AND THAT’S OUT

Over the last weeks, I think everyone would recognise if you’ve read my stuff in the past, I’ve been more philosophical. I’m a fan of comedy and making people smile is a wonderful thing, as I love to smile too but that hasn’t been to the fore.

In 2013, my dad was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a degenerative lung disease which has been slowly causing fibrous scarring to form throughout his lungs and has been robbing him of his ability to breathe.

It’s a topic of discussion which tends to crop up when we think about life with disease. Would you rather have ten years left but the final three be in ever growing pain or would you rather just have five good years and then pass on? It’s a question that we all have to consider for ourselves but the reality of that choice is so much worse than we tend to realise.

Could you live in crushing agony twenty four hours a day just to be alive for one more day?

IPF is a brutal disease that the British Lung Foundation is always looking for donations to help defeat. Please everyone, make the most of all the time you have with friends and family.

My dad died last week.

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FOR THE BEST

When you’re under a huge amount of stress and everything is going wrong around you, are you able to turn all of the negative things that you’re facing into anything even vaguely positive? When you have the crap flying at you, do you feel the need to to start swinging in return?

It’s a method that gets rolled out very often in story telling whereby the characters actions are explained, and often justified, by the external forces that they experience.

Anakin Skywalker is nudged, rather than shoved.

Each and every one of us will be the result of the experiences which make up our lives. A deep rooted fear of spiders may come from that time when you were a kid and the creepy little beasts ran all over you in bed. I’ve been a terrible passenger in cars after I was badly injured in a crash.

But when a great many of the worst type of events line up one after another it could become really easy to let the feeling of ‘why me?’ build up to the point where you would lash out. You snap and do something which is out of the norm just as a way to exert the very barest shred of control. From there you can continue to tumble as the pressure remains and soon, you’ve been behaving in a very antisocial fashion and have been pushing people away left, right and centre.

So could you be smashed down by the worst that life has to throw at you and not turn to the dark side? Could you take all of the horror and turn it to something which is much stronger and lighter?

On the most part, everyone sees themselves as being the good guy. Looking again to Anakin Skywalker, as each of the nudges bumped him, he reacted. He pushed back in the only way he could at the time until, without him even realising, he was clad in black and slaughtering people. Now this isn’t to say that anyone going through bad times will be just one problem away from going on a murderous rampage but rather than they want to have some ability to face the world and push back. So when everything conspires to grind you down, could you turn all of the hurt into an act of kindness rather than violence? Could you still do the good rather than just lash out?

I guess that none of us will ever know until we’re forced to face that choice.

I know that I’m doing my best to stay positive at the moment despite everything and I can feel the benefits. I’m still under the attack that all of the family are under but I’m trying to hold as much positivity as I can rather than just turning to the anger.

We just have to keep on swinging.

REACH OUT

Just how many of us are trying to get our voices heard?

Every day at work, at school, at home and at everywhere else in between, we all want our voice to be heard.

We want to know that what we say is seen as having value. We need to have that feeling of validation. That our ideas, and by extension, us in general are viewed as having worth.

So why do we all need to be clamoring to be heard?

As the world we live in changes and our interconnectedness as a species evolves with the addition of each new way we can share what we’re up to, there comes with it the new horror. If it’s so simple to connect with anyone and everyone, if any talentless wannabe with a webcam and a silly idea can become the greatest sensation the world has ever seen (at least for a minute), how could any of us struggle to be listened to?

The speed that communication works can make us all feel that the torrent of words is washing us away as we do everything to stay afloat. We need to know that our ideas have been noticed as they’re cast into the rushing waters, that someone out there just happened to be looking in just the right place at just the right time and agreed with us. When we see the ‘likes’ flashing up, it goes far beyond just being a fix to an addict, it can become the lifeline to a drowning man. In that instant when the thumbs up or orange dot appear, just for that second, we can know that somewhere out in the darkness that there was someone who didn’t think we were talking nonsense.

But this brings up another issue.

What if just being noticed is the goal and agreement with anyone is irrelevant?

Why do we see so many examples of people putting forward awful ideas just to provoke a reaction? The negative game of just trying to draw as many people as possible just to pay attention to what you say by being as vile or provocative as you can is a tactic readily used to shine a light on a given topic and all of the anger and blazing outpouring of righteous indignation play directly into the plan. So many people then start talking about all of the terrible things said and all of a sudden, the narrative is spread wider than with just a comment about something ‘positive’.

I have this great fire in me that wants to reach out to others. I can recognise that the world is a place where you can be left to feel as if you’re drifting alone and I’d love to reach out a hand to any and all who need it.

 

DEALING

When life is tough, we all have different ways that we cope.

When the things start to go wrong, how is it that each of us are able to manage the way we react?

The world can be a beautiful place filled with the most amazing wonders but, in the blink of an eye, can become the stuff of nightmares. Stress can build and as each day passes we can feel more and more crushed by the problems we face until, at some point, we could finally snap under the weight.

The human mind has the ability to bend and manipulate as all manner of stresses and sorrows attack it and it’s here that I want to examine the power of the written word.

When you have a terrible time, how do you cope? What are the things that you employ to help defend yourself, to protect yourself and to push back? We all do it. We come under attack from the external trials and tribulations of the world and following day after day of fighting against them, we get to the point of wanting to put the tools down and have a break from the fight. Helping to unwind your mind after a tough day has been called ‘fire watching’ from hundreds of years ago where a person would do just that, watch that fire burn and crackle. Just not having to think on anything and let your mind wander around the pretty shapes and colours gives you the chance to not actively be driving your mind, rather you’re just coasting down the road making the most of the scenery.

A great many people turn to drink, turn to exercise, take a holiday, make snap shopping choices, focus on work or dive into their hobby. I have two things that help turn my mind off. Watching the nonsense videos on YouTube and books.

Watching the contents of YouTube is great. Cat videos and people falling off or into all kinds of things just makes me smile. There’s never any complex narrative to try to wrestle with and there isn’t any need to expend energy on any kind of comprehension of what’s taking place. I can sit and ‘fire watch’ happy in the knowledge that my mind is on autopilot. I’m watching lots of YouTube at the moment.

The situation with books is very different.

Books offer the chance to challenge the mind to keep pace with the story. Rather than just existing, floating in the shallows but not venturing further, stories give you the chance to truly leave your troubles on the shore and escape. When you crack open a book, you’re no longer in the world where job or money worries, family concerns or health issues can get you. Now you’re flying through space, you’re casting magic spells, you’re hunting for the deranged serial killer and the reality just falls away.

I also use writing as a way to get myself through issues. By throwing myself into the worlds I write about, I can slam the door on the brutality of whatever is trying to rip me apart. In any book you read, the world has been laid out for you to explore but when I write, I grasp the added delight of shutting myself away in truly a world of my creation.

We all have our coping mechanisms when the darkness closes in. Whatever it is you do to help keep you ploughing forwards, no matter how small, can be a keystone in keeping everything together. When there’s something awful afoot, I need to close the world away for a while and that time spent in another world, even if just for a short period, can be a lifesaver.

VALUES

I’m not talking about right and wrong as such but more what it is that each of us finds valuable.

The value of something is governed by outside forces. The rarity of something means that it becomes more valuable. That said, I could draw a picture of my cat, making a truly one of a kind piece of art, but that would never mean that it would automatically become worth huge sums. The rarity of a thing is vital but in line with if other people want to possess it. If a great many people wish to posses a thing, it can mean the lengths that some will go to to actually get their hands on it will increase dramatically.

But that value of things spreads further than just being for things.

We’ve all seen comments in various media about the value of time with family, of how much good feeling comes from the warmth and love which is the family unit. What about the value of a child’s laugh? Or the silence of a quiet night on a camping holiday? All of these things are great under the right circumstances but as with the thoughts above, the rarity of these things and the number of people wanting them still drives a relative value.

But then there’s the understanding that the diamond the size of my head may be worth gazillions and gazillions but if I don’t like it, I’m going to view it as less valuable than someone who adores the aesthetic. But if I owned it but didn’t love it, the value of it would remain as it had, if it was in the possession of the huge fan.

How we value things, I think, therefore gives us a more reliable way of understanding where our choices come from. The rarity of something is still going to be important to understand why we place value where we do but so often, that rarity is down to just not being able to achieve it. The classic greetings card version of the family unit can become priceless to those who may never have had the experience as they grew up. The sound of a child’s laugh can take on more weight if you’re unable to have kids, and the desire to experience the calm silence of a night alone in a mountain retreat is utterly desirable if everything about your lifestyle is fast paced and loud.

We place value on different things, a great many of which we share with so many of the population but there will always be the individual things that set us all apart. Now the value of these things can also be driven by the accessibility we have to them. We reach out to chase the things we don’t or can’t have. We yearn for so many things that we don’t have in an attempt to fill that specifically shaped hole in ourselves. Should we be lucky enough to attain it, we savour and cherish it for the mighty value we placed on it.

And the same goes for things we may lose.

It’s only after a thing has been taken from us that we truly get to understand the value of it. Without it, we now identify it’s absence and only then realise just how valuable a thing it really was.

We all have things we value. We all have things that we perceive as the best or the most. We all exist on a continuum of value, running from the things we don’t have and we value highly as we strive after them, through to those things we already possess which we seem to only comprehend the value of once they’re no longer there.

Maybe we should all spend a bit more time appreciating rather than striving.

What do you think?

HELP

When the world is ganging up on you, your hobbies can provide a wonderful distraction from the nightmares.

My writing has been where I go to close the door on my own demons but over the last few months I’ve struck a problem.

I may be locking my mind in a small room away from the nastiness of reality, but the walls of that room are proving to be very thin. The monsters can’t get to me but I can hear them chattering to themselves. I can hear a hideous breathing and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can hear them all so clearly that I can’t push my mind past listening to them.

Despite my best efforts to use all the tricks I have to stay on track, the things on the other side are all pressed up against the walls, just making more and more noise until I can’t keep my mind on the page I’m working on.

It’s an easy point to overlook in storytelling but there will always be the chance for the monster to triumph.

Sometimes, despite everything we do, all the countermeasures we deploy, the pain of the real world wins.

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.