Snow family

While other things are going on, here is something I made earlier.

snow family

The Offspringses were colour-coded as children so they all knew whose was which flannel, toothbrush, sunhat etc. Here we all are as snowpersons. Sigoth is a huge Dr Who fan so he got the cool scarf because I didn’t knit a fez and bow-tie this time around. Maybe next year…because bow-ties are cool. As are fezzes.

Happy holidays!

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

 

Half a century of inspiration

I know, I know, serious minded individuals have been poring over the meaning and legacy of the Kennedy assassination for days and weeks. It was important I am sure. I was a toddler, so I don’t remember; it’s all history to me and to be honest I find the impact of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand more distressing. It may be sacrilege but I suspect the Sixties would have panned out pretty much the same regardless of JFK.

Forgive my vacuous frivolity but I was more interested in a different 50th anniversary this weekend. The Doctor’s. Again, I missed the initial broadcasts, for the same reason as the Kennedy event, and didn’t really watch until Patrick Troughton had appeared. Even then it was tricky because my mother was determined it was unsuitable and turned it off if she could. My best hope was that she was making tea while she thought I was still watching Basil Brush. So it wasn’t until Jon Pertwee that I really was able to establish a regular liaison with that most British of heroes (and most heroic of Brits – albeit with dual Gallifreyan nationality).

If you don’t like Dr Who, I suggest you go and do something else because this post is unashamedly a fangirl production.

And yet I will try to leaven it with some pop psychology, in the time-honoured tradition of the amateur blogeuse, because otherwise I could simply reduce this post to tweeting “OMG! LOOOVE DR WHO! #savethday”, which is barely comprehensible even to me, and I wrote it. Already I can see John Hurt quirking an eyebrow and stirring impatiently in his War Doctor persona.

So, what’s the pop psychology then, EBL? Get it off your chest, love.

I’m glad you asked! It’s about Inspiration.

The reason I am talking about inspiration is that yesterday was not only the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, but also our local Quaker Area Meeting (a geographical cluster of local Quaker groups). Obviously it pales by comparison, but Sigoth and I attended for the day because (a) it had an important item to consider on the agenda, and (b) we knew it would be over in good time for Doctor Who in the evening. I hesitate to suggest that in a tussle between Area Meeting and the good Doctor, Area Meeting may have come second. It’s hypothetical. Nevertheless I think I know which way it would have gone.

The important thing in the meeting was about increasing the number of people in our local meetings who also take part in the Area Meeting and take on various jobs and responsibilities. It’s not a new problem either for Quakers or other church groups. Things are kept running by tireless volunteers who are predominantly elderly and frail, and whose numbers inevitably are decreasing without the next generation taking up the strain.

Essentially we discussed the purpose of the Area Meeting and as a starting point took away the idea that it is there to nurture our spiritual life of our members. It was exciting to be part of the mighty Quaker Business Method in action. I’m sure you can google for more information (or read about it at the Quaker website here); this is not a public service broadcast for Quakerism. As I said, it’s actually about Doctor Who. Nevertheless, when rightly held Quaker business blossoms before your eyes, it is a bona fide miracle. It is, to me, inspiring.

So, feeling inspired I went home to watch the TV, and reflected that it had been a good week for inspiration. There had been a WhoFest of mega-proportions, and Sigoth and I revelled in every lovely second. Our people have risen and had their say. Most impressively there was a whole Culture Show dedicated to looking at Dr Who as a cultural phenomenon. The presenter, Matthew Sweet, interviewed important people about why it was all so significant, with serious music and references. But the bit that struck me was when he was speaking about a time he and his friend were about to be beaten up by school bullies and he shouted out Patrick Troughton’s catchphrase of “When I say run, run, …. RUN!”, and off they dashed to safety. The Doctor gave him permission to run away and deal with the problem differently. I know this sounds a little anti-climactic, but I think for a child to know it’s OK to run away when confronted by overwhelming odds, rather than either getting beaten up or feeling a coward, is actually positive. Boys in particular need to know there are alternatives to knocking seven bells out of each other.

Doctor Who had a profound impact on his young and impressionable fans, dealing with difficult situations in creative and predominantly peaceful ways. Although to be fair he was also fond of Venusian Aikido and blowing up Daleks, preferably in large numbers.

In the 50th anniversary episode there is a key scene (if you haven’t seen it yet look away now – spoilers, darlings, spoilers) where Clara reminds of the Doctors present of why those chose to take on the name and role of the Doctor.

Clara: You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise?

Tenth Doctor: Never cruel or cowardly.

War Doctor: Never give up, never give in.

But the Doctor has been inspiring children with more than running away for far longer. When I was a a mere Electronic Bag Bairn, this is what my Doctor, the Third Doctor told us:

Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.

It was something I understood, and watched him live up to (albeit as a television story). I don’t always succeed in following his example, but I try my best. When I am nervous of speaking up or standing up or facing up to bad things, something like Jon Pertwee’s voice will often run through my head reminding me of the meaning of courage and give me a push. For such positive early influences on my life, I am grateful.

I also learned all my science from Star Trek, but no one’s perfect.

What influenced you as a child to make you who you are?

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.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

When I was little I had one of those candlewick bedspreads. It was pink, obviously, because I am of the chromosomally advantaged gender. I liked to pick out bits of fluff from the pattern to make new patterns so after a while it looked pretty manky.

The other thing I liked to do was pretend the rows of fluff were paths or rivers and that the bedspread was a tiny country with tiny people I could imagine living in the countryside or towns. I would bend my knees to make mountains and marched an army to the top and back down, like the Grand Old Duke of York. That’s what soldiers were for, of course, marching up and down in peacock displays or else meeting mysterious old women by the road and obtaining magic tinder boxes and finding treasure. Otherwise soldiers were pretty useless and just part of the decoration.

The tiny bedspread world was less the result of a god complex than a rather over-active imagination from being read too many stories about cheerful ladybirds or adventurous ants.

When I was slightly older, my friend and I played wild games where the Earth was a living being and we were involved in all kinds of exotic adventures trying to put out forest fires or stop men in suits from building dams or destroying wildlife. Mother Earth would tell us about dolphins needing help somewhere and off we would go to help them. I suspect a teacher had tried to explain the Gaia Hypothesis to us before we were quite ready for it, so we interpreted it in a way that worked for us and rampaged about the playing fields and the riverside, getting muddy and breathless and feeling virtuous for saving the planet.

Meanwhile the miniature worlds I created started to turn into stories for Composition class or more complex games with models made from lego or plasticine (or sometimes, rather messily, both).

My dears, I am sharing this rather bizarre set of memories because they seem to have come to a point recently, as if Life has been leading me here. I know, I‘m a bit slow on the uptake. Bear with a poor old lady.

As I grew older still I discovered fractals. To be fair what actually happened was the kind of odd process by which children often obtain precious knowledge. I watched TV.

My teacher at school had recommended that I watch “Star Trek”. He was officially the Best Teacher Ever and I have written about him before. However, among his many fine qualities was his ability to work out what would inspire a child. For me he chose “Star Trek”. He was so right. I may regale you with my own personal mission to boldly split infinitives one day, but not today. Suffice it to say, I was a science fiction enthusiast for life.

So when good old Auntie Beeb decided to run a series of classic science fiction films later that year I was glued to the television. One of those films was “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and at the end of the film, where the eponymous hero shrinks to a sub-atomic level, I was introduced to the concept of cellular structures replicating macro structures. A cell is a tiny galaxy. Our galaxy might be a tiny cell.

My mind officially exploded. I went to talk to my teacher the next day and he started showing me fractals. Bear in mind I was only about ten at this point, so understanding was limited. What I understood was that the small bits of the universe replicated the big bits, potentially endlessly, like two mirrors reflecting each other.

I imagined the Incredible Shrinking Man falling forever through galaxy after galaxy, seeing civilisations rush past him, appearing as a massive cosmic cloud and reducing to human size over the years and finally dropping down into the next cycle of galaxies. It felt sad and lonely and exciting and thrilling all at once. My imagination kicked into overdrive again.

I also listened to music on the radio (or “wireless” as it was then) and heard all the hippy tunes, including, memorably, “Woodstock” –

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon…

So I grew up with the firm and clear perception that we were part of the universe not only psychologically and spiritually but also physically. We were all made up from the matter that created stars, and we dissolved back to star-matter after we died. We were immense and tiny all at once, containing cells containing galaxies containing cells….

I never doubted it, I never questioned it. I read about Mandelbrot when I was a teenager, and carried on reading science fiction, exploding my mind again and again with new possibilities.

Now I have started to try to meditate this truth becomes yet more self evident. I can see this erratic, stumbling, drunken meandering from childhood to middle age has led me to an inescapable conclusion.

We are everything and nothing, enormous and tiny, mortal and eternal.

We are legion.

We are one.

Namaste.

Counterintuitive can be Counterproductive

Fiction is a mirror of the collective soul, and so the narratives we choose to tell and to read present an agreed version of reality we decide to share. Our shared version of reality becomes actuality, and we find it uncomfortable and inconvenient when other versions intrude. Sometimes those versions, underpinned by science, become submerged in the groundswell of opinion holding to our selected consensus.

In this week’s Prompt for the Promptless, Rarasaur suggests writing about counterintuition.

Counterintutition is a seemingly simple concept– it represents a truth that is contrary to common sense or the expectations of intuition.

Some examples of counterintuitive situations: You burn calories when you’re sleeping, flailing around is exactly the wrong thing to do when drowning, and beautifully speckled dart frogs can be poisonous to the touch.

On the same day, I read a guest post by Elizabeth Bear on Charlie Stross’s blog about how we think we know certain things, but it turns out we don’t. It was a prime example of how we have rewritten reality and made it counterintuitive as a result.

You probably think you know what a nuclear explosion sounds like.

You’re probably wrong.

The first footage released of hydrogen bomb tests was silent. A foley was dubbed in, using a standard explosion or cannon sound effect repeated to form the familiar continuous, ominous rumble. (If you think about this, it’s pretty obvious that the footage most of us are used to is dubbed, because audio and visual are simultaneous–and these films are shot from miles away from the blast site.)

Collectively we have made the world of known scientific learning one of mystery and furious, opinionated debate. It irritates my Inner Pedant that space battles on TV are chock-full of explosions. They claim in space no one can hear you scream, and they are right. They just don’t demonstrate it so everyone carries on thinking space and vacuums transmit noise just like air.

Equally it’s a guilty pleasure to watch a space battle where not all the ships are oriented the same way up.

More importantly though, if we make scientific discovery a matter of opinion instead of an accepted best description of reality (until we get a better theory – because that is how science works), then we end up with creationism and climate change deniers and all kinds of crazy.

Fiction is a fantastic escape. It’s a means of exploring other possibilities, of examining the human condition and sharing emotional connections. It is not a text book for how the world works. Demarcation, people!

So while certain truths may be counterintuitive, that may be nothing more than a failure of current understanding, When it is caused by conscious manipulation of known facts about the  ‘verse then I call it out as fabrication and mythologizing, and demand quality of imagination.

The universe is amazing enough, and has mystery enough, without us compounding our ignorance on purpose.

<Steps down from soap box and shuffles aside>

It’s a beautiful Reality. Enjoy it as it is, without the face paint.

Namaste.

Strength in weakness – or why we need Schadenfreude

Rarasaur’s wondrous “Prompts for the promptless” feature Schadenfreude in this week’s episode.

Definition: Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.

Naturally the Germans made it into a single word while we poor English have to use a whole sentences to describe it. This leaves us less time to indulge our guilty pleasure in the act itself., and so we pragmatically have annexed their word as our own

Don’t give me that look. I know you do it. Every time you cheer a goal or laugh at someone’s stupid mistake, you are guilty. But be reassured, we all do it and it’s part of human nature. It’s tribal, it’s belonging, it makes us feel safe because it identifies The Other, the one who can’t or won’t or didn’t.

There is a passage in Seven Days in New Crete by Robert Graves describing a time traveller’s encounter with the future, where values are different:

…they lacked humour – the pinch of snuff that routs the charging bull, the well-aimed custard pie that routs the charging police constable. For this they had no need, and during the whole of my stay there I heard no joke that was in the least funny. People laughed, of course, but only at unexpectedly happy events, not at other people’s misfortunes. The atmosphere, if it could be acclimatized in an evil epoch like ours, would be described as goody-goody, a word that conveys a reproach of complacency and indifference to the sufferings of the rest of the world.  But this happened to be a good epoch with no scope for humour, satire or parody. I remember an occasion when See-a-Bird absent-mindedly hung up a mirror on what he thought was a nail, but was really a fly that had settled on the wall. Everyone laughed loudly, but not because of his mistake: it it was a laugh of pure pleasure that he caught the mirror on his toe as it fell, and saved it from a crash.

The time traveller is not very impressed. It’s why Paradise sounds dull and Milton had the best line for Lucifer with “Better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven.” We like it a bit rough. It gives us stretch and challenge, and if we cope we can enjoy the failure of others as an added boost to our self-esteem.

EBL is in a rather sombre mood today, na? Walk with me on the Dark Side a little longer, I beg you.

My definition of civilisation is whom we choose to mock and whom we cherish and support. Do we enjoy a child crying because of failure? Or an elderly pensioner unable to understand the changes to the bus timetable? Or a disabled person trying to get into the library and having to use the goods entrance? What about foreigners who don’t understand how to queue properly? Somewhere in there you may enjoy their misfortune, but we all differ where and when.

My personal moments of unrestrained gloating are focused on seeing the mighty fallen. In other words, people that I believe deserve it because they have been insufferable in the past and are now getting a taste of their own medicine. You know the creatures I mean: politicians.

EBL, why are these innocent lambs fair game in your harsh, unflinching, judgmental eyes?

Well, I’m glad you asked me that. (I suspect some of you just nodded, and said “Right on, sister!” or words to that effect.)

It’s because politicians try to tell me how to live my life. They try to tell me what is right and wrong. They try to define Us and Them according to their personal belief system and not the consensual system of the people who elected them. They lie and cheat and abuse their positions. I am generalising: some of them are as yet still trying to do right, whether it’s effective or not.

All those squirmy moments in the Leveson Inquiry, those were great. Nothing changes, but at least now there are memories to cherish and my prejudices confirmed. That is why in this evil epoch we need humour, satire and parody – because the mighty are men, and women, of clay, of human weakness and frailty but pretending to be more. We need to remind them of their basic humanity, and if we do not use  sharp, pointy, steel weapons we must use sharp, pointy, steely words.

If I were a conspiracy theorist (and I watched The X Files avidly, so it is possible) I would assume that politicians would try to hide what they do to avoid such embarrassment. They try, poor dears, of course, but they always forget they are still only human. In the end they slip up, or are out-ed by the little people who serve them, and the ensuing hilarity over their pathetic machinations makes the enjoyment all the greater.

It’s why we enjoy the satirist’s rant, and I commend you all to A Different Daylight’s recent article on this very topic.  Because a well-constructed rant lifts Schadenfreude to the next level, to “Schadenfreude-EX-treme!”, as it were. It exposes and propagates and multiplies the effect for all to share, enlarging the tribe.

I cackle, my dears, I snort, and I turn to my friends and neighbours and indulge in tribal bonding with the well-worn incantation: “I told you so! Bloody politicians, they’re all the same. What can you do?” And we all guffaw and someone buys another round, and we are united in warm, joyous, fuzzy contempt, and the world turns.

We are devastatingly, shamefully, beautifully human.

Namaste.