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.

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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.

NORTH OR SOUTH?

It does seem that in the world at the moment that there is a growth of ideas and personalities which are polarising to the extreme. It’s not that this as an idea is totally new, think of the way Marmite is advertised and you can see that looking at things as an either or is nothing new but day by day I see the dichotomy being the growing way to go.

I see so many more examples of there being an either or choice rather than there be any kind of nuance. On TV, in the press and in conversations in the real world, there seems to be an increase of ‘with me or against me’. It seems that we’re seeing worldwide, the polarising of opinion to either end of the spectrums and this seems to be very clearly shown thanks to the hurricane of with or against that is Donald Trump.

Now rather than just make comment of the clear issues that exist in the way he’s going about things, instead I’m highlighting the need for the shades of grey in the choices we make and our ability to have independent thoughts on every topic.

The whole world has been looking on over the last few weeks as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have been having something of  spat over the size and power of their various, well, everythings, but both exist in worlds where they expect everyone around them to agree with everything they say. The world has been treated to the show of two men who expect, indeed, demand that their opinion is correct and should anyone disagree, well, don’t even bother. Now imagine we all watch on as these two rattle their sabres and shout about their ideas being correct and then all of a sudden, Kim Jong-un , out of nowhere, makes a well reasoned and thoughtfully responsible point about the wider political situation throughout all of Asia. He may be seen in a negative light but what happens if all those people who had been berating him suddenly found themselves having to admit they agree. What very often happens is an attempt to belittle everything around him, highlighting any and all mistakes and make everyone focus on the negative. The positive idea gets buried because he can’t really mean it. Arguing facts is one thing but people so often equate their opinions with facts.

But it’s not just the highest national leaders who indulge. Very often I’ve seen that if there’s any disagreement at all, it can quickly descend into the ‘with or against’. Any talk of differing opinions are seen as a personal attack and therefore must be squashed. Think about the world you inhabit and think if there has been an example which comes to mind. There may not be a massive one but they’ll be more common than you may expect.

Now disagreements are a good thing when they’re managed correctly. Wars have a habit of starting following disagreements but only because there wasn’t a coming together and shared compromise. At no point am I trying to extol the virtues of either of the two political leaders or their ideas, rather it’s an attempt to examine just how we all look at ideas and how we deal with disagreements.

For all of us, that ability to move our opinions and react to different ideas in a positive way is what can make sure that we all grow in a positive way. Life is so very much more than just black and white.

I’ve recently been working on a collection of short stories, ready for another collection book to be released some time next year, and I’ve been continuing my attempts to always look at things in as many new ways as I can. I’m doing my best to always add some white to my black and black to white when creating characters as it’s that grey that can make us all more interesting.

Just sticking to the dichotomy of one end of the scale or the other will mean that we miss out on so many great ideas just because we didn’t want to move towards the centre.

WARM AND FUZZY

It’s a description of the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re in an environment or surrounded by people, that give you the ultimate sensation of welcome and comfort.

It’s that all embracing hug that just means that everything in the world for that moment, is absolutely perfect. We know that all things are good. There’s nothing at all that could go on to pull down that comfy feeling and how beautifully enveloped you feel at that very instant is surely what we’re all striving for on any given day.

I was at London Film and Comic Con recently and was lucky enough to have that warm and fuzzy feeling all weekend. I was at the table chatting to anyone and everyone about my books but also about everything and anything else. Aside from the practicalities of the trader life and then having a flat tyre on the journey home, being able to just immerse yourself into the world you enjoy, and with people who share the same topics is awesome.

This weekend just gone I attended a good friend’s wedding and got to see a few people that I haven’t seen in years, back in the town that I grew up in. I reached out and wrapped myself up in the same warm fuzzy feeling and just wallowed. It wasn’t that I was pining for a return to where I grew up or that I want to leave behind where I live now, it’s rather that I was able to reminisce in a fully immersive way. All of the great times that I had previously experienced flavoured my times and I just sat back and let all of the best times run through me.

We all live lives where it can become really overwhelming at times and all too often we can see nothing but all of the horrors that smash us along the way. But it’s not always the darkness that surrounds us and recognising that and making the most of it may be tough but believe me, it’s well worth it.

Look at the pictures!

 

 

THE TRAIN

You ever notice that humans are always trying to understand the nature of time and how we interact with it?

So far, the consensus is that time is a river that flows and moves along in a single direction, dragging everything along with it and no matter what we do we all just travel along from the moment we’re born until we sink below the waves at the time of our death.

Now over the weekend I was lucky enough to have a table at London Film and Comic Con in Olympia and I had a great time but I had a little thought about the nature of how we can view the nature of our lives and what they then mean to the rest of us.

We all exist on the carriages of a train as it heads along it’s particular line. We board the train at our given station as we’re born, the train having already been rumbling along happily before you even appeared. There may be people you see leaving the train as you join but that will be all of the experience you have of them. They disembark the train of life and as in the real world, vanish from our experience. In the real world they may be off to work, to a party, to almost anything, but every stop of the train of life just means people are leaving life behind.

As the train pulls off, we begin our journey and head into life.

We’re surrounded by other people all heading in the same direction, going about their own lives. Occasionally you may talk to people as you carry on your travels but the vast majority just remain faces in the crowd.

Stops come and go and people board and leave at every station, the train of life just going onwards to its ultimate destination until we make it to our stop.

We know when we’re approaching the stop and as on the trains in the real world, we have a choice of waiting for the train to stop before we get ourselves together and make our way to the platform or we could already be waiting at the door for the train to finally come to rest so we could hop off quickly. Either way, when our feet hit the platform and we start to move away, anyone boarding is just a blur. Our time on the train is done and we’re off to what’s next but for everyone still on the train, we’re just a memory. So very many wouldn’t have even recognised that we’d even been on the train at all but off it goes and we’re just a memory.

When I had this feeling I was on the tube and it made me consider the multitude of  possibilities for the lives of everyone around me and how all that experience is all around us all of the time but also that, even after we’ve left the train of life, it’ll continue on it’s way oblivious to the fact that we were there.

These thoughts made me feel connected to everyone in the world as we all do exactly the same thing on the train of life. Every single one of us on the planet will board the same train and travel towards their destination. They see the world as the train travels along and know that at some point they’ll reach their final destination. We’re all doing the same thing so we all have the same foundations to who we are.

The human race is a great thing and there are so many stories that can be shared. Maybe we just need to try and enjoy the journey a little more before we finally get to our stop.

FROM THE ASHES

I’m not going to talk about cricket.

Rather, I’m reflecting on the fact that even when everything in life falls to pieces, it doesn’t mean that everything is lost, never to be seen again.

I’ve been dealing with stuff this year which has been a kick in the balls to say the very least and you know what, it’s had an effect on what I’ve been able to achieve. I’ve tried to keep my mind going, to keep coming up with ideas that I can use in the latest novel or for a short story and to keep writing, but for at least the past four months, I’ve had nothing.

Every time I considered the idea of working on the latest book, every time I tried to work out some ideas for another short story collection, I just couldn’t.

Now I’ve spoken about the feeling of writers block before but this time it was so much worse. It wasn’t the sensation of not being able to come up with anything, that I could have dealt with. This time, I was struck by a mental fog which didn’t just shackle my creative process, it wrapped itself around every inch of my motivation and leeched out all of the colours. That fog was less putting up a wall around the ideas, imprisoning them behind stone to keep them from the page, as it was just stripping them apart in a demented dance of brutality that tortured and ultimately unmade them.

All I’ve been left with has been the hollow of nothingness where the ideas and the desire to write once were. That greyness. That void.

But yesterday, something shifted.

Rather than the brute force I’d tried throwing at the problem, all of a sudden, the way cleared itself, at least partially. Rather than there just being a blank space in my head where I usually kept all of my mental prompts for writing, the prompts were coming back. I’ve had a few ideas for stories which I’ve been working on and I’m almost finished with my first short story in a while. Roughly speaking, I’ve started a small counter offensive against the nothingness and the first skirmish has almost been won.

The Phoenix as a metaphor is there to show that no matter the destruction around us, we can all climb back out of the depths of despair. It’s a good story but when you’re in the void it can be tough to keep hold of the thought of escape. It was certainly tough for me.

But my stories have begun to come back. I spent the evening celebrating my mum’s birthday and collectively as a family, we’re trying to clamber out of the pit. Tonight was a good night despite the empty chair at the table but from the ashes ……………

Watch this space.