

So I say to everyone, throw open the gates to risks. Don’t be afraid to take the chances because something MIGHT go wrong. Recognise that risks are there and you need to be aware of what they are but factor them into your planning so your choices are informed. If we all attempt to remove all risks from life, don’t we run the risk of not having the understanding of what real risk is?

I present this video from YouTube from a channel called Royal Jordanian. It shows a collection of clips recorded from a helmet mounted camera as the rider travels around the streets of London.

We’re all familiar with the facts that there are hundreds of signs everywhere to help control and manage traffic, that there are specific areas where we are meant to cross the roads and, certainly my generation thanks to Darth Vader himself, Dave Prowse playing the Green Cross Code Man, that there are rules in play when trying to cross a road, we see many examples of people being utterly oblivious to the risks. We all hear in almost every advert for cars and so often in news reports, that cars come with all manner of safety features that can prevent injury to anyone who comes near it, that they have special brakes and even smart on-board computers to help stop the car if it looks as if the driver isn’t fast enough.

Have they become blasé about risk, thinking that nothing could possibly go wrong? Do they think that they can walk wherever they want whenever they want or are they just numb to the thought of being hit by a car as being truly dangerous.

Risk is good. You have to understand that we are making choices and that not every outcome is going to be positive but without the risks, we end up either thinking everything is a deadly risk so we do nothing or we don’t see risk anywhere, and are likely to walk in front of a passing car.

Think things through but don’t be over cautious.

TRYING TO CONNECT

Another convention weekend draws to a close and all of us fans of the show Spartacus can look back on great times meeting the cast of the show but also getting the chance to meet up with friends from all over the planet.

Each and every one of us is filled with our own passions and having the opportunity to spend time with others with the same feelings is what we’re all searching for.

In a world where divisions are highlighted and the differences we may have are the only things anyone seems to care about, recognize that everything, everywhere is better when we all come together.

This weekend saw the expected fun and games of a convention but I think, although I’m not certain, I witnessed the early stages of a new spiritual movement. Proving that these events are so much more than just the chance to meet the actors, we saw one of our number elevated towards his true rock star status. His name was chanted by all and all the differences we may have had didn’t matter a jot.

I suspect I’ll be needing the help as I battle with an iffy internet signal.

‘MAAAAANDEEEEEEP’.

JUST DO IT

Do you watch Friends?

It’s a program that’s taken on almost mythical status by now and it seems to be on at any time of any day but the specifics of the show don’t really matter for this post.

In one of the episodes, The One with Joey’s Big Break, the characters use an interesting method of making a decision. Rather than working through the details of the issue at hand, weighing up all of the pros and cons to get them to a considered and reasoned outcome, they instead throw up two choices and have to make a snap decision immediately without putting even the slightest thought into it.

Now for the purpose of the episode it made for some amusing situations but should we ever try something like this in the real world?

Every one of us makes all kind of choices on any given day and we all make sure that we put in the requisite amount of consideration but should we always?

How many of us have considered, at times of great mental turmoil, that we could be over thinking any given situation? A choice which should be straightforward can become amazingly complex as we over analyse every possible scenario or outcome until we’ve wrapped ourselves up in all manner of knots. Wouldn’t it be better to just dive at it and go with your gut?

As I work on the different stories in my collections, I find it so simple to get myself tangled up in  possible narrative threads and what could, and indeed should, have been a pretty simple choice can suddenly have me well and truly snookered. I move the pieces about in my head, and although I do have some success in my actions, far too often, I end up back to the original thought and the time and effort have been for nought.

What do you think?

Should there always be a deep and philosophical consideration for any and all choices we face or can we just throw caution to the wind and take the leap of faith that we don’t need to torture ourselves with more options?

I like both ideas but couldn’t just make snap choices, I need to make sure that I’m not falling on the wrong side of what I should be doing.

Or maybe I should?

 

ROUTINE

Did you miss me?

Yesterday was Monday and Monday night is blog night. Yet yesterday it wasn’t. Nothing happened. There was just a blank space where the blog post would usually be and there was no explanation as to why.

Now I understand that it’s more than likely that the delay of a single night for the publication of the latest blog post went completely unnoticed but there are so many things in our world that if they get delayed, will have a slightly larger impact.

I’d planned to be blogging on a specific topic and was all set to get the piece written when I got home from work but as is so often the way, I just couldn’t get away at the time that I originally thought and all of a sudden, my plans were out the window. Now rather than trying to play catch up and probably not doing the piece justice just so I could get it finished, I considered the effects of the bump in the road.

How important is routine to you?

Do you react better when you have a complete plan of everything that’s going to happen for that day or would you rather just wing it and see what unfolds?

Order is so often used in story telling as something which must be fought against. The world of George Orwell’s 1984 is one where the systems of order impose such a restrictive routine on everyone that even inside your own head, there could be a risk of falling foul of the rules and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale shines a bright light on the suffering of the human race, following the life of a woman who has found herself reduced to the role of baby factory.

These examples hold up routine as a stifling rigidity which carries threats to any and all who dare to step outside of the prescribed pattern. Routine has become the thing that is the oppression.

But routine is vitally needed? You can’t just cast it off and to hell with the outcome, can you?

Being able to maintain routines can allow all of us to do what we want.

Having routines allows us to stick to patterns for the good of the whole but also for the ability to make the best use of our free time. We may not want to deal with routine on any given day off but the routines that everyone else stick to is what gives us the chance not to do it ourselves. Our whole society is a house of cards which leans on itself, relying that routines are maintained all of the time to keep things propped up.

Individual routines are what get tessellated together to form everything we do so have to have some kind of order in place. The problems can come when routines are placed above the reasons they were put in place to start with. Slavishly sticking to routines just because that’s what the routines are is over looking where the value should be placed.

I like sticking to my routine of blogging on a Monday, it lets me know what’s what. But I’m open to change if needed.

BREAD CRUMBS

Why is it that the ‘whodunit’ is such a popular format for stories?

Why is it that we always devour that type of story where we follow the adventures of a central character as they chase down a killer in one way or another?

Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Alex Cross, Kay Scarpetta and any number of others are presented with a murder and they slowly but surely put all of the pieces together until eventually they unmask the guilty party, and justice is served.

Puzzles and questions enthrall us as a species. We all want to understand, to recognise the way that things fit together and how things work. From the days when the human race didn’t know where the sun went at night to trying to comprehend the function and make up of the molecules which make up the universe, the human race has an almost unquenchable thirst for answers.

And it isn’t just the big questions that we’re chasing down. Almost any puzzle which presents itself is just something that can’t be left alone. What was that song that was playing when you were in the pub the other night? How are magic tricks completed? How exactly does that Chinese finger puzzle actually work? We are confronted by challenges every day that make us think and force us to try and create routes through the mess of reality to the point we need. Some people are better at it than others but in all of the examples of detectives in stories, they seem to have an almost supernatural ability to put the pieces together where no-one else is even able to recognise a connection.

Maybe that’s the point? We see the ability to create order from the noise as important. We understand that a way to find those answers by methodically putting the pieces together can help us uncover almost anything to make our lives better. To have access to the answers can elevate us beyond the masses and that can mean all manner of great things. Thousands of years ago, having the knowledge of the nature of the universe opened doors, it didn’t matter that the knowledge was incorrect, the fact that no-one else knew meant that those who were showing a greater ability to piece together the puzzle were revered.

I like puzzles. They intrigue me. They make me have to stretch my mind to try and resolve the problem and it feels great when I reach the solution. Maybe we all have that detective in us in some way.

?#*&**$£*!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have you ever watched Inside The Actor’s Studio with James Lipton? It’s a very simple format of a one on one interview between the host (Lipton) and a guest actor. It’s a great show which goes beyond just being another example of the question and answer session as it is steered to waters that are very rarely explored by an interviewer, and that brings me to the topic today.

One of the questions the guests are routinely asked is ‘What is your favourite curse word?’

Swearing is an odd topic for an insightful interview surely? Swearing is something that, as kids, we’re taught we should never do and as adults is seen as being vulgar and low minded yet there it is as one of the cornerstones of an incredibly well respected interview format.

Hmmmmmmmm?

We all swear to some level or another. Even those people who say they don’t, do, I’m sure. Swearing is, at the most basic level, and exclamation mark. It’s added emphasis to something else. It’s just that the exclamation mark of swearing is a list of words that have been deemed ‘naughty’.

Firstly, who decided that these things were naughty? Why is it that saying ‘I need a poop’ can be accepted when uttered by a five year old yet ‘I need a shit’ isn’t? Speaking as the old FART I am, I can recall I time back in the dim and distant past, the 1980’s, where if someone uttered the word crap on the radio, there was an immediate apology, yet today, although not language that is appearing at every syllable, that word has become less negatively powerful.

Now does this highlight a descent into a more vulgar lexicon, a lowering of standards, or just that the way that language is used is changing?

When I was doing my A-Levels, one of the books I studied in English Literature was The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. It’s a funny read with comedy and satire all over the show and it’s making comment on social structure and cohesion from the time it was written, but it’s not the sort of book you just pick up and crack on with. It’s written in Old English and as such takes a little getting used to. A great many of the words in the book are the same but there are loads which were a great deal different way back when.

This shows that our language changes over time so there may be a time in the future when all manner of expletives now become rather mundane words.

But swearing is often viewed as a relatively negative thing because it tends to accompany high emotion. Anger becomes much more effusive with the occasional sprinkling of curse words. They flare in our mind with said anger and can be blasted around like a jet of water from a high pressure hose just to help make the point, an exclamation mark.

But how do you feel when you read a swear word?

The spoken word is one thing, the engaging of anger before control for example, but when you read a swear word, there was planning in that word. There was real thought in it’s use. It was deployed with deliberate care so has the power to become more uncomfortable as a consequence. When I write stories I try to make sure that if I have to use a swear word, then it’s needed to fit the character and the context of the story. Swearing used too often lessens the effect and it just becomes punctuation to fill the spaces between words and that just waters everything down.

I’ve been told by people that swearing is proof of a lazy vocabulary, that if someone has to resort to swearing, then they’re showing that they have a somehow weaker mind. I don’t agree. The great Billy Connolly gave a great quote to cover this exact point when he said “A lot of people say that it’s a lack of vocabulary that makes you swear. Rubbish. I know thousands of words but I still prefer ‘f—.'”

Swearing is just another tool in the box we all have to use to get our point across to the world at large. There are times where certain words don’t fit the spaces that we need them to so we don’t use them but there should never be a complete shunning of swearing. After all, all those words we’re not supposed to use are so much fun.