Thursday, 28 June 2007

Voter power

One day early this week, or maybe late last, I recieved an email telling me that one of my dearest friends wants me to be his friend, 'Huh?' I thought. This email was from Facebook and thankfully my son was looking over my shoulder - no privacy with kids around - and he told me what it meant and what to do. 'Click on the link... NO! that link... yes there...'

I clicked on the link: Now what?

Well 'what' turned out to be this: Several hours spent futtering about on the site checking it out, learning about it: exploring.

Facebook is a bit like a city: huge. There are millions of subscribers all doing slightly different things. You have your own page and this is like the face you present to the other residents of the city. You add different elements such as photographs, interests, educational details, or not. You can leave it as empty as you like, keep it as private as you wish. Some people are very bold and upfront loading their pages with masses of information, photographs and messages. They're like the people you see in a city wearing 'notice me' clothes and jewelry, maybe driving flash cars or talking loudly on thier mobile phones. Then there are the quieter ones you have to make an effort to get to know. They may only have one or two photographs and list just a handful of interests but you think 'Mmm... someone who also likes Captain Beefheart/felt-craft/green', so you say hello. Others mix only with people they already know or even keep entirely hidden from everyone. They are like the ones who never leave their houses.

It seems to work like this you browse the site checking out other people's pages and perhaps leaving a comment, a bit like talking to a stranger at the deli counter. You notice something about them, see what they are buying and then, perhaps, say something about it: 'Have you tried the unpasturised Yarg? It's great with those crackers and a bottle of Rioja.' You can bump into people you haven't seen for years and you can search them out too. You can also join clubs focussed on just about anything. I have joined only one, Friedrich Nietzsche, so far and it's great. The people who subscribe have actually read Nietzsche, some in great detail, and understand his thought. They have also read other philosophers so they relate and crossreference, it's like being in a university cafe whilst in the comfort of your own room. It may just save my dissertaion.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Reader Poll

My head is buzzing at the moment. I seem to have so many things going on, my fingers in too many interesting pies, that I can't decide which to write about next. So I thought I'd let you make the decision for me. The choices are:
1. My graduation ball: this is nearly upon me and I have so much to do to get into Cinderella mode. Hair, arms, dance practice...
2. 75 mile walk to Glasgow: This is part of the ongoing struggle to save our campus. I really have to do some work to get into shape for this but how and what?...
3. Creative writing portfolio: I need to submit twenty or so pages to the uni to support my masters application.
4. My garden: Rain, wind, tomatoes... waiting for a greenhouse to arrive. Everything's getting tall and where have all the canes gone...
5. Facebook: A new and interesting discovery...
6. You invent a topic for me and I'll try and write about it.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Cherished Neurosis

In my kitchen there is a shelf; on this shelf there is a large array of mugs. There's bird, Russian and green cone to name but three. There is also my mug . The one I drink my tea from every morning. Somehow morning tea doesn't taste the same from another. It's not the most attractive mug in the collection but it says A Room of One's Own and Virginia Woolf on it. It is purple, not my favourite colour but my husband bought it for me specially.

On Monday morning, my visiting mother-in-law used my mug for her tea so when I got up I had to wash it before using it for mine. As I was drinking a thought began to grow in my mind 'how ridiculous of me, why couldn't I just use one of the others?' I looked at it; it is just a cheap, mass produced mug. Hardly anything to become attached to. It's not made of the finest porcelain; it doesn't feel just so in the hand; it isn't the one thing I managed to rescue from the embers of a happier past. It's just one of many ordinary bits of kitchen tat in my possession. So, if it is not the mug's physical (or sentimental) properties it must be something else. I must have invested it with a specialness it doesn't, in reality, posses. The only thing that comes readily to mind is the link with Virginia Woolf, the idea of a room of one's own.

Every morning I make myself the tea and sit down at my desk in my study to drink it and check my emails and blog. There I sit, smoking and drinking and checking in my own room. A room I snaffled from the rest of the family -it used to be a beautiful but under-used dining room – when I started my degree. I have filled this room with books and papers, several chairs, an old leather couch, a desk and computer. It now tells the story of me as a hard working student and writer. It is my dream room. A room of my own. And this story is reinforced every morning by the mug. By the ghost of another writer in another era who actually succeeded at her craft. Her narrative feeds mine.

In short it seems I see myself as a Virginia Woolf mug sort of person rather than, say, a Russian mug sort. But, for cocoa I always use bird. As ever even the most, apparently, simple things reveal complexity when one looks under the surface. I don't know why I find one mug suitable for tea and the other perfect for cocoa. But I know changes must be made; one of the things I want to be more than anything else is flexible so that I can take life in my stride and respond to every event positively.

I really don't want to be a neurotic mug fascist who can't function properly when forced to use a different one. It doesn't seem far from being unable to step on pavement cracks. So on Tuesday morning I took my tea in Civilisation by Clive Bell: never heard of him but what do you know? My tea tasted just as good. I used that mug again yesterday too and today I am drinking from Russian which looks much more attractive on my green painted desk.

This is all about me regaining control of my life. For too long I've allowed habits, neuroses and other people's rules to lead the way. And recently I've been finding myself slipping deeper and deeper into apathy. Hopefully by changing the little things the biggies will follow suit.

I've still been using bird for cocoa it's the perfect size, so maybe I can allow myself that. But I think tonight I will eat my supper from a different plate.

How about you, any odd habits you feel a need to shake? A problem shared is a problem halved as my mother used to say before laughing scornfully at the prospect of having anyone to share it with. But here there is always someone to share, to understand and, sometimes, to mock. And I often find being mocked helps a great deal.

So lets have your stories.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


Just a quickie: I need help. This year for the first time in my life I have planted tomatoes. This was brought on by a hot spell that has now been replaced by a dark wet one. And now just look at my tomato plants.

If there is anyone out there who knows what this is and what can be done about it I would be forever grateful. I dream of home grown toms.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

You're IT (Flea-bag)

Mary has tagged me for a meme; she got tagged by Katie and Katie got tagged by Brian and now it's been passed to me, Kim and Kanani. For this moment blogland has been turned into a virtual playground. Thankfully as it's virtual no running is necessary. But I am reminded of being screamed at: 'RUN or you'll spoil the game!!!' Yikes.

This particular game involves coming up with fifteen personal goals and at first I couldn't think of a single one. THINK or you'll spoil the game.


I discussed it with my son: 'blah blah blah could be one'

'That's not really personal though, is it?'

'Isn't it? No I suppose not.'

So I've had to define personal. What would I like to achieve in my lifetime? This is what I've come up with – the order isn't entirely particular, by the way...

1 Get my dissertation finished. This probably involves removing myself from blogland for a time and concentrating on 'academic style.' But not necessarily...

2 Learn how to be the sort who can have more than one thing going on at a time without loosing concentration.

3 Become more organised. I've been working on this one for quite some time and still haven't managed it. Mainly, I think, because I am so naturally disorganised that I only work on it sporadically. Not that I can't be pretty organised in certain situations: in the kitchen, for example, I can cook several things at once and keep things tidy. I'm also fairly organised in the garden: I don't have an outside tap, so no hose, and most of my plants grow in containers. When the weather is warm and dry I have a lot of watering to do so I have several pitchers and a watering can that I fill up in the early afternoon in order to give the water time to warm up before the evening watering splurge. Then at around six I get to it.

I just need to extend this level of organisation to the rest of my life.

4 Get out more. I keep thinking I'd like to engage more fully with the rest of the world but somehow can't be bothered to leave the house.

5 Act: I have ideas, notions, imaginings but most of them stay in my head. It would be nice to be able to act on a few more of them or, rather, one or two of the more adventurous ones. Getting up and making custard because I have a notion to eat some isn't really good enough. Finishing my novel: that's the sort of thing I mean. But even just submitting something I've already written to... what/where/who?

6 Find out the things I need to know. For example, where does a budding writer send her stuff?

7 Keep in, proper, touch with friends. I don't have very many it shouldn't be that hard to phone them and actually go and see them occasionally.

8 Stop regretting past mistakes. Accept they've been made, that they contribute to the person I am, and move on.

9 Stop worrying about what other people think of me. Apparently my mother-in-law believes that I have her son to thank for everything: 'She didn't know anything when we first met her; she hadn't even read Jane Austen!'
This really pissed me off when I first heard it but she may be right: I came from a poor immigrant family; went to a rubbish school and lived in a very working class, impoverished, part of town. My parents were well educated but my father died when I was thirteen and my mother had to work as a cleaner to raise the four of us. Meeting Stevie introduced me to middle-class angst and the arts. It is possible that I would have married a brickie from Chatham and had four kids and never read a book if I hadn't met my husband.

The point is no one knows and it doesn't matter anyway. What my mother-in-law thinks is nothing to do with me. I can't affect it and it makes no difference to my life. Yet, truth be told, it still bothers me.

10 Get a haircut.

11 Realise that if I eat prunes I'm going to have to spend a lot of time in the bathroom.

12 Get a dentist. If, for no other reason than (mental) ease of smiling.

13 Commas: learn how to use them so as not to incur the wrath of those who know, or get a good editor.

14 Deal with those internal conflicts: put on a jumper rather than the heating if the environment is really a concern. Either get a job or stop whining about not being able to afford an Arne Jacobson Egg Chair. Realise that a woman of my age can't expect to wear shorts and have her wrinkly knees go unnoticed. And, that I can't expect to get a good grade if I don't put in the effort; making an effort isn't 'trying too hard' it's practical...

15 Learn to play the guitar.

16 Realise when to stop.

There you are then, fifteen (+1) personal goals for a lifetime. Now I tag Carole, EG and Sam PBC. Run girls, run!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Will to Power

I have developed a serious and quite debilitating addiction. I know it will run its course and in a little while I'll be free of it but for now it is ruling my life. This happens to me occasionally: I have, in the past, been addicted to – amongst other things - chocolate brownies made by a company called the red house; tables; shoes; Riesling; sunshine; Mossyard beach and going out for cocktails. I often get addicted to a particular author and read everything I can get my hands on written by that person. I also have a tendency to become addicted to certain music or musicians: at the moment I'm a bit partial to the Kings of Leon. But this latest serious addiction is to to the American TV series Heroes. My son has the whole first (and, so far, only) series on his computer and I can't stop watching it. Last night, alone, I watched four episodes. It's great, about a load of disparate people who are discovering that they are different from what might be considered normal: they can do things.

There's the girl who can't be hurt: any injuries heal immediately; the artist who paints the future; the chap who can bend time; a politician who can fly and whose brother can adopt the power of whoever he is with. So when he's with the artist he can paint the future, when he's with his brother he can fly etc. There's also a policeman who can read people's thoughts and a woman who has a lethal alter-ego and is very confused. There is also 'the baddie' who we haven't yet seen properly. He also has super-powers and is going around killing anyone he suspects of having them too. Then there's the chap who might be good, might be bad. It's all so riveting.

The premise of the plot seems to be that we, humans, are entering the next stage of our evolution. With all the evil in the world we need people who have certain skills in order to enable survival of the species. And these people are beginning to discover that they have such skills, but they don't know why yet. Luckily there is a very handsome young Indian professor whose father, a geneticist like him, had a theory. This theory got the father killed and now his son is agonizing over whether daddy was bonkers or right. This is where I've got to so far.

It's quite an interesting premise don't you think? Extrapolating Darwinism out to the world of the comic book. The reason why humans have been so successful is because we are so adaptable. Whatever the conditions we have found ourselves in we have managed to, not only survive, but multiply to the point of being a danger to the rest of the planet. So, running with this one, in order to continue to survive we need to start trying to adapt our way of life into a less competitive and more co-operative one. We need to begin to stop thinking only of ourselves and think of the rest of the world. If we continue to plunder for our own short term goals we will wipe ourselves, and everything else, out.

So, going back to Heroes, could there be a new evolutionary type that has the power needed to take the species to the next stage and could this type be what we might call the super-hero? A type that has the extraordinary power needed to bring the rest of us greedy, selfish bastards into line? Who knows, but it's fun to imagine it especially if one tries to imagine what type of super-power one might have oneself.

So, of course, I have been trying to decide what super-power I might develop if conditions were ripe. Firstly by trying to pin down and identify any talents I might have. Secondly by trying to imagine how they could become enhanced and lastly by asking how such enhanced talents could save the world.

The first thing that came to mind that I certainly seem to have a talent for is procrastination. I mull, turn things over in my mind, analyse, ignore, worry and eventually, when all hope of action has evaporated... act. I'm not sure, though, how this 'talent' could develop any further. Perhaps the process could be speeded up: if I could mull and analyse in the blink of an eye, omitting the ignoring bit, it might become a power that could save the world. Someone who could look at a situation, see it for what it is and then act on it could, I'm sure, be of use. But, it has to be said, the part where I ignore is crucial as this is where my subconscious takes over and the solution, or answer, grows. It is then presented back to my conscious self enabling me to act. So I'm not quite sure about that one as a super-power, however if I mull it over for a while I may be able to draw out its potential.

The second thing I think I'm quite good at is nurturing. This is probably a second nature talent that has developed over years of experience. When I first started I was pretty hopeless at it. I've cooked some disgustingly inedible meals in my time, but now I pretty much turn out something delicious and nutritious every time without much effort or thought at all. I can usually tell if someone, or some other life form, is not quite in the peak of health and do a bit of nursing. I have, for example, nursed two puppies back from the brink of death. I have saved ailing plants and of course brought my son up into a healthy, strong adult. What use might this be in saving the world however?. A few intuitive nurturers might be necessary if all else has failed perhaps.

I'm sure I will continue to ponder this one for a while. Maybe by the end of the series I will have worked out what I might be capable of in the hero department.

But what about you chaps out there in blogland, do any of you have a skill or talent that could help save the world? Or, if you could choose a super-hero talent what would it be and why?