I love how YouTube vlogger Natalie (aka Community Channel) starts each video: “Hi, so...” Without really realising it, her style is one I’ve adopted in my head. “Hi, so this week I’ve been thinking about...”

Well this week I’ve been thinking about sensitivity. I post on the evo forum... 

[info] 

I’d link to it but it’s not an especially friendly place even if you do love cars to the extent that you can imagine rating the “correctness” (TM Jobbo) of everything from upholstery to LSD* in an MX5 and thought From A to B was one of my best posts. Actually if that is the case I’ve added a link in the comments on that post. I could add it to the main body of post and thus provide a nice little hyperlinky but that’s just not how this one is going to play out.


[/info]

... Anyway it’s a little place on the internet where calling someone a cvnt (the swearbot is a cross little bot) is a term of endearment. My point (and I’m getting to it) is that for a long time this ginger stepchild of the interweb was a fairly ignored area. Largely self regulated and populated by some of societies more interesting rejects, debate is quick, funny and considered (it may be consideration as to how best integrate fish puns into a seemingly unrelated subject but considered nonetheless).

What has changed recently is that evo magazine to which the forum is related (discussing the latest issue usually makes the hot topics) has a new editor and Nick Trott has perhaps bravely, perhaps foolishly decided to descend to the internet’s cellar and engage with the Evoisters. And he has done it well; Mr Trott has been friendly and flexible. It probably helps that the magazine’s direction under him has largely been considered to be a good thing but he also seems to be a genuinely nice bloke. One thing he has done that has caught the attention of the posters (that point, it is coming up soon) is a section in the magazine within the letters page called From the forums. I’m not sure whether it hopes to inspire more intelligent conversation on matters of cars through flattery of tender online personalities by putting their thoughts in print or whether it’s simply another way of sharing car views but a funny exchange made this month’s press via the topic of ‘Manual or paddles.’

Rich B : Hands up who’s answered this question in a serious manner because this looks like the kind of thread that will get featured in the mag.

JL : <3 pedals, you’re a home. Print that.

Beyond the fact this genuinely made me laugh, it made me realise how rare it is to see a representation of humour that touches on the politically incorrect. I love this soapbox as I have complete freedom but while I recognise a need for moderation and a need to protect the rights of those potentially subject to discrimination, much of modern media takes this far too far. Evo magazine has made a brave move publishing this comment but it’s one I applaud. It is obviously made tongue in cheek and by recognising there being a place for that, evo magazine steps off the bandwagon of perpetuating stupidity by pandering to the over sensitive. 


An example of where we’ve lost track of freedom of expression is the reaction to Gordon Brown referring to a woman as a bigot. Now I’m no fan of Gordy but I really feel for him at the moment. He isn’t one of life’s charmers and is awkward in public but he seems to believe in what he does (he’s wrong but I respect his conviction). The recording of him sounding tired once he had thought he had left the public sphere struck me as an infringement upon his liberties. At what point do we lose the right to an opinion? The right to express an offensive opinion publically I agree should be limited and particularly those in the public eye should face repercussions if they go beyond acceptable lines but to think those opinions is surely still within our rights and to express it privately is again reasonable. I think this largely because the alternative is intolerable.

What is important about this is that if we want authentic and honest leaders then we must allow them to be people. I’m not entirely convinced by Clegg’s slightly nice but dim persona but he strikes me as being the most trustworthy of the three. Clegg admits the limits of his knowledge and I think that has been what makes him so popular in the leaders debates. What got lost in the overreaction to bigotgate was that Gordy has a job to do and his campaign leaders need feedback such as his rating of the people selected to speak to him.


Sensitivity seems to get in the way of much these days and it was timely that a piece by Tim Ferriss that I caught via Mashable today featured the immortal line from Colin Powell that “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” We hate it that politicians lie but are not prepared to accept that even though they want our vote, they may not like us as individuals.

I do take politics seriously (hell I’m writing up the thesis to my third degree on the subject) but I think we need a little more of the attitude expressed by the poster known as JL. I’d love it if Gordy could just turn around and say “I think you’re a tosser but I’m still the best person for the job” because we know Gordy is a cunt and Gordy knows he is a cunt and it’d be nice to shift the focus to the policies. I won’t be voting Labour but that’s not because I dislike Gordon Brown and I won’t be voting Lib Dem because I quite like Nick Clegg. My personal view of David Cameron is actually that he has an unnerving resemblance to a Ken doll but of the three I believe he’d make the best Prime Minister and that the Conservatives represent the best option for the intelligent voter living in the real world. And I’d still think that even if Dave called me up this evening just to say he doesn’t like me.

* Hint: Not drugs
 
This week I’ve been contributing to a diary project seeking to chart relationships in the 21st century. It’s been an interesting opportunity to take stock of my relationship and appreciate things I have begun to take for granted. I have always had a profound gratitude for the cup of tea the boyfriend brings me in bed each morning but despite having been in an unfulfilling marriage I somehow began to stop finding utter joy in the sleaze the boyfriend utters so casually – one instance this week was his commenting that he could see cleavage as I sat at my laptop in my dressing gown. Without thinking, I pulled it about me only to be met with a cry of “wrong action.” Coyly (well as coy as I can be) I pulled it open to an approving “Yes! More!” Funny how you can start taking being lusted after for granted. Well this week I’m grateful.

I’ve had an interesting week actually and if I were to count blessings in an explicit way then they’ve been coming in thick and fast. The weekend was taken easy given a horrible virus I spent last week battling but managed a wonderful meal with friends on the Saturday night. Monday saw me back at work before going to a gig... on a school night! The Union fuses Thunder with Winterville and that has got to be pure rock joy (Luke Morley and Peter Shoulder together is just wow to the nth). A touch sleepily I put in a half day at the museum before driving to Bath to participate in the finals to be a food taster at the Bath and West Show. It was an incredible afternoon hosted at the Bertinet Kitchen with myself and the other four finalists sampling cider, cheese and bread. The honour of being the official taster went to an enigmatic young man called Max who I am sure will do a fantastic job.

What this means to me is that life on Earth is pretty damned good. 

The boyfriend drew my attention to this article this week and what really stood out to me was the notion that heaven ‘is a history of subconscious human longings. Show me your heaven, and I'll show you what's lacking in your life.’ From thirsty desert folk to horny Muslims, heaven is essentially an avoidance tactic. If we focus on a future where our dreams can come true we can procrastinate through life rather than actually make changes. That the history of heaven is easily charted comes as no surprise but it is interesting nonetheless to see how it has been utilised. Like an opiate it deadens awareness of the here and now and soothes with stories of there being a trade off. 

Religion propagates misery. I remember waiting for a friend in Durham city centre and an evangelist starting a conversation. A text arrived announcing my friend was running ten minutes late and so I decided to hear the woman out. After feigning an interest in my life she informed me that I didn’t love my fiancé because if I did I wouldn’t be condemning him to hell by living with him before marriage (love that this was my responsibility). While I experienced a fair degree of incredulity at the utter dementedness of the woman, I was also struck by a huge wash of sympathy – what must her life be like if she lives to spread such venom? Ignoring heaven for a moment, a comparison of our lives sees mine filled with joy and wonder at the world with a huge amount of love for the people around me whereas instead of seeing the world for what it is, she lives in the shadows of what it ought to be and is not and tries to pull people down to her level in the name of salvation. Now I’m possibly going about this all wrong and will one day be trying to negotiate with St Peter (and most likely failing and calling him a jumped up door Nazi) but it just doesn’t resonate that we’re meant to be miserable.


What then do I suggest the purpose of life on earth to be? In short, I don’t think there is one. I believe in fluke and good fortune seeing a chain of events kick starting evolution. I think we’re here to reproduce and then die and have no more purpose than a single celled organism. Oh and I think that finding that depressing is an inadequate reason for an imaginary friend to make you feel better. What I’d like is for more people to confront that depressing notion and truly examine it because actually it is liberating and a source of joy. I’m somewhat rare in being a jolly nihilist but I genuinely see a life without reason or purpose to be a completely blank slate to choreograph our dreams upon. We can do anything!*

Ask yourself what you’d do if there were no limitations upon you. Now note what those limitations are; the majority of them are of your own making. Ok so if you’re obese you’re unlikely to make it as a ballerina but why must you ‘make it’? I am an artist. I write, I take photographs and I create. I’m not really recognised for any of these things but I do them anyway. My successes are a bonus. I often refer to the boyfriend as my rock god. He’s not in a band but he has one of the most devoted groupies on the planet; the validation that comes with platinum record sales would no doubt be nice but it’s not necessary.

I’m happy because I choose to be. I choose not to take life too seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

* For the sake of everyone having the greatest potential to explore their dreams, society is necessary and my ‘anything’ excludes such things as paedophilia.
 
On Sunday, Mariella Frostrup penned one of her best yet Dear Mariella column’s regarding the psychology of youth.

 One of the qualities the young are blessed with is an inflated degree of self-certainty often coupled with an unshakable sense of self... It’s commonly referred to as the ignorance of youth and, as defence mechanisms go, it’s as important as any we’ve been blessed with.

That such self-belief should be available in large quantities when we know little or nothing of the world has always struck me as the most convincing evidence of a “Grand Plan.” Something or someone very smart appears to have recognised that while we are in the process of bursting from our chrysalis and fluttering out into the big, wide world, we need conviction in our own capabilities just to propel us into what might otherwise appear a terrifying world. It’s what gives us the strength to take crazy risks, throw ourselves into unsuitable relationships, embark on mad adventures around the world and generally cause the adults in our lives to fret and at times even despair.


While I have experienced my fair share of those wishing to rain on my parade, as a rule I have been fortunate in having had relationships with individuals that truly embrace the nurturing of the next generation. The man I shorthandedly refer to as my late stepfather (he and my mother elected not to marry but the relationship was as significant to each as any marriage could have been) was hugely influential in fostering my self-belief. That’s not to say he was without criticism, anyone who knew Bill Daring will attest that he did not sugar coat his opinions, but the criticism was always fair, always deserved and most significantly, always constructive and with clear advice on how to improve. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually follow the vast majority of his advice (not at first at least) and would roll my eyes like the best teenage brats, but the underlying message got through.

It’s your journey, it’s your path. Make it happen and make it count.


It’s true for everyone and when we lack experience to make the decisions that need making then we must throw all of our conviction at what our gut tells us, or what we fancy doing, or what side of the coin came up. If we actually stopped and considered whether we could do something, we’d never leave the front door.

I’ll confess that until I was boarding my flight to Singapore when I moved to the Far East in 2008, I avoided thinking about it. I had no idea how to find somewhere to live and whether I was capable of building a new life. I just threw myself at it and hoped for the best. And of course, we are all infinitely resourceful when we need to be and so I coped perfectly well. My life has now changed and the adventure that brought me back to the UK (a most incredible man) saw me gain a degree of experience that has seen me begin to lose some of my youthful recklessness. The experience has come at the hands of my boyfriends’ two young sons; two wonderful people in whose eyes I am ‘an adult’. For the first time, I have begun to understand the fearful aspects of those I have tended to label “old people.” 


Suddenly I find myself terrified of making mistakes. While I could laugh at my stupidity of falling asleep on a beach and being robbed there is nothing funny about thinking you’ve lost a cherished stuffed toy. I worry about ridiculous things that a year ago wouldn’t have touched upon my radar. Life is now about striking a balance between impetuousness and patience. I am learning to roll my eyes less at the boyfriend I have a tendency to refer to as prematurely middle-aged and appreciate that his reservation is not only a side effect of fatherhood but reflects a maturity and sophistication that I am yet to attain. The balance he brings to my life has always been an attractive quality but I’m increasingly stepping away from the notion that he is the yin to my yang (although I believe we will always complement each other’s personalities) to a view that he is just a little further along life’s path than me. In others I value qualities I once found insipid and dull and am losing appreciation of qualities I once found vivacious and novel.

Today when the boyfriend and his boys burst into his flat I was taken aback by there being two children where last week there was a child and a toddler. His youngest has just turned two and has suddenly started putting words together. It was like meeting a new person, one suddenly self assured and with a huge increase in control over his language; pointing at the TV and requesting “program Daddy”, holding his cup out to ask for “apple [juice] please” and “up Tay (he can’t say his K’s)” when he wanted me to pick him up. And in an incredible double development, his elder brother (who recently turned 5) started a conversation with me about how there were no planes today because of volcanoes (this came complete with him explaining volcanoes to me).

This surge in confidence is wonderful to be privy to and their willingness to try and fail is inspiring. This is my trade off, for losing my own exuberance and weathering the storms of experience, I get to enjoy it in the next generation. And I’m happy to grow up slowly because the people I believe I can learn the most from are children. Gaining experience is vital to my future and I embrace it wholeheartedly but I’m glad I have my grounding; while I enjoyed #leadersdebate I’d say the two most important points made this evening were the youngest saying his pleases and thank you’s charmingly and the eldest showing an appreciation of cause and effect.

* Ok I am, but that’s not the point here.
 
This began as a comment but it required a soapbox...

It is so frustrating to have decisions made by people that don't understand how our generation works. I regularly buy DVDs of my favourite films as I appreciate having a copy of the artwork and many of the extras that less commonly make it online (I'm guessing I'm in a minority of those that watched the historical research bit for Girl with a Pearl Earring and re-watch it fairly regularly). And because Keifer deserves perfect quality, I own the entirety of 24 on disc. Yet, I watch Grey's Anatomy as it's aired via a great site that allows my pathetic obsession to flourish and, more importantly, an episode of Most Haunted being on Youtube enabled me to do research for my job.

There is overlap and I spend as much money as I ever did on media. In fact, if I ever get pregnant I shall be asking the father for the entire boxed set of Grey's Anatomy to support me through the sleepless nights. I have also in the past started watching a film online only to confirm it was worthy of a big screen, turned it off and gone out (shamefully it was to see The Ugly Truth because Butler was evidently going to be worthy of larger projection).


Obviously these examples are shallow but they reflect how I and my peers use the internet. Yes I watch stuff for free but I still spend money. I have a vast amount of music on my laptop that I copied from the boyfriend's CD collection but this has fostered a love of his music and the purchasing of gig tickets.

I genuinely don't see myself as a thief. I have never plagiarised and while I regularly quote those that have inspired me I always give accreditation to the best of my knowledge and provide links to the original material (hell, I even link twitter profiles to people I mention). All of the images on my website are my own which means I sooner compromise on quality before integrity. I’m happy to be dismissed but when I write about someone I make reasonable efforts to let them know (it’s the least I can do and to date every single person has said thanks).

I have my ethics and while they may be a little vague in places I have strived to develop them and what really gets my goat is the fact that I am a music and film lover. I  LOVED watching Avatar in 3D and equally I loved the small Gun gig I attended at the tail end of last year that introduced me to the incredible and awesome New Device where yes, the boyfriend* bought the latest CDs from both bands while we were there.


I suppose my issue is that when illegal file-sharing gets discussed, I just don’t see how I fit into that. It’s not so much a case that I tick both boxes of “CD/DVD buyer, cinema and gig goer” and “Grey’s Anatomy obsessive” but that they are completely mutual. I like the evolution of the artwork on my Nip/Tuck box sets and like owning them but I still wanted to watch the latest episode online. Just because I watch something online doesn’t mean I don’t buy the DVD and just because I copy music doesn’t mean I don’t buy CDs and gig tickets. I save pictures I like from the net but also buy a lot of artwork. Developing my tastes doesn’t stop an appreciation for a well-framed print. I save pictures and send them to the boyfriend but that is to clarify where we spend our money with regard to art.

Obviously there are abusers of the system and I appreciate a need for legislation but if ever there has been a grey issue rubber stamped in black and white, it is this. 

* Just realised that I shout out about everyone but rarely the funniest and most interesting bloke I know online (which is where I met him; the 3D stuff inc. relationship title came much later)
 
Picture
Or perhaps not... It’s a quarter past nine and my video editing is coming along very slowly. So slowly that rather than have a video take care of this week’s column, I’m going to abandon that plan and knock one out in words.

This week I celebrated Easter. I have a deep fondness for religious festivals and really don’t mind what inspired them as long as there is some good food to cook and share with family and friends (in that respect I’m very traditional as I stick to the pagan bit). I curled up on the sofa one evening with Feast and chose a roast lamb dish and found a luscious recipe for a Simnel cake. But before it was time to cook, there was an early wake-up call for the 4am Project.

Actually before the early wake-up call was an early night and before that was the first of the new skills I wanted to develop. My attitude to life is generally that I can do anything I want (within legal limits) and what I cannot do, I cannot do yet. When I first started at the Edward Jenner Museum my boss asked me whether I could create an organisational chart for her. I told her that I would. I was upfront about checking what an organisational chart actually was but once I was certain of what she wanted I was looking for the appropriate Microsoft Office tutorial and getting on with it. The chart was in her inbox an hour or so later. It’s pretty basic but it met her needs.

What I find however, is that I work best when I have specific targets. I find it difficult to learn something until there is a context for it. So in the last few weeks I have been rustling up dozens of things in Microsoft Publisher, a piece of software I used for the first time in February 2010 when I saw it on my work computer and wondered whether it might be better than Powerpoint for certain things (I have managed with Powerpoint for the last few years as Publisher isn’t part of the student package I bought with my laptop).

The 4am Project offered the perfect opportunity to work on a few things. My camera is a Nikon D5000 I got a few months ago and I only know how to use a fraction of its potential. I was still discovering new things about my previous camera, a Panasonic TZ5, when I upgraded and I want this attitude to change. I have taken some lovely pictures with my Nikon but they are still very basic and owe far more to the clever scene settings (I particularly like ‘Child’ where ‘Clothing and background details are vividly rendered, while skin tones remain soft and natural’) than any real talent on my behalf. Where my ability lies is in composition and my ideas and I’m confident that improving my technical skills will one day bear fruition.


Something else I want to work on is my filming and film editing. When I lived in Malaysia I used to make short films for the boyfriend as a way of showing him my world and keeping us connected. I’m working on a proposal for a research project that will require film as well as the written word so my efforts here also called for development. My intention was to use the 4am Project as an inspiration for developing these skills.

It began well with a series of photographs charting the sun setting on the 3rd of April but my shots taken at and around 4am left a lot to be desired. I took a reasonable amount of film as well and it will come together to sufficiently tell a story. The experience has encouraged me to work harder and take my photos and filming more seriously and has highlighted the gaps in my knowledge. I’m also awaiting the results of a friend who has offered to photoshop an image for me to see whether it can be improved. This has raised another skill that I want to develop; improving photos after the event in addition to simply taking them.


There comes a point at which we have to ask ourselves what level of skill we are willing to accept. I am a self-confessed perfectionist prone to obsessing over tiny details and losing sight of the bigger picture at times. One reason I write this blog is that it forces me to produce even when uninspired, even when I hate what I write and even when I have a brilliant idea and then want to throw my toys out of my pram because it hasn’t worked out the way I wanted. What I find astounding is that the feedback I get doesn’t reflect my own interpretation of what I’ve written and the work I hate seems to receive similar responses to the work I’m pleased with.

So I’m eager not to lose sight of the fact that I take photos and make films for the joy of the doing and how that activity changes my perception of the world. I didn’t immediately upload my pictures onto the Flickr group because I wasn’t really happy with any of them and I suppose I left the video editing until tonight because I’m feeling a little flat about the whole thing. This missed the point of what first excited me about the 4am Project and I’m now chastising myself for getting carried away with perfecting the skill when what matters is the practise.


I won’t finish my film tonight and I won’t finish it tomorrow night as, in a show of remorse for a shocking wheel spin that covered my MX5 in Wales’ best mud, the boyfriend is taking me for dinner. But I’ll turn my attention to it over the weekend and update this entry accordingly.

It’s about the journey and not the destination at any rate.
 
I’m not very good with boxes. We’re continually asked to think outside the box and yet modern life is all about fitting into boxes and ticking boxes and being mocked by a box that will ONLY ALLOW YOU 140 CHARACTERS!

Actually I’m ok with twitter and although I loathe the concept of being asked to think outside the box I’m yet to actually meet someone who has asked it of me. No, my issue is more that I don’t really fit into boxes or tick the right boxes. I’m fond of the saying ‘I reject your reality and substitute my own’ and this is not merely a witty little statement I’ve latched onto in the hopes of enhancing a vapid personality. Don’t you just hate those people by the way? Those overweight prematurely middle-aged women that describe themselves as bubbly; one of whom I met recently told me within minutes of meeting her that she’d been a Kathryn/Katherine but she’d recently decided to go by Katie as she felt it was more youthful. I pitied her at this (I’m not wholly without compassion) but she went on to say she’d put it in a company memo...

I’m just saying.


Anyway, I’m not an overweight prematurely middle-aged woman that describes herself as bubbly. No, for me witty little statements are simply convenient shorthand for complex ideas. It’s not so much that I’ve an anarchistic streak claiming that rules are made to be broken but I don’t see them as necessarily rigid as other people do.

I work with a rather rigid individual who fortunately for me volunteers at the museum and as such her role is to assist the employed staff with their day to day roles. Despite there being a degree of personality clash I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with her as she has a lot of experience in the museum industry and while her knowledge may be imparted upon me with a fair degree of derision and incredulity that I’ve found meaningful employment in her industry, I’m happy to learn from anyone who can teach me something.


I think the personality clash largely stems from the fact I casually reject her reality. She lives in a world where museumology is a requisite for a museum job and her way of explaining the loophole of my job is to define me as essentially being a businesswoman located within the museum industry; I don’t really count because I’m a marketer. Of course what matters is that my employer looked at my unrelated degrees, took in my personality and skill set and hired me anyway. After a rather amusing (for me) lecture on how to get a job in the museum industry I suggested to this girl that the rules might be somewhat more flexible than she realised. She shrugged off the notion, clarifying that there may be some flexibility in marketing but in other areas definitely not. I decided to leave her to her views.

But sometimes there are boxes you need to fill. This week I found the house I’m going to share with the boyfriend. I found my current place on Gumtree and my landlord never asked for references; she just believed that I was a student working part-time in retail. This time I needed to remember all the addresses I’ve lived at and all kinds of detail that I tend to forget. I’m hoping the fact that I’m only on a temporary contract won’t be a problem because it doesn’t bother me. I’ll always find work to pay the bills. It sounds arrogant but I find solutions and I’m not precious about what work I’ll do if choices are limited. But that doesn’t fit in a box. Fortunately the boyfriend is a box ticker (I mean this in a nice way) so hopefully there won’t be a problem.


I don’t mean to flaunt the system and when the boyfriend calls me a free spirit I don’t think he means slutty hippie and that it’s a compliment. And in day to day life I enjoy playing by my own rules and not taking life too seriously. For the most part it works but application forms are difficult. In academic circles, my four years of postgraduate research count as work but outside academia this suddenly counts as education; a subtle but significant difference. The issue is that I onlysee working towards my BA as being a student because that’s when I lived like a student. After than I essentially worked from home, for myself and to my own schedule: planning research, managing budgets, collecting and evaluating data and presenting findings in a variety of formats.

There’s a limit to being a free spirit and sometimes there is just a correct way of doing things. I don’t fight the boxes en masse. One needs to pick ones battles. So I edit my personality to fit boxes and I try to tick the right boxes.