Monday, 8 October 2012

Automatic Living, Otherness and Death by Gantt charts

There are only two ways a professional can kill themselves: one is with whisky and the other is with Gantt charts. If a life of automatic living doesn’t particularly appeal, you can take a lesson by ignoring a writer you’ve probably never read. Ignoring Aristotle might just be the best thing you ever do.

In contrast to Aristotle I don’t think we need unity to tell a meaningful story. In contrast my prescription would be the 3 ‘Others’ – the otherness of place, the otherness of action, and the otherness of people.

Every journey begins with a place. For all my movements, and the eternal missing of that smoke-filled hive I used to call home I’ve learned one thing – I need to take more holidays. I’m down in Brighton right now and for the first time in years I’ve been somewhere I don’t know, on my own. For the first time in years I haven’t spoken to another person in several days. Sometimes taking a holiday from other people is the healthiest thing you can do. Blaise Pascal put it best when he said “All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Pascal knew speaking to oneself self is the first sign of sanity.

We make a very weird habit of associating consistency with integrity. The Gantt charts mentality puts us into a psychological prison – we normalise and repeat what we do and who we are - and become slaves of routine. Art as a reflection of otherness is useless to a Gantt mindset. Freedom of action and a discovery of the unknown can only be achieved with an otherness of action.

Finally there is the otherness of people. After twelve years of debate I can testify that my only enemies are people who agree with me.

My first ever Dolansphere post spawned from a disagreement with someone called Ian. Ian is homosexual, is exploited with zero hour contracts to the benefit of heartless capitalists and consistently votes Conservative. Ian is misguided, arrogant and will verbally bitch-slap me every damn chance he gets.

I wouldn’t have him any other way for two reasons: He reminds that otherness gives me a sense of who I am. In knowing who Ian is, he reminds me of whom and what I am not. Ian also reminds me (perhaps too much) that I am not always right about everything. If I could make one recommendation: having a shouty, self-important man convinced you are wrong about everything in your life will definitely make you wiser.

Much of the emphasis on being functional in todays society is based around adopting and strictly adhering to the most demanding routines. The Business “Go get-em” manuals may proclaim “Consistency is king” but personal development requires attention and involvement in a diverse world. Without a commitment to an otherness of place, action and people the only option is death. Death by Gantt charts.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Handing in my Passport to Marlboro Country

In the post-election come-down a crashing normality began to resume in my everyday life. Without endless stress, unworkable hours and the constant need to do something the days began to seem emptier, the weeks longer. I’ve not even been back a month yet it already feels like years. As is the form with such moments, I began to look over past work. I quickly realised there were very visible patterns emerging. An inability to sit still, an obsession for work and so, so many references to smoking.

It became obvious I had been choreographing much of my life around my addictions.

Nicotine is such a curious choice in the world meat market of amphetamines, barbiturates and opiates. Given our culture has never been more anaesthetized on the currency of factory grade dopamine and serotonin, it would seem to most people an unadventurous choice. Seem by some as poor return on investment or by the more cynical as just a habit of the undeserving poor. 

On all of these accusations I would take issue. As a long term user I would contend Nicotine is an extremely clever drug. It calms the nerves when you are under stress, wakes you up when you are tired, and helps you relax when you’re tightly wound up. It’s great with food, drink and alcohol and all other forms of biological satiation. Marlboro country is the perfect vacation whatever the weather.

I’ve never understood why I started smoking. Maybe it’s a desire not to be like my teetotal father whose life, as you expect of a farm-boy of Irish catholic descent, is hardly one of spirited intellectualism. Maybe it’s a need to be more like my mother who by my age was married, divorced and flirting with a London metropolitan Buddhism. She was quickly co-opted into a meditate-there, smoke-this, get-the-Ashram lifestyle. She, of course, promptly found herself living in a temple in India. In case you were wondering - the marriage didn’t work out.

Whilst making a mental list of what, who and when to assign blame I had a more troubling thought. If these biological drivers which seem to encompass many of my compulsive needs and behaviors were melted away would there be much of me left? Isn’t that exactly what a hopeless addict would say? Of one thing I am sure – addiction will cut my life short. I am at peace with that.

Three Weeks have passed since I had written the previous two statements. No. I am not at peace with that at all. As I now write  this I am six days over my smoking addiction. Besides the aforementioned troubling me for sometime after I saw it written front of me, I woke up in my London Townhouse after a late night conversations over Johnny Walker and feeling shit. But not the kind of hangover shit I am far too accustomed. It was the kind of toxicity that makes it hard to get out of bed and face the world. Its when you begin realise your health is not an infinite resource. It was the kind of morning where you realise you may not be dying but you are definitely killing yourself. 

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about giving up smoking. I decided to read up on the road ahead. These sources concentrate on the good and great of ‘kicking the habit’. I can see the therapeutic websites have s poor understanding of their  target audience. I didn’t want the positive pep-talk - I wanted to know what Lovecraftian horrors lay beyond. As soon as I read ‘the worst of it will be over in two days’ I knew it was time to put on a crash helmet and pack my anti-depressants. So began the 48 hour jog across no mans land.

Among the side affects they don’t tell you about are – your veins will start hurting (this is apparently normal, as your blood pressure lowers suddenly) that your piss will smell like an ashtray, you will have night sweats and the accompanying night terrors (something to do with nicotine receptors dying in the brain) and before the increase of appetite you will feel so sick you won’t eat for 24 hours. This of course is on top of the ‘normal’ anger/depression emotions, the inability to concentrate and the tragically trudging country miles in order to find a shop that doesn’t have cigarettes behind the counter.

So addiction or at least the person willing to die to satisfy an addiction has been purged from my soul for now. The dance with addiction is anything but over – I sit here drinking some of the finest coffee money can buy, fresh from another evening chat with Johnny. But I do feel a little cleaner, a little happier and little bit more in charge of my own destiny. 

Addictions can still be good friends. They convinced me they are worth dying for. As with anything that good you’d be mad not try it. Make sure you give up some along the way. Because saying fuck you to Marlboro Country feels pretty good too.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Because I'd rather be ashes than dust. On work, elections and the power of values

The pleasures and sorrows of work have taken me on some notable adventures in the past year. I’ve schmoozed at Westminster receptions, dined with MPs and taken pictures as rioters took it upon themselves to destroy the streets of Tottenham. If anything typifies the existence of a political intern it’s faux glamour – worrying, on a fairly regular basis, if you have enough money on your card to get the bus home as you desperately try to get a room full of millionaires to remember your name.

Interning is now behind me and the self-imposed poverty that overshadowed that chapter of my life is now fading. The glitz is also fast disappearing – as I write this I am in an office at 10.30pm for the fifth time this week, I stink of cigarettes and the smell of takeaway hangs thickly in the air. I sit in silence with my fellow party apparatchiks - two glassy eyed men, tired, unwashed and kept half insane by the constant humming of the machines day in, day out.

Work, for now, consumes everything - and I’ve never been happier.

Selling one’s values to a largely disinterested electorate is both draining and disheartening. A personal intellectual commitment to a world view is met by a loud, discontented almost donkey-like sigh. They squawk “They’re all the same!” from a seat of moral authority exclusively reserved for those without the belief or desire to change anything. This unfortunately is an accusation almost entirely vindicated as all three main parties try sticking their variety of coloured flags in the Holyland of British Politics – the centre ground.

This wall of inactivity and disinterest is perhaps the biggest hurdle for everyone on the campaign trail. When apathy is king the creeping viziers behind the throne have to put in 100 hour weeks to cajole even the most miniscule percentage of people to remember that we have elected representatives worth voting for.

As the reality of 16 hour days set in and spouses get ignored, friends get forgotten and the outside world becomes a misty half remembered before-time, the human cost quickly becomes apparent. People cope with this isolation in a variety of ways. Me and another immediately went for the easy option - anxiety and depression. Some went with flat-out anger. Others simply regressed into various levels of delusion and paranoia.

An ironic bi-product of Parliamentary democracy seems to be the time when people are least connected with the world around them is during an election.

Elections are a deeply emotional business and even an emotarded android from the overly repressed Anglesphere isn’t immune to its effects. Certainty of winning and losing flipped so rapidly in the last days I failed to remember where we even were on this issue by polling day. The mood in the committee room changed almost by the hour. It was like being stuck at a party in the Hotel California where everybody suffers from severe bi-polar manic behaviors.

The power of values brings a special kind of unity to those under its spell. I have no doubt that despite the collective madness elections imposes on its victims I have made some friends that will last me for years to come. The bond that is formed when people come together to inflict imposed collective misery upon themselves for an objective greater than themselves is a far less common experience than you might think.

This is when the values you hold become something you can take pride in – because you worked hard to make them a reality.

I’ve been asked to draft a report on what I learned in Portsmouth. My unofficial take on this is as such -

In an age defined by its political apathy burning the candle at both ends becomes an election neccessity. Luckily for me, I'd rather be ashes than dust.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The tutti-frutti loins of Skeletor. On rhetoric, language and the digital landscape

Many, many moons ago when I first decided to take up the virtual pen I decided to blog about my first love - language. Linguistics is and will always be interesting because it is an extension of our identity. All emotions have a tone, every region a lilt, every single syllable indicates education, background, temperament and age. Being shot in the face with that much information just transports me to nerd heaven. The argument that followed was if language is going to be part of your identity you might as well have fun with it - break rules, be inappropriate and talk incongruously about the tutti-frutti loins of Skeletor. Convention is for conservatives and the aged. My frutti-loins are for everyone else. My initial endeavor didn't cover one aspect of the language landscape - we are changing the way we communicate. Since leaving London I have migrated onto Skype as much as possible simply because I find Facebook chat such an abysmal way to relate to other human beings. It's not so much conversation as it is reducing the rich tapestry of my soul to binary code then asking a data analyst to explain it using pie-charts. Telling jokes on messenger feels like self harming at the farmers market for the amount it amuses people. I am now fairly certain Facebook chat has lost me friends. As far as social media goes, that's pretty fucked up. If you are going to commit violent linguaphilia you should probably learn from the best: I personally recommend Cicero. The Roman PR maestro had 3 elements for a good speech: logos, pathos and ethos. Logos (logic) is the basic need for language to make sense. This is important but most communication isn't just about transferring information. We need to give information meaning, depth and personality. If language is part of a person then personality is an essential part of language. This includes all their gripes, needs, emotions and wobbly bits. Strip out the personality in language and we're just left with dead symbols - this invokes the vacant eyed take-me-on-a-cyanide-binge conversations that are getting fast becoming the norm on this text-based, no-frills, Tesco-value online conversation culture. That's where the rhetoric of ethos (character) and pathos (emotion) come in. When we talk to people, in the usual oral tradition, we express ourselves (our ethos) and try to make people laugh or empathise with us (our pathos). It's so natural it's only ever noticeable by its absence. Those conversations we loathe with THAT weird guy probably just lack ethos and pathos. If it feels like you’re talking to a walking excel spreadsheet he's probably just a pathophobe. He may also be a Quantum Leap fan. Or find Katie Melua moving. Maybe all three. Humans tend to do well at loving other humans. Similarly language must have human characteristics for us to love. Language needs humanity as much as humanity needs language. Without it we become as sterile as the black mirrors we type on. As social learning is little more than visual theft therefore the habits of the cybernetic age are beginning to dilute our pleasure of language. Whether it be t3xting, 3/\/\/-\1l or ROFL @ FB convo's - in the cybernetic landscape convenience is king. I may be a language libertarian but my frutti-loins still have standards. It’s just a little hard to see the logos sometimes. I’ve come a long way in three years but the message remains the same - value the pleasure and beauty of language. With one added sci-fi proviso: Don’t let the machines take your humanity.

Friday, 30 March 2012

On deprivation, natural law and the full-time forgotten of Occupy LSX

So after a terrible night's sleep that probably comes naturally from spending 8 hours in sub-zero windchill conditions I've discovered that cigerettes, tea and friendship doesn't cure mild hypothermia. Biblical prose relates a stark truth of modern life “The poor will always be with us” as child poverty rises, real incomes shrink and unemployment hits unprecedented highs such sentiments have never been truer. Today's autumn budget policy bombardment was a skilfully executed media exercise to hide the central plank of the news today- The situation going to get worse, much worse.

Yesterday I was having one of my off days emotionally, as anyone knows who has filled in a job applications ad verbatim a hundred times, it teaches you that insincerity is bad for the soul. I noticed Occupy LSX had a lecture on moral determinism and therein a vaccine for my soul sickness. The lecture itself was pretty flawed, but if there's one thing that typifies Occupy it's variation. Ages, motivations, backgrounds, blue collar, white collar and no collar are all here. So, in such disorder I did what came naturally. I socialised.

A chronic smoker and an avid chess player I made friends more easily than most, with the general plan to find people who have, since day one, have lived there. The media elusive "full-timers" of occupy. So began three friendships- The thief, the addict and the veteran. Divided in age and circumstance but united by the ugliest of human experiences - deprivation. All their stories of largely self-inflicted misery certainly won't light up the sympathy circuits of everyone but they were all, in a very Christian tradition, penitent figures.

They didn't blame corporations, or the government for where they were but accepted their personal part in the destiny they've realised. Why then, I asked them, did they decide to come to the camp in the first place? The answer was uniform and so blindingly obvious. They had no where else to go.

These individuals make a up significant majority of occupy's “full-timers”. They have no life to leave and compared to their usual grind of hostels, squats and streets occupy is a paradise for them.

So we played chess, drank tea, had dinner, went to lectures, watched movies and even read together. Then my eyes almost rattled out of my skull in disbelief. I was actually having fun. The paradise wasn't relative, it was real.

My interest in politics is guided by the simplest of principals- to reduce the physical and emotional deprivations that characterise human misery. At Occupy LSX the hungry get fed, the cold get clothed, the ignorant get access to education. Everyone gets a place to stay if they need it and most of all they get an accepting community to be part of. The great deprivations that were an everyday reality for the occupy full-timers have, at least for a time, been alleviated.

The sniping of the lack of aims, focus and strategy for the movement are insignificant criticisms when you realise at the heart of what they do is feed, clothe and educate the homeless. There are of course the political posers, the career campaigners and the various hangers-on civil disobedience tends to attract to its fold. They aren't the real beneficiaries of occupy. The full-timers are.

The people of occupy are dug in deeply already. Their microcosm of society is one few among them would like to relinquish. This means the crack down next year likely to be before the Olympics, will be swift, ruthless and brutal.

The reality of this means the full-timers who made their home here will go back to their squats, shelters and streets and resume their lives of criminality, addiction and loneliness. Among them will be people who steal food to eat, wear clothes until they fall off and whose destitution will become absolute.

The feeding of misery is contrary to the natural law of humanity. This will be an inevitable consequence of the eviction at St Pauls. I cannot support it.

To those who occupy and feed, clothe and shelter London's full-time forgotten will continue to have my support, respect and empathy. To those who denigrate the movement for political reasons I say this- suffering is bigger than left and right. Occupiers are, at this very moment, trying to address that.

Political consensus is cheap and humanity is golden - Try above all else to value its contributors.