LOSS

We all deal with loss in very different ways and we can regularly see loss being given centre stage when constructing a characters driving forces to get things done.

Loss is something that we all go through and have to work our way through be it the death of a family member, the loss of a job, a relationship even an object. What is a minor concern for one person could be a debilitating and crushing experience for another and this gives us a problem.

As a naturally social species, we function so much better as a part of a collective all working together so a shared empathy to pain is vital but not all pain is viewed the same.

When I was younger, I injured my ankle playing rugby and was finding it hard to put any weight on that leg because of the agony. The general consensus was that I needed to get back on the field and at least see the final few seconds of the match out. Happily the clock ran down before I could be returned to the action but for the following week, my complaints of pain were written off as being just an ache and I was told to run it off during the next match. I lasted two minutes because I couldn’t walk let alone run. I was explaining what was happening to me yet other people couldn’t recognise the pain I was in.

Imagining physical pain is one thing but trying to understand the anguish of mental illness is a step even further. There’s still enormous stigma attached to an admission of mental illness because so often, people are unable to understand what those people affected are going through. I’m sure people think that they’re trying to help but ‘just try and cheer up,’ may not be the perfect cure for depression of all flavours. Those who are giving the advice to cheer up get put out because they think the other person isn’t listening or it’s all in their head and the sufferer is made to feel that it’s them that’s at fault, “Other people have it worse than you.”

When I write characters, I enjoy adding in an element of would be negative life experience. That pain can show that these people aren’t always going to be the perfect hero and that can make them all the more relatable to the reader. The problems come from having to always try to find a loss that the readers will believe. The loss of a family member is the classic that we can all picture for ourselves. We see that sensation of hollowness that comes with someone’s death and can relate it to our own lives but other painful experiences may not have the same effect.

We all need to accept that the human race is a complicated thing and we all handle different situations differently. Public speaking can cripple some to inaction while others take to it like a duck to water. We just need to always be thoughtful when dealing with other people’s pain at any loss.

I was cut in two last week when our cat Baggins, died. We’d had him eleven years and he was a major part of our family. When I explained to people why I wasn’t my usual self at work, some were understanding but others looked at me with the classic “Is that all?” expression on their faces.

Loss affects us all at some point so we all have to look after those of us feeling it’s touch.

 

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IS YOUR CAR A BOY OR A GIRL?

Have you named your car?

My wife names all of her cars and so far they’ve mainly been girls and I’m sure that it’s not the only example of someone naming an object. In film and books we see examples of characters speaking about vehicles or other inanimate objects as if they were long loved companions.

So why do we name objects? Why is it we imbue things with the features of people?

In terms of a car, it’s our horse. It’s how we get about. Who wouldn’t have named their horse? We want to look after our horse, make sure that said horse is fed and watered. Without said horse being fit and healthy, we would have found ourselves unable to do so many things in the far off past and indeed we’d find ourselves in a similar predicament today if our car is ‘lame’.

Also, by naming a thing, we’re giving the thing value. People have names, things do not. By giving a thing a name we’re admitting it’s importance to us and elevating it beyond other things as something we cherish. A favourite cuddly toy when we were children gets given a name and is suddenly so much more. We can all remember the horror of the moment we lost said toy and the world just crumbled around us.

We can see in so much of Science Fiction that spaceships are easily given character and value thanks to the addition of a name. The characters, and indeed the readers / viewers, are more willing to accept the situation of caring for an inanimate object and I’m sure that each of us have been gripped by those moments. I think about Captain Mal explaining about the power of Serenity, of Admiral Adama explaining that the Galactica had looked after them all but she would be facing her final battle, and then being the last to leave the Galactica before she’s scuttled. The space ships in so many examples of the gene are also more than just a mode of transport. They fulfil the role of home as well. We all want our home to be secure and safe and we care that no harm comes to it.

Then there are the robots and androids. Anyone not feel the tug at the heart strings during Wall-E? Could you imagine Mr. Data just being cast aside without there being any real consideration? Are we recognising traits of humanity in the object? Are we showing that we feel that a specific ‘thing’ has somehow earned the right to be looked upon as being closer to human? If one does, do all others?

We name our pets as they live with us and are part of our family. Farmers don’t name all of their chickens or sheep but they would their dog. Does that mean that if the farmer names his tractor then the dog and the tractor are seen as being at the same level?

I think that we as a species currently sit on the cusp of the line between man and machine being wildly blurred. Changing how human beings function and any mechanical augmentations which may occur could bring us closer to a machine which shares processes and programming to our brains. Everything running on electricity but through similar but different systems. We already recognise and accept feelings for the inanimate object in storytelling as I’ve listed above so is that the first step toward us as humans recognising a kinship with machines and then the rights of the ever advancing mechanisms towards an AI? Is the AI just a thing or is it more?

It’s a big question and is a good one to ponder when trying to create all kinds of ideas for stories, I just hope that all the names we give all of the things in our lives are well received by the objects.

DIS

During last week’s post I gave my opinion on YA books and some of the titles I mentioned had distinct similarities. The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent all have the coming of age story running through the core of them but the other thing they all have is the dystopian future where the struggle against a system built to keep people down flavours everything.

So why does the horror view of the future seem to be so enticing to us?

A Utopia is the perfect world and a dystopia is the perfect opposite yet we see so often, depictions of the dark side as our societal destination rather then the more pleasant option. Don’t we want to see the world where all of our problems have been resolved? Why is it that we seem to gravitate to the thought of there being a monster waiting for us in the future ready to enslave us rather than the relative happy ending?

Star Trek can be held up as showing the human race in a positive fashion in the far future. We’re treated to a world where money is no longer an issue and that humans work for the betterment of the whole rather than the singular accumulation of wealth. Everyone gets on with the work they have to do as a piece of the society and they all just lean on each other in terms of maintaining life. They look beyond the planet, almost as if the issues of Earth have been solved yet when we get out into the void we start having all the familiar conflicts and problems as humans meet with all the other races. Indeed, the main antagonists in each of the series are there to conquer and enslave. Now we’re back into the land of fighting against the power to maintain our humanity.

Do we thrive on the thought of overcoming conflict? Do we want to see ‘the man’ be beaten by the relative underdog as a way of reassuring us that all of those problems we experience on a day to day basis can be overcome if only we apply ourselves. If governments can fall in those tales, surely we can find a way past our nasty boss? Can we all use the images of a society corrupted by the few, as a way to look at the world we live in now and help us prevent us making those mistakes? If we see all these stories of the broken future, will we be moved to do enough to stop it becoming a reality?

It could be easy to look at the world that we all live in now as heading in the direction of a dystopia where our lives are more and more controlled and fear is everywhere but we need to remember that there can be so much more. In 1984, The Hunger Games and the other books that I spoke about at the start of this post, the bleakness of the world needs to fought whereas in Star Trek, where the human race has resolved those issues, we’re out exploring the galaxies. Surely that’s got to be a good enough reason to look for the positive.

NO ‘I’ IN TEAM

I wrote a few weeks ago concerning the possible negative impact sport could be having on society as a whole, highlighting and celebrating a conflict between different groups. I kicked about the idea that something which is so deeply rooted in our collective mindset, sport and competition, could be divisive, subtly reinforcing the walls which could be erected between us all. Now it’s time to look at the other side of the coin.

We’ve just seen the end of Wimbledon and the European Football Championships and in the blink of an eye, we’ll be enthralled by the Olympics in Brazil. Actions of supreme strength and skill will be showcased and the titans of the arenas will do battle to claim the ultimate prize of Olympic gold. Yes there will be conflict in each event along the way but it has to seen as more than just an allegory for warfare.

To be involved in any of the events in the Olympics there isn’t any short cut. Years of dedication to perfecting the skills to compete. The correct diet, the correct practicing, the correct medical support all combine to mean that the athlete has the chance to take part. They could have done all of everything correctly but all they’ve managed to earn is the right to be involved. On the day it could all go wrong and all of the work could fizzle away.

And that’s just the athletes.

The Games Makers at the last Olympics in London were highlighted as having a massive effect. Volunteers coming together to give their time to add to the whole for others to enjoy without the need for payments. Giving so others get something.

I played as much sport as I could growing up. You name it, I gave it a go. I was really lucky that we had a big garden and that lawn became every sporting stadium around the world. I practiced football, rugby and cricket as well as generally rushing about doing stuff all kids do. When I then wanted to try sports at school, my teachers were there to oversee the inter school matches and I’m sure that early Saturday mornings would rather have been spent doing their own thing rather than looking after us kids. Then I played at local clubs. Coaching and matches needed my long suffering parents to drive me to all manner of locations around the county, then to other counties as I played representative sport.

Every person who is involved in sport will have people who have given their time and dedication to help them along. We all learn that working as a team can help us conquer tasks beyond us alone. We learn to both win and lose with grace, to accept that if you’ve done your best and still come up short, no-one can ask any more. We see just that in the Olympics when an athlete breaks their personal best, they’ve run or thrown or jumped to beyond anything they’ve ever been able to manage before, but they still came last. That person has delivered everything and more. They’ve shown that they have given all they could and for the fact that they’ve done the very best they could, no-one could expect anymore.

Sports are beyond two teams warring on the field of play. Sports allow each of us to test ourselves, to have fun in doing it and to give us the chance to give back to others. We are given a selection of vital life lessons which can help make the world a much better place as we all strive to achieve.

Sports could bring out the worst in people but it brings out the best in others. Seeing how the Wales fans have reacted to what the team did in the Euro tournament has been a testament to the positives. Huge groups of people following the team and celebrating the success. And they weren’t the only ones. Iceland for starters.

As with so many things in the world, there are two sides to each consideration, both fighting for supremacy. It’s vital we see that fact and try to take that view into everything we do.

I’ll leave you with this clip from the 1992 Olympics where the British sprinter Derek Redmond was injured mid race but needed to finish. He just couldn’t not. Limping on in pain, he was joined by his father who helped him make it over the line. The act encapsulates everything of sport. This is why sport must remain.

The video can be found on YouTube here.

THE DARK SIDE

Well last week saw a result that so very few people would have expected. The populous of the UK gave its opinion and that was to withdraw from the EU. Now I’m not going to spend this post ranting about the result, rather I’m going to look at the point of going it alone.

So many people have been quick to point out that this country could be better out of the shared melting pot that is the EU and they’ve all spoken to say, let’s do something different.

In life we all have times where we have to make choices. In everything we do, everything we think, we’re always having to make up our minds. We always have to assess what the right thing to do is. In so many cases, those are easy choices as the vast majority of the population would agree with the route you want to take. The problem comes when there isn’t such a majority.

How often do we see the idea of the difficult choice being portrayed in storytelling? In To Kill a Mockingbird, the simple choice would be to just let the accused receive the most basic of defence, be convicted and then hanged but that isn’t the right choice. Despite being overwhelmingly in the minority, Atticus Finch recognises that he has to be true to what he believes and do his job correctly.

Whatever reasons each of us has for making any decision, they will be the right ones for us. We all have to be sure that we are doing what we feel to be right and that single ideal is so very powerful to all tales in life. Mythology through to how we go about our lives in the most minor way are based on all of the tiny choices that we all make. A story becomes more interesting when you move away from the well trodden path and that’s where all kind of magic can unfold.

I just hope the result from last weeks referendum is the right choice.

DISMISS

As I close in on the release of my second book, The Circle of Duty, I’m turning my mind to the horror that is the impending reviews.

I’m not just expecting everyone to just start ripping lumps out of my work but the fear of what is going to be said is a very real thing. I’m going to be sharing a piece of art I’ve created over a period of years. I sat and worked on this story for so many hours, in so many locations, that the thought of it being crucified by public opinion is not one that fills me with glee.

But.

I had a bizarre idea last week and I’ve no idea where it came from.

I decided to dive on the Amazon website and have a look at some of the reviews on there for some other books. I knew that if I could see that everyone came in for a critical mauling at some point, at least it would take the edge off the inevitable body blows should they start coming. My first book to check? 1984.

I read 1984 when I was studying English at A-Level and found it to be an amazingly powerful story. It’s now one of my favourite books but guess what? Twenty three one star reviews. Granted some are jokes (well I think they are) talking about Michael Jackson and Culture Club but there are a healthy stack which dismiss the book as poorly written and boring.  Next up was To Kill a Mockingbird and again there was a group of jokes but again, a rather healthy chunk of ‘worst book I’ve ever read’ and ‘gave up’.

Book after book which are deemed ‘classics’ were on the receiving end of withering criticism from people who just didn’t like what they’d read. So if it can happen to them, it’s a fair chance that similar treatment will come my way at some point. All I can cling to is the fact that I’ll take on board every piece of criticism which could make things better for future work but the comments which don’t really evolve beyond ‘didn’t like it’ can be viewed through the eye of P.T. Barnum. Everyone has an opinion but that isn’t the only thing everyone has!

THE WORM

Last week  spoke about the wonderful way the people involved in the repairs of our electricity supply all pulled together to be able to do the job, the pieces of the whole being the vital parts rather than the whole itself. Today though, I look at the underside of what took place.

Day after day, the workmen fought against the ever changing beast which was the faulty power supply, putting in all manner of fixes as they chased the damage down. Talking to them, they were always perplexed at just how far reaching this problem was getting. Eventually, they opened up a larger and larger hole in the road, which became a trench which eventually stretched about one hundred yards down the road. As you can imagine, the disruption to the traffic was not inconsiderable, with buses having to be very careful of hitting the barriers the workmen put up and on the road parking being practically halved.

And there was the problem.

The power cut was big enough but the teams of men there were doing everything they could and a temporary fix got the lights on after only a day without power. That left the parking problem. Inside the house, all sorted but outside, finding somewhere to park became a tougher prospect. Rather than on the road where you lived, now you could find yourself a few roads away. Not that it really added miles to the walk. Rather another hundred yards or so.

The rumblings of discontent began after a week.

“I wish they’d hurry up and get the road filled in.” “How long does it take to sort this out?”

Tuts and mumbled moans were just bubbling along all of the time, the previous gratitude forgotten. It took another couple of weeks but everything is back to normal now but the speed that the mood changed was surprising.

I watched the public as they lauded, then derided the job which was going on. The speed of the fix came about by the need to give materials the chance to harden, to make sure the fix was holding but so quickly, all anyone saw was “I’ve got to drive about looking for a parking space, I shouldn’t have to do that.” The feeling of ‘ME’ climbed to the top in a shockingly short period of time.

So why are we, as a species, now so fast to forget the good and replace it with suspicion and anger? Why do we hail a saviour only to turn on them in a heartbeat?

Are we impatient? Are we just unwilling to be put out for any longer than what we see as the barest minimum?

One of the toughest parts, I find, of writing is the motivations of the people within the story. It’s very simple to be happy with the ‘white hat’ / ‘black hat’ dichotomy but it’s never that simple really. We’re all more grey than at either of the poles on the colour spectrum but the more I watch humanity, it would appear that so many, so very many people, appear to be more at the darker end than around the centre.

I suppose it will mean that storytelling could be darker in the future as it mirrors the reality around it, but also means that the acts of kindness, the acts of shared humanity at the lightest part of our spectrum will just shine out even brighter.

Every cloud ………..