Abstraction, distraction and detraction

A few weeks ago I read Stephen King’s book on writing called, um, ‘On Writing’. If you haven’t read it, and you have any kind of literary aspirations, I thoroughly recommend you give it a go. Even if you don’t, as a biography of a successful writer’s career, and as an insight into how he does what he does, it’s well worth looking into.

I’d never read any Stephen King novels before reading that one, mainly because my entire understanding of his work until now consisted of just three pieces of information.

  1. He writes horror (which I’m not into).
  2. His stories often make surprisingly good movies – Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, The Shining, etc.
  3. His books have the word ‘fuck’ in them (a fact gleefully revealed to me by a friend at school when I was twelve).

But on the strength of reading the awesome On Writing I decided to give some of his work a go.

reading the king

The old me would me would have felt the need to start at the beginning, with Carrie, because reading people’s work in the order it was published somehow used to seem so important. The new me, who read all The Watch novels by Terry Pratchett first before going back and starting on the rest (and is very happy he did so) decided to start at the very top with what many consider to be his finest work; the 1421 page, complete and unabridged version of ‘The Stand‘.

I bought an old copy from Amazon for 1p, plus £2:80 postage and packing* (I was interested in seeing what it was like, but not that interested), and so far – 444 pages in – I’m enjoying it. Unsurprisingly, considering the length, it rambles a little, and there are an awful lot of characters to keep track of, but it’s well written, the idea’s really interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it will play out.

* The old library copy I’d bought had an anti-theft sticker inside the front cover, a fact which caused me merry hell when I went shopping the other day – with alarms going off all the time, many a suspicious look and one apologetic bag search – until I finally figured out what was going on and ripped it out, taking part of the front cover with it.

For those of you that don’t know, the basic storyline (in a nutshell) concerns a genetically engineered super flu virus that escapes the lab and kills about 97% of the world’s population, and what the remaining 3% do afterwards to survive. It’s an interesting proposition which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to the actual point of this post.

I just read a chapter on the wave of natural selection that would happen if just such a disaster did occur. After the disease had done it’s thing some people, unused to and unprepared for a world without safety and technology, would die off pretty quickly from their own greed, ignorance or stupidity. We are told about a bunch of different people, and the tragic/stupid ways in which they meet their demise, and that made me wonder about the so called ‘sanctity of life’. We’re often told that all life is precious, that dying is bad and everyone is important. But is it true?

There are 7 billion people in the world; 7 billion! Let’s assume that most of them are either making the world a better place, or at the very least not actively trying to mess things up for the rest of us. Statistically speaking, there must be at least some people who are actually making the world a worse place to be. Even if it was just one tenth of one percent, that’s still 7 million people we’d be better off without. That’s a lot. I mean, that’s 7 million deaths that could make the world a better place. Faced with an idea like that it brings the whole sanctity of life thing into question don’t you think? It does for me anyway.

reading in the garden

That was where my mind wandered to on this sunny Saturday morn (NB: I feel ok in having thoughts like this because I’m not actually proposing we go out and start killing people!), when my mobile phone went *ding ding* and I got an e-mail. Train of thought ended. Something new had come along to distract my brain, abstract my thought pattern, and detract from my creative mental ramblings. And that’s what this post is really about.

We’ve made distracting ourselves into a full time thing, so much so that the distractions themselves fight for our attention. Message alerts and notifications want us to stop our lives and take notice of what our friends are getting up to on Facebook or Instagram, and we let them. No wonder we have short attention spans.

But we do it to ourselves too. Whilst I was writing this I heard my friend get up and go in the kitchen. She’s been away for a week and got back late last night, after I’d gone to bed. I felt a compunction to go say hello, see how she was, see how her trip went, and it actually took some effort on my part to stay focused on what I was doing so that it might actually get it finished.

I don’t know if we’d be better off if there were less people in the world, but I do know we’d be better off spiritually speaking if we turned our phones and our brains off once in a while and just stayed in one place – both physically and mentally – and did just one thing at a time. I suspect we’d be a lot happier, and we’d make more of this life that we’re all so keen on preserving.

On Making Assumptions

Originally posted on the Yoga Bum:

Many moons ago I didn’t live in Wimbledon. I couldn’t afford it. But I used to get the tube to Southfields, which is on the way to Wimbledon, so I could kid myself I was going up in the world even though, after a ten minute walk, I was a lot nearer Wandsworth town centre than anything else.

My point is, though it felt a bit posh on the way home, you could just as easily see three blokes trying to nick someone bicycle as you could a family on their way to the school fayre (and indeed, I actually did once).

One day, waiting to cross the road, a bus pulled up in front of me. It was mostly empty, save for a young lad of about twelve or thirteen on the back seat. He had a sullen look and a shaven head, and I don’t think it unfair…

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Ask Yourself Why?

This fascinating presentation by the South American business man and entrepreneur Ricardo Semler asks a lot of great questions about work, life, and what it’s all about (it’s also pretty funny too!).
 


 
It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

I had an interesting chat today with a guy I used to work with a couple of years ago. We both spent a long time at the same company, and we were both generally (but not specifically) miserable for a great number of those years.

As with all these things, it’s only once you get away and look back do you realise just how unhappy you were, and you wonder why you put up with it for so long?

Thinking about it, it occurred to me it’s like the frog in a pan of water on a low heat. Turn the heat up slowly and frog will boil to death before he even realises what’s going on. But try to toss him into some already boiling water and he’ll jump straight out again!

So it is with unhappy situations. The really terrible ones are so shocking we escape from them immediately. The truly nasty, pernicious ones worm there way deep down inside us without us even realising it (often until we explode and don’t understand why?).

I got out by choice, training as a yoga teacher and then going traveling round the world. One of the best decisions I ever made. My friend had a little less of a choice about his exit, which made it a much harder and more painful experience for him.

But looking back now he truly believes it was the best thing that could have happened to him (work-wise, at least). He’s happier now, he’s about to embark upon his own business venture, and to quote him directly, he feels that “…a great weight has been lifted from [his] shoulders.”

Change can be hard, especially when it’s not by choice, but if we can take that change, build on it, and come out the other end with something that benefits us, then it makes it all worthwhile.

That’s what I think anyway. :)

Mission To Berlin

Originally posted on the Yoga Bum:

My girlfriend and I love the Lord Of The Rings movies, as you probably noticed by our visit to Hobbiton and the Lord Of The Rings Tour that we did when we were in new Zealand.

We’ve also been enjoying the Hobbit movies, and have been to see them all at the cinema whenever they came out. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to go see the last one when I was over at Christmas, and now that I’m back again Leipzig (where my girlfriend moved to a few months ago) no longer has it showing anywhere in English (you often get original language movies showing in German cinemas). So, what to do, what to do? Why, go to Berlin and see it of course!

That was how we found ourselves on a coach at 10am heading for the capital. The movie wasn’t til 5pm, but we planned on checking…

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I Never Knew That!

I was telling someone in work the other day about the 20p coins that were accidentally minted without a date (and as such are worth a ton of cash if you find one!) and she in turn told me about this weird thing to do with the design on some of the coins.

Y’know the ones you get that have kind of bits of the design half off the side of the coin? Well it turns out that if you put those coins together you get a coherent pattern. Of course, me being me, I had to give it a go!

And, y’know what? She was totally right. If you put the right 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p together, this is what you get:

coin shield design

Can you see the shield design? How good is that!? :)

Bravo to whoever came up with that design. I can’t speak for the rest of the world; but I like it! :D