In Theory

I am a white, middle-classish, cisgender male living in a western democracy. You could, quite successfully, I think, argue that there is no other more privileged position in regular global society.

I want to be clear that just approaching the subject of this vlog/blog feels like I’m appropriating it. Today’s book, however, did move me on in my understanding of something that can sometimes be hidden from view, something seen as abstract.

I became interested in feminism and identity politics only because I couldn’t figure out any good reason why significant sections of the population appeared to be excluded or segregated from having a regular hassle-free life.

Thus, on my journey to understand I’ve been handed various books. Like you, I take nourishment from the books I read.

A few weeks ago I was handed Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele. This book explores what queer theory is; something I’ve heard other people talk about and figured, wrongly, that it didn’t apply to me.

I’m still no expert, but I’ve learnt a little bit more about what it is to struggle with who you are and how society relates to that. Mainly, I’ve come to understand how queer theory is important to all of us, no matter how sure we are of our identities. I think that’s valuable; I think we can all get behind that.

Find yourself a copy.

Vlog linked below:

 

Walking Consolation

What do you do when you run out of ideas? I used to go to the pub, or try to talk it out with someone. These days, with a driving job, limited finances, and having not been in Bristol long enough to have developed an accessible support network I tend to go for a walk. In fact, to get these very words out, I went for a walk into town to find the pace of prose I was looking for.

Recently, myself and my ever-suffering editor entered the Bristol Short Story Competition. We failed to make the long-list. The news came in the form of a tweet from the BSSC twitter feed publishing the long-list via a link. I kept scrolling over the list looking for my name. How could I not be on there?

It’s likely that I would have gone for a walk had I had the chance. I couldn’t, I was waiting for a client outside of a prestigious London hotel, The Rosewood, and I had a four-hour drive back to Wells to look forward to. Upon dropping the client and their family home I discovered that my Mum had been admitted into hospital. It had not been a good day.

Eventually, as I got around to preparing this blog, almost two weeks later I was able to relive the pleasure of dipping in and out of The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain De Botton. I still find this book a significant comfort when things get difficult.

I’ll probably start to shy away from the ‘five reasons’ format as I seem to be saying the same things over and over. Maybe I’ll attempt to say something a bit more worth while. Maybe.

Finally, it’s been highlighted to me that I should publish a transcript for the those with hearing needs. I can’t exactly do this as although I do actually produce a script, it’s mostly there as a guide to what I’m going to say. I’m getting better at it, but I tend to stray away from the exact wording I’ve set for myself. I guess by reading the script it may give you a slightly different angle. As a guide, each bullet point represents a cut, and as a treat, Ive included pictures of what a total mess that script is upon writing it.

To my deaf readers/watchers, I apologise. If you have any better suggestions, I’m open to them.

The full vlog is below, with the transcript below that.

#7 The Consolations Of Philosophy

  • So we entered.
  • Myself and my managing editor.
  • We entered The Bristol Short Story Prize.
  • And after weeks of nervous anticipation.
  • We didn’t even make the long-list.
  • So, you know what? I’m going for a walk.

-Cutaway of walking into Bristol-

  • Success, an acquisition list.
  • That flat up there.
  • Or that one.
  • Or at the very least a warehouse where I can store many, many cool machines, with a mezzanine above where I have my living space, guest bedrooms and a bathroom with a huge bath.
  • One of these (pointing at a car).
  • One of these (pointing at a  car).
  • One of these (pointing at a bike).
  • And one of these (pointing at a car).
  • Probably not one of these (pointing at a car).
  • Money sufficient to travel widely, to be able to take friends/relatives without charging them.
  • The ability to rent whole museums or restaurants with expert tour guides like David Attenborough for the Natural History Museum or Brian Cox for the Science Museum to help deliver the perfect date with;
  • Scarlett Johansson.
  • Emma Stone.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal.
  • Jennifer Lawrence.
  • Or all of you beautiful Tinder or Happn people.
  • The Nobel Prize for literature.
  • The Man Booker Prize.
  • A Pulitzer.
  • Winning The Bristol Short Story Prize.

-Cutaway of walking towards the Avon Gorge-

  • This week’s vlog is this, The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain de Botton.
  • Alain is a writer of pop-philosophy and tends to be looked down upon by academics and overlooked by anyone who maybe intimidated by the word ‘philosophy’.
  • Last week I talked about the power of pop to get across complicated ideas.
  • Well philosophy isn’t generally complicated, it’s just presented in a complicated manner.
  • This is Levinas’ ‘Totality And Infinity’.
  • A book where he essentially says ‘don’t judge people on your own standards’
  • So, here’s five reasons why should go get yourself a copy of The Consolations Of Philosophy.
  • Reason Number One.
  • It’s fun to read.
  • It’s laid out using numbered paragraphs, and pictures. There’s nothing wrong with this. Pictures aren’t only for children, and neither are short bites of information.
  • Remember, philosophy is sometimes seemingly willfully obtuse. This is the opposite.
  • Reason Number Two.
  • This book is humanist and what I mean by that is that it never seeks to patronise or confuse. It is always reassuring us, the readers that our problems, our insecurities and issues are common to all of us.
  • We are not weird or extra or uncommonly selfish, we are us.
  • Reason Number Three.
  • It is good for you.
  • I believe strongly that not only is philosophy the study of the world around us that it is the study of the world within us. If you know yourself that will definitely lead to a happier life. This is the original and best own human-brand self-help.
  • Reason Number Four.
  • It comes from a rich body of work.
  • Alain De Botton has his own company called The School Of Life. You can find hundreds of videos here on YouTube explaining many more interesting and nourishing subjects for free.
  • Or you can buy another one of his books.
  • Or you can go on a course. It’s up to you, it’s all out there.
  • Reason Number Five.
  • It’s well written, with an attention to detail, concrete nouns and verbs and real life, relatable situations.
  • So success, an acquisition list:
  • A roof over ones head.
  • Meaningful Friendship.
  • Time to myself away from superiors, patronisation, infighting and competition.
  • Time to think.
  • Good food.

Consolations notes 1Consolations notes 2Consolations notes 3Consolations notes 4Consolations notes 5

Idle Worship

Often the incongruity of an event/person/piece of art within a certain context that can help us see them for what they are.

My day job involves shuttling the great and the sometimes not so ‘good’ in large, expensive cars. Suffice to say, when the client is away, the radio is played, sometimes at excessive volume. There is a very real pleasure to driving these types of vehicles, dressed in a tailored three-piece, while listening to grime or punk music. There really should be a German compound-noun for this.

While warping along the M4 with the cruise control set to a clear ten-percent-plus-two, SixMusic DJ Lauren Laverne treated all who would listen to Idles’ track Well Done. I haven’t been able to stop talking about it or listening to it since. I nice little bonus is that they are from the city I call home, Bristol.

It’s sometimes difficult to understand the exact nature of Joe Talbot’s lyrics; he seems to be writing from many different view points, sometimes using different perspectives within one song.

The temptation to hail them for the political left is certainly there, but as with all great punk writing it seems to be more about trying to be heard. I think we can all identify with that.

Mother, notably, implies two different competing voices from either side of the political divide, neither of which feel adequate.

Of course, I could be wrong. Listen for yourself, let me know what you think in the comments.

Both Well Done, and my current favourite,  Mother, are linked below.

 

Written Vision

The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia is graphic, historical novel. Perhaps it’s best to call it a biography, either way you should probably track down a copy.

Set in the Paris Commune of 1871 the book tells the story of Louise Michel, ‘The Red Virgin’, who helped lead an anarchist uprising in the wake of the French Republic’s defeat at the hands and arms of Prussia.

It’s easy to say that this book is good. It’s harder to pin point why. Like most graphic novel’s I’ve read I almost couldn’t read it fast enough. With clear, rich art work and an good, solid writing style it’s typical of this ever expanding style of novel.

What really grabbed me, though, as I’ve detailed in the video below was it’s sense of duty to the reader and the public at large. This really is what all great stories are made of.

Find a copy, maybe do some further reading on the protagonist. Mainly, find the hope that Mary and Bryan Talbot so clearly want to give you.

Latest vlog below.

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These

I think one the greatest difficulties we have as creative individuals, idealists or just people in the world, is the illusion created by publically successful people that thier fortune has come to them only through hard work, that they are just like you and me. I call this the Ethic Of Ease.

We see Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg in a tee-shirt and we think, he’s just like us. Look, he doesn’t look odd or formal or overly disciplined or obsessive at all – he has a tee-shirt on. He’s easy about his success.

The truth is, though, we often forget in the face of corporate PR something that we instinctively know:

these images are an illusion.

We know that getting up in the morning is sometimes hard; that for some of us it is an achievement to make it into work everyday looking presentable, not having made a total mess of ourselves just getting there. We know that if we want to create things to push into the world we often have to hold a job down and spend our spare time (when we should probably be sleeping or interacting with our fellow human beings) creating. It’s my day off today, by the way.

I know this. We know this.

So let’s approach it from a different angle.

Who is your hero? Who is your master? What are you creating today? What are you striving to achieve?

Last week I discovered, got obsessed with, decided I didn’t like, and then came back to Casey Neistat. If you haven’t been introduced, Casey makes a vlog almost daily. It looks great, often has a story structure to it and uses New York City, his studio, even his equipment and the various people in his life as background characters that keep the viewer engaged in a large, living, breathing world.

Now, as you know I’ve been doing a vlog of my own, and boy, oh boy, does it suck. It is, however, always under constant review and improvement. This is how we do things. We create, review, then improve. It’s the best way forward. As part of this review process I’d spent quite a bit of time looking other vloggers up. Here’s an Australian writer/reader, here’s an English, Bristol-based, Cystic Fibrosis sufferer, and here’s Casey.

So let’s go back and see how it went down.

I typed ‘vlog’ into YouTube and Casey appeared right at the top. With seven million subscribers and hundreds of videos this man looked very much like the gold standard of vlogging.

So I started watching. I started here. A vlog entitled The First Day Of Summer. I loved it. Particularly because it states at the end that the whole piece had been created on a smartphone. I was in. I create on a smartphone, using a free editing app that constantly crashes. Seeing this vlog added a bit more strength to keep trying.

I then started watching his daily vlogs. My goodness do they look good. Great editing, a cheeky sense of humour and a good ability to make fun of himself, to appear like you and me. The more I watched the more I felt I too, could create something not a million miles from it.

Then the thinking started. I started to notice just how much effort actually goes into these vlogs. How possessed the man is with his schedule, how tired his wife constantly looks, and vigorous, how abnormally full of energy the man is. In short Casey Neistat is not a normal human being. He is highly capable, hugely energetic and very, very hard working. That illusion of ease came creeping back and I was not happy to see it. A particular underlining of what I was beginning to suspect came in the form of this rather well articulated video essay from the ever excellent NerdWriter.

For a couple of days I began to resent Neistat. Then I went back to the source material. I still enjoyed it, and I still recognised it as a gold standard.

I realised that I’m not going to be able to replicate what he does, but I can learn from it.

We’re often made to feel inadequate in the face of the high achievers and the elite creators of this world. Stop comparing yourself and instead, think about what you can learn from them.

Casey’s take is below.

 

 

 

Food Writing

Reality Hunger was released in February of 2010. I think it’s important to date these kinds of things because in this post-modern culture it’s very easy to forget that there was a time before certain objects, certain phenomena.

Reality Hunger is arranged into numbered sections, most, if not all, are not the words of its author, David Shields.

‘6

I need say nothing, only exhibit.’

For a still forming Creative Writing student at the University Of Gloucestershire, Reality Hunger was important. It was taught almost immediately as part of a transgressive class by Dr Martin Randall. We were encouraged to buy a copy and read it. Many of us came away confused as to what the appropriate reaction should be.

We would talk about it in the pub or the SU, between lectures or walking home from a party. Sometimes it would come up if we stumbled across each other’s paths in town.

’69

There are two sorts of artist, one not being in the least bit superior to the other. One responds to the history of art so far; the other responds to life itself.’

Our gradual consensus centred around Shields’ idea of ‘brickolage’; of forming text or narrative through others’ work. Sampling with a keyboard and words instead of a set of decks and some old soul records.

Myself and a fellow student formed a writing performance group called The Jolly Autocratic Committee and wrote a twelve-minute long performance piece constructed out of found language. I’ll share it with you at some point in the future.

‘204

As a preamble to their performances, traditional storytellers in Majorca would say, “It was and it was not so”.’

At the front of things, however, my writing almost totally dried up for six months. Reality Hunger hit me hard enough to shatter what I thought I should be doing as a writer. I had to rebuild.

It is probably the most important book I own. It was devastating and inspiring. It still is.

‘315

While we tend to conceive the operations of the mind as unified and transparent, they’re actually chaotic and opaque. There’s no invisible boss in the brain, no central meaner , no unitary self in command of our activities and utterances. There’s no internal spectator of a Cartesian theater in our heads to applaud the march of consciousness across its stage’

If you have your own Reality Hunger story to tell, let me know in the comments.

Main Vlog below.

Cliche Hero

This post contains spoilers for the film The Book Of Life. If you haven’t already, please go and watch it. 

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Right, still here? Okay, on with the show.

As a story there is nothing new about Jorge R. GutierrezThe Book Of Life. The plot is almost a perfect analogue of Joseph Campbell’s Hero Myth, walking the viewer through this ancient, Freudian journey.

398px-Heroesjourney.svg.png

I have, over the years, been taught to shun this kind of structure, to find my own way or to simply find the truth of what it is to live from moment to moment.

I think this kind of approach to the education of how stories are told sometimes comes under criticism for its exclusion of the mainstream. Let’s try to see it another way. Really the only stories most of us are exposed to in our everyday are, by their nature, the mainstream. By the time we’ve made it as far as losing our virginity (which, let’s face it, all of these stories are about) we’ve been told the hero’s journey hundreds, possibly thousand’s of times.

None of this means that I’m not open to an old fashioned plot, well told. The Book Of Life fits into this nicely. With a single-minded art direction from someone who was in part taught by Jules Engel, the film has a unique and culturally honest look.

For the sake of this post, though, let’s zoom in to transformation/atonement section of the film.

After being challenged by the film’s main antagonist, Xibalba, our main protagonist, Manolo (a play on monohero?)  is forced to fight the sum of all his fears. As you know, this fear takes the form of a giant bull made from the bones of every bull killed by our hero’s family. Does he find his fighting spirit and kill the beast?

No. He asks for its forgiveness.

I believe very strongly that we are shaped by the stories we tell each other. With cinemas and streaming services alike packed with entertainment that ends with the antagonist being killed or revenged on while whole cities are levelled around them in orgies of unseen violence, it seems to me that, simply, there must be another way.

Although the bullfighting scene in The Book Of Life is still totally in line with the plot we all know and suckle from, it represents a radical departure.

Shame the ending involves the violent end to the earthly antagonists in an orgy of violence that nearly levels the town around them.

Oh, well.

Revisit the bullfight below.