July 31, 2016

31:07:2016

On Friday night I experienced a train trip that was such a positive experience it made me want to write it down.

I entered the crowded train, saw an empty spot, apologised my way to it, and settled in. Usually in such situations I’m on my phone like everyone else, actively avoiding the reality of a crowded train ride. For whatever reason – perhaps because I was in a good mood thanks to the knowledge that my brother Jonathan and his girlfriend Alexandra were flying in the next day – for this trip I decided to avoid it; instead embracing the experience. Because of this I paid attention to the people around me, I saw the details.

I saw a Dad and his son with down syndrome who sat across from me, off on a Friday night adventure, and I saw the obvious affection the man gave his excited son.

I saw a hispanic two or three year old with chubby cheeks, wide eyes, and a vacant expression. I saw the affect this adorable addition had on the people on the train, the small smiles she elicited when wondering eyes fell upon her dressed in her little sweater staring out at the odd world of the train.

I saw a waif of a woman, early twenties, who with closed eyes unabashedly mouthed along to the music from her headphones. I saw the small movements of her head and shoulders as they shifted to the beat of the music, a small outward expression of the internal dancing she was no doubt performing.

I saw the son with down syndrome ask his Dad to join him in a selfie, both giving wide smiles to whoever the recipient of the photo was to be.

I saw two hipster girls get on, one wearing denim overalls over a fuzzy mustard sweater that should have looked ridiculous but that she pulled off with laid back confidence and an easy smile.

I saw a crotchety looking old man enter and I saw his face light up as his eyes fell upon the small hispanic girl, greeting her warmly as though she were an old friend. I saw him beautifully, wonderfully, stereotypically pulled out a pack of Werther’s Originals and offered one to the girl, whose face broke into a rare smile as her Mum repeatedly prompted a ‘say thank you’ to her. I saw as the man and the girl sat side by side, shared in the act of eating the hard candies.

I saw the faded tattoos of the sixty plus year old woman next to me and wondered at the history behind them.

I saw the matching St Christopher stickers both father and his down syndrome son had on their phone cases, and smiled at the appropriateness of having the patron saint of travellers in your pocket at all times, not to mention on the train with us.

I looked at the people around me on our small corner of the train carriage and saw the details that made them them and wondered what they saw when they looked at me.

Talk soon

Damian

25 July, 2016

25:07:2016

The last week has been a cold one for us Melburnians. While other areas of the world are reaching temperatures as high as fifty four degrees I’ve been grumbling about the fact that we got down to three degrees the other morning and I could see my breath while lying in bed. Despite twenty nine years on this planet and a preference for winter wear I still never really seem all that prepared for the season. Maybe it’s an Australian thing.

It could also be seasonal affective disorder, a mild form of depression that comes on over winter thought to be caused by the lack of exposure to light – and, which can appropriately be acronymed as SAD. Having a name for it and knowing that I’m likely to get a little SAD (wow, that acronym really does work well) over the winter months is good. It means when it does come on I can recognise it and do my best to buck up and get on with it until the happier sunny months come rolling on through. It can be a hard thing to ignore however. Not only is there wind, cold, and rain to dissuade me from getting outside and being productive, I also find I have a lackluster attitude to even try and do anything. Everything seems to become a little more pointless. Things like exercising, socialising, or doing anything that isn’t hibernating in bed alternation between reading, eating, sleeping and watching tv become mountainous tasks that seem to require much more energy than they actually do. This only works to feed the SAD as not only am I likely to gain some weight from indulging in such sedentary activities, which the depression happily feeds on, but by avoiding exercise I’m also avoiding the release of hormones such activities bring; the one thing most equipped to battle SAD. Without the vitamin D, or whatever it is, from the sun that triggers a catalyst of happiness, then surely the release of endorphins and dopamine that come post exercise are the next best thing to get our brains back to a more functional state.

Last winter SAD hit me pretty hard, not helped by the fact that the Lady Holly was living three hours away from me at the time and was equally as unhappy. This winter I decided to prepare myself. Not only did I buy more beanies to add to my already abundant beanie collection but I mentally prepared myself as well; cognitively bracing for the impact of SAD. I told myself to expect a dip in energy levels, and then to welcome winter, purposely finding ways to enjoy the extra time I was to spend at home in order to battle the winter blues (lately that’s been indoor picnics with my three favourites: whiskey, cheese, and the Lady Holly). I was also determined to keep exercising throughout the winter months so not only will I have an amazing beach bod come summer but also so I keep my hormone levels a little more skewed to the side of happy. For the most part this has worked pretty well. I can still feel an uncommon rise in apathy from time to time, and little things can affect me more than they might when the sun in shining, but during those times I remind myself what the cause may be and then force myself to go for a run or do something fun. To put it another way, I use some HAPPI (Hormonal Appeasement by Prioritising Positive Industry) to fight the SAD.

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In writing news The Lady Holly and Brother Jonathan have both now read my novelette and have given me feedback. Both were not only extremely constructive, helping me to strengthen the story and my writing, but were also very complimentative; which I thoroughly enjoyed, my ego basking in the warmth of their praise. Next I’m planning to make some edits based off of their feedback and then pass it on through a friend to her Aunty who’s a professional editor, and much less likely to be quite so nice as she doesn’t love me the way the other two do.

I’ve also started a new short story which so far has had a few false starts. I had a plot I liked but it took me writing out a few pages until I figured out just who my character is and how he relates to the theme. I ended up rewriting those first pages a few times until I had it right. I’ve got it mostly sorted in my head now, and on my notes page, however I might still ditch those initial pages once the stories done as they’re mostly set up and aren’t working to push the story forward as much as they should. We’ll see. In the meantime it’s all practise, it’s all learning, and, most importantly, it’s all fun.

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Finally, I thought I’d share a TED talk I watched the other week that I found very engaging. It covers the differences between introverts and extroverts and is presented by the highly entertaining psychologist Brian Little. If you don’t know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert I expect you will by the end of this talk.

Talk soon

Damian

July 19, 2016

19:07:2016

The literarily gifted Warren Ellis has a new piece of work out for us all to feast on. It’s a novel of sorts that comes in four parts entitled Normal. The story follows a futurist who is doing a stint at Normal Head, a rehabilitation centre for futurists – those who look into the bleak almost probable end of the world and try to subvert the fate humans have put on ourselves by developing strategies that offset that end. Normal Head exists because these futurists often need a break, either by choice or by force, from this vocation, especially prone to what Ellis names ‘abyss gaze’,  a depression that comes from gazing into the abyss of the future. To add to this, at Normal Head all patients are completely disconnected, meaning they have no access to technology, often bringing on withdraw from their tech addiction.

This point in particular interests me about the series. The idea that people need to be forcibly cut off from their tech, surely this is something most of us can relate to. While I love the connectivity our crazy future world currently allows us it can no doubt be detrimental to how we function, and people are, without question, addicted. For myself I couldn’t tell you the last time I went through a waking hour without looking at some kind of device, let alone a day; not to mention the amount of times I’ve picked up my phone and checked it for messages despite the a fact I’ve had it with and know none should exist. I can at least claim a resistance to the urge while driving, something others are less capable of. All to often I see someone steering with one hand while they try to talk on their phone or type a message with the other, as though forgetting that they’re currently in control of a fifteen hundred kilo machine moving at up to one hundred kilometers an hour. That’s a pretty wicked addiction right there, one that’s sure to hurt themselves or those around them. Of course there are plenty more examples of how this commonplace addiction affects us; from people who shun their friends when out to look at their phones, to those who fail to even get out of their house for fear of disconnecting.

One bit of tech that’s popped up in the last few weeks that seems to use our collective addiction for good is Pokemon Go. I haven’t got the app myself but it seems designed to get people out of the house, forcing them to move and be social in order to progress through the game. I think that’s kind of awesome. The game rewards people by walking set distances and physical connecting with others which means it’s designed for a group of people, gamers, that makes them do the exact opposite of what they’re known for…and it’s working! No doubt the popularity of the game will breed others of its ilk, which is great. Not only will the games work to entertain people, and make them more healthy and social but if also paired with apps like Charity Miles – an app that raies money for charity whenever you exersice – then it will be doing an even greater good. Of course the argument could be made that people should exercise, be social, and give to charity without the need for for technology making it fun, but, as that argument doesn’t involve believing you may one day become a pokemon master, it’s pretty easy to argue against.

Back to Ellis and his intriguing new novel. It’s currently getting released in four parts over four weeks in whatever digital format you choose, which quite appropriately means you need some sort of device to read it. For myself that’s a kindle, and I’ve already pre-ordered all four parts which means they’ll magically show up on my kindle over the next month. If you however wish to take your own sabbatical from technology it will be out later in the year in a physical form.

In the meantime I’m taking my own steps to slightly disconnect from technology, which at the moment involves putting my plane on airplane mode at night. Admittedly it’s not much, and is mostly to ensure I get a good night’s sleep, but, hey, at least I’m doing something to combat my addiction. I’m basically a hero.

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While we’re on the subject of technology check out this cool device that turns any surface into a touch interface.

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Talk soon

Damian

July 14, 2016

14:07:2016

I’ve been sick with a head cold this week which is a pretty good way to be unproductive. Not only do I have less energy, an ever growing pile of soggy tissues, and a head that feels packed full of wool, but I also have a good excuse to be unproductive. Unfortunately that dark side of me, the one that always wants to do nothing even though doing nothing actually makes me grumpy and unhappy, knows it. Which is why I spent a lot of my free time this week watching old episodes of 30 Rock. Don’t get me wrong, that is a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a week, 30 Rock holds up big time over both years and multiple watches, and I also believe if you’re sick getting rest is pretty high on the list of things you need; unfortunately I also think that do-nothing side of me takes advantage in times like these. This do-nothing side is the same voice that tells me to wait and start the exercise regime on Monday even though it’s been telling me that for the past three weeks, or that suggests I’ve earned a break after writing two sentences, or that whispers in my ear when I’m trying to avoid unhealthy foods that maybe I’d like being fat. If Jiminy Cricket is your conscious telling you the things you know you should do then this voice belongs to a character I’m calling Augustus Slug and his job is to push you into doing all the things you shouldn’t do. Basically replace the angle and the demon on your shoulder to a cricket and a slug, which I believe makes way more sense just in size proportions alone. I may have got diverted here, the point is I’ve been sick and I haven’t got much done.

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One thing I did manage to do this week was finish a short story. It’s really more flash fiction than a short story, and is less of a story than an exploration of an idea. It’s also two pages long. Oddly this shorter length didn’t seem to make it easier to write and I struggled to get this one from my head onto the page. It did however help me with editing my own work which is something I find challenging. I cut some parts and move others about in a way that I think serviced the theme more, especially once I managed to locate exactly what the theme was. Once I get it back from all my readers I’ll share it on this blog, which will be nice as for all my writing about writing I haven’t actually shared much of my work yet. I also started a new short story this week. It’s one I’m quite excited by and that showed up in my head almost fully formed. Mostly though it should turn out to be the kind of story that I’d like to read, and that’s pretty much always the goal.

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The Lady Holly and I also watched Sing Street this week which is an excellent movie by John Carney, who also wrote and directed the film Once which was likewise excellent. Sing Street is about a highschool kid in Dublin who starts a band to impress a girl. While on the surface it may sound like a cheesy hollywood plotline it is anything but. The great thing about John Carney’s films is that they have real heart and an overall upbeat feel while also not shying away from some everyday tragedies like having to listen to your parent’s marriage fall apart or how terrifying high school bullies can really be. All this is paired with some great music that not only service the story but also show why music is such a great thing. It’s a winning combination and, if you haven’t picked up on this already, I would highly recommend watching it.

Talk soon.

Damian