GOOD THING, BAD THING?

When I wrote The Circle of Duty, one of the main points I wanted to hold up to the light was the idea that an act in itself isn’t good or bad, rather it’s the context of that act which bestows the value.

The point that seems to have been looked at more readily is that of the bad deed done for the good reason. An example would be having to commit a murder in able to save a thousand lives. Murder is a bad thing but saving all of those lives is a good thing. Wouldn’t that ultimately mean that there was a net positive? All those people saved just for the loss of one?

I pondered this question when I was speaking with people at a recent convention and I received many different answers as people fell on both sides of the possible ethical dilemma. So we look deeper. Is it still a good trade if the person to die were a nun for example, and she were dying to save one thousand rapists? Would it still be bad if a rapist were to die to save a thousand nuns? Very quickly the water begins to turn a little murky.

So what of the other side of this moral equation?

If I were to do a good thing but for bad reasons, then what?

The reason I ask was driven thanks to a certain thank you speech given recently. Tom Hiddleston gave his speech at the Golden Globes and made comment about his charity work but rather than those words coming as a plea for said charity, they instead became a form of self aggrandisement at the positive effect he  was having for said charity. Now I can certainly believe his response when the world pointed an accusing finger at him, that his words were inelegant rather than deliberately rude but what if he’d actually been bang on the money with what he was saying? What if he had meant every single word and felt that he was worthy of particular mention for all his hard work?

How often do we see celebrities making heartfelt pleas for support of whatever monetary form or another? What if they were only doing said pleading for the positive effect it could have for their career? Is the act of giving somehow diminished due to the knowledge of that person only doing it for their benefit?

We saw a great many celebrities pass away during 2016 but a telling fact to come out in a few cases has been the vast amount of charity work which was undertaken without the need for the wider public to know. These people had been involved in countless causes and had been able to use their wealth and efforts to do good without the need to shout it from the roof tops. Does that make these people better? Did they ensure the truth came out after their passing to ‘pump up’ their legacy? Were they manipulating in their own way?

All in all, we have to have broad ideas of what is a good thing and a bad thing but just the examples I’ve waved about here could show that the reality really has to be considered on a case by case basis. Everyone and everything will have specific reasons to make the choices they do so I think it just shows that we can’t be too black and white when we look at what’s going on.

DONE

I was back in work this morning.

Without really trying, getting back onto the rails of the required bits and pieces that have to happen on every Monday made it worryingly easy to almost forget that the festive period was still taking place around me. All the jobs that I needed to complete were the same as if it had been a Monday in June and aside from the tinsel and tree at the front of the building, there was a void which sat everywhere and just engulfed all the festive stuff.

I then nipped into town on the way home and despite the fact that many of the shops were closed, it was again only the presence of the decorations which gave any clue to the time of year. People were doing what they’d be doing on any other day and you’d never guess that there had been anything different going on.

Everyone must always take a breath. Surely we’re all in need of making the most of the time to relax.

Let’s not get back to work too early.

ALMOST OVER

For this post I only have a single point to make.

I feel that after the 2016 we’ve all witnessed, where division and anger seem to have exposed the gruesome heart of the human race to the light, I open my arms to everyone out there, regardless of all those defining characteristics we all cling so very tightly to, and which seem to be always pulling us apart, and say to each and every one of you,

“Let’s celebrate our humanity and do what we can to make the lives we touch every day a little bit better. Let’s make sure 2017 is the perfect antidote to what we’ll soon be leaving behind us.”

Have a good ‘un all.

THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK

In any given situation, do you believe the best of people?

If someone tells you something, do you accept what they say without question? Do you expect them to lie? How do you assess what you’re told so you have the best chance to weed out the lies in the pot?

Every day we all have to make these assessments when we read, hear or watch anything but one story, despite it’s truth or otherwise, is only as good in the first instance, as the mind of the person who’s hearing it.

Do you know someone, or are you that person, who will just treat everything they’re told as something to be suspicious of?

Each and every one of us is the product of all of our experiences with all of the days of our lives adding up to create a way to look at things. We build opinions based on things we’re told but things we experience as well. If we have a continuous outcome every time we experience any given event, that’s going to colour how we behave the next time we have that same event. We all have that one friend who is distrustful of new relationships after having been the one to be dumped every time any of their previous couplings came to an end. Over time they’ve come to the conclusion that every time they enter a relationship it’s going to fail.

I get told all manner of stories when I’m at my non-authoring work. I deal with a large number of people on a daily basis and I have to admit that after the years of doing what I do, I have become more and more sceptical when I’m told all of the reasons why people can’t come to work. Granted there are several examples which are only one very small step above the dog ate my homework, but that doesn’t mean that each and every person who is explaining the reasons for their absence is automatically lying. I try my best to remain optimistic that the people I speak to aren’t just full of it and that I’ll be able to help those who need it but there will always be those who want to push the boundaries. Indeed, I’ve been told by someone that they’d had keyhole surgery on their knee, removing cartilage, the day before, explaining their absence, but said they were fine to get back to work, walking about, now. They seemed shocked when I pointed out that I’d had that op myself and asked to compare scars as it took me weeks to get back to work, and eventually admitted that they’d just overslept.

In all stories, the characters have been shaped by their own experiences. When I started to write The Circle of Fire I was keen to make sure that there would be reasoning why the characters do what they do. There would always need to be a build up of detail behind the mind set of those involved rather than just having them as being two dimensional cut outs. How do these people view the world but then how would they then interact with each other? I wanted there to be conflict but to have a constant physical battle is impractical, and if everyone is pulling in different directions then the story can’t get anywhere. The result is the smaller alterations of view. The disagreements are what make things interesting but we can’t had everyone at loggerheads all of the time.

Cynicism or optimism create a flavour to the thoughts of all concerned. We all have our own way of reviewing things and we can’t ever forget that those things are uniquely ours. Very often, people can get caught up in the opinions of others and it’s conceivable that the political landscape of this past year has been shaped by just that fact. We all have to be open to the opinions of others but that doesn’t mean forgetting where we came from.

But maybe don’t always think the worst. Maybe the dog did eat the homework after all?

FUN?

Now this post isn’t going to be about comedy.

I have my thoughts about comedy which I’ll be unpacking at a future date but this time I want to look at the importance of fun in all of our lives.

How much fun do you have on a daily basis? Do you draw a life affirming sustenance from all of the things you do or do you suffer through each day just waiting for something positive to present itself almost out of the blue?

I’m not saying that we should be running around with a permanent smile plastered across our faces but shouldn’t we be looking to have as much fun as we can?

I used to work in the fitness industry and one of the major points which always had to be kept at the forefront of all the training advice and exercise was we must always do our best to make all the activity fun. Without there being an element of enjoyment people would be all too ready to cast off the program and resume the lifestyle they were trying to break away from.

So when did the fun go away?

Running about, getting up to all kinds of stuff was the day to day life of a child. Left to their own devices, kids can do all kinds of things because they find it amusing, interesting or compelling. Games of make believe, exploring the local area, riding a bike everywhere because that was the easiest way to get about. At no point did anyone suggest that it would be too tiring to do all of these things, we just did them because that’s what we did. It’s only as we age that our games suddenly become more ordered.

Pretty soon we’re playing games with set rules which in turn become being a part of a sports team. Riding your bikes off just to have an explore was now ‘just kids stuff’ as more important draws on our time took over. Homework, sports, music and computer games all started vying for attention. Now I played computer games as a kid but my sporting career quickly overtook my desire to play on a computer. I was having fun out there on the various fields playing sports because I had a level of skill at the sports I played but over time, the game of rugby turned into the match of rugby.

The result was becoming more and more important and there were becoming more and more in depth reviews of how the game had gone, where mistakes had been made and what needed to be done to be able to improve.

Now I’m not saying that I hated my sporting career and that it became a soulless grind of hunting for the desired result, but rather that the pure fun of play had been replaced by the structure of conflict. That sheer unadulterated enjoyment was altered as I grew up to fit in with my more adult mind.

So we see, as adults, our free time is quickly filled with all kinds of needs. We have to do the housework, decorating, gardening, looking after the kids (as they have fun) and a million other things that we all have to do, but so often that can leave us with precious little time to just have simple fun.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy the genres of books and films that I do? It’s a fair bet that my own writing has been driven by the desire for fun and immersing myself into the stories in my head is a really relaxing thing to do. Hell, in the wider world maybe that’s why we can see a rise in adult colouring books? There doesn’t need to be a monumental expenditure of thought to complete the task, instead we do it because we want to, because it’s relaxing and fun.

The world has the potential to be a very dark and unforgiving place where we can, if we don’t stop to recognise the good bits, fall into a chasm of despair. I think we all owe it to ourselves and all those we love to make sure there is as much fun in all of our lives as we can find. Without it, we’re done for.

LIFEBOAT

We had a week away from the rat race last week and attended a convention in France and then had some time in Germany. A wonderful time was had and we saw some amazing sights with such global importance in Berlin, I can only urge everyone to take a trip there to witness them face to face. The worldwide effects which spread from Berlin are mighty but that’s not what I want to draw attention to in this post.

Today I want to look at the feeling of safety we derive from our own language.

My wife is better at languages than me. She was the one who got stuck in to the learning Italian when we went on holiday there. She studied German at A-level and has a pretty strong grasp of at least being able to work out the gist of what’s being said in French. I studied Spanish to GCSE level and I limped over the line. I enjoy the sound of other languages and they charge my mind to hear all of the many ways that humans communicate but being able to actually take in the details is something I find really tough.

When we were in Italy and France, it was remarkable though, just how much of the little odds and bods we all shared in our languages. That level of familiarity bred a comfort that helped bridge the gaps of being in a foreign land. There were more areas of familiarity in German but the addition of the occasional new letter suddenly made the ice I was stood on seem that much thinner. In Germany, I felt on very thin ice for so much of the time we were there.

We can take our language and the ability to communicate almost for granted. Every day we work, play and everything in between based around the powers of communication and that communication let’s us do almost anything. Can you imagine what any ‘normal’ day would become if you were unable to converse with anyone? Isolation can be a very dangerous place. If you were the only person who didn’t understand the language that was being used, you’d be stuck on the outside looking in but totally adrift in the sea of sounds that everyone else was using and doing their best to almost plead with you to understand. Frustration builds because you’re cut off.

The best you can hope for is hand signals and as much guess work as you can muster to try and get your point across while digging for the meanings to what others are saying.

Language is a thing that we all make use of. In all manner of ways we have our own set of terms that we can converse in with set groups. Special terms from work can sound like nonsense to family. Fandom terminology at work is the same. But remove understanding of a language and you lose so much more than just the ability to order a beer.

TOO MUCH TRUTH?

I’ve just watched Interstellar.

I’m a massive fan of the science and of all of the possibilities that come with advancements in technology and I see such an enormous realm of possibilities with each new step rather than just the evil black shadow of impending doom. But the translation of science into fiction isn’t as easy as just talking about robots and aliens.

For me, Interstellar was a great film dealing very well with some deep topics like relativity and the impending death of the species but it didn’t seem to maintain as strong a bond with the human characters as it did with the science. Indeed, the ending for Matthew McConaughey‘s Cooper, on the advice of his daughter, felt like a bolt on to the end of the story because it would have been a waste of Anne Hathaway for her character to not appear on screen one last time. As you’d expect in a film which deals with a topic which still has holes in the knowledge, the climax inside Gargantua could be open to interpretation but there seemed to be an almost desperate attempt to inject the required sentiment to the story which up to that point had veered almost totally towards the fact, not feeling, end of the spectrum.

To me, it highlighted that most delicate of tasks in storytelling, balancing the different threads of the narrative so you don’t overplay one at the expense of the others.

Have you ever read a book where the action was just all encompassing but the characterization just seemed undercooked? What about feeling absolutely for the characters but there not really being anything going on around them? What about if the world that the action takes place within was constructed so wonderfully in every way but is then populated by cardboard cutouts?

Factual accuracy is important to any story. If there are basic errors which the narrative relies upon, then this drags us out of the world the author is trying to create so the nuts and bolts can’t be overlooked, but you can’t expend all of the energy on information without adding much needed ballast to the humanity, to the central thread.

The human element, or at least the characterizations should you be dealing with robots etc. is what draws you into the story. I watched the Matthew Broderick Godzilla film when it came out and ended up feeling more for the creature than I did for the human cast because they hadn’t been put together that well.

In the same way, I ended up feeling more for the predicament of T.A.R.S., the robot in Interstellar, thaN the human cast as everyone seemed just a little too sterile, all just fact over feeling.

I commend anyone who goes to the kind of level of detail that the makers of Interstellar went to but for me, they could have benefited from a little more time making sure we cared about the people as well.