Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘anecdote’ Category

I’ve stopped being round, and I’m back in my prime.

At least, in a numerical sense. Physically, after the lunch and cake assortment laid on by my mother-in-law this afternoon, I’m still feeling pretty much spherical.

I’m also a Mersenne prime again as of today. The last time that was the case, the Cold War wasn’t over, Charles and Diana were still making a go of it, Mike Tyson wasn’t a convicted rapist, and Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Disney’s Aladdin were both yet to rock the word with their cultural impact.

So much has changed, in merely the time it takes to go from 2n-1 to 2n+1-1. By the time 2n+2-1 rolls around… I can only wonder what brave new world awaits.

On with the year, then.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Recently I experienced one of the shockingly few occasions, in my thirty years and change on this world, in which death wasn’t just an abstract concept for me to vaguely understand from an intellectual distance.

Our guinea pigs died a little over a week ago, and as such, this blog is now sadly mascotless.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the loss of Kirsty’s cat Bruno, in a post critically acclaimed and highly lauded by a wide audience of in-laws who’d known Bruno for years longer than I had and were also sad that he’d gone.

This isn’t a eulogy post for Higgs and Boson in the same way that that was for Bruno. But I wanted to write about a few things that I noticed, in the immediate aftermath of that time I wandered outside to give our furry friends some fresh water and grass, only to discover two motionless corpses.

1. I was surprised how bothered I was that they were dead.

I say “surprised” because this was undoubtedly a less significant and tragic moment than when my cat housemate died in 2011. This is true even though I’d only lived with him for his last couple of shaky months, while the pigs had been around for a few years.

I mean, guinea pigs? C’mon. Not to diminish anyone else’s attachment to their own furry rodents, but they’re a bit rubbish.

Higgs and Boson were squeaky idiots without a great deal of personality, lacking the brainpower to even conceptualise who I was in any meaningful way which might have let me delude myself that they cared about me. Not like cats. Cats are very good at forcing that delusion upon you, especially when they’re hungry.

Our pig-interest had drifted notably in recent months, anyway, especially since Pi came along and was way more interesting. We kept them fed and watered and safe from wild animal attacks, but we hadn’t had much socialising time with them lately. Aside from bringing them in to splash around in the bath while I was cleaning out their hutch a little while ago, we hadn’t really ventured very far above the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy of piggy needs. They were fluffy and cute, and a regular part of my life – just not a hugely important or stimulating one.

But for nearly a week, my mind kept wandering back to the fact that they were gone, and feeling horrible about it. Several times a day my face and throat would start doing that thing like when my wife sees a John Lewis advert or a lonely owl.

I’ve never actually lost anything that’s been as big a part of my life as they were. Which sounds ridiculous, but I think it’s true. Nothing else has been there so constantly and consistently – checking their water and food just about every day, letting them run about in the grass while their hutch gets cleaned out most weekends, making sure they’re tucked in safe every time the wind and the rain picked up – and then suddenly not been anywhere any more.

This was the first death of a pet that was really mine. Not like Bruno; I was just his fellow lodger for a couple of months. But I went with Kirsty to pick Higgs and Boson out from the pet shop. And I dug a hole to bury them in at the bottom of the garden.

2. I think the pigs have kinda acted as a proxy for something I’ve had very little experience of having to face directly.

There’s something ideologically offensive about the idea of something, which once was, just suddenly ending like that. The guinea pigs turning up dead has been a reminder that this is something which can just happen, out of nowhere, to me and to things in my life. Even if pigs rank pretty low on the heartbreak scale, I’m going to lose things I love.

I didn’t so much miss them and want them back – they’re guinea pigs, there’s not a lot to miss – but I wanted this whole thing not to have happened. And let’s be honest: I wanted it not to have happened to me. It was a selfish feeling, more than something based on real sympathy for the pigs’ own plight.

It makes everything feels less certain and stable, in a way that I’m pretty sure you’re meant to figure out when you’re about six, but which I seem to have missed.

3. Often, your physical response determines your emotions more than the other way around.

The phrase to Google if you want to find out the fascinating story here seems to be “misattribution of arousal“. Basically, various physiological states such as fear and excitement have a lot in common, as far as what’s going on in terms of your body chemistry – and whether you’re frightened or excited in any given moment is, to a surprising extent, something your brain can just decide for itself, rather than being entirely determined by the situation you’re in.

This is why horror movies and roller coasters are good first date ideas. The actual reason someone’s pulse is racing might be because they’re being flung through the air, or screaming at an actress not to go outside alone because she’s going to get eviscerated – but on some level, all they know is that they’re sat next to you, and they’re manifesting all the same physical symptoms of romantic interest and excitement, so they unconsciously make up a story to explain why you appear to get them all hot and bothered.

I’ve been able to watch something similar happening to my own emotions. When I was back at work a couple of days after burying the pigs (it was a long bank holiday weekend, I didn’t take compassionate leave), there were a couple of moments when I walked briskly across the office, sat down, felt a bit out of breath (because I walk fast and my body is a frail bundle of out-of-shape twigs) – and suddenly felt sad about them again.

The natural assumption, if I were still labouring under the common misconception that I have any innate understanding of my own thoughts and feelings, would be that my grief sometimes causes me to feel physically lethargic and run-down. What’s actually happening far more often is that, after some minor physical exhaustion, my brain notices that slight feeling of sagging due to being a bit puffed, and decides after the fact that I must be feeling sad about the pigs, so it conjures up some appropriate emotions to suit my physical state.

Sometimes, I’m not crying because I feel sad; I feel sad because I’m crying. This is a ridiculous way for a conscious mind to arrange things. But it’s also seriously empowering to know that, if your mood’s kinda low, maybe you just haven’t stood up straight, adopted a Superman pose, and forced a smile in too long – and that such easy fixes can really make a big difference.

4. I gave blood again last week.

It was my fifth time, and it’s still an important, easy, wonderful thing that you can probably do too. It hurts less than banging your toe on a door, which I’ve also done this week, only this way you save lives and you get a free biscuit.

And although that’s still all true, and I believe and stand by my usual spiel as much as ever… I believe it as an idea, on an intellectual level, at a remove from what it means.

When I exhort you to find a blood donation centre near you, and go along sometime to chat about your suitability to donate with some wonderfully professional and friendly nurses, and let them look after you every step of the way while you stop people from dying, just by having a bit of a lie down and then a snack… I’m not really feeling the emotional impact of what I’m talking about.

I absolutely mean every word. Giving blood is good, saving lives is wonderful, and people are important. I’ve been sad, and I’ve missed people, and there are people in my life who I really don’t want to die.

But these two guinea pigs are about the greatest loss I’ve ever actually had to personally deal with.

What it’s actually like – the actual sensations, the qualia, the damnable phenomena and experiences we’re trying to prevent, the aching hollowness, the bewildering sense of loss and being lost, the disorientation of stumbling on a missing stair… that’s all still new to me. It shouldn’t be, for someone my age, given the inevitability of having to face it, and the lack of notice with which it may come. But there it is.

And if it scales up proportionately – from unremarkable whiffly balls of hair who it’s been quite nice to have around, up to, like, people, with brains full of personalities and agency and hopes and clich├ęs and all the rest – then holy crap. Death sucks.

Yep. That’s why you come here. For the frequent updates, and for the profound and original insights into the human condition.

That’ll do, pigs. That’ll do.

Read Full Post »

I am currently sandwiched between a pair of prime twins. The last time that was true, I was barely legal. The next time it happens, I’ll be the Ultimate Answer.

I’m also the product of a series of the first consecutive primes. That hasn’t happened in 4! years. And if I want to see it happen again, Aubrey de Grey is going to have to step up his game.

The other thing I tend to do on my birthday is look at how much other historically successful people had achieved by whatever age I’ve reached now, but I think I’m done with that. I mean, of course there’s plenty of people who’d achieved all kinds of hugely impressive stuff by my age. I’m 30. I’m a proper, legitimate grown-up. There’s no point continuing to compare my own accomplishments to those of the most prominently well known individuals in various creative fields throughout all of history, as if there were some kind of expectation on me to live up to some equivalent level.

So I’m just going to go get drunk instead. Seeya.

Read Full Post »

Eeeeeeeee!

We’re internet celebrities again, me and my beautiful Rock n Roll Bride.

Gosh. It really was a lovely day, that one time we got married.

Read Full Post »

Before the con, we had three nights in a snazzy hotel, slightly further out into Kent, and just revelled in having absolutely nothing to do for days on end. We lounged in bed and read books and watched every episode of Spaced. We found the energy before we left to pootle over towards Dover and stroll along the white cliffs, pausing for a cream tea at the far end and then coming back to join the National Trust.

I have no particularly profound thoughts about any of this, and being a comfortably middle-class twat trying to show you my holiday slides isn’t one of the tangents I’m keen for this blog to start taking. So we had a very nice time and that’s all you really need to know.

Before all that, we got married in a treehouse on Monday. Everyone came and had a great time. There was food and music and favourable weather. Everything was perfect.

I’ve not been sure what to say about this bit. We love each other, so we got married. In many ways it was just that straightforward.

Of course, in a lot of cases, either it isn’t that simple or it shouldn’t be. Some people love each other but don’t want to get married. Some people would love to get married but can’t. Some people change their mind about being married later and, in trying to get things back to normal, collide with a nightmarish system which strongly incentivises spite and vindictiveness. Some people have relationships and loves in their lives that don’t fit neatly into one particular centuries-old heteronormative ideal of how humans ought to interact. Some people want to do things their own way, a bit differently, in ways that society still seems determined to punish them for.

There’s a lot of political and cultural bullshit surrounding marriage, to the point where I don’t even really know whether I support its existence as an institution.

But in our isolated and privileged little corner of the world, it was as simple as a four-year-old’s innocent depiction of two people getting married because they love each other.

Political bullshit aside, there’s room for it to just be a simple, lovely thing, too.

Here’s some pictures of me and my wife looking cute at our lovely wedding which we spent months fretting and stressing over and slightly less time actually working on organising and which I’m very very glad we never have to do again.

Photos courtesy primarily of Camera Hannah, and also a couple from James Surnameunknown.

Godless socialism again tomorrow. Hurrah!

Read Full Post »

As you may have noticed, last Monday I went and got myself a wife. And things are all pretty nice. The wedding and ensuing consecutive mini-honeymoons are all worth gossiping about, and now that I’m back home with a computer and all the free time that comes with not having a wedding to plan, I’m getting myself back into writer mode. So, gossip ahoy-hoy.

Taking events in reverse chronological order, then, this post’s starting off with the London Nine Worlds convention, from which we returned yesterday. Two and a half days of geeks and sci-fi and fantasy and pop culture and room service. We’ve just bought tickets for 2014 and my wife is already making plans for how to dress me up next time, so I guess it must’ve gone kinda okay. A selection of things I took away from the weekend:

1. I’m a nerd.

(Or a geek, or whatever.)

My wife and I spent the last several days sitting in conference rooms and lecture halls, listening to learned and erudite discourse on such topics as: chaos theory and infinite monkeys; the legal challenges and implications resulting from the increased proliferation of robotics in everyday life; Hermione Granger’s credibility or lack thereof as a feminist icon; what conclusions can be drawn about plausible alien ecologies from our own planet’s evolutionary biology; and the restrictively binary mainstream perceptions of gender, sex, and sexuality, along with aspects of culture which tend to reinforce or subvert the dominant paradigms.

And we spent a non-trivial amount of money for the privilege and it was totally worth it.

I also bought a couple hundred Magic cards, a few urban fantasy novels, and a pixel-art necklace for my beloved – and this only after several very restrained tours of the vendor hall, gawping at all the shiny and reining in our impulses to fill our home with all the things.

These are not ways the majority of folk would be thrilled to spend their time, I think. I mean, I hang out almost exclusively with other nerds of one sort or another, in the parts of the world where I get to choose my own socialising schedule, so it might start to seem like swooning over Cory Doctorow is the kind of thing that everyone will immediately get. But really, it all puts me in something of a niche. I’m already thinking about how much of this detail I’ll end up skimming over when I go back to work next week and am quizzed on what I’ve been up to by my work colleagues. They’re not nerds.

2. I’m not that much of a nerd.

(Or maybe just not the same kind of nerd as some other nerds, maybe it’s not a matter of scale, or whatever.)

There’s a particular kind of geek/nerd behaviour I’ve witnessed a lot. The stereotypical nerd is a social misfit in everyday life, who doesn’t have much to say to all the normal people they’re surrounded by, and is largely inept at saying it. They’re an introvert, a loner, with little capacity for interaction with other humans and a tendency to shy away from situations where they might have to do so.

But what you actually see among a lot of nerds is a tendency to congregate eagerly with their own kind, and ample capacity to become extremely extroverted, expressive, and engaged with others, under the right circumstances. It’s really not that these people don’t like socialising, or are all painfully shy; they just don’t give a shit about football or whatever the hell the rest of you guys are talking about. Get them going on something actually interesting, though, and you’ll often have trouble shutting them up. (And you’ll encounter a similar proportion of obnoxious, aggressive dicks as can be found among the species as a whole.)

I really don’t do that one myself. I don’t simply have to join a crowd of the right people, my people, to suddenly find myself opening up and becoming a whole different, chatty, person, just because I finally have something in common with them. It’s not just the fact that muggles want to talk about football that I find off-putting and alienating. Even in subjects where I feel both interested and knowledgeable, I’m not always easy to draw into a conversation, depending on the circumstances (crowds and/or strangers being among the key factors).

Which I guess kinda sucks. I don’t have that sense of “coming home”, or suddenly being among friends, the way some people do at such geekfests. I can’t really imagine that a different sort of crowd ever would give me that feeling, either, because it’s not a matter of being among the “right people” that’s lacking here.

Having said that, there’s one related thing which strongly comes through from all the feedback that Nine Worlds has been receiving:

3. If you wanted a “safe space” for just about any minority interest or quirk, this was it.

For whatever reason (and I’m sure there are fascinating sociology papers discussing this somewhere), there seems to be a significant overlap between, say, reading comics/watching Doctor Who/playing board games/exploring steampunk/enjoying Tolkien/critically analysing Harry Potter, and possessing a not-completely-straightforward gender or sexual identity.

That’s a clunky way of phrasing my point. But there were a lot of people at this con dressing in ways not traditionally associated with their apparent gender in the mainstream world. And, if someone’s a stranger to you, but you happen to know that they’re way into My Little Pony, your estimate of how likely they are to shout transphobic abuse at you should go way down.

There was a whole track devoted to “Queer Fandom”, whose purpose was described as “celebrating and exploring LGBT themes, characters and creators throughout SFF media”. And even though my experience of the con had little overlap with any of their stuff, the general atmosphere of acceptance, welcoming, and camaraderie pervaded the convention as a whole. The idea of making it a friendly and safe space for people who wanted to dress, or wear their hair, or in any other way present themselves, in a fashion that might be controversial elsewhere, was built into the running of the con and its ethos.

Even refreshing the #nineworlds hashtag results now, I’m seeing more mentions of the phrase “safe space”. And it means a lot more coming from most of these Twitterfolk than it does from me. Because, y’know, I’m a straight white male. My odds of being “safe” in just about any environment amenable to human life are about as good as you could ask for.

For me, dressing myself comfortably – in a way that I feel truly reflects the person I consider myself to be – involves throwing on the nearest reasonably clean check shirt and cords that are lying around. It takes seconds, and the end result renders me entirely unremarkable. For some people, that’s not the case. They might want to use make-up, and hair dye, and creative outfits, and costumes, and personal accoutrements and ornamentation of all kinds, often in ways that don’t align with any conventional social demographic.

In its simplest form, this means that, if you were at Nine Worlds, you will likely have seen at least one bloke in a dress milling around. And that’s at the least inventive end of the scale.

And my general impression, based on the reports of actual blokes in dresses, among other people who lie outside of various social norms, is that they mostly felt safe and comfortable being themselves at this convention, in a way that starkly contrasts with their experiences in the world in general. Which is groovy.

Actually listening to other people’s personal accounts of such things is important. I mean, I know that to me everyone seemed nice and friendly, but then, someone massively racist or homophobic may have no reason not to be nice and friendly around me. But a brief wander outside my bubble serves as a reminder that, for some folk, it’s a genuine lifeline to have some space where you can just be yourself, without always wondering how long it’ll be before the next mocking catcall or physical abuse, and whether it wouldn’t be simpler to just keep lying to the world about who you are, for the sake of a peaceful life.

So, yeah. I support all of This Sort Of Thing, with very few reservations and a great deal of optimism for the future.

Also we had three nights in a hotel where you can just pick up the phone and ask them to bring you all the food on a trolley and they totally will and you don’t even have to get properly dressed or go outside or anything. How long have I failed to appreciate that that’s a thing?

More to follow, after a much shorter wait this time. I’m feeling back on the wagon now.

Edit: The aforementioned wife has also composed her own report of the weekend, which has a lot more description of the stuff that actually happened there. Also, pictures!

Read Full Post »

(Not in God, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of outpouring.)

I’ve been having one of those days, a bit.

It’s hot, and I’m tired, and wedding planning is stressful. We’re still predominantly kicking ass, and it’s going to be a marvellous day, but sometimes it feels like it might’ve helped to have started working on it a bit sooner. I mean, it’s been over a year and a half since I asked the girl to marry me, why are we leaving virtually all the preparations till the last three months?

(It’s because we’re idiots. But we’re also awesome, and it’s all fine.)

So we do have our bumpy emotional moments, and today, though ultimately productive, has been a bit draining. Also, by a random happenstance of conversational tangent, I just learned earlier that Mog the Forgetful Cat, a barely remembered staple of my childhood, died in 2002. Which made me sad in a way that makes absolutely no sense.

And then later I realised I’d had a song in my head for a little while which my brain probably wanted me to pay attention to. I couldn’t remember what it was or any of the words at first, only that it was rather lovely and a bit sad. After a few minutes of humming it to myself, I figured out that it was The Only Exception by Paramore.

And it felt like time to sit and listen to sad music and have a bit of a cry. Just a bit of one. I don’t think you’re ever of an age or a situation where that’s not allowed sometimes.

It’s a really nice song, although I don’t relate to it to a huge extent. I’ve never been cynical about love, even when I didn’t much fancy my own chances. Nothing about my early experiences soured me to the concept of people caring about each other in a way that can last. And yet there’s not been a single person I’ve ever met, in my life, who I could be doing any of this stuff with, except the one I get to marry. I am very lucky in love.

Today’s been a day of being jabbed “right in the feels”, as the latest generation has rather wonderfully taken to describing things which resonate emotionally in an especially poignant way. I’ve been feeling things more strongly than usual, or at least perceiving my feelings that way. Love is stronger, the very wonder at existence is sharper, the thought of loss is a deeper emptiness, to such an extent that just writing again about some cartoon drawings of a cat who never actually existed is in danger of making me well up again.

It fills me with a need to express it, to get the words out to explain what these feelings are and why they matter, about the importance of compassion in life and the inevitable horror of death. A need which goes far, far beyond my capacity to actually express any such thing, obviously. But there’s so much going on in there.

While I was processing all this earlier, emotionally bubbling over somewhat and having conversations in my head, I asked myself something like: “So, what, do I think that makes me a poet?”

I wasn’t being serious, or I’d have had to tell myself to stop being a twat. Because, as I reminded myself straight away, the answer’s obviously no. Experiencing emotions which are occasionally beyond my power to articulate, and which aren’t very widely or comfortably discussed in public, does not mean that I’m some especially profound soul, who feels things more deeply than everyone else, or lives life more largely than all the numbed sheeple and deadened drones I share the world with. I know better than patronising bollocks like that.

Feeling like this means I’m human. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Now, some people don’t find that the easiest thing to take. Feeling deep, personal emotions is a deeply personal thing, after all. It feels like these moments should be rare and precious experiences, not something millions of people around the world are bound also to be going through at any given instant. I want to be special, dammit, because I’m feeling really hard and the world should appreciate me.

Well, profound and meaningful as it might feel at the time, it’s not as rare as all that. The world’s going through its own shit, at least as intense as this, all over the place, all the time.

As I say, for some this feels like a negative, seems to diminish one’s own importance. I’m not a special and unique snowflake because I feel things this strongly. I’m just a person. A part of me thought I might be more than that, something special.

But I also realised you can look at it the other way.

I’m capable of feeling such powerful things, such passion and desperation and love, of being moved by the sweetness of a song, of pining and longing and missing things I know have never existed, of my own head wanting to explode under the pressure and expanse of all the thoughts and ideas it’s trying to contain…

…and rather than having to be special or amazing or unique, you get all that just from being a person?

Well fuck, there’s billions of those. So, this must be going on everywhere

How much amazing, incredible, mind-blowing, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, unimaginable bursts and explosions of emotion and overwhelm must be punching the world right in its collective feels, every second of every minute of every day?

It’s not a diminishing realisation. It’s unfathomably expanding and awe-inspiring just to attempt to understand how much is being felt, so powerfully, all around us, all the time. How much it means to the people involved, how important it is to them, how much my own pangs of bewilderment and wonder are being replayed on such a colossal, constant scale. Humanity is astounding.

So yeah. That’s the kind of day I’m having.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: