Scraping off the rust

rusty chains

That’s how it feels anyway, although it would make me some kind of RoboBagLady, rather than a mere Electronic one. I’m not sure I’d be keen on it, honestly, because I’d probably have to adhere to Asimov’s Laws and I’m not sure I’m that kind of person.

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence, except where such protection would conflict with the First or Second Law.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robotics

Still, rejoice, oh gentle reader! I have found my way back to the keyboard and hope to enter into constructive dialogue through the medium of the Blogverse. Let’s go!

Things got a little overwhelming back in the summer, both for good and less good reasons, but now that is over. The thing is I finally had to take a break from normal routine and allow myself a rest. I eventually recognised that I had been struggling to balance work, family and community, and that if I was someone else, I would be telling them to stop. So for once I listened to my wiser self and did indeed stop.

Guess what? It worked and I feel much better so here I am, bothering your eyeballs as you scan my words. In due course I will be scanning and chatting away just like the old days.

Ah, the old days! Things were better then. We were cleverererer, the sun was brighter and policemen were kindly and compassionate adults rather than arsy adolescents with acne and snotty noses. There were fewer television channels but we made our own entertainment and wrote about it in letters to the local paper – the equivalent of the blogging world I suppose.

Right then, I’ll remove the rose-tinted optical devices and get back to reality, but allow me the odd excursion to a fantasy land.

On a slightly related note, I heard that there is a film in the making of the Magic Faraway Tree, by far my favouritest book of all childhood, and I am half desperate with anticipation and half terrified in case of disappointment. It was the same with Lord of the Rings, my favouritest book of post-childhood, but Peter Jackson was in charge of that and talked to the fans so it was all OK. In the case of TMFT, as it will inevitably become known, I doubt the same rigour will apply. Oh woe to the world!

So here is your EBL-homework until we meet again:

  1. How do you feel about your favourite book being “interpreted” by film? Be honest.
  2. Would it/did it work? Be polite.
  3. And really, who is going to play the part of Moon Face? Be creative.

Namaste

The mind as an open book

Time to analyse the contorted brain that drives EBL. The Daily Post has suggested (and I am infinitely suggestible when I choose to be) that it might make an interesting post if a person is suffering from Bloggers’ Block to perform some pop-psycho-analysis based on the last five books I read. To be fair, Bloggers’ Block sounds like something fairly serious and I doubt even antibiotics would suffice, so I hope to make it to the end of this post and see you on the other side.

Most of my reading these days is based around your lovely blogs and the occasional foray into Facebook World to catch up on the memes, and occasionally some humans to whom I have linked. Otherwise I read knitting patterns, because they tell me what to do and make me feel better, or look at pictures. The pictures may be moving on a screen, or static in a magazine, and in either case, they transport me to other worlds far more absorbing than my own daily grind.

You are not about to get a series of book reviews. I have included Amazon links so you can look them up if you want to.

I would like to think I read an eclectic mix of material, and looking at my last five books was certainly a reasonably typical selection. My reading of choice tends to be science-fiction. It is a love affair that never grows old, in part thanks to the invention of time travel and a very special theory of relativity. In reverse order then….

1.Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

I always say I like science fiction and not fantasy, but the first item on the list gives that the lie. Anything by Neil Gaiman is OK with me. I love his style, in pretty much every sense of the word.

What does this book tell you about me? It’s a fable. It involves demons and mythology and the human condition.

Conclusion: Likes fairy stories because she never grew up.

Defence: I would say grown ups need to read more fairy stories. We might remember that courage and kindness matter more than riches and fame, that you can’t judge someone by how they look, that dreams and promises are important, and that life is full of wonderful mystery,

Moving on.

2. “The Fifth Science Fiction Megapack”.

I keep this one on my Kindle for train journeys. It’s a collection, and I can start and stop easily which suits train journeys. Currently I am re-reading H Beam Piper’s “The Fuzzy Papers” in it. I loved H Beam Piper when I discovered him as a teenager. He was an antidote to the Cold War mentality and expressed joy in the possibilities of alien life and compassion in dealing with it.

Conclusion: Does too many train journeys, and likes to be prepared. Overly logical and structured at the expense of spontaneity.

Defence: reading something half way decent on a train journey is what keeps us civilised and prevents mass murder.

3. “The King in the North” by Max Adams

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will be aware that I like my Old English prose and verse, and I am interested in the period historically. Oswald was the real life king upon whom Tolkien based Aragorn and he is fascinating. The cult of St Oswald was a huge influence in early medieval Europe. The links to pagan mythology (the Silver Hand etc) are really intriguing, and he is an interesting blend of pagan and early Christian. Given that his conversion appears to have been genuinely based on his own belief and not a politically expedient move as in the case of many other rules of the period.

Conclusion: Likes to appear intellectual / lives in an ivory tower and is unfit for normal human interaction. Avoids intimacy.

Defence: Yes, indulge me. It makes me happy and hurts no one (except the tree which produced the paper). Intimacy is over-rated. As Linus (I think) says “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.”

4. “Rant” by Alfie Crow

Do I enjoy well-crafted sarcasm and a bit of murderous mayhem? Why, yes I do, thank you for asking. And this fits the bill. I came across it because Sigoth has very very clever friends, one of whom recently published her first novel. We were invited to the book launch and met some other first-time authors there, including Alfie Crow. He did a reading from his book and it was love at first hearing.

Conclusion: Not afraid of a bit of gore and indulges in dark humour, probably as a way of deflecting personal insecurities.

Defence: it’s a fair cop, guv. Does it surprise you that one of my favourite films (after “The Princess Bride”, which is the Best Film Ever, obviously) is “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”?  Vinnie Jones makes me laugh out loud. “Don’t effing swear in front of the effing kid!”

And finally, I am currently indulging myself at the end of the day with a bedtime story.

5. “The Inimitable Jeeves” by P G Wodehouse

When I was little I listened to Radio 4 every night after tea with my dad. At 6.30 after the boring news bit they have a comedy or quiz show for half an hour before The Archers. I grew up listening to Hancock’s Half Hour, ITMA, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, The Navy Lark, The Goon Show, Round the Horne and What Ho! Jeeves. I adored them all, even the ones I didn’t understand (honestly, I was quite shocked when I learned some actual Polari!). I thought Jeeves and Wooster were hilarious. I particularly liked the aunts. It was all very silly.

Conclusion: Both nostalgic and escapist while satirical and elitist. The perfect summary of all of the above.

Defence: Indeed.

Well, there you have it. A brief tour of the EBL bookshelves and mental apparatus. What have you learned? Do you read books? What were the last five?

Namaste

 

Nordic knitting and inky fingers

Today I had a day off. I know, I know, I had all last week as well but that’s just the way of it. Today I used it for pottering about with creative projects. I haven’t provided a knitting update for a while either, and I know at least some of you are keen needlefolk.

Without further ado, this is the back of the jumper I am working on. The front is about a third done, and has grown much more quickly now I can see what I am doing after the laser treatment last week. Hurrah again for lasers!

nordic jumper

However, this morning I have been trying to puzzle out the script used for Old English. Newer readers may not have cottoned on to the fact that I am trying to learn Old English, that is the language of Alfred the Great and so on. It sounds beautiful and actually I think it looks rather beautiful too. You can see proper pictures on the British Library website, but this is an example from there of the poem “Beowulf”.

Beowulf manuscript

from the British Library website

Some years ago I did a calligraphy workshop and learned modern uncial. It’s the kind of script that gets used to denote Celtic, whatever that is. Certainly Celtic wasn’t a word used by the people often referred to as Celts. But that’s a rant for another day and today I am feeling too mellow to indulge. I had been practising the uncial (unciallating?) and playing with different inks and paper to see what worked best. The first ink I tried simply soaked into the paper so I got a really splotchy effect.

Blotchy Modern Uncial

Blotchy Modern Uncial

The lines are from the Battle of Maldon, a poem created to remember an actual battle which was probably the equivalent of the Spartan 300. Basically the local prince faced up to an invading Viking force with far fewer men behind him than he needed, then decided to let the foreigners have the advantage because that was more honourable and got slaughtered for his trouble. I may be being unfair to him, but if you are interested you can look it all up and decide for yourself. Meanwhile these lines were spoken as a rallying call by the prince’s aged retainer to the men after the prince was killed. They are about dying honourably in the face of overwhelming odds (which is of course what happened) and they are the lines that our teacher read to us when I was a mere sprig of a girl and they made me decide I wanted to learn Old English. Roughly translated they mean:

“Our courage shall be the greater, our hearts the stronger, our minds shall be the firmer, as our strength grows less.”

The problem I was having was that the uncial reference sheet I was given did not include the Old English characters for æ (a as in ash), þ (th as in thorn) or ð (th as in eth). Naturally I turned to the British Library to see how your actual Old English People wrote them and realised belatedly that the script was quite different. So then I spent the morning puzzling it out and by lunchtime I managed to produce the lines in something vaguely resembling the original script (with apologies to people who do know much more about this than me – it’s all a learning opportunity!).

hige_sceal

reinvented Old English script courtesy of EBL

And that’s what I did this morning.

How is your day going? If you have returned to work, as most of us must, I hope it was not too traumatic.

Namaste.

Rock Goddess

I found a sweet little meditation the other day where you imagine a mountain. Any mountain. Pick whichever you like.

I chose this one.

Lake mist

It’s in Austria, in case you are wondering; or at least it was in 1976 when I saw it and took this photo. It may have moved since then, who knows.

Anyway, I held a memory in my mind and then learned, momentarily alarmed, that I was supposed to internalise the mountain. That was quite a lot to swallow, let me tell you! But I did as I was asked and felt the solidity of the rock within me.

“Don’t think of trolls,” I told myself. “Great big trolls, with slabby teeth and granite fingers and scraggy trees on their slopes. Not those, not at all.”

I waited.

“Nor those trolls, in Tolkien, turning back to stone at sunrise.”

Moments drifted past as the mountain sat serene amid clouds and sunsets.

“Nor Terry Prachett.  Especially don’t think of Detritus.”

Seconds became aeons.

“I said ‘Don’t think of Detritus’!

A small avalanche cascaded down my spine. Oh Detritus, how I love you.

Someone told me there were going to be classes in Laughing Yoga locally, Perhaps this was what they meant.

In any case, I finished sitting quietly and was happy. I will continue to be the lofty mountain with perhaps an occasional troll.

Namaste.

Bloggers for Peace: Better to have loved and lost…

Can you have a relationship with someone you have never met? Can you have a relationship with a favourite author? Certainly in the Age of Celebrity there appear to be many people who think they have a relationship with characters from TV programmes or films, or with actors, whom they never can meet.

I am fairly confident in assuming that many of you are avid readers. Certainly I believe it to be so when you are such great writers. It does not follow that if I read I can also write; however, I am certain that if you write well, you must read broadly too.  So regardless of any pretensions to writing well, I will admit I do read broadly and will further assume that this is true for you as well.

I love certain authors. I never interact with them directly – well, almost never. Recently I felt very daring and left a message on a top author’s blog expressing gratitude for his books and letting him know how much they had meant to me over the very many years I had been reading him, since the 1984 in fact.

Do you have a favourite genre? I have probably said before that I am a big science fiction fan. I may be repeating myself (I’m too lazy to check) but one of the reasons I fell into a long term relationship with a number of science fiction authors, in my devil-may-care, the-more-the-merrier, I-read-around-a-bit way, was that I read an essay/article by someone erudite. It may have been Brian Aldiss, I’m not sure, but what he said was that the reason science fiction was an interesting, even essential, genre was that it gave you space to explore really big and difficult questions in new ways without the baggage. You could look at relationships and society and history and science and politics and elitism and autocrats and racism and human rights and, when you get right down to it, what it means to be a human being, with freedom and honesty and integrity. If you wanted. He suggested that when you were writing in the real world, you were constrained by real world limitations and expectations and the status quo. Actually he might not have said any of that, but it’s what I took away from whatever it was I read.

Science fiction was exciting at an intellectual level, not just a boys’-toys (excuse me, chaps), Flash Gordon, shoot-the-aliens kind of way. It had a weight and heft that mattered. Plus I learned all my science from Star Trek (and my history from Jean Plaidy but that’s another story, quite literally).

Within the honoured throng of writers there is one to whom I was devoted, because he wrote about really positive possibilities. He confronted difficulties and he didn’t fall into some kind of dystopian nightmare, framed by Ridley Scott in rain and darkness (yes, I do mean Bladerunner – as if Philip K Dick wasn’t depressing enough in print). He saw people overcoming our current idiocies and taking science and prodding serious buttock with it until we had a society worth living in. There was also pain and despair and very dark humour, and exciting spaceship fights begging to be screened at an IMAX, and artificial intelligence that was cool and clever and actually quite human at the same time.

Obviously a humble purchaser of his books such as myself would never dream of crossing his shadow. He was too clever and cool and brilliant for the likes of me. I bought everything he published, science fiction or not, and it was all amazing (well, maybe one dud if I am truthful).

On 3rd April Iain Banks announced that he was unwell; that in fact he had been diagnosed with late stage gall bladder cancer.  I signed his message board to express my sorrow and appreciation.

On Sunday, 9th June, he died.

Can we have relationships with people we have never met. I’m not sure. Do we need reciprocity? Does his writing books and my consuming books represent more than symbiosis? And is symbiosis a relationship of a kind?

I don’t know, but I feel a loss, and am sad to think I will never read new books by him. There are fantastic new writers to meet yet, but each writer is unique and so cannot be replaced. Iain Banks’ warmth and humour and challenge will be hard to follow. He railed against stupidity and promoted compassion. He helped me think about what it means to be human. He wrote many wonderful things, but in summary they all come to this:

“Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.”
Iain Banks, Against a Dark Background

Meanwhile, read other blogs participating in this month’s Bloggers for Peace Challenge:

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/05/28/monthly-peace-challenge-peace-at-home/

http://mylittlespacebook.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/what-do-duck-fights-have-to-do-with-peace/

http://cpgutierrez.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/accepting-the-challenge/#comment-2568

http://retiredruth.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/monthly-peace-challenge/

http://ponderingspawned.com/2013/06/11/sing-sweet-nightingale/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Namaste.

How not to be Wu Wei

The wondrous Rarasaur has created “Prompts for the Promptless” to expand minds, share ideas, and — equally importantly find something about which to blog.

This week, Rara has presented us with Wu Wei as the topic.

Wu wei, or non-doing, is a Taoist practice involving letting one’s action follow the simple and spontaneous course of nature rather than interfering with the harmonious working of universal law by imposing arbitrary and artificial forms.  In other words, it is the action of non-action.

They say, by which I mean someone once said to me, that when you are learning to drive you know you’ve got it when you stop thinking consciously about the gears and the clutch everything, and you just drive. Eventually through perseverance and practice learned behaviours appear natural. They are performed unconsciously. They flow.

I think the definition of Wu Wei is not quite that, though. It’s about being natural. A human being does very little that is natural. Look at a new born baby. It can breathe, excrete, feed, sleep and cry. After a relatively short space of time, once its eyes focus, it smiles unknowingly at anything with dots arranged like the eyes, nose and mouth of a human face.  This reflex assists bonding with the parent and is a reflexive survival instinct. Otherwise humans are pretty much artificial beings.

Trees, now. Trees don’t go through a learning phase where they start with absorbing water and end up catalysing chlorophyll. They don’t, as far as I know, suffer existential anxiety about whether really they should be a shrub  or a daisy or possibly moss. They don’t ask what it’s all about anyway when you get right down to it, or have tantrums or a rebellious teenage phase stomping about the forest, slamming branches or experimenting with fertiliser. They rarely gambol in the fields, although they may whisper breathy tales in  windy, storm-tossed darkness about ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night, if only to scare the saplings. They do not learn. They simply are. They are natural beings.

You will have spotted at once, my dears, that EBL is equating natural with instinctive, and artificial with learned. This is my distinction, and I am using it for the sake of the post. I am open to new ideas from whatever quarter they may come. My mind is a very field of dreams, with gusts of frantic randomness billowing through it. Different interpretaions can and do apply. Etc.

The principle of Wu Wei then, for me as a non-Taoist and complete novice to the concept, is that we learn to predict a natural response and enact it, without thinking.

This may be why I cannot claim, yet, to be a Tao-ist. EBL makes a note to read the Tao of Pooh as soon as possible. When all else fails, a teddy bear may help. It is a sound principle.

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”
― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Oh, that makes sense. Thanks, Pooh!

This has been EBL over-thinking like some kind of Anti-Tao-ist. It’s a classic example of how not to be Wu Wei.

Namaste.

No one expects the comfy chair!

Rarasaur is kindly providing a series of prompts for the promptless and this week it’s on the 11th Possibility: the 11th Possibility is the idea that, regardless of data to the contrary, something unexpected and outside the realm of ordinary thought is always potentially around the corner.

This, my dears, speaks to my very soul. I love that kind of non sequitur, and all I could think of after reading the prompt were prime examples of humour that make me go <snort>.

For example, Monty Python’s hapless Spanish Inquisition, bursting in to cry “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!” and then failing miserably to torture or maim anyone, beyond making them sit in the Comfy Chair, ensuring that the victim will get “only a cup of coffee at 11” o’clock and making the torture “worse by shouting a lot”.

Ah, Messieurs Pythons, how I love you. I never wanted to run a pet shop anyway, I always wanted to be a lumberjack.

You know when you get an ear-worm – one of those tunes you can’t get out of your head, sometimes for days? It’s been a bit like that with this prompt. I keep thinking of something completely different.

Most clamorous have been Messrs Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Both writers convey the 11th Possibility with expertise and panache. In both cases I appreciate their sudden twists of logic which leave me wrong-footed but amused by the dissonance.

In Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, apart from the invention of the Infinite Improbability Drive to power a spaceship, there are little moments when things just don’t quite go according to the usual script.

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
“Ask a glass of water!”

As for Terry Pratchett, almost any page you care to look at will have some kind of twist or turn that leaves the brain faintly disoriented.

The question seldom addressed is where Medusa had snakes. Underarm hair is an even more embarrassing problem when it keeps biting the top of the deodorant bottle.

So does an 11th Possibility matter? For me, it’s about opening up new ideas, creating space to try something different, or just experiencing uncertainty in a safe but stimulating way.

I am making it sound dull. Let’s try this.

Humour is what makes the world go round without us falling asleep or falling out; our creative brains are engaged and exercised and expanded by indulging it.

In my team at work I am the most right-brain of us all. What that says about our team I dread to think. Anyway, on one occasion we were on a workshop together and during the day various members of the team would leave the main room to go and take part in an individual exercise elsewhere. My colleague sitting next to me said, during the tea break, “You know, I keep seeing people going out but I never notice them coming back.”

“There’s a mad axe murderer out there,” I explained. “We’re actually being picked off one by one. By tonight there will just be one of us left. It’s management cutbacks.”

She looked at me strangely. “Trust you,” she said. “I just meant I was impressed by how quietly they all slipped back into the room.”

I sighed. How boring.

Namaste.