THE IN-CROWD

Are you a part of the in crowd?

Have you ever been?

It’s likely that at some point in all of our lives, regardless of environment or situation, we’ve found ourselves on the outside looking in. From school to college to work to family to hobbies, there will always be a time when you didn’t know the ‘cool’ joke, or understand the ‘cool’ saying. You may have found yourself overlooked. “We all thought someone else had invited you”, “We didn’t think it would be your thing”, or indeed you could be outright excluded.

Schools are terrifying places and can show a very clear picture of the very worst of human experiences. Cliques and groups are formed by shared interests but also by shared dislikes. And it’s from here the vines of bullying can take root.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been heading off to conventions all over the country with my banner and bag of books, doing my best to tell my tales, and I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of people attending these events would have received some form of derision for the hobbies and passions they have.

Whenever I admit to my obsession with science fiction and fantasy, of my love for both Star Wars and Star Trek, (gasp!!!) or speak animatedly about dragons and magic, very often I can see the other person kind of glazing over. Then comes the ‘Aren’t you a bit old for that?’ or any other of a hundred responses which question the sanity of me liking what I do. There are not many like me in any of the places I’ve worked and there’s always the sniggering from some at the thought that a man of my age would like such nonsense.

I’m very much outside of The In-Crowd’.

So when I witnessed someone being heckled and berated at a sci-fi con because they not only understood, but also enjoyed, sport, it made me wonder.

Conventions for TV shows, films, books or any genre idea should always be a welcoming place for the diverse fandoms which are out there. When I sat at my table at Em-Con Nottingham over the weekend, there were countless examples of cosplayed characters which I recognised but there were also countless that I didn’t. That didn’t matter. Everyone there knew that this was the place to let their geek flag fly ( including someone with an actual flag from the show Community – E Pluribus Anus).

But having one hobby that you’re passionate about doesn’t preclude you having another.

I’m also a massive rugby fan. I used to play (including getting representative honours for my county so I was pretty good) and I always do my best to find a TV to watch Wales play – which included at a sci-fi convention where I ended up watching with another welsh man, Gareth David Lloyd, from Torchwood.

So I consider the way the populations of these two groups would behave if someone from each was switched around.

I suspect no-one would really care too much but there would be loads of odd looks at the one who was out of place. But it would only take one person to start making comments of a confrontational manner and that individual is quickly on the outside and being made to really feel it.

Now, the examples I’ve given here weren’t driven by malice in any way shape or form. The comment at the person at a convention was in jest and everyone concerned recognised the fact. I myself have never been picked on openly in that way and I happen to think that when push came to shove, the populations of my passion’s fandoms are decent people who just want to talk openly and happily about their loves but there still lurks that darkness of the human condition which wants to point at someone or something which is different from everyone else and to mock or attack it.

Are we all so obsessed with fitting in to our in crowd that we can resort to crushing anything which doesn’t agree with us? Our group mind says X so if you don’t agree then you must be evil or must be mad. If, for so long, you were one of the ones on the outside looking in and you found a place to belong, shouldn’t you then want to be more understanding of what it feels like to be on the other side? Shouldn’t we recognise that opinions counter to our own will never be welcomed into discourse if all we want to do is expel anyone who doesn’t agree?

The melting pot of humanity is a wonderful thing and I enjoy looking at things in a different way than expected. At so many points in life, it’s when we do that that we start to make real strides in a positive direction.

You can see in these pictures that everyone is just having a blast regardless of what they have a particular passion for. I’d certainly advise people to come and join in with all manner of new hobbies.

I WONDER. DO YOU?

It’s fair to say that all of us who enjoy reading or watching genre fiction have a reasonably stretchy imagination. We can read stories of far off lands, mythical creatures and outer space and find ourselves fully immersed in the experience. We all know that the specific details of the far off planets are nothing more than the creation of someone’s imagination but we can all let our mind soar as we try to keep pace with the words on the page.

So why is it so many people can’t?

I’ve asked a great many people about their reading choices and all kinds of answers came back detailing an almost inexhaustible supply of books which drew people in, but a very common response was that genre fiction didn’t appeal to them because they just couldn’t suspend disbelief. They may have enjoyed the potential ‘whodunnit’ aspect of a book or the descriptions of a relationship but the surrounding details of the sword and sorcery stuff just crush the connection.

So why are certain genres appealing to some and not others? Why is it that you enjoy the books you do and not others? Just how possible is it to draw people in despite a genre bias?

I ask because I’ve always wondered how to bridge gaps with people.

I look at the way my niece acts around all of the very run of the mill objects and activities and marvel at the sheer exuberance she displays as she goes about her explorations. Looking through the eyes of a cantankerous forty year old, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when everything which is commonplace was once new and exciting. My niece loves animals and the sheer delight on her face when she sees the family cat is amazing. Whether or not she thinks all animals can actually talk because they all do in her cartoons may have something to do with it but I guess we’ll never know.

Kids always seem to look at everything with an amazing wonder at the possibilities that could be before them. Games of make believe and all manner of pretending and role playing are the par for the course for kids and at no point does anyone involved think there’s anything wrong with the whole situation. All kids get stuck in and are able to envision all kinds of landscapes or activities and they see all types of possibilities around every corner.

So when do they stop?

For vast swathes of the population, there will come a time where they no longer view the world with the same wonder they once did and instead of seeing boundless possibilities reality becomes rigid and set. No longer can adventures be summoned from thin air and as such, the reading material for adults is a very different landscape. Very often there are whole genres which seem to be passed over as being only for kids but don’t we all still have that flickering flame of wonder lit inside us which can just step us out of the relative drudgery of the day to day and send us off to wherever we could imagine. When was it that so many of us put away the mind set of letting go of the ‘real’ and running around with our imagination just soaring? Why should seeing the world as filled with wondrous possibilities be so easily dismissed?

The world is an amazing place but surely that doesn’t mean we can’t add to the picture inside our own heads?

AND FINALLY

Bad news everyone, I’m not giving up on this blogging malarky, instead the title for this week refers more to the bygone tradition of the final news story which brought the audience back from the pits of despair.

I’m sure we can all remember the times when, at end of the evening news broadcast, seemingly just to fill a relative shortfall in the running time of the program, the comforting words of this post’s title would ring out.

“And finally……….” signaled with the addition of a more upbeat tone of voice as well as the words, brought us a story to act as an almost palette cleansing refresher after the darker and more unpleasant ‘real’ news. Tales of a lost cat making it’s way home or a bizarrely shaped marrow winning first prize at a local fete used to be there to make us smile slightly. Those funny additions to the list of stories which swirled around the world just made you stop and smile, maybe even laugh.

It wouldn’t be unheard of to come across things like “and the clown spent a comfortable night” or “he admitted that he’d never seen one as large as that before.” Those stories of almost mundane nonsense always felt to me to be placed at the very end of the program to help remind anyone watching that the world wasn’t just all doom and gloom.

Amidst all of the darkness of the world, the tales of woe from home and abroad, there was always that spark of hope to remind everyone that maybe things weren’t all that bad. Maybe, just maybe, there was more than just the death and war and cheating which made up the bulk of the news and somewhere out there, good things were still happening.

So to everyone out there, no matter where you’re reading this, there are good things going on at the moment despite what it can sometimes feel like when you see or hear the news. So here goes my attempt to raise a smile.

And finally ………….

My wife and I ‘christened’ our new attic space over the weekend by watching Iron Man through our new projector and with the new surround sound system. We’re going to do all of the Marvel films in order. Sausage the cat was less certain of the whole state of affairs though. Anyone who thought I was going to admit to something else when I spoke about christening a room needs to get their mind out of the gutter.

My dad celebrated his birthday on Friday just gone and we had a very silly time discussing the gremlins my mum thought were in the house who keep moving her phone about so it’s never where she left it.

And my year old niece seems to spend all of her time giggling and appears to enjoy being whooshed about as only kids can.

All of those things made me smile over the weekend.

You see? Life isn’t so bad after all.

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.

HARD TO KEEP IT UP

I’m sure that everyone like me has had to go through this at some point. Surely everyone has the horror of dealing with this issue at some point and I’ll bet that if we were all more open about the issue, it would become a much less powerful concern.

I’m certain that at some point, all of us out there will have been struggling to keep it up.

Whereas previously we were filled with the kind of energy and unbridled ‘oomph’ that would have carried us onwards on the crest of a wave and we would have been perched atop said wave, surfing it with an almost wild abandon, now the waves are no more and our ability to make the most of the swell is a painfully distant memory.

We know what we have to do. We’ve been doing it for ages and it’s never even been something we’ve ever had to think about. Everything just worked without any effort in the good old days but now in the painful present, we have to confront that brutal fact that that which once came easily is now slipping beyond our grasp.

All of us writers have had the terrible moment when we have to accept that the promotion and associated fun and games which accompany the act of writing books sometimes feels like trying to run through treacle.

I was in Hull over the weekend just gone at a convention where I had my stand set up and my wares displayed. It was a good convention and seeing what was going on was really enjoyable. Tonight I was in Swansea doing a talk and a reading from some of my work and this weekend I’ll be in Derby at a literary convention taking part in all manner of exciting stuff. That’s a load of miles to be driving around the country and as much as I enjoy driving and seeing family in the midlands it can be remarkably draining maintaining all of the events, blogging and associated extras which orbit the central planet which is writing. At some point along the way, you find that you can’t get the energy levels up in the same way you once had. For whatever reason, it’s all ten times harder than it had been before and you just have to batter on with all of the energy you can muster to get over the line.

I really enjoy all of the added extras which come with spreading the word of my books but as I was driving back to South Wales yesterday I was feeling really tired and the knowledge of going to work when we’re really busy and the thought of then having to complete all of the book stuff on top of that was really tough. It really makes you appreciate all of the time off you have.

Really made me want to get writing.

Also,

If you thought that I was talking about a specific medical issue at the beginning of the post, shame on you.

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.